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.

Looking Back and Learning to Love Your Past Self

A few weeks ago, my husband decided to clear out the basement for the third time since we moved into our home nearly four years ago. As we began The Great Sort Out of 2017, boxes and bins I’d shoved and forgotten behind old picture frames and stacks of throw pillows made an appearance. We found our wedding album stashed away with the few photos left over from my childhood. On the highest shelf, we re-discovered three small, nearly empty bins I’d set aside for each of our kids’ keepsakes. I found most of their keepsakes–tiny pre-school t-shirts, stacks of drawings, and pottery pieces shaped like fairies or snakes–sitting in forlorn piles next to half-empty paint cans.

For days, I snatched moments here and there to flip through an album or rifle through old school papers with German vocabulary words from the kids’ school in Switzerland. There is nothing more bittersweet then realizing the keepsakes of motherhood are no longer of the fingerprint and ceramic variety, but rather memories you file away and watch unfold again and again from behind closed eyes.

As we shuffled things from one spot to another, I discovered a box filled with photographs I’d torn from my favorite home and interior design magazines. I began the collection fifteen years ago, long before Pinterest made its debut. We lived in London, and I was the mother of a toddler and had another little one on the way. I remember the quiet days of life with one child and an increasingly round belly, with the soft British lilt of cartoons on the tv keeping me company, while the rain tracked patterns down the windows. I sat with a cup of tea and a few biscuits, and every week, I carefully tore out sheet after sheet. Photos of baked bread, English gardens, and toile wallpaper rose up to greet me. With each page I saved, I’d planned for a life I didn’t yet live, creating a home I could only see in my mind’s eye. A home filled with children, home cooked meals, whitewashed french furniture, candlelight, and vintage china.

One afternoon recently, I gave myself the gift of a few hours with my younger, fanciful self, and I sat down to look through all of the paper and ink dreams I collected over the course of fifteen years. The memories hit me with a wave of longing for the girl I used to be, and with each turn of the page, I felt my affection for her grow. How rare and sweet to discover I love her and her dreams, however unrealistic. I never did bake that bread, and my version of an English garden exists only in my imagination. But, I see the current, middle-aged me sitting there beside her, in waiting. How unexpected to realize that she birthed forty-year-old me into being.

All of the worn pages my younger self tore out, all of the days spent dreaming of the future, all of the long walks to the antique shops to search for bargains, all of the recipes collected, the books read to squirming children, the tea cups filled to brimming– they created more than a few memories boxed in the basement. They created the life I wake up to every morning. Much to my surprise, my imagined-future became a living, breathing reality. The location is different than I expected, as are the ruts and detours we’ve encountered along the way, but the essence captured by my collection is alive in our home and our hearts today.

No Rules in the Kitchen: A Guest Post at Grace Table

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My dad raved about my mother’s cooking growing up. He came to the table hungry and she fed more than his stomach, she fed his soul with the southern fare of his youth. Chicken fried steak, gumbo with a homemade roux, and heaping bowls of red beans and rice. She baked dessert every few nights, so our home always held the lingering scent of chocolate chip cookies or brownies made from scratch. He sipped from a glass of never-ending sweet tea, until it came time to switch to milk. Sweet tea isn’t nearly as satisfying for dunking cookies. Her food was pure comfort, a place to settle in and rest…

You may already know that I haven’t inherited my mother’s cooking skills, much to my children’s chagrin. To read the rest of the story, hop on over to GraceTable, one of the loveliest tables on the internet where you can pull up a chair and meet the most hospitable writers, readers, and cooks. Join me there?

How to Gather a Life

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The week we moved into our new, sparsely-furnished rental house in London, I realized I needed something of my own to make the place feel like we lived there. Without something of us, it looked as if we’d embarked on Rent-a-Life rather than rent a home. Our dishes, clothes, and a few poorly chosen decorative items (collectible teddy bears, I’m looking at you) sat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, bobbing across the sea, making their way from our East Coast past to our United Kingdom future.

It was a fifteen-minute walk from my little house with the bright blue door to the Charity Shop. A charity shop is the English version of a thrift shop, a place where one could find almost anything from old lady brooches and children’s clothing to tattered furniture and portable potties. After an enormous international move, our finances were stretched thin. I had a few British pounds in my pocket, and I needed to spend it wisely. Naturally, I spent it on something that would be dead in a week—a pretty little posy of flowers from the local grocery.

Flowers in hand, I stopped by the Charity shop for my next purchase—a second hand vase of thick, wavy glass. Just big enough to hold a few stems of something light and green and lovely. I came home, filled the glass with water, cut the stems of the flowers, and breathed easy for the first time since our arrival. There, on the kitchen table, sat proof that even the smallest effort to make us feel at home made a tangible difference. We might survive the upheaval after all, and I had daisies on the table to prove it.

Over the three and a half years we lived abroad, I mapped a carefully curated Charity Shop route throughout my little corner of London. I faithfully visited each shop every few weeks, bringing home a random assortment of items someone else had discarded. Every time I brought home something new to me, I thought about the hands that had previously held it. Who knit the little hand-made doll with the jaunty yellow hat now sitting on my daughter’s bed? Who gossiped with her best friend over this teapot around a table set under gray skies? Who turned the pages of this novel before me?

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I began assembling a life out of the everyday, worn-out wares of women who had gone before me, women who had raised children and read books and warmed their hands and souls over cups of strong tea. Gathering forgotten treasures from the charity shop helped me build a real, full life for my own family. I didn’t have to settle for renting one.

During our years living in London, I collected not only dust-covered books and vintage tea sets, but friendships and experiences. I collected photographs and prayers and long-walks on urban streets. I collected memories. I learned we create our lives from the things we gather, and so I gathered people and places and things with purpose.

Most of the lovely bits I gathered from my charity shop curation, have gone on to live other lives elsewhere, although the tea set still sits proudly in my china cabinet while the knit doll hides, gathering dust in the basement. The thick-bottomed vase disappeared years ago, and I keep hoping it will show up, miraculously. Even if it doesn’t, in my mind’s eye, I see it sitting on a rented, nicked-up and dented kitchen table in the terraced house with the blue door. I see it as the promise of a life gathered, full, expectant. I see it filled with a handful of daisies.

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What are you gathering to make a life?

Home Is a Warm Welcome

I grew up in a family of introverts who pretended to be extroverts for much of the week, while pastoring a small suburban church. On evenings and Saturdays, my family returned to the natural order of the introvert: quiet, calm, with no excessive talking. While my parents filled their days with church members seeking counseling, phone calls, drop-ins, and members simply wanting to chat—at home, they needed time to recharge. They filled their free time with, well…nothing.

I remember my childhood home as one of varying degrees of peace and quiet. For a bookish girl like myself, this fit me perfectly.When my husband and I began dating, I entered into a family of extroverts of the intense variety…

To read the rest of the story, please join me at (in)courage, one of my favorite spaces filled with my favorite people on the internet. Want to see less competition and more women encouraging other women? Sign up here to receive daily posts from the writers of (in)courage, right in your inbox.