Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Still Blooming

Our yard is a mess.

There's no other way to put it. We live on a half-acre that borders a thin patch of woods in the back. A good portion of it is a hill that gets a TON of sun. The soil is dry and dusty and water just runs down the hill rather than into the ground. As a result, I've been told the house's former inhabitants spent a lot of time coaxing grass to grow, to no avail.

Poison ivy tries to sneak in on the top of the hill every year. The evergreens and swamp maples in the same area have overgrown branches that sink low to the ground, creating magical secret hiding places if you're a child, or a bit whimsical, but to everyone else it probably looks sloppy.

Our garden is no more (too much work and money for too little results) and both pricker and sumac bushes have tried to overtake it.

Mowing the grass really means mowing the weeds. Each fall we could rake 200 bags of leaves (mostly from trees that are in the woods, not our yard), if we ever had time to rake all 200 bags of leaves.

Many times I just do what I can and let it go. But there are times when I am out there, doing my best with limited resources and limited time, pulling up weeds that will grow back again, when the sense of futility overwhelms me.

What's one sumac tree when there are three more that have sprouted?

How can pulling up pricker bushes until I draw blood really matter, when I can't truly get them all? Sometimes, the roots are just too deep.

There is a mountain laurel bush in our front yard, near the garage. A few years ago we noticed the leaves looking sickly, yellow and spotted. The bush barely bloomed. While I'm not completely sure if this was the connection, upon closer inspection I saw the bush was being choked by some kind of long, tendril-like weed (it might be Oriental bittersweet, I'm not sure). It had wound its way around the inner part of the mountain laurel, up the center and onto the top, where it was beginning to bury the leaves.

Last summer I stood out in the sweltering sun and began taking out my aggressions on the plant. I ripped, pulled, and cut. Great heaps of it fell to the ground. I got out the step ladder and pulled some more. Only -- I'm short, and the bush (and the weeds all around it) were too tall. I got most of it, but had to leave a clump at the top. It's the type of thing I could've asked Dan to do, only, with his limited time he's got to stick to things like mowing the weeds.

Defeated, I glared up at the bittersweet. I did the same this spring when it sprouted to life. I got to work tackling the sumac again this year; the prickers that are winding their way everywhere.

This is like your life. The thought popped into my head as I pulled another weed but missed the roots. That's why you're frustrated. Because there are no quick solutions; because things aren't neat and tidy; because sometimes you struggle with the same things over and over again and can't ever seem to completely root them out.

Here is the thing, if you are one (like me) who has grown up in the Christian faith, grown up in churches and with Bibles and preachers before Sunday dinners. There have been well-meaning people who have turned the practice of Christianity into a quick fix for your troubles. Just do A, and you'll get B. Just believe. Just have faith and God will perfect you. Do this. Do that. It's simple.

Only, while Truth may be simple, the process of walking out your faith, your life, your shortcomings, of turning something quite unlovely into something beautiful and of use, is not simple at all. It's dirt under the fingernails. It's sweat. It's tears. Not because I have to work to earn anything, but because I am still human, and I live with a fallen body and mind, and I live in a fallen world.

It's a world of sunlight and thorns, wasps and butterflies, of flowers that stink (marigolds) and magical weeds (Ethan calls gone-by dandelion puffs "wish flowers." I love that).

The other day in the rain I caught sight of the mountain laurel bush, leaves glistening, cradling the drops that wouldn't stop falling. The darned bittersweet had sprouted more than ever, right in the center. I was going to have to engage in more pulling and tugging.

But it's still blooming. The thought came in a flash.

I marveled at the light pink blossoms, almost pentagon-shaped. They were everywhere. This beautiful thing, choked by the tendrils, was blooming in spite of itself. And the leaves? My work had not been completely in vain. The sickly leaves had returned to their normal color. I may not have completely rooted out what I'd hoped to. But I'd helped.

I thought of those verses we'd talked about in church lately, where Christ followers are urged to "be perfect." Ha! At face value, that seems like such a joke. But digging deeper, I found that perfect means something different than what I was thinking. Perfect means being fully and spiritually mature. It's about being perfect in the way we show love to both friends and enemies. It relates to acknowledging our imperfection and striving for something beyond ourselves: knowing in this life we can never reach that point, but not stopping in our tracks and refusing to grow. As one commentator, John Eadie, wrote:

"One may be perfect in aim, and yet be far from realizing it. The perfection referred to was such a progress as vividly showed defect; such a stage in the race as revealed most painfully the distance lying still in front; such light which, as it grew, served also to enlarge the circle of darkness round about it."

I have more weeding to do, outside. Always. The sun is shining today. Maybe I can get out there with the sun on my back after days of rain and instead of cursing the weeds, I can work, and I can rest. I can remember there is something beautiful here, beneath the weeds, when I keep working to unearth it. There is something more beautiful to come, but in the meantime, I can admire the blossoms.

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