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Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life

Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life

by Lara Casey


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A flourishing life is possible—no perfection required!

Women often feel like they have to have it all together in order to live a meaningful life. Instead they feel inadequate, overwhelmed, and exhausted as they to figure out how to do it all. Author, business owner, and mom to three Lara Casey offers this grace-filled advice: “We can’t do it all, and do it well. But, we can choose to cultivate what matters.

Written as part encouragement anthem and part practical guide, Cultivate offers wisdom from God’s Word alongside lessons Lara has learned in her garden.

Special features include:

  • Actionable Cultivate It prompts throughout the book
  • A ten-week Cultivate Together discussion guide with questions for small groups
  • “Grace from the Garden” vignettes provide encouragement and inspiration

Discover how to embrace the season you’re in, and find the joy and the freedom that comes in cultivating what matters, little by little, with God’s transforming grace.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718021665
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 06/27/2017
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 282,793
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Lara Casey is a mom to three (one through the gift of adoption), a grateful wife, and a believer in the impossible. She created the PowerSheets grace-filled goal setting planner and the Write the Word journals, and she founded Southern Weddings Magazine a decade ago. Lara is also the author of Make It Happen: Surrender Your Fear. Take the Leap. Live On Purpose. She lives in Chapel Hill, NC, and loves getting her hands dirty in the garden.

Read an Excerpt


A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life

By Lara Casey

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2017 Lara Casey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-2167-2



LIE: I have to do it all.

TRUTH: I can't do it all and do it WELL.

I almost ran into a wall — a literal wall in my own home.

I had just had a new baby, and I struggled with balancing motherhood and business. I worried that my growing company couldn't withstand the changes that were happening in my personal life. I feared that everything would fall apart.

I felt pressure to keep it together.

I thought that everyone else had it together but me.

I believed that I had to get it all done — and done perfectly.

And, despite my efforts, the only thing that felt done was me.

Rushing to get back to my desk one morning, with a baby in one arm and reading an e-mail on my phone on the way, I came this close to crashing my face right into a lovely shade of Benjamin Moore's "Mindful Grey."

That wall was a wake-up call. I was trying to get it all done out of fear. And it felt painfully familiar. I had grown so much since my hustle-hard days years ago, but I found myself believing similar lies — the lies that said I had to do everything and do it all perfectly. Everything felt urgent, important, and necessary. I settled back at my desk, took a breath, and considered something I didn't want to admit: maybe all the things I thought I had to do didn't actually need to get done.


Maybe you want your life to transform, but you don't know where to start. One surefire way to stay right where you are is to stay right where you are. Even if what we're about to do together feels challenging, let's do this in the name of not staying where we are. Ready?

As we begin this journey together, name the one thing that you most want to change or grow in your life. You can change or refine your answer later, but let's mark our start together.

What do you want to cultivate? As you read this right now, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

Perhaps you want to cultivate

* A healthier lifestyle

* A stronger marriage

* A deeper faith

* Intentional connections with family

* Joy in your children

* Contentment in what you have

* More time in prayer

* Learning and education

* A new business venture

* Being more present

* Deeper friendships

* Confidence in your life path

* Creativity

* Work that allows you to use your gifts

* A life-giving home with open doors for hospitality

* Balance and rest

Almost running into that wall made me want to grow breathing space — deep and wide breathing space. I had too much to do and care for. I was still trying to do all I had done before this new season of my life, but it was too much. I needed a shift.

I wanted to unrush my pace in favor of presence.

Imagine planting a peaceful garden in the middle of everything you have going on right now, right where you are. The image of a well-tended garden is a stark contrast to how we live most days, isn't it? But it's possible. In the middle of the chaos and pressure all around you, let the story I'm about to share with you give you real hope that you can cultivate a new way of thinking, being, dreaming, and doing — right where you are.

It's winter as I begin this book, and my garden beds are mostly bare except for the kale and cabbage that don't mind the cold. I still can't believe this garden is mine and that I grow things. As of this writing, this is my fifth year having a garden. Me. The former plant killer and dirt dodger. Every time I step out into the dirt, I'm reminded that God is the author of change. He can change anyone and anything. He has proven that time and time again in my life.


So how did I go from one withered orchid to a tiny suburban farm? The way many good things grow: imperfectly.

When I was young, my Grandpa Cecil loved taking me to his vegetable garden. I'd hunt for roly-polies and snails and help him pull turnips. I spent a lot of time with my grandpa in his garden. I just wanted to be with him. You see, something about Cecil was magnetic. He had a joy and contentment that drew people in. He had been through a lot in his life, including multiple heart surgeries, great loss, and illness, but his faith rarely wavered. He knew that he couldn't take any thing or accolade or dollar bill to heaven with him, so he invested in what would last — 1 oving God and planting good seeds in people's lives, including mine.

Sometimes God uses another person to plant a seed in our lives. And sometimes that seed doesn't sprout till decades later — right on time. I wanted to cultivate an intentional life, like Grandpa Cecil's.

As my little orchid bloomed, the rest of my life was revived too. What felt impossible happened: my marriage changed. My husband, Ari, and I went from constant turmoil and chasing all the wrong things to being given new life by God's grace. Being forgiven of the hurt we had caused each other and the mistakes we had made was unfathomable, incomprehensible, and clearly happened by the power of a very real God. We named our daughter Grace, for the gift we had been given. My wedding magazine company changed right along with my life, and we began to help couples plan not just weddings but also meaningful beginnings to married life. Our small group at church became a significant part of our lives as Ari and I grew in our faith. Ari started a new job as an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and we began to figure out parenthood together.

There's something about being a new parent that puts life in perspective quickly. I began questioning the way I was doing everything. How could I teach our daughter to do life well? How would the way I care for what I've been given teach her to do the same? How could I teach her that God can change what feels impossible, like He did with our marriage?

If I wanted Grace to live an intentional life, I was going to have to live one myself. That thought was overwhelming. Even though so much had changed in our lives, there was much more I knew God wanted to grow in me. The most powerful teaching I could do with Grace would come from my own in-progress example.

I wanted to plant roots, create memories through meaningful traditions, and teach Grace about living with all five senses — living outdoors in God's creation in the same way I did as a kid. I wanted to teach her how to grow, tend, harvest, and savor the things that matter.

I did something that felt a little wild, and yet so right, and I bought a few plants: basil, oregano, and rosemary to season family meals with. I put the pots on the back steps, and Grace quickly took an interest in them. She visited them each day to smell their leaves and munch on the basil, bringing me a sprig or ten as I cooked dinner each night. Adding these plants to our family was oddly thrilling at the time. I bought plants. I was up to a total of five live things to tend to now: my orchid, three pots of herbs, Grace, and Ari.

But something in me craved more. I thought about Grandpa Cecil. Reflecting on his faithful, simple, content life, I got this crazy idea that I wanted to plant a garden in our side yard. I envisioned picking tomatoes from the garden for dinner and letting Grace experience the joy of growing our own fruits and vegetables. I convinced Ari of my new hobby by promising him fresh pesto and pickles. But there was far more that the garden would give us than edibles.


Now, let's rewind a few pages and remember that I never thought I would be a gardener. I didn't know the first thing about gardening! A houseplant was one thing, but starting a garden was, for me, like a cow moseying around in a parking lot: unlikely. Gardening seemed like a gentle hobby for those who had more time on their hands. Yet here's a sentence I never thought I'd type, much less live: God was transforming a plant killer like me into a gardener.

Gardening was not a hobby I randomly picked out of thin air; it was a craving. As my life was being changed by God's grace, my hands followed. I began to feel an insatiable desire to nurture what I had been given — and even more than that, to grow things I never had imagined wanting to grow!


That next Saturday morning, I decided to get my garden growing. I stood in the yard and opened a pack of yellow pear tomato seeds.

As I unsealed the packet, I steadied my hands. If you've ever enjoyed an heirloom tomato in the summer, you may have noticed the seeds. They are tiny and delicate. I reached into the packet and touched one with my pointer finger. It grasped on to me, as if I now held some responsibility for its life. I could choose to cultivate it or let it remain dormant.

Inside a seed is something powerful: potential. And potential is scary, isn't it? It calls us to grow — to take action, to become, and to step forward in faith.

Lifting the fragile seed carefully out of the packet, my breathing slowed.

Planting seeds is risky. It's putting our trust in something bigger than we are. It's optimism and faith. It requires letting go, and I don't like letting go. I like being in control. I like efficiency, security, routine, and predictability. I like having a plan.

As I looked down at the seeds, I knew I held possibility in my hands.

What do I do now? How do I plant this? When is the right time to plant tomatoes? How deep in the soil do I plant them? How much should I water them? How many seeds do I plant at once? What if I don't do this perfectly and it doesn't grow?

I had a choice: risk imperfect progress to grow new life or regret not growing anything at all.

In that moment, faced with the possibilities in a tiny tomato seed, I chose fear over faith.

Yes, you read that right.

I flicked the seed off my finger back into the packet and sealed it up.


I was too afraid to plant anything from seeds at first. I feared I would mess up and everything in my garden would die. And I believed the lie that if I couldn't do it perfectly, I wasn't going to do it at all.

I was conditioned to think that messes were bad and doing it perfectly the first time was good. To me, there was no in-between.

We don't like imperfect starts, do we?

We want perfect right out of the gate.

But all plants grow through the dirt, and so do we. Making a mess doesn't mean you become one.

Trying to cultivate an intentional life without making a mess at times is like trying to garden in white pants. I've done this — stepping out into the tomato vines, thinking I'll just pick a few things, prune a couple of rogue vines, and somehow walk away dirtless. But keeping my white pants clean isn't possible when pruning "the Bobs," as we call our tomatoes (thank you, VeggieTales). That doesn't ever happen, no matter how hard I try.

And you know what? When I'm focused on keeping my white pants dirt-free, I end up missing the joy in what the garden calls me to: being fully present right where I am. Hands, heart, mind, feet — all of me present. Embracing the imperfection gives me undistracted hands, unafraid of getting dirty and doing hard work.

The garden begs for my presence, and when I give it, it grows.


After my fearful encounter with the tomato seeds, I decided to try a different route to gardening.

This time I sought some help from my gardener friend Scott. I went to Scott's nursery, For Garden's Sake, and picked out seedlings instead of seeds. I chose several varieties of tomatoes and basil, dreaming of ripe tomatoes with fragrant sweet basil. And then I saw the peppers. I love peppers! And cucumbers, squash, melons, sweet potatoes, carrots, figs, and a beautiful Elberta peach tree. I remembered that my mom had taken us on many road trips through Elberta, Alabama, when I was a kid to get the sweetest peaches I've ever tasted. I have to get the peach tree. And Grace would love fun herbs like pineapple sage and chocolate mint!

"You may not have room for all of these, Lara," Scott warned as he eyed the tree and everything I had packed into my wheelbarrow. I didn't see the problem and told him I would try to fit it all in.

If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it big. I wanted the perfect garden — overflowing with all of my favorite things. I wanted the best, the biggest, and a grand start.

You probably know where this is going.

That first year of gardening, I learned a lot of lessons, as I am apt to do: the hard way. I spent that summer pruning and picking and getting a crash course in many things, including "Don't Plant Too Much in Your Garden."

I planted five different varieties of tomatoes. They grew, but they were pretty tasteless. I learned that if you grow tomato vines too close together, their roots get tangled and they start to suck the life out of each other. They needed more room in order to flourish.

If you look at someone's garden, you can tell a lot about that person. I tend to think I can handle a lot more than I actually can.


The spring I started my garden, I was speaking at conferences, traveling, running two businesses, and consulting for small business owners while caring for Grace. I was doing good and purposeful work, but too much of a good thing can still be too much.

I was addicted to yes.

Yes, I'd love to do this project with you!

Yes, I'd be happy to write a post for your blog!

Yes, I'd love to speak at your conference!

Yes, I'd love to get together!

Yes, I'll be there!


Come summer, I was burned out. I was tired of growing. I was worn-out trying to do it all and not doing a whole lot well.

I was tired of my overcrowded life.

I craved margin in my schedule. Time to teach Grace all the things I had hoped to teach her: A balance of meaningful work and nourishing rest. Room for physical, emotional, and spiritual self-care in order to better care for others.

I wanted to flourish as a friend, a mother, and a wife.

Something had to change, but how was I supposed to make changes when everything was already in motion?

It's simple gardening math: plants need space for roots to grow, and they need adequate nutrients. If you want them to flourish, then give them these things.

Untangling our lives can feel more complicated, though. Relationships, expectations of others, deadlines, and dates press on us and feel impossible to unravel and unrush.

So how do you do it? How do you know what to say no to when it all feels urgent? How do you simplify?

A powerful fertilizer to nourish the things that truly matter in life is the word no. We often think of no as a scary and disconnecting word, but it has the power to be one of the most loving and connecting words you use.

It's okay to let go, not keep up, and not do it all.

It's okay to disappoint people in favor of growing what God has given you to grow.

It's okay to say no.

We have only so much space, energy, and nutrients in our lives. I don't know about you, but I do not thrive in an overcrowded life. Whether it's too many dreams planted at once or too many social commitments, work projects, family activities, or unresolved conflicts, all those things take up space.

When I try to do it all, nothing grows well.

There are inevitable shifts in our lives that require making room — such as a new baby, growth in a business, an illness, or changing life responsibilities. We only have a finite amount of energy, resources, and time to spend each day. When life shifts, no matter the reason, we must be willing to surrender something to make room. This is not easy, is it? But it's necessary. This is why I almost ran into that wall. I didn't want to change. I didn't want to let go at the time. I thought everything would fall apart if I didn't keep it all together. And I sat at my desk that day and I felt guilty. I felt like a bad mom and a bad business owner. I just couldn't do it all. But I've learned since then that there is no guilt needed when times of overload press in; there's just grace and an opportunity to shift. When life changes, which it often will as we grow, something has to shift, or overload occurs. If we resist the change, our lives resist us until we let go.

Pray with me:

God, help us to know when You want us to say no and what we need to let go of in order to make room for Your good fruit to grow in our lives, amen.


Excerpted from Cultivate by Lara Casey. Copyright © 2017 Lara Casey. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Welcome to the Thick of It 1

Part 1 Prepare Your Garden

1 Cultivate What Matters: Grace from the Garden: Garden Company 21

2 Embrace Your Season: Grace from the Garden: Be the Bees 44

3 Dream Like a Gardener: Grace from the Garden: All the Plants I've Killed 61

4 Nourish Your Soil: Grace from the Garden: Mama Bird Knows Best 79

Part 2 Dig In

5 Plant Your Seeds: Grace from the Garden: U-Pick Memories 99

6 Grow in the Wait: Grace from the Garden: Metamorphosis 115

7 Tend Your Garden: Grace from the Garden: Celebration! 132

Part 3 Savor the Fruit

8 Harvest Contentment: Grace from the Garden: Heirloom Plants 157

9 Flourish with Others: Grace from the Garden: Garden Markers 181

10 Preserve the Fruit: Grace from the Garden: The Day I Thought I Would Lose the Garden 202

A New Season 217

Cultivate Together Guide 221

Gardening 101 245

Acknowledgments 247

Connect with Lara 251

About the Author 253

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