Ripping out the Roots

On Wednesday, I came home from school and was, as of late, met by a barraging overflow of zucchini leaves, spilling over the vegetable garden into my path. All I wanted was to move forward and set down my things in the house, but instead, I lifted leaves and pushed back the vegetation in order to put my bags down on the back deck and let Brooklyn out of the house.

I came back. It had been weeks… months? These leaves, an offset of a different problem, had begun to intrude into my space a while ago and now were covered in a type of powdered mildew, nevermind the host of squash bugs boring into and infesting their roots. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I began cutting. and snipping, and snapping, and ripping. It took me about thirty minutes to realize that I was still in my dress clothes, but at this point, who cared? It was swelteringly hot, and my long sleeves and pants didn’t deter me. This needed to get done. And after I cut out all of the disease, about 2/3 of the massive plant, I could finally see some fruit, several zucchini to harvest, and also the tangled mess that had been slowly poisoning the plant from the roots up. There was no salvaging that part, but it was thriving the best it could anyhow, even if its offerings on the outside looked bleak, its spiky leaf tips pointed toward the sky like a vessel. “Fill me; help.”

Then there was the kale. From afar, it looked fine, but then at ten feet, I saw the stripped leaves, the ribbed ruffage full of munched holes. And at a few inches, upon inspection, I observed the problem too. A caterpillar. No, many of them. No, hundreds, thousands? Their eggs and their little striped bodies, just a half-inch long, had found a village, a sprawling food-filled metropolis, and they were happy. I… was not. And after assessing the damage, I decided that having no kale was better than the shred of what had been left behind by this ravaging. I’d rather rip them up from the roots and start over. I could plant again, put down new roots, but the kale would not survive in this state, and the risk of spreading it to the rest of my garden did not make me pleased. I went to work.

The funny thing is, as always, it struck me, during this ripping of the roots, that this is yet another of my gardening life metaphors. I also went to work on something different recently, or more accurately, I went to work, at WCA. And my departure from my old, beloved school felt somewhat like these plants… I hadn’t been thriving anymore. Somehow, and I don’t know how the descent happened (like the plants, I didn’t see its origins), I had been slowly being eaten at, had been trying to thrive and yet offering less-than to my kids. There was still good there, still fruit growing, but it was harder to see, and I was under so much stress and confusion about what was happening that I couldn’t come out from it. I wanted so badly to stay where I was and be what I had been, but it was time to be transplanted, to be ripped out of the place where I had put down roots so someone else could put theirs down and do beautiful work.

My friends have been asking me lately, very thoughtfully, how I like school, my new job, and I can say unreservedly that I love it. I LOVE it. It is renewing and full of life and vigor and glory. I am happy… what a novel sentence. Fleeting as it usually seems to be, I am happy. And I hope that the feeling stays. But more than anything, I am thankful. I am thankful for what I now realize was the perfect amount of time in my first “garden plot”… I didn’t understand then why I was still there. If I’m in so much pain, if I’m struggling so much, why would God still have me here? But, now, hindsight 20/20, I see. He built into my character. I was still creating fruit, even if less than usual. I was still stretching out my hands, rugged and stained though they were, trying to find answers. And God taught me some amazing things. The confusion, the anxiety fog, the relationships that I had, the way that I grew in the last few years in my understanding of social justice, the teammates I had… everything was for my good, for my growth. I see now that the teacher I am is informed by much of that. The joy that I have now is in light of that. I know that I am where I am supposed to be, and I know now that I was then too. And at the proper time (though it seemed late to me), God brought change. He ripped me out, roots and all, and I started over. I am so thankful…

What an incredible school I came from, what incredible people… but other people were still thriving there while I was not. It was time. And at the perfect minute, I came into a job with the right kids, the right parents, the right curriculum, the right room, the right school, the right colleagues, the right passion and joy. I am thrilled. Genuinely… my cup overflows.

This is what I wish for my students, for my friends… that this tiny glimpse I have now of God’s plan and his story would be something you could see too, that the current struggle you are in would reap strength and depth of understanding later as you look back on this time, that you will be filled to overflowing with future joy, and that you would do as God encouraged me to do last September… almost a year ago today… “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2 … and see what he has planned for you. Then, get to work.

Amen.

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God is Gracious

I met a man named John about ten days ago at Lowe’s. My school day had been one of ups and downs, mentally. I had self-metered my brain’s state of clarity at a 75% in the morning, a 50% in the middle of the day, and by the end, I had reached what I thought was 90%. So, I thought, “‘You know what? I’m going to run some errands! I’m feeling pretty good…”

…and about 45 minutes later, I was still wandering around in the same sections of Lowe’s trying to make just three simple decisions. I stood, staring at the trellises (for supporting winding sweet potato vines), and I just kept pacing back and forth, back and forth, looking, puzzling, fighting for my thoughts to be clear, pacing, checking my list again… and I shook my head at myself as my thoughts were interrupted by a man next to me, muttering to himself as he looked for just the right trellis, too.

“I know how you feel!” I found myself saying.

I chuckled and looked his way. “I do that all of the time…”

“Yeah…” he said, “I just need to find a good trellis for my wife. She described it to me, but I’m not sure if I’m getting the right one…”

And the conversation began.

I found out that John, a 5’10″ish black man with graying stubble on his chin, wearing cargo khaki shorts and a grey T-shirt that hugged his somewhat round belly, was a gardening helper. His wife was the gardener, and he was learning from her, giving her all of the credit for a green thumb, and he was just trying to do something to help her out. He laughed as he explained that gardening was relaxing for them. It got them out of their normal routine and “crabbing at each other.” They felt good there, together, in the garden, and though he mentioned multiple times that she was the one who really knew what she was doing, this man John knew quite a lot.

So, we wandered through the section again, back and forth, like ebbing tides, going in and out of this Lowe’s aisle, passing each other and turning to chat every few minutes again, and he began to inquire about my garden. What did I need the trellis for? What else did I grow? How about tomatoes? (Their tomatoes were doing REALLY well! Hence the need for more trellises to support their growing stalks and fruit.)

And that’s where he came of great assistance.

See, my tomato plants have been struggling… and it’s odd, because last year, at least with my Sun Gold tomatoes, I felt like I couldn’t pick them fast enough. The plant grew, the tomatoes burst at the seams, fell ripe on the ground, spoiled on the ground sometimes, twisted vine-y stems over and around and under and through the fenced areas, and I had to hold the thing back; it was that prosperous! We had Sun Golds for days… months… in plenty.

But, this summer, though I thought I really prepared them well, they’ve been struggling. I put them in pots for more protection, I watered them every morning, I had tomato cages in their soil ready to go before they even got big (which they never really did), I put spikes of organic vegetable fertilizer in them, I….

“You what?”

John interrupted me.

“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” he said. “That’s too much for them, in those pots. The fertilizer just sits in there, releasing continuously, and it’s too much. You probably over-watered them too. Were the leaves yellow?” (Yeah… I’d figured that out halfway through the summer and started changing my watering methods.)

“Well, here’s the thing,” he said. “You want to drop in fertilizer as needed. It’s best to just add it little by little. Those fertilizer spikes that just stay in the soil are too powerful. It’s like they make the plant work too hard for too long, and it can’t just do its normal thing.”

I sat, amazed, at this man who said he didn’t know much about gardening.

“You also want to put the pots on soil. Mine are in pots too, but I set the pots on top of the dirt so they’re close to the ground. I don’t know what it is, but they perform better that way. The like to be close to real earth.”

“Okay, so not planted in the ground, but potted and just set on the ground?” (I’m always looking for things to be re-explained to me in different ways.)

“Yeah, actually on the ground in the pots. They just like to be close to the source, you know? They need that. And then they do really well. And, I water mine every day. Every day they can’t get enough water and sun, and they do great. I mean, look, I’m here buying trellises because they’re getting so big! […] I mean, I just learn all this from the gardener herself, right? She teaches me! But, it works every year.”

I stood, puzzled. It’s that easy? That’s all I had to do? Put the pots on the soil… Geez, I’m thankful for the advice, but I was feeling a little dense! 🙂

So, John and I finished our conversations as I had savored those moments of seemingly clear communication, and he called his wife for clarification on that trellis, and then I wandered down the aisles again, unable to make my choices. Finally, I checked out, having passed John again in the aisles once or twice, and then I went to my car and ran into John one more time in the parking lot. We shook hands, and I very genuinely told him that it was a pleasure to meet him and that I hoped to see him again around the area.

And, I drove home, only to realize in despair once I had unpacked and started to look around for my other items, that I had left two things at the checkout line. It took me a few minutes, and as ridiculous as it sounds, I called Brian to see if he’d pick them up. I was overwhelmed. Despite my life-giving chat with John, all the sudden things felt so heavy. I couldn’t believe that I’d exhausted myself all day at school only to do what should have been a 15 minute errand that turned into an hour and a half after which I left items at the store. Was $10 really that important? We decided yes, and I mustered up the feigned energy to go back, grab the items from the checkout girl who had them ready and waiting, and drove back home.  The funny thing was that that errand and its success made me feel like a prize-fighting champion. I did one thing with focus and success that day, it seemed. One thing.

It wasn’t until the next day that my mind started to clear even further, and I realized a few things. And then I realized a few things a few days later. The clarity kept coming.

1) I was still dealing with the symptoms of whatever was happening in my brain. Utter exhaustion + pushing myself to work more + lack of nutrients/water (?) + spiritually battling + trying to do everything and care for everyone = a foggy, indecisive, crippled brain. That topsy-turvy day was absolutely a day in the midst of the most difficult two weeks mentally that I’ve ever had. Though I thought that I had weathered the storm and it was all sunny from there, I had jumped the gun. I wasn’t healed yet.

2) I finally sort of understood what women had described to me before: being so exhausted or consumed with anxiety or even depression that it was a success just to be able to make their kids’ lunches in the morning before school. Life felt that hard that even doing one small thing, like getting their leftover items from the Lowe’s checkout, felt like something to praise God over.

3) John’s name means “God is gracious.” And John, though black, reminded me a lot in stature and demeanor, of my father, whose name is also John.

So, I’ve been taking John’s advice, because God is gracious, indeed. I quickly put my pots on soil that day, and I’ve been watering them every morning. They’re not flourishing yet, but they’re getting stronger and greener each day, and the tomatoes are ripening more quickly than they have been this past summer.

And, I’ve been watering myself each morning, close to the source. I’ve been getting up early to read my Bible and pray, to walk around the grassy yard a little with my dog, Brooklyn, to sit and stare up into the sky, close my eyes, breathe in, breathe out, and prepare myself for the oncoming day.

I’m not flourishing yet, but I’m getting stronger and clearer each day. My legs are able to carry me farther. My mind is able to accomplish more, more efficiently. My days are long and feel like big mountains ahead of me sometimes, but I’m being carried through them. Over them.

And I’m wondering where the rest will be. That’s something I keep asking God. Where will the rest be? Is this just a season, or this what I should get used to? Is this what you’re training me to endure? Am I to find you every morning in quiet moments, and then the rest of my day is going to be like an arduous leg of a marathon, every day, over and over? When will I feel that soul-quenching, body-relaxing, full washing-over-me REST that I so long for? When, God?

And he’s not answering me, yet.

But, I’m staying close to the source… and oh my, my dear friends and family… God is gracious. So, incredibly gracious. Each morning. Each day. Each hour. He is gracious. I’m living in that grace, today and every day, and I’m looking for the glimpse over these mountains.

I’m not healed fully yet, but I’m really looking forward to that day. And I hope that I can meet John again one day, Lord willing, and tell him what his tomato advice meant to me. I wonder if he has any idea…

Grandpa and Gardening… Lord, Hear our Cry

This morning, we were able to visit grandpa for about an hour. He is sleeping, peacefully, it seems. He had two seizures last night, and the second one was pretty bad. He is on medication for that which has sedated him heavily. He also has a fairly large, solid blood clot between his skull and his brain which is putting pressure on his brain and probably causing some of the symptoms that the family saw when they found him and put him in the hospital. We are not sure, but the family and the doctors believe that the symptoms and the clot are from a fall that he took a few days before. In typical grandpa fashion, he did not tell anyone that he fell, and it was not until a few strange phone calls that the family was alarmed enough to go check on him.

This morning, we held grandpa’s hands, we held onto his shoulders, we caressed his head, and we whispered to him how much we loved him and how much the Lord loves him. It was hard. Really hard. Probably least for me, being the grandaughter-in-law. We cried and hugged each other before we left, and we’re all praying, very much, for his comfort and healing, but mostly for his salvation, for a lasting peace.

At this point, there is still a chance that he might not make it through this last fall, but there are also some options. The rest is in the hands of the doctors, the minds and decisions of grandpa’s four sons, and of course, the sovereignty and will of our Lord. May He move powerfully, in His perfect will.

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When I arrived back at home, Brooklyn came to greet me. He was excited at first, and then clearly sensing my mood, slowed down, and sidled up to me very softly and sweetly. I scratched his chest and nuzzled his face, and he let me dote on him for a few seconds before seeming to sense that I was okay and going to lay down and bask in the sun. A few minutes later, we trotted together into the front yard to water the flowers, and then I began yanking weeds – some grass that is trying to grow over into my garden area, some pesky ones trying to look like flowers and trying to tangle their roots with the plants I’ve planted, some invasive weed that was cropping up under the back deck that I had been neglecting for days.

There’s something about seeing a man lying in a hospital room, watching his chest rise and fall, hearing him breathe, holding his hand, that makes you want to rip out weeds. Something about seeing someone not thriving that makes you want to see growth and the right things thrive. I want to rip out all of the invasive-ness, the weeds, the sin. I want to see flourishing. I want to see beauty and peace. My heart cries out for healing.

And as I type, of course, God in his goodness, provides a song on my ITunes, “All I Need” by Enter the Worship Circle. He often speaks to me through music. Almost daily as of late.

How long will my bed be made with tears?
How long will You leave me here?
Don’t leave me here

The grave is too late to sing Your praise
The dead man has no breath
So while there’s beating in my chest
My heart will sing this craziness!
You are all I need!
You have set me free!

-from Psalm 6:1-10

Yes, Lord, you are all I need. I am praying that grandpa would know that too…that he would have time and awareness and soundness of mind to make that decision. That his sons would have time to tell him what they need to, that they could speak to him sweetly, that grandpa, with the Lord’s grace, would speak sweetly back to them, that he would tell them he loves them.

Our God is great. He can do amazing things. May his power be used today through the nurse’s hands, the family’s discussions, the doctor’s wisdom and expertise. And would the Holy Spirit move.

Those who trust in the Lord

Are a strong mountain
They will not…not be moved

Those who trust in the Lord
Are as Mount Zion
They will not…not be moved

Christ the King, He sets my feet
On a firm foundation
They will not…not be moved

Though the world moves like mad
You alone are faithful
Jesus, you, you will not be changed.

 

-Enter the Worship Circle, from Psalm 125

Veggie Mama Grows and Harvests

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There’s been a lot of beauty and flourishing in my vegetable garden this summer. This year (my second year as a veggie gardener), I am growing many things I have not previously grown.

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Currently, rotating left to right through my garden plot, I have Bush (green) beans, sugar snap peas, onions, jalapeños, cayenne peppers, Swiss (rainbow) chard, beets, red and orange bell peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, and red and white potatoes. Then, on my deck in pots, I have herbs (mint, chives, chocolate mint, sage, rosemary, basil, oregano), Roma tomatoes, and Sungold tomatoes.

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Harvesting Order:
Beets
Green beans (continuously)
Swiss chard (continuously)
Carrots (continuously)
Sugar snap peas (continuously)
Tomatoes (continuously)
Onions (as soon as I want to eat them!)
Jalapeños (continuously)
Cayenne peppers (continuously)
Bell peppers (as they mature)
Potatoes (can pick red and white as new potatoes any time, or dig out gently in the fall)
Sweet potatoes (fall crop)

 

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Next on the docket:
Kale (plant in the fall)
Berries and other fruits (next spring!)

 

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