Five Life-Changing Lessons From The Garden

Lesson One:

The weeds come back first.

Don’t be discouraged. Start weeding. Keep waiting.

And, especially, keep your eyes open.

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Lesson Two:

Even your least-favorite colors are beautiful after a long winter. Neon-yellow forsythia, I’m looking at you.

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Lesson Three:

After a long winter spent with books, it takes time to reacquaint yourself with the world outside your door. Like the two-year-old, you may at first mistake a bumble bee for a “porcupine.”

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Lesson Four:

Don’t put off till tomorrow the cleanup you can do today. Especially because, tomorrow, all those brush piles will be edged with poison ivy.

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Lesson Five:

The garden asks you to do and be. It is important to cut back all the hydrangeas that bloom on new wood, but it is just as important to sit in a green patch memorizing the stripes on a purple crocus.

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What’s growing in your bit of earth?

 

(P.S. These springtime photos were taken by my sister, Kelli Campbell, last year. If you’d like to keep up with the spring just beginning at Maplehurst, you can find my own images on Instagram.)

This Is How Dreams Come True

I grew up in Texas. In that place, it is possible to be surprised by spring. A river of bluebonnets might bubble up overnight. A heatwave might suddenly stake its claim on a handful of early February days.

Here, among rolling Pennsylvania hills, spring is never a surprise.

We wait so long for spring, and its coming is so slow, that no change appears without being watched from a great distance and for a long while. The view from my office window today is as brown and bleak as ever, but for days, weeks, even, I have watched the buds on the forsythia swell.

The snowdrops in the lawn do tend to pop up without warning, but no sooner have I noticed them than my two-year-old daughter has flattened the whole patch with one pink, rubber boot.

Observing a northern spring, I realize how small a great, new beginning can be. I dream of spring all winter, but the dream comes true only in fits and starts. In much waiting and a great deal of work with shovels, rakes, and pruners.

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I once dreamed of becoming a mother, but the dream was realized in sleepless nights and temper tantrums (hers and mine).

I once dreamed of a farmhouse home, and the dream came true as we cleared hornet nests from behind every window shutter and poison ivy from every fence and tree.

I once dreamed of becoming a writer, and that dream came true through the slow, daily accumulation of words.

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But dreams are like spring.

There will always be some moment of joyful recognition. Some moment when the dream drifts down around you. Light, like dandelion fluff, but real enough to see and touch.

Perhaps when the baby says I love you. When a friend says your home is so peaceful. Or, maybe, when you read the proposed back-cover copy for your book and burst into tears. Because, for the first time, the book with your name on it sounds, even to you, like a good book. Like the kind of book you would love.

It is like the moment when the magnolia opens its first pink blooms. It won’t matter then that I’ve been studying those gray buds all winter. It won’t matter that I noticed the first narrow edge of pink weeks ago.

I have lived enough springs to know that I will always greet that moment with astonishment.

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A Small, Silly Thing

I am a creature of habit. I thrive on routine and ritual.

In our home, if something happens twice, it’s a tradition. And it will keep on and keep on and keep on.

Sometimes, this is how I create heavy burdens and too-high expectations. I’ve had to teach myself how to let things go. I’ve had to learn to find the humor in the fact that a child will hold tightly to some ritual they never liked all that much simply because you’ve canceled it.

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But the rhythm of daily life changes. Rituals come and go and, yes, sometimes they come back.

I’m writing about one such family ritual for a Tuesday blog series hosted by the wonderful Cara Meredith. Every Tuesday you’ll find a new story inspired by this thought: “The boring rituals make the story deeper.”

Because they do, don’t they? Life is composed almost entirely of small, boring things. Silly things. Inconsequential things. But if we take the time to stop, to look, to trace the pattern of just one or two of these very small things … well, we may see how a bubble of water becomes a spring becomes a river.

I’m sharing the story of one of our own silly, little things. It’s a very small thing. But I know that if my parents or siblings are reading, if my children were reading, they would feel something very real, and deep, and powerful when they read these words:

Shake the love around.

I hope you’ll read my story. And while you’re there, I hope you’ll explore Cara’s website, and I hope you’ll read through all her Tuesday guest posts. It’s a treasure trove.

A New Name

 

“you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls”

Isaiah 58:12

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We have arrived at those muddy, brown days between winter and spring. When I cross the yard to the chicken coop, it feels as if I am walking on a sponge. We have had a few warmer days and a few sunnier days, but it is not yet clear to me if the damage of this winter can be undone.

Somehow I find it harder to believe in spring the closer it comes.

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My daughter is learning about the Holocaust in school. Every afternoon she shows me some newly acquired fact, as if she half believes that this time, this time, I will contradict her teacher. I will say, No, no, it wasn’t as bad as that. Instead, I only ever say yes. Yes, it’s true.

Here is what she does not say: How do you go on living in a world where such things have happened? Still happen?

Here is what I do not say: I don’t know.

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As a writer, I pick up the pieces. Even the ugly, broken pieces. I arrange them and rearrange them, and I search for hidden meaning. I find patterns, and they always say the same thing. They say, Look! Here is something beautiful. Here is good news.

Except that recently, I can’t seem to find the pattern. The broken pieces remain only broken pieces.

They are so many. They are so sharp.

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Because it is Lent, we begin each Sunday service with The Decalogue rather than a hymn. We hear the list of God’s ten commands, and they are like stones that form a wall that enclose a garden.

Gardens grow best within the shelter of a wall, but we have torn down the wall with our own hands.

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Perhaps we must first listen to the bad news if we hope ever to hear the good.

Perhaps it is sorrow for all the broken pieces and all the tumbled stones that gives us courage to stand up. To rise up, leave the sackcloth and ashes, and go searching for our new name.

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