What the Garden Teaches Us About Slow Growth

***I spent some time in the blog archives recently and discovered this post on growth and hope and belonging. I thought it was worth revisiting this spring as I wait for my garden and a few quiet corners of my life to bloom.

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We have a ridiculous number of flower beds around our house, which is wonderful when someone else is doing the work of maintaining them, but disheartening when I have to do it myself. I want the results of regular planting, watering, and weeding without all of the hard work. My husband and I have spent hours planning, dreaming, sketching, and wandering around green houses. Sometimes we stalk other people’s gardens, and come home to tell one another about our latest drive by viewing. But, when it comes to getting my hands dirty, to digging deep, pruning, and standing in the hot sun with a hose, I bail out. Give me all the flowers! Give me none of the work.

This past autumn, our third in this home, I slipped on my blue gardening gloves, grabbed a spade, and dug over a hundred holes in the cool earth. I placed a single bulb in each hole, planning carefully for waves of pink and purple in one corner of a bed, yellow and white in another. Cupped all winter by the frozen earth, I imagined a riot of color in the spring, when the garden shakes off its slumber and wakes up.

This is my year of restoration, and I want the garden to represent what could be when empty places are no longer left blank, when they are filled with the promise of life and fragrance and color. Driving around town, I see daffodils everywhere. Tulips bend in the breeze. Sweet grape hyacinths gossip in clusters beneath towering trees. And my garden is quiet. The bulbs are slow to grow this first year of their birth. They are just pushing through the soil, while my friends boast fists full of bright yellow heads cut from gardens of their own.

My husband says the first year is always the slowest and hardest–the bulbs are just learning how to grow here. Each year will be easier. They will expand and root themselves into the places we planted them. Reclaiming and restoring the garden takes longer than I expected. As spring arrives and then summer approaches, we will have to make choices about what stays and what goes. What is restored to life and health after a long winter, what needs pruning back, what needs moving.

I’ve come to expect this now, and as I enter the spring of this year, the year resting on my cornerstone word of “Restore“, I’m beginning to see the results of the effort I’ve planted along the way. Small growth, little buds of dark green, not baskets full of blooms yet. But something is stirring. There is growth, but it comes at a cost. It’s hard work, the hardest I’ve ever known, to pull up the things that no longer serve me, to release the past, the dead and rootless, and to water, water, water the life growing beneath the surface. The first year is the slowest and the hardest. I’m still learning how to grow here.

If you find yourself in a similar season of incremental growth, take heart. Life stirs beneath the surface. Water where you’re rooted. Plant new life, prune back the old. You are a garden, bursting with the potential for life.

Easter: On Resurrection and Ruination

The three of us sat on stiff bleachers with maroon banners hanging over our heads, surrounded by thousands of fellow parents and our soon-to-be college freshmen. The university’s band played a song of celebration a few feet away, and I smiled as I watched the drummers beat out their joy at playing for a full crowd.

Just beyond the thick stone walls of the gym, tree branches swayed in the blush of first bloom. Students sat on checkered blankets sunbathing in the quad. Runners ran circles around buildings. Taxi cabs honked in the distance.

It was a typical spring Sunday for city dwellers, but for those of us who sat waiting, the day held the potential for a pivotal decision. If not for the few parents entering with palm fronds from the chapel, I would’ve entirely forgotten it was Palm Sunday.

Excitement thrummed under the surface in the room, as the president of the university took to the stage to welcome the potential students of the class of 2021.  As we sat with our daughter, I realized that this day could lead us to take our final step towards her future. I expected the president, a jesuit priest, to give us a rah-rah message, one meant to encourage our child’s enrollment with stats and impressive facts about the University. Instead, he met us at this fork in the road, and said something so surprising I’ll never forget it.

“We want to ruin your kids for life. We want to awaken them to the world, so that every day they wake up bothered.”

It wasn’t the message I expected at an admitted student’s day, but it was the Palm Sunday message my soul needed. I have faithfully prayed these convictions over my children and their future, but I fear that I haven’t been as faithful to live these convictions out  in our everyday.

I spend a great deal of time managing my children’s expectations, seeing to their comfort, eliminating pain where possible, serving their life to them rather than teaching them live in service to something greater. All the while praying that their convictions would come from a sincere relationship with Christ, a relationship that should be marked by ruination.

I want my kids ruined for life because of Jesus. I want them awake to the pain and injustice in the world around them, and I want them to wake up every day bothered by it. I want them to realize they have a role in the re-making of the world and in bringing God’s Kingdom here on earth. I want them to wake up every day knowing and walking in the truth of it.

In part, this is the message of Easter–that a life given over to Christ means suffering, sorrow, and bearing the burdens of others, but it also means a righting of wrongs. It means glorious resurrection. In my day-to-day, and in the daily lives of my kids, I’m not sure I have preached the message of Easter with my life as much as I’ve given it lip-service.

As I listened to the president priest, I knew we’d found a home for our daughter. I also knew more work must be done in my own home and heart. I forget that working out my salvation is a daily practice. I came away with his words ringing in my ears as a call to worship with the whole of my life.

May I too, wake up bothered. May I too, be fully awakened. May I be ruined for life for anything other than Jesus.

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Wishing you the happiest Easter! May your day be full of light, joy, and homecoming.

How to Face a Fork in the Road

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

~Robert Frost

We fanned the college materials across the kitchen table. Competing school colors and fresh young faces stared up at us, offering an invitation to a future full of unknowns. My husband sat behind his laptop lost in a world of spreadsheets and cost projections and numbers with too many zeros behind them. I sat lost in a reverie of little girl laughter and long-ago conversations about growing up. He lives for the spreadsheets, while I live for the story behind every promise bound up in those college letters. Our daughter, seventeen and on the cusp of forever, sat across from us. On the table, the road split and forked in every direction.

We’ve approached this decision from a great distance, enjoying the long road leading up to it. Our firstborn lines the path of her life with delight, like a path covered in yellow daisies. We knew the road would split and splinter away from us eventually, but most days it seemed more like a rumor than a reality.

Just as it should, our daughter’s daisy strewn path widened quietly, while alternate avenues tunneled away from our feet overnight. The paths appeared in all manner of directions: the foreign or the well-traveled, the mysterious or dream-like, the ordinary or the distinct. They appeared with every kind of descriptor, but none of them appeared with a sign pointing “This Way.”

So, we found ourselves around the table with our spreadsheets and our Rory Gilmore pro/con lists. We laid out our research and our preconceived notions, our arguments for and against, and our core beliefs. But, it’s our dreams and our tender hearts that want to lead the way forward into this future. Discernment is difficult when the heart longs to lead one way, and the head leads another.

I find myself facing these kind of alternate path decisions often, and I second guess myself, wondering what “other” life might wait for me on the reverse side of my decisions. I’ve learned to keep a few guiding principles in mind when my emotions run away with the should have/could have beens. As we take tentative steps towards our daughter’s future, we’ve kept these same thoughts present with us as we approach this fork in the road.

Few decisions are perfect.

Perfect paths don’t exist. If they did, we would look for the magic that would lead us to them without fail. Every decision will have drawbacks and rewards. We can pro/con our way to some of them, but in the end, only God knows the end result. Someday, we will too, but until then, faith will help us take the leap into imperfection.

Few decisions are permanent.

My husband reminds me of this all the time. With the exception of having babies, very few decisions can’t be undone. It may be painful and costly, but it may be the undoing that is our re-making. There may be more lessons learned on the return trip home, than lessons learned on the initial journey.

Few decisions predict the ending.

We can’t know the end from the beginning, and this is a gift. Few of us would choose the road less traveled if we knew exactly what pain, heartache, and rough roads lie ahead on it. We must make our decisions knowing there will be challenges, but there will also be wild beauty.

My daughter will choose a path soon. It may be strewn with daisies or weeds, but my hope is that it’s lined with roses. Thorns, while painful, help us grow, and by them we recognize all that is fragrant and soft and sweet in the blooming.

When Small Talk Isn’t So Small After All

The vets staying at the Veterans Hospital in town hang out at the local strip mall. We see them every time we stop for milk and a five dollar bunch of flowers. Often, there will be one or two vets smoking on the corner, leaning heavy into a cane or crutch. They call to one another across donuts and coffee, or chat in the aisles of the Rite Aid. Sometimes their wounds are obvious–lost limbs, disfigurement, a limp. And other times, it’s the faraway stare, the nervous glance over their shoulder, the war-weary eyes that hint at invisible damage.

I pulled into the parking lot last week, and an older veteran stood on the corner of the Stop and Shop and followed my car with his eyes. I got out, grabbed my bags from the trunk, and he continued to stare. His face told a thousand stories, and his leg, permanently damaged in one skirmish or another, told a story too. I tried to look away.

Minutes earlier, I’d huffed my way out of the house after hours of household chores, while my husband lay prone on the sofa with a cold drink and an ipad in his hand. My annoyance led me to speed my way to the store, slam the car door, and attempt to sneak by the man without so much as a nod hello.

He called out to me, “Hey there! I used to drive a car just like yours. Do you love it? Is it a stick shift?” For a split second I wondered if I could walk by and pretend not to hear him. His left leg held all of his weight, and my polite, fake, smile held mine. I turned to face him.

We chatted cars for a minute, and while I considered how much time this conversation would cost me, he considered sharing a piece of his history. His story tumbled out. He spoke of the years he was stationed in Germany, the multiple languages he speaks, and his love for European travel. He told me of a car just like mine that saved his life in a head on collision with two other vehicles on a German highway. He told me a story of near misses, something akin to salvation.

After we chatted for a while, and I turned to enter the supermarket, he called out a blessing on me and then again on my family. I mumbled a brief thank you, and I walked away thinking I should say something to bless him too, but the words buried themselves in my own discomfort. The conversation was as awkward as you imagine it to be between a war vet and a harried housewife, but I walked away feeling as if I was richer for this chance meeting with a stranger. Near misses can cause one’s fake smile to transform into a real one, and one’s harried heart to enlarge in size.

I am so quick to dismiss the gift of a timely conversation. I almost missed out on a opportunity to see God in the face of another human being that day. I almost rejected the gift of a blessing from a stranger. When the man reached out in conversation, I wondered what he wanted or needed from me, not realizing I was the one with the greater need. I needed to stop tending my small wounds, exit my own story, and receive the gift of another’s.

Fame Doesn’t Satisfy the Soul’s Hunger

I read an article recently in which a handful of famous actors and musicians shared their thoughts on fame and life in the public eye. Overwhelmingly, they saw fame as a curse, resulting in a lifestyle they never would have chosen for themselves had they calculated the cost. In most cases fame cost them their friendships, their faith in fellow man, and their freedom.

The soul isn’t made for fame, and yet many of us seek some form of it, thinking it will fill all of the empty places inside of us. So often, we already have everything we need to feel full and satisfied, but our eyes grow larger than what our souls can hold. We stretch against an ever-growing hunger.

While fame isn’t a primary motivation in my life, wanting to be known and admired is important to me in ways that, left unchecked, can become unhealthy. It is the sickness of being fallen and human. I have the love of a good man, the blessing of my children, the support of extended family, the soul-connections of deep friendship, and yet I continue to grasp for more.

When will I sit at the banquet table of my life and taste the sweet abundance spread before me?

“Enough is as good as a feast.” A friend wrote these words, and this truth continues to reverberate in my heart like the clear ringing of a bell. I don’t like this word “enough” and like any good American, I have set my life in opposition to it. I like more, bigger, better. Forget “enough”, forget satisfied. I want excess. Fame. Fortune. Feasting.

My idea of fame and fortune looks different than your average starlet’s, no billboards or magazine covers for me, but it is rooted in the same discontent. It is rooted in the belief that my life should add up to more than the everydayness of it. I forget that when I accepted Christ, I chose to live in an upside down kingdom where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. I am called to become less so that Christ may become more in me.

Enough is as good as a feast, my friend told me. This is love expressed through letters, reminding me to be satisfied in my smallness.