Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Gardening: Just Be

            Here we are, the first day of February 2017.  It’s been a mild, pleasant winter for my neck of the woods (Midwest, zone 5).  There has been little snow compared to other years and the sun has been shining a lot.  The sun is nice to have, especially when dark winters are hard on you emotionally.  But it does lead to below-zero days.  And the bitter cold is worse when there’s no snow to look at, to make it worth it. 
            Personally, I love the snow.  I need the snow.  I need the deep rest before the world wakes up again and it’s time to go, go, go.  Winter forces us to slow down and breathe, to learn to wait and rest and be at peace.   
            I didn’t always love winter.  I mean, of course, I love the Christmas lights and Christmas songs and hot cocoa and cozying into my house with my family, being all hermit-y and anti-social.  But I didn’t really learn to love winter - to embrace it, to need it - until recently. 

            A couple winters ago, I went through a really bad depression, the kind where you just want to be done with everything, where you try and try and yet always feel like a failure, where you are exhausted from continuing to hope that things would change, where you wake up every day and pray, “Come back now, Lord.  Please, just come back and end it all.  Please just come back now.”  And that’s all I could pray for months.  It was a really hard winter, emotionally. 
            And during the following summer, I began to fear the next winter.  What if winter triggers another depression?  What if I begin slipping emotionally every time it snows just because it reminds me again of all that’s wrong with life?  What if I’m destined to be thrown into a deep, dark pit every time winter rolls around again?  And of course, here in the Midwest, winter always rolls around again.  You can count on it.
            But when winter did finally make its appearance a few months later, I was oddly surprised and delighted to realize that it was more comfortable than it had ever been.  It was like wrapping a warm, fluffy blanket around my shoulders and curling up on the couch with hot cocoa in my hands while visiting with an old friend.
            And I don’t really know what happened.  Maybe I embraced winter during that depression in a way I never did before?  Maybe I gave up fighting things and learned to go with it?  Maybe I learned the difference between “doing” and “being”?  Maybe winter is where I learned to fall before the Lord in exhaustion, to admit that I can’t do it all and that I need Him to carry me and that I am okay with that arrangement - that I am okay with being weak and broken and with needing Him to fix me, to hold me? 
            And I guess that’s what winter has become to me now, a time to pause from the doing and to just enjoy the being.  A time that I associate with learning to be okay with my weaknesses, my shortcomings, my helplessness before the Lord . . . and to let Him care for me in a way that I never did before.
            It’s where I’m learning how to be content with being still, with feeling like I’m not accomplishing much.  It’s where I’m learning to be aware of and thankful for the hidden blessings of a time that is so dark and barren and lifeless, to be friends with the solitude because I can’t get outside much to talk to others, to focus on being faithfully obedient in the small, everyday, boring tasks at home when I’d rather be doing something more fun outside.  It’s where I learn to just be with God in the moment.  In the deep, lonely snow.  In the dark months.  In the long waiting.  Just be content here and now, sitting with Him in the peaceful stillness!  (As peaceful as it can be when you’ve got four sons in one house for months on end.)
            And that’s why I don’t think I’m quite ready yet for spring.  I’m not ready to jump back into the busyness and the “accomplishing.”  I still have more to learn about cherishing the resting, the waiting, the quiet, and the “not accomplishing.”  I still want to find more of Him in the winter: in the swirling snow and the ice crystals on the window and the little bird-friends that come to visit the feeders. 
            I don’t want to live like God is only in the warm springs and hot summers.  I want to be able to find Him and rest with Him in even the dark, long winters.  When it’s just me and the kids in the house all day, staring at the same walls every day.  Tackling the same piles of laundry.  Washing the same dishes over and over again.  Correcting the same math problems and asking the kids, “What library books have you read?” over and over again.  Because He’s here, too.  Waiting to be found by me, to visit with me, and to be enjoyed, even in the dark times.  
            If I can find Him in the dark, “dead” times as much as I can in the lively, busy times then there’s no reason to rush through any of the seasons.  Because there is something good – there is purpose and value and blessings - in all seasons of the year, just like in all seasons of life.  And the truth is that we won’t be content with spring until we’ve learned to be content with winter, with 2 feet of snow on the ground and howling winds that keep us inside all day.  Because that’s how contentment works; it starts now or it never starts at all. 
            God and goodness and life and joy are here and now, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed, waiting to teach us lessons about our hearts and minds, about God and our relationship with Him.  So let’s not rush life.  Let’s not think that all the good stuff comes “later.”  Let’s not waste all of our energy planning for and dreaming about the next phase.  Let’s be sure to inhale all of the goodness of this season, before moving onto the next.
            I’m the kind of person who’s always trying to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.  But in winter, I learn to put down that burden and let the Lord carry me and to “just be.”
            I love winter!  I really do.


            And yet, here we are in February.  A time when I can sense winter’s end drawing nearer, when I know it’s almost time again for busy “doing” and for getting out of the cozy confines of my house and for getting back to mingling with society.  A time when the life that is hidden under the snow is being gently nudged and reminded that it’s almost time to wake up.  February is when my mind starts wandering again toward one of my favorite hobbies – gardening.
            This season will be especially wonderful – because I have something so heartwarming to look forward to.
            If you read my other blogs, you’d know that 2016 was a bad year for me.  It was one of the most stressful, joyless years.  (Unfortunately, things got harder in different ways after that depressing winter a couple years ago.  But that’s life.  And I’m learning to live life as it is, not as I want or expect it to be.) 
            But there was one area last summer that shined really brightly for me (besides the fact that God got me through the year).  Every time I think of it, I smile.  And I think of it a lot. 
            Last winter, months before everything went really bad (read “My Panic Attack” at to see what I mean), I was thinking about shutting down my beloved garden for the year, maybe even for good.  I was just so discouraged by a moldy neighbor’s garage which is right next to my garden.  (Of course, it’s not a moldy neighbor.  It’s a moldy garage.)  It had been growing moldier and moldier for years and blowing all over us, making my arms tingle and making me have to cover my face with my jacket because it smelled so bad.  And nobody would do anything about it, no matter who I complained to.  And I was tired of hoping and waiting and wanting things to change.
            But then the thought hit me that instead of shutting the garden down, I could offer some of my raised beds to be used by a wonderful neighbor two doors down for her to grow a garden in.  My garden is plenty big to offer her a good chunk of space to use.  And she has a yard full of shade and a giant blank walnut tree.  And you can’t grow veggies under a black walnut.  Plus, she has three young children.  And I think all children should experience growing their own food, planting and watering and watching the fruit grow and enjoying the efforts of their labors when they get to finally harvest it and eat it.
            And so I wrote her a letter one day in late winter and asked if she’d like to garden in our yard.  (I warned her about the moldy garage, but she would only be there for a short while whenever she came over.)  I totally expected her to politely refuse because she is such a sweet person that I thought it might make her uncomfortable to be using someone else’s yard. 
            But she surprised me when she said that she would love to.  She also said that she had just been reading the Little House on the Prairie books with her young kids, and they had been asking to grow a garden of their own.  So it was perfect timing. 
            That summer (this past one, 2016, the terrible one), I was able to take my mind off of my troubles a little and to experience a bit of delight through someone else’s eyes as I watched her and her young kids enjoy planting plants and gathering veggies, sampling the raspberries that I told them they could pick, jumping on the trampoline for a few moments of crazy fun, etc.  It brought me so much delight in an otherwise very discouraging summer. 


            I love sharing the veggies from my garden anyway (I am a firm believer that it everyone grew something and shared it, the world would be a better place), but now I got to share the space and let another family have the delight of growing their own stuff.  I got to see the excitement in the kids’ eyes when they pulled a ripe tomato.  I got to watch little eighteen-month-old hands stuffing ripe berries into a smiling, chubby-cheeked mouth.  I got to introduce them to the other plants in the garden, like onions and garlic and parsley.  I got to watch them discover new wonders, like seeing the praying mantises that hatched from the egg sacs I bought.  I even caught one and let it go in their yard for them to watch all summer.  I got to watch a three-year-old sigh in relief when he brought the abandoned baby worm that he found in his yard over to our garden and found it a big mommy worm to be its friend. 
            Letting her family share the garden was a breath of fresh air for me, bringing life and joy into my soul when I needed it most.  It was such a blessing to me.  A highlight.  I still smile every time I think of it, and I thank God for giving me that idea last winter.
            And I’m looking forward to this summer - 2017 – because I gave her even more space to use.  (God-willing, the owners will do something to that garage.  And if they don’t, then I have a few ideas.J)  And right now, she’s using up the produce that she froze from last year’s garden (a minestrone with homegrown tomatoes, patty pan, zucchini, oregano, and parsley) and daydreaming up plans for which plants she wants in this year’s garden.    
            And I am daydreaming about spring, when I get to see little feet tromping through the garden beds, little hands digging in the fresh-turned dirt, and God’s goodness providing natural riches for two families from one space.  Sharing the garden was one of the greatest blessings to come out of a really rough year.
            To know that I can use the blessings that God has given me to be a blessing to someone else is exciting and deeply satisfying and humbling.  I am really looking forward to this summer, just being able to watch someone else enjoy something that has been a passion of mine – gardening.
            But since there’s still now on the ground and weeks of winter left, all I can do right now in dream about the garden and make my plans.  And for the first gardening posts on this blog, I am going to repost sections of the “gardening series” that I wrote a couple winters ago on my other blog (updated a bit with new information).  It’s not exactly a “how-to” but more of a “life through my eyes” kind of thing.  And I invite all of you to come along for the ride, for a trip through my eyes, my mind, and my garden.  Maybe it will get you in the mood to plant something too.

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