Garden Notes: Rough Drafts

Every spring when time comes to weed my flower beds, the good work of it nearly kills me. And every spring, in response to my complaints about the honest work of garden tending, my husband threatens to sow grass over all my lovely blooms. I believe him just enough to find the inner fortitude required to finish the job.

I have stirred ant armies, awakened the curled grub in her buried bed, inadvertently found the source of the poison ivy, and pried the roots of wild violets from beneath my butterfly bush. Yesterday, I killed a Black Widow spider I found clinging to a daylily stalk. Every year, after bug bites, skin rashes, suffering amazingly obscure aches and pains, and consuming copious amounts of ibuprofen, I survey the work of my hands and dream a better way. I imagine planting miraculous ground covers to choke out the weeds, eye-catching perennials that require little attention, or even evergreens to lend a simpler style. Trouble is, I usually only get around to implementing a small portion of these dream-plantings, and they never quite work out as I hoped.  Come the next spring, things are a little better, but—you guessed it—I’m still on my hands and knees far longer than this aging body should be.

But when the blooms unfold one-by-one and the garden becomes a thing of beauty? I know all that time and diligence and love for the soil was worth it.

I try to fertilize the garden of my writing through careful reading and recently, I read this:

 As you start out in rough drafts, writing down stories as clearly as you can, there begins to burble up onto the page what’s exclusively yours both as a writer and a human being. If you trust the truth enough to keep unveiling yourself on the page—no matter how shameful those revelations may as first seem—the book will naturally structure itself to maximize what you’re best at. You’re best at it because it sits at the core of your passions.” ~Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

Certain things can immobilize me in an instant: a glimpse of a red-bellied woodpecker on the trunk of my Maple tree, sunlight rippling on water, a solitary cloud rolling across crystal blue, and a phrase that ambushes me with apt precision.

Mary Karr’s words seemed to breathe a deep exhale in my soul: “…there begins to burble up on the page what’s exclusively yours both as a writer and as a human being.”

Those words, stark and black against the white of the page, fell heavy over me and I realized how life mirrors this statement. With each passing year we hammer out rough drafts of this life we craft—meticulously honing in on what is best to keep and what must be cast aside, letting what is “exclusively” ours “burple up” from the moments. And just as my garden takes shape over the long stretch of years, none of these seasons we sift through are ever perfected—it’s a constantly shifting landscape. But if we are true to the draft-writing—or draft living, in this case—we keep what is best and let go of the rest. The next season may be a little better for the pruning, but chances are, it will still have its fair share of  bending and tending to  push through.

I’ve never written a memoir, though the world of blogging bestows plenty of opportunity to offer up bits of my life for the perusal of others. This kind of voyeurism can leave one feeling vulnerable and small at times. Isn’t each life worthy of memoir? When we live through each the days, don’t the moments tell a story? What if I could think of each season of life as a rough draft, trusting in the truth enough to keep unveiling myself, to keep growing and learning and reaching for more? Letting time and diligence and love shape something that becomes more beautiful with each passing year.

West Virginia Morning: How to Be Washed Clean

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This morning, the fog settles in over the meadow, skimming the blanket of Queen Anne’s Lace with white until it becomes a sea of flowery ghosts. I go out in the yard in my bare feet, let the same moisture that kisses their upturned faces be my foundation. I want to walk in beauty today.

It feels like we have miles to go before we sleep. So much work to do to get ready for the next season.

In the Russian tale “Vasalisa the Wise” the sweet girl Vasalisa is sent into the woods by her jealous stepmother to retrieve a coal to reignite the fire in their hearth. In the forest, Vasalisa encounters Baba Yaga—a witch who represents the wild old mother in each of us (just as Vasalisa represents the innocent, too-nice, naïve part of our psyche). Baba Yaga makes the child perform certain tasks to earn the coal she will give her: wash her clothes, sweep her yard, prepare her food, separate mildewed corn from good corn, and see that everything is “in order.” Vasalisa performs all the tasks successfully with the help of a little doll given to her by her mother when she was on her deathbed (the doll represents the intuition handed down through the ages).

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés says that these tasks Baba Yaga puts before Vasalisa teach her “how to take care of the psychic house of the wild feminine.” Washing the old hag’s laundry, in particular, is a beautiful symbol for “cleansing and purification of the entire bearing of the psyche.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this cleansing ritual lately. As we sort through Teddy’s things, making lists and deciding what he needs to take with him to school, it feels like a fine comb is being run over my spirit. I wash his new towels and sheets, take inventory of underwear and socks, cast aside the outgrown or unworn … and something inside of me is being scrubbed down, rubbed hard up against the washboard.

 … to wash her laundry is a metaphor through which we learn to witness and take on this combination of qualities [strength, endurance], and also to know how to sort, mend, renew these qualities by the purificatio, the washing of the fibers of being.”

It is a strange truth that saying goodbye to one part of myself means welcoming in another. Always, always, there is another skin growing over this scaffold of bones and blood, this limping heart. This is the way of God—to continue conforming me to the image of his son. These seasons I move through edge me closer and closer to the holy. Oh, how far I have to go.

Still, the moments creep up on me lately, and I am often surprised by an unexpected and sudden flow of tears.

Another kind of washing.

Playdates with God: A New Place


He came down from Baltimore and (his daughter says) took a wrong turn. That’s how he ended up here. Now he’s living in a halfway house trying to figure things out. I listened to his story, glad to be trusted with it.
“Sometimes, when you’re making a new start, it’s good to be in a new place,” I offered to him, as we stood side-by side beneath the dome-roofed courtyard.
“I don’t know what to think,” he said.
I came to help a small group of churches treat the residents here and local homeless folk to a picnic. There were hotdogs and hamburgers, pasta salad, chips and homemade cookies. Over a hundred people came and waited in line as their plates were piled high. I stood behind the drink table, watching. That’s when I noticed it.
We were all standing behind the serving tables. Except for a few brave souls who know some of these folks, all us “church people” let those tables create a boundary. I scanned the hungry faces and thought about how, for weeks now, I’ve been preaching to our congregation about stepping out of our comfort zones; about stepping into the lives of someone whose life might look a little different than our own.  And then I thought about what my friend Lisa might do.
And I stepped out from behind the table and let myself get swept into a new place. 
Over at The High Calling today, Shawn Smucker is talking about how he and his wife shared about the birds and the bees with their two oldest children. It’s part of our book discussion on  The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. There are some good resources shared. Would you join us?
How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

The Playdates button:

Grateful


Mother always said that every day should be a day of Thanksgiving. This the reason she gave for our lack of participation in the feast that all our neighbors and friends celebrated.

Can’t be like the world. Can’t join in the world’s festivities.

And I knew she was right–just as she was right when she said that we should honor our mothers and fathers every day of the year, and we should be joyful that we were given the gift of life every day we live on earth.

But did we?

Do we?

These feasts–these holidays–are my bookmarkers through this story of life. Sometimes I need a tangible reminder of just where I am in this telling. I keep my gratitude journal, I participate in the gratitude community…but sometimes…sometimes I still lose track.

I can’t afford to. Neither can you.

Read about some of the benefits of living a grateful life here, and in the meantime, develop your own daily bookmarks. Start a journal, have regular a dinner time gratitude practice, or just help others in need (nothing strikes gratitude in my heart more than this).

My sweet friend Ann has an amazing community that will help hold us accountable. Visit her for amazing inspiration and great ideas to start seeing with new eyes.

Invest in this, friends. You will not be sorry.


Shedding

The streets are littered with leaf-confetti and I watch as earth readies herself for this shedding.

This slow peeling away reveals the beauty underneath–until all that is left is naked vulnerability. We shed our lives this way–layer after layer, year by year.

I am reminded of this by a chance encounter with a neighbor. He is there, in those last days of shrugging off the years.

I found him on his front porch on my way to the bus stop. He likes to sit there, just take in the day. I knew his health has been declining–have chatted with him about strokes and doctors and such. This day, he had more news.

He approached me, unsteady on his feet but determined to close this gap between us. I held Lucy Mae firm on her leash, holding breath as he traversed uneven ground.

We exchanged greetings and he made over my girl, who tried to jump up to kiss him despite shortened leash.

Then he got to it.

“The doctors tell me I have a blood disorder. There’s nothing they can do about it. My blood makes too many red blood cells and thickens up so much that it can’t get to my brain.”

This 91 year old war veteran’s jaw quivered as he made this bold statement. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the movement in the air around us– leaves drifting from the oak in his yard, floating leisurely to the ground.

Shedding.

“Did they put you on blood thinner? Isn’t there something they can do?”

He shook his head and responded as if talking about the weather.

“There’s nothing they can do.”

I looked into his eyes and saw no fear there. Saw the beauty in this naked vulnerability.

“So,” I whispered, “You are just waiting for the end.”

He held my gaze.

“Listen, I’m ready for the end. My wife died six years ago and life hasn’t been the same since. I’m ready to be with her again.”

I swallowed, held Lucy Mae’s leash tighter.

“Well…that will be nice then…”

“My daughter’s coming from Kansas this week. We’ll talk about what we’re going to do.”

He gestured to his house and yard, moved his hand as if wiping it all away.

Shedding.

I heard the school bus arrive at the mouth of our neighborhood…squeaking brakes and protesting metal. Soon, the children were abreast, young voices everywhere. Jeffrey came alongside and Lucy Mae let him know how much she missed him.

I just stood there. Rooted. Lost for words.

He did too.

Then he smiled.

“One good thing,” his smile takes on an ornery twist. “My niece runs a mortuary. I won’t have to worry about that.”

With that, he turned his back and slowly made his way over the rough grass back to his porch. I watched, made sure he wouldn’t need me…then waved my goodbye as we took our leave.

We walk home amidst swirling leaves. The crisp fall wind carries these light bodies like kites, and I am shed of all distractions.

I am aware of the sky, so blue…of how the wind kisses my cheeks…the scent of leaves giving up chlorophyll…

I am wondering how it is to know that death is soon forthcoming.

This is the evidence of a life well-lived: When the shedding reveals beauty. When everything else is stripped away and God’s glory is laid bare for all eyes to see.

My dear neighbor is preparing to shed his earthly body and take on another form of beauty. Don’t you know that the saints are rejoicing? Don’t you know that the angels are preparing the loveliest of songs for his welcome?

The leaves blowing on the breeze carry this message today. I am grateful for these wind-whisperings, for they remind me to be present–to be here now.

For the shedding continues in me as well.

For more on contemplation, visit us over at High Calling Blogs for our latest book club discussion.