Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lessons from the Garden: Weeds

For the past month, I have loved getting up early every morning and working in the garden that I've longed to have for years. I have even abandoned my usual morning workout routine in favor of weeding, pruning and dreaming of all the things I intend to plant and cultivate. It feeds my soul to work out there in the dirt, and I easily see how Mary Lennox was able to heal not only herself, but all of Misselthwaite Manor through the simple act of gardening.

As I've worked, I've thought over the countless analogies that abound in gardens. I could probably write a whole series of blogs about them, but we'll start with one and see where it takes us.

Since I've spent so much time weeding lately, we'll start with that. Weeds make an obvious symbol of our flaws, our bad habits, our sins, and the things that distract us from our highest goals and purposes. Obviously, we don't want them in our garden, and it seems the gardener's work is never really done when it comes to weeding. As I've mentioned, in the month we have lived here, most of my gardening time has been spent pulling out the jungle of weeds that had grown in the time this house has been left vacant. Now that I finally feel like I have a grip on the situation, I also have some thoughts about weeds and the act of weeding:

  • You've got to get it by the root. It's no good just plucking the leaves above the surface, the ones everyone can see. The first thing I learned as a kid working in the yard with my dad was, you've got to dig deeper and get the root, or that baby will just keep popping back up. Morning glory is my particular enemy right now because it tenaciously grows deep and long, and it seems like no matter how deep you try to dig, there's more root down there. It's no good just trying to cover up our personal flaws, bad habits and sins by trying to keep the public from ever seeing them, or try to overcome them by a superficial edit. We have to dig deep, sometimes where it really hurts and get to the root of the problem. I love the part of C S Lewis' "The Dawn Treader" where the boy, Eustace, has been turned into a dragon and desperately wants to be a boy again. Aslan tells him to take a bath, but first he must "undress". As much as the dragon-boy tries on his own, he can't remove the dragon skin. He always finds another layer of skin underneath. Aslan finally offers to assist him, and he cuts deep to remove it. The process is painful, but vastly relieving, like the liberating pain of picking off an old scab. We have to dig deep to get out the weeds.

  • In a similar vein, it's best to get the weed as soon as it pops up. The longer you wait, the more a weed can get out of control. The root goes deeper, and the leaves have more chance to nourish and strengthen it. If you wait too long, it might also go to seed, and spread its posterity all over your garden, making your job tens or hundreds of times harder. Catch it early. As soon as we recognize a flaw is the time to do something about it. We shouldn't just close our eyes to it, or make excuses for it, or heaven forbid, flaunt it. "That's just the way I am" is never a good excuse.

  • Lastly, I heard someone say once that even a rose planted in the wrong place is nothing more than a weed. Sometimes we need to root out things that might seem pretty or enjoyable, but they don't belong there. Our lives can be filled up with good things that are a distraction from the best things. For instance, we might spend too much time working on a good project at the expense of our families. Taking care of these kinds of "weeds" requires a little extra planning. If your garden has no real "plan" then you will never recognize these kinds of weeds. But when we take time to look at the big picture, make a plan, and realize something needs to move to make room for something better, then we can start to do the kind of landscaping that will make our gardens the most beautiful and pleasing.

  • Happy weeding!

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Tornadoes and a Voice of Warning

    Last week week we moved our family across the country. It was a long, though mostly pleasant journey for our little family of 6, full of expectations for this new chapter in our lives.

    As we were about half way across Missouri, on a very rainy day, we decided to pull over at a rest stop to have our lunch. Even though there was a light rain falling, there were covered picnic tables so we figured we would have a quick meal, stretch our legs, and be on our way in a short time. As I was pulling out paper plates and taking orders for PBJ or turkey sandwiches, a very excited man came over to say that there was a tornado watch going on in our location and we probably shouldn't get to comfortable. With some degree of cockiness I smirked and thought to myself, this is nothing. I grew up in North Texas and had been through many a storm. I had watched the tornado safety video every spring in our public schools, and been through countless tornado drills. Dramatic storms were a regular occurrence every spring and fall, and thunder and lightning were as comfortable and familiar to me as the roll of the ocean to islanders. So complacent had we become as children that we often quoted the safety video in heavy Texan accents, with our own sarcastic variations such as, "When a tornadey is approachin' go tuh the nearest window. Run around and flail ya'll's arms in the air." Obviously I had little reverence for this powerful menace of nature.

    So here I was, poised with paper plates still in hand, the safety of my family in the balance. Skeptically, I looked at the darkening sky. It did have that tinge of green which I had come to recognize as the harbinger of the tornado. The air pressure change in that violent of a storm actually changes the color of the air to a murky green. When a second man came over with the same warning, and we could hear the sirens sounding in the distance, we decided to take this seriously and take shelter.

    Before ducking into a large storage closet between the public restrooms along with a score of other travelers, we spotted a dark triangular shape in the near distance, just below the base of the clouds. A long, white, fast moving wall cloud began to surge towards us, and as soon as it passed overhead, we were engulfed in torrential wind and rain. Several of us kept in touch with outsiders using our cell phones, tracking the storm and waiting for the reprieve. We learned later that there was definitely a tornado in our area, but thankfully we were not in its path. Had we continued along the road, we very well could have been. In a short while, the worst of it was past, and we were able to return to our car and continue our journey, taking our lunch in the car as we went because not only was it still raining, but the temperature had dropped a full 20 degrees!

    I learned two things from this experience: first of all, I learned that God is mindful of us. We didn't know that stopping for lunch would protect us from danger, but we felt like stopping and we did so. We counted it a great blessing that God prompted us to do that.

    Secondly, I learned how important it is to follow the warning voices. We had two of them, and a third if you count the sirens. Even more if you take in all the signs in the weather. In my cockiness, and what I supposed was "educated experience," I could have ignored the warnings and put my family in great danger. Just because I had been through hundreds of storms with no actual tornado threat didn't ensure that this storm would be as safe. I truly feel that the time is already upon us when we can no longer ignore the warning voice of our modern prophets, even if we have been able to do so in the past without detriment.