How Does Your Garden Grow?

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The garden was nothing out of the ordinary. It was the early 1960s and my grandmother was a young wife and mom. As such, she spent countless hours in the kitchen as she prepared meals for her family and washed the resulting dishes. She could see her neighbor’s garden from the kitchen window. It turned out to be a window to much more than a garden. I also have a window in the kitchen, and I spend a lot of time looking out it as I do dishes. I don’t have a garden view, but I do enjoy watching the trees changing with the seasons. There is a busy road just past the trees, but it still feels like a slice of the country in my very suburban life. It’s my little place of peace in an often chaotic household.

How can the kitchen be a place of peace? That is a fair question. It often feels like anything but that. I have a large family and that leads to lots of messes. We have navigated situations such as very minor fires in the microwave and on the stove, pots boiling over and spilling everywhere, and drinks exploding in the freezer.  I even found a spot of peanut butter on the ceiling once. Nobody ever owned up to that one. The kitchen counter seems to be the catch-all space for the things that don’t belong there. I’m constantly stacking, sorting, and moving things around. Anyone else? The clutter doesn’t seem to bother my family, but it makes me feel overwhelmed. I call it “visual noise”. While I can’t completely tame the clutter of everyday life, I seem to instinctively know that I need a place of peace.

I often find myself at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, and mentally reviewing everyone’s to-do list. I’m standing there, probably with aching feet and frazzled nerves from a long day, and I’m silently going through the task list. One of the kids has a medical appointment that needs to be rescheduled, don’t forget to flip the wet clothes into the dryer, call the vet to order more flea prevention medicine for the dog, and as we approach the holiday season, I am also trying to keep track of all the gifts that need to be purchased for special events. The current count is: 2 for a cousin Christmas party, 1 for a Bible study party, 2 for youth group gift exchange, and 2 for high school secret Santa swap. That doesn’t even start to address the regular list for family gifts.

I stand in the middle of the very real mess and the very real responsibilities of raising a family and I forget to be thankful. I get annoyed with the kids who left a pot of Ramen on the stove or a half of a glass of milk sitting next to the sink. They literally stand right next to the dishwasher and leave stuff on the counter! I grumble and my heart hardens just a little more. Eventually I will find myself standing there feeling bitter. Unappreciated. Taken for granted. But there’s just something about looking out the window and taking in the beauty of God’s creation that helps center me.

I take a deep breath and ask for forgiveness. I think back to the story of my grandmother’s neighbor. A little boy lived next door and often came out to “help” in the family garden. She would see him from her kitchen window as he faithfully appeared every day to check and see if the seeds had sprouted. My grandmother frequently recounted how much he amused her. In the coming weeks, she noticed with some concern that once there was greenery above the dirt, he started to pull the developing radish from the earth to check on it. He would pluck it from the ground and hold it up to his face to inspect it. When he was satisfied that everything was in order, he would replant it. This routine went on for several days. Eventually, my grandmother couldn’t bear to stand idly by and watch him ruin the radish. She approached him and kindly explained that if he kept pulling the plant from the ground then it wouldn’t grow properly. He was going to ruin the very thing he was trying so hard to take care of.

His response was simple and it was hard to argue with. “But God makes everything grow,” he replied to her. To be honest, I don’t remember her ever telling if or how she responded to that comment. But I like to imagine that she took a step back and thought about it. I’ll admit now that I hold a special place in my heart for little kids and old ladies. I just love them. They are fun, truthful, and sometimes wildly inappropriate. Little children are that way because they haven’t been taught to filter their thoughts and words. Old ladies are that way because they have generally learned not to live for the approval of others. Children only know to live in the moment, but age brings the realization that our moments are limited and precious. My grandmother liked to repeat the saying: life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end of the roll, the faster it goes. I have to say I agree with her. Even so, it’s easy to get lost in the drudgery of the everyday. I have wished for days or weeks to fast forward. It’s human nature to want to hurry past the hard things and rest in the easy space. It’s a natural desire, but that doesn’t mean it’s what is best for us. Isaiah 41:10 says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

I have let fear and dismay drive me more than I would like to admit. There have been times in my life when I did not feel strengthened or upheld. We are a people prone to wandering hearts. I haven’t always been able to name it, but deep down there has been an ache in my soul during these times. Circumstances have been difficult and frightening, but the ache came from turning away from the one who never turns from us. God makes everything grow. Indeed. None of us particularly like the hard days. I have wanted to zoom past long hours of kids with stomach viruses, skip over the trip to the orthopedist because my son accidentally got his cast wet in the tub, and forego completely the grief of a child who lost a friend to suicide.  What good things could possibly come from this?

The truth is that I may never have the answer to that question in this lifetime. I do know that as I have walked through the hard things, they have shaped me in a way that joyful times didn’t. There are different lessons to be learned. The running joke in my family is that I pray for a boring day. But that really just means that I pray for a day of normalcy, a day without an emergency, a day without grief. I have learned though, that God is faithful. When I turn to him, he will help me turn my heart.

The little boy next to my grandmother’s house never did quit pulling the radish from the soil. He wanted to see the work that was going on behind the scenes and no warning from an adult was going to stop him. It turned out to be the largest radish my grandmother had ever seen. I’m sure the little guy felt vindicated in his gardening method.  It clearly made an impression on her as it was one of the stories she liked to tell time and again. She always told it with a trace of a smile on her face. He didn’t know how to garden. He certainly wasn’t an expert in anything. But he cared about his garden and he took care of it the best way he knew how. God took care of the rest.

There is a lesson for us in this story. Yes, we need to trust in the LORD. Yes, we need to take care of things to the best of our abilities. Yes, we need to trust God to take care of the rest. It can be hard to let go of things we have held in clenched fists. May we release our bitter thoughts and may we soften our hearts. We will all be better for it.

Heavenly Father, please be with us in the hard places, in the dark spaces in our hearts. We can so easily feel overwhelmed with the needs of caring for others. Help us to turn our hearts toward you always. Give us your eyes to see as we look out of our windows, and help us to be patient and learn to wait with grace. Renew our spirits, LORD, that we might be your hands and feet as you help us all to grow.

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  1. Mary Gandy says:

    So enjoy your stories. They are life told with God in control. Thanks for always checking in on my life and showing you care with the love of Christ.

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