caroline holzberger

Keepin' it real about motherhood, Jesus, life, and everything in between.


I kill plants.

It’s true.

If people have a ‘green thumb’ due to their talent, knowledge and ability to help things turn green, then, friend, my thumb is black. No trace of green here. Just black. And let’s be honest, it’s probably spread to my fingers too.

Plainly said, my gardening life is scattered with disaster after shriveled up disaster. I am given flowers, a plant, a bush, or goodness sake some sort of food producing thing, and I kill it. Every. Single. Time.

I’m not sure if having a ‘black thumb’ is really a thing, but I am sure that if it was, I’d be their spokesperson.

My husband, however, grows everything well. Really, everything. Plants, flowers, trees, fruit, veggies – name it – he grows it well. Two big ol’ green thumbs on that man. I think he simply has an instinct about these kinds of things; an instinct I have clearly lacked.

I have always felt somewhat badly about it, because I want to be good at this, I’m just not. It’s like when people talk about cooking, or organizing or cleaning reading…I smile and nod and try to say something witty. I want to be good at those things, but I’m flat out not. And gardening is at the very top of that list. I either forget to water the poor thing or I drown it. Either way, it dies and Ryan ain’t shocked.

Over the last decade or so of our relationship, Ryan has said many things that have stuck in my head. Some good. Some not as good. But, there are two statements in particular that not only have stuck there, but they’ve stayed there like grass stains on my kid’s jeans.

The first one came about when I asked Ryan what he saw for his future…what he had in mind for years to come.  Without hesitation, he said “Someday I want to be that older man who walks around giving my freshly grown tomatoes to my neighbors.” That is classic Ryan. Not ‘I want a flourishing stock portfolio.’ Not ‘I want to travel the world.’ Although I think he’d be fine with those too. But, that wasn’t his answer. He just wants to be the tomato guy. I love it.

The second comment wasn’t as sweet and innocent so it stained my brain all the more. I came out to the backyard  a few weeks ago, after being inside with the kids for a while, and Ryan looked at me plainly and said “I love being outdoors. I love planting things and caring for them. There’s something completely soothing about it. I sure wish you enjoyed it too. I wish we had that in common. It doesn’t seem like we do anything like that together anymore.”

That one stung a little. I mean, he wasn’t trying to be ugly, but it hurt, all the same.

Doesn’t he know that I kill everything I come near? I would feel really bad if I killed all his outdoor stuff he loves so much. Besides, he doesn’t scrapbook with me or enjoy anything crafty like I do.

Um, hello defense mechanism, how you doin’?

Over the last few weeks I’ve learned a lot about myself. For one, I have some serious issues. Shocker. That’s a given. But, secondly, I can get fairly defensive anytime someone brings my attention to the possibility  I could be wrong about something. Wrong, me? This always often rears its ugly head more prominently in relation to my man.

You may wonder how I’ve become so self-aware and clear of thought. Simple –

I learned this in counseling.

That’s right, Ryan and I are entering the sixth week of marriage counseling. I’m assuming you didn’t know that. But, it’s true. Ryan has given me permission to write about it. For our good and God’s glory. You may have wondered why in all my writing over the last year or so, I haven’t given a whole lot of marital advice. I haven’t modeled to you through my words what a healthy marriage should be. That’s because I haven’t had one.

Are we separated? No way, Jose.

Are we talking divorce? Absolutely no! Never. We both bear the scars from divorce and are committed to ending that legacy with us. By God’s strength, our children will not know what we knew.

Are we happy in other areas of our life but pretty miserable in our marriage? Yep. That pretty much covers it.

I think Ryan is a phenomenal Dad. I mean it, he truly is. He feels the same about me and my mothering.

I know he is a good, kind, caring, God-loving person. He feels the same about me.

I believe he is a hard-worker and an intelligent-minded educator. He pretty much feels the same about me and my job as a homemaker.

We are good people. We love each other. But, we just haven’t done this whole husband and wife thing that great. And we were over it.

So, after fifteen years together, almost eleven of those as man and wife – we were due for some marriage counseling. To be completely frank – we are about fourteen years past due.

Bernis, our amazing counselor, has truly helped us get through the same ol’ argument we’ve been having for over a decade. She has given us strategies. She has given us a safe place to speak honestly, seeking His Truth, not a third party who will pet us and tell us we are right! Although I secretly hoped she would tell me that! Not him, but me. Obviously.

We have been whipped around on a chaotic roller coaster for the last four years or so. We thank God for all He has taught us. We praise Him for His faithfulness. We know with certainty He is using it for our good and His glory. But, to be honest, we’ve simply been trying to keep our marriage-neck from some irreversible whiplash. We both now desire more than just “ok”. We want healthy growth.

So a few Sundays ago, Ryan and I pushed the ‘repeat’ button for the millionth time on that same, tired ol’ argument we’ve been having for years. We were acting very mature about it. Not true. We weren’t speaking. And on the Sabbath, too. We’re awful! Anyway, we were doing our own thing and I glanced over as he approached the kiddos. I saw how excited they got when Daddy asked them to garden with him. I thought, Hey, I want to be a part of that.

So, in the warmest voice I could muster up at the time, I asked Ryan to wait for me. I wanted desperately needed to go do some Bible study for an hour or so to get my ugly heart in the right place. He agreed to wait.

And at that moment, without my knowledge, my black heart began to turn a bit greener.

We had the most amazing afternoon with the kids. Getting dirty, talking about God’s amazing way of growing an oak tree from an acorn, etc. It was the coolest.

It was as if a little switch inside of me suddenly turned on.

In the past, when I saw the bags of fertilizer, I was surrounded by little children creating their very own fertilizer six times a day for me to clean up. I had enough cleaning up poop in my Mama-life, thank you very much, you go on ahead and plant with it, babe. Knock yourself out.

But, in this time of life we are being obedient with what we feel God wants us to do — stop the baby making phase of life and enjoy the baby raising phase. It’s a weird phase for us. Void of diapers, nursing, cribs, infant car seats, pacifiers, etc. It’s stinkin’ awesome! a beautiful world, don’t get me wrong, it’s just not one we have seen in over seven years.

I am daily reminding myself how blessed we are by my continued renewal of health and the consistent health of my man and my kids. I am content.

But, I think that switch that flipped took all the nurturing I’d been doing toward babies, and pointed it to this garden.

I’m quite a fool for this thing now.

I talk to my spinach.

I think about my mixed greens when I am not around them.

I celebrate the growth in my rosemary as if she were my proud toddler learning to skip.

It’s actually quite weird. Don’t email me, I’m well aware.

So, over the last few weeks my man and I have planted more and fought less. We have thoughtfully talked about our garden, which has opened up conversation to many other topics as well.

As I was watering that day, God hit me.

Duh! Here I was thinking I was cultivating a garden, and all along, God knew He was cultivating a marriage.

How cool is God that He would pick something I usually stink at – which is both gardening and submitting to my man — and He would slowly change both my heart and my thumb from black to green.

We aren’t fixed. We still argue. We have a ways to go. But, things have changed. We now have something in common again. Actually two things – we have gardening and we have us.

It doesn’t happen overnight, for sure. And it doesn’t happen by chance.

It takes time.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Eph. 4:2

It takes good soil.

“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:23

It takes watering.

“But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

It takes hard work and a willingness to get your feet in the dirt of this world.

“For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2:16

But yes, I am dorky ol’ me – so I did rush out to the garden the day after we planted to see if I could see anything green popping up yet. I knew I wouldn’t, but I’m an eternal optimist, sometimes to a fault. I know all about God pruning me for a patient heart. So, I just watered and waited. Sure enough, within a few days, green popped through — in both the soil in our yard, and the soil of my heart.

Goodness gracious that was cheesey, but I thank my gracious God that it’s true.

“So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matthew 19:6

In my heart just now, as I am posting this, I feel burdened. I am picturing all of you who may be going through something similar to Ryan and I or perhaps even harder. Or uglier. Or more complicated. You put on your happily married face, yet your heart grows colder every day. I am sorry for your pain. I don’t know your story. But, my friend, God does. Nothing, and I do mean nothing is beyond his ability for redemption. Seek HIM! Seek wise counsel. Get involved with a church like mine. Get into Bible study or a small group of fellow believers who can lift you up. Don’t give up hope.

While I’m no master gardener yet, I know this Truth about God – “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

Grab your mustard seed sized faith, my friend, and hold on tight to it.

“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

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2 thoughts on “Green-hearted

  1. henrymclaughlin on said:

    Caroline, this is one of the most inspiring posts I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for taking the risk to share your heart. You are a blessing.

  2. Carrie, thanks for sharing what God is doing in you. It is easy to put up a front that all is well when it isn’t. God does His best work when we finally admit that we need His help. Of course God is healing and growing your marriage because there was no “chance” involved when you and Ryan met, fell in love and married. The two of you were always intended to be a reflection of His glorious work. Every relationship requires nuturing and focus – focus on our love not on ourselves. When we are looking at ourselves and what we want, we miss so many of the wonders God has placed around us just for our pleasure. Please give your precious man a hug from a great admirer of his – me! Love you, sweet girl!

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