From the Ground Up

I was challenged in February to think creatively about my personal journey and capture that in a selfie. I’m not a very abstract thinker but a few days before the deadline, I walked out my front door and right in front of me was the most starkly green, out of place, ugly weed I’ve ever seen. Not only did I not understand how it got there or how it was even alive in the middle of February. I moved on with my day, but my mind kept coming back to that ugly foliage until I decided annihilation was the only recourse. Right as I plunged my fingers as deep as I could in the dirt to get all of the roots, I had a thought: This is what my journey is like. 

Most of us know that the bible begins with a garden, but did you know it also ends with one? There isn’t much that happens to us that we cannot find a parable for in the allegory of a garden, and I like to ruminate that God did this intentionally. He started with the garden of Eden, a place where he wanted there to be relationship (with himself and others), fruitful living, and abundance. This is all lost, we learn, after sin enters the world. But God never gives up, all through history his hand is present and strategically arranging countries, people, journeys, and even our own lives as he toils towards the second Eden. 

When I pulled the weed out of the dirt that cold and gray, February  afternoon, I didn’t get all of the roots. Ugh, that means it will come back again, I thought. Weeds always seem to pop up, surprising us, even when we already know they will come back. We will weed our gardens and flowerbeds then go about the merriment of life and somehow are still surprised that suddenly there are weeds all throughout the garden again. It is a continual job for one who gardens, and one that varies from garden to garden. 

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Some gardens embrace what another garden would consider a weed. Milkweed, Purslane, Morning Glories, Dandelions, Chickweed, Creeping Charlie, and other plants that are beautiful in a meadow and belong there, are considered weeds in my flower and vegetable gardens. We, as gardens, are unique in our purpose; we are each knit together by our creator in a unique way. The plants in my garden are not necessarily in yours, and vice versa. Some doubts and fears and thoughts spring up like weeds in my garden but those very same thoughts may not plague yours. It is important, therefore, for me to know my own garden and what I am growing. I must know where I am planted, recognize the plants I want to keep in all stages, and recognize weeds before they take hold. Our gardens have plants that are annuals (must be replanted annually) and we have perennials (plants that come back on their own each year), which ones do we want to keep?

When we pull weeds out of our gardens, they always look so fresh, neat, and manicured. Flowers begin to thrive and new seeds can take root in the space provided.  Free of weeds, plants push forward into the sunlight, striving to burst forth joyful blooms. The beauty and hope that accompanies a garden always inspires a gardener to nourish it lovingly with fertilizer and plenty of water. The care we invest in our gardens require hours, days, weeks, months, and at times years of dedication and commitment. Yet if you speak to someone that loves gardening the whole process, to them, is a delightful one. There is no start or finish to a garden, only cycles. Gardeners love the harvest, relish the planting, enjoy splitting and moving plants, and pruning existing ones. They enjoy seeing the earth turn cold and brown with unique textures knowing that the rebirth each spring is a miracle to behold. 

You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Isaiah 58:11(b)

But how many of us spend the same amount of dedication and commitment to address our lives as if we are a garden? Maybe God gave us gardens to remind us that we must be tended constantly in order to grow under his green thumb? Do we ensure that we maintain proper lighting, enrichment in soil, and nourishing water? Are we careful to rid our gardens of the weeds popping on a continual basis? Do we diligently manage the boundaries of our garden and keep away toxic things and animals that will destroy it? Do we invest the time in our own self-care that we need to properly flourish?

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12:6-7

For many, weeds spring up in the form of thought patterns and fear. Those fears and thoughts when watered alongside our flowers will grow stronger and eventually choke out the good plants that we want to keep. It is important to recognize weeds of fear in our garden because they motivate our behaviors, impact our relationships, and suck up all the nutrients that we need. Shameful thoughts of never being enough, never having enough, not being worth enough are also weeds. The Gardener of our lives ensured long ago that we will always have enough and that we are always worth enough. 

No matter how many times a flower fails to bloom, we don’t ever blame the flower, do we? Instead, we question other factors: where is it planted, is there enough light, is it being overshadowed, does it get enough water, etc. Yet, when we fail to bloom or when we make mistakes, instead of seeking the wisdom of the Gardener to determine what factors are at play we often heap condemnation on ourselves and beat ourselves down into the soil, wilting and giving up. We dismiss all possibilities of change or growth and collapse or berate ourselves ruthlessly as failures. Other times, weeds of temptation rise up and threaten to surround us/control the way we grow. Weeds, no matter what form they come in constrict our growth and eventually suffocate us.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

When winter arrives it is then time to die to old ways, to be pruned for strength, and to embrace a new way. How often do we perceive our hard times as failure rather than success? All gardens that are successful, that are loved by the Gardener, and that thrive go through seasons. They are pruned, sometimes harshly, and then packed with pine needles or another insulating cover, and allowed to rest for the duration of winter. But in spite of the lack of visits, the Gardener has not forgotten the garden! Most of the time, the Gardener sits only on the other side of the window pane, watching longingly and planning for spring. Planning the guiding changes to be made in order for another fruitful harvest, pleased the garden is hunkered down and gaining strength and endurance during the winter months.

He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harms.” & “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 13:20; 27:17

Roughly, the concept of companion planting is that certain plants, when planted closeby, help each other thrive, while other combinations thwart each other. So we must always consider those planted around us and with us. We have plants that are annuals, there for a season, and plants that are perennials which stay permanently. How do the relationships in life spur us on to bloom better each year? Do we have relationships that are annuals yet we keep trying to make them perennials, fighting against the Gardener’s intent? The very first year that my husband and I planted a vegetable garden we planted the cucumbers and the cantaloupes side-by side. It made sense to me, for all the melons to be in one section of the garden. When harvest came, my husband brought in the cucumbers and I excitedly pulled out my cutting board to chop our first homegrown salad. But when I sliced into the first cucumber, it was orange! The second, and third were the same. I tasted, and the center was sweet like a cantaloupe in spite of clearly being a cucumber on the outside. I called my husband, baffled. We walked together to the cantaloupes in the garden, picked one, and to our amazement found it the cantaloupe was a cucumber inside! I had never heard anything like this but a few older farmers chuckled at our naivety, explaining the concept of cross-pollination and told us not to put them together again. (For the record the cantaloupe made a wonderful cucumber salad.) Who are we cross pollinating with, and is that a good or bad thing?

For years I had a problem with thistle weed in my gardens. As I filled my feeders one day I noticed the label on the bag listed thistle seeds among others. I switched to sunflower-only bird seed and while we still found some thistles (I think we never got all the roots!), they have cut back dramatically and I have many pleasant volunteer sunflowers that spring up randomly each year. You see, the birds will scavenge from our feeders and then excrete the seeds in various places. Some of those seeds grow. In this experience I learned it is the job of the Gardener to not only maintain the garden but to consider the aspects of the environment as well! The culture of where our gardens reside is a rural area, farming area, lots of wind, lots of birds, lots of wildlife. As such, I treat my gardens and prepare differently than my friend in a very crowded neighborhood with a small lot. In fact, some of the ‘invasive’ plants she has brought me will not grow here at all in the harsh elements. So not only is it wise to look at what we have going on inside of our garden but we should be informed about what is going on outside of it? How can we help, act in the best interest of, and encourage others with the beauty of our garden? Can our blooms help others? Can the wisdom of the Gardener be shared or a source of hope for others just starting? 

There is always work to be done in a garden. And when the garden is complete, well, it will never be complete. There will always be changes and work with each season. So let’s embrace our work and our journey, let’s appreciate the famine and dance in the too-heavy spring rains. Let’s enjoy the toil and sweat on our brow as we pull the weeds, and let’s treasure the hot sunshine that makes us grow. May we let go of relationships that were meant only to be planted as annuals, while taking care to insulate the perennials that will winter alongside us long term. And lastly, may the fresh-cut flowers of our gardens be harvested in abundance. As our flower vases rest on our tables, may the joy we experience come not solely from the display but from working with and for the Gardener.

The last chapter of the bible opens with a most poetic paragraph. This paragraph inspires hope and breeds reassurance that we will again see the garden flourish without struggle along with relationship, fruitful living, and abundance. I find myself returning to this passage over and over throughout my life. In good times and bad, it is reassuring to know that the cycle of my garden will never end in Christ.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5

Spring is right around the corner here in Pennsylvania. The snowdrops are finished, the crocuses are in full bloom, and the daffodils are beginning to litter the landscape with their cheerful faces. I believe my perception of life, gardening, and my personal journey will never be the same again. Having met the challenge, I think I will print this selfie with my weed as a reminder.

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