When I moved into this place its outside looked very much like my inside did. The branches of the tall trees drooped to the ground as if to hide the house everyone knew was there. The house kept dark. The yard looked very much like a bad case of male patterned baldness, only growing around the edges. The backyard was in no better shape. It was waist high in un-welcomed greenery and while I am not absolutely positive I think some of that greenery was, how shall I say, questionably legal leftovers from the previous tenants. Toward the south was a fairly ominous twisting of dead limbs that once was a tree and now became a kind of outdoor dandruff, flaking down little by little when provoked by even the smallest breeze. Yeah. My heart looked like this house. Things were growing where they shouldn’t and things refused to grow where they were needed. So when I started purging the untamed overgrowth, I became nervous I would never get the good stuff to live where I wanted it to.
After the pulling and the cutting and the digging came the planting. I did my homework and looked for the most beautiful things that I could find that would last in the ridiculous weather of Austin. I really wanted this to work. I over-researched everything on the interwebs for all the best tricks to sustain a passion vine, butterfly weed, or copper canyon daisies.
I planted these little bushes and vines knowing they were ridiculously hardy and brave, Texas ready plants. Nevertheless I hovered over them like a paranoid hen over newborn chicks in a foxhole. I swore that my dedication and merit of soul was the main factor determining whether the garden would live or die. I would sit outside and stare at the ground like a shy junior high kid. I would not described that time in my life as a patient one.
Then one day I noticed that one of the plants was just a wee bit bigger than when I first put it in the ground. It was then I had one of those life changing “aha” moments: things want to grow.
For me, it was a revelation. I guess at first I felt like I was in competition with the garden, or better perhaps that it was a classroom full of unruly first graders who needed, but were unwilling, to learn. I believed I was going to have to coax, if not manipulate those little beings into maturity. But as it happens those plants were created to flourish and survive. Things want to grow. Surprise. We were on the same team.
Last week I was forced to learn the lesson again. I had headed out back, sun-blocked, gloved and ready to salvage what I could of a garden wrecked by drought and negligence (cut me some slack, did I mention I was in a wheelchair for three months? not great for weeding). Happily some of the shrubbery just needed a little clipping and a good talking-to. But my most treasured flower, the passion vine, was nearly leafless and had very little promise of blooming this year. Drats.
Then I looked up.
Apparently the drought had only made the roots go deeper and the leaves reach higher. That dead lump of a tree became a trellis to a stubborn passion vine determined to reach the sun. It had become a hanging garden which I now realize, promises a smattering of blooms bigger than ever before and probably a pretty good tour of butterflies as well. It was today, the spring equinox, it bloomed for the first time this year.
In the past, during Lent, or almost any time I have focussed on being more “spiritual” (let alone live a holy life), I have often felt like I am in competition with myself. I most certainly feel like a room full of unruly first graders. This is not all bad. Sometimes the heart has to be tamed. At least the Apostle Paul felt that way.
This year, however, I am not trying to wrangle my own soul, fix my own maladies or wrestle my heart to the sky. Instead I am just trying to look up. I am looking to see just how high parts of me have been reaching for God. I am leaning into what God means for me to be: food for some, beauty for others, rooted enough to keep living through the last season of drought. They call this worship. They call this praise. Interestingly, when I look up, some of the dead leaves fall away.
Last year I wanted to fix my own heart. I was worried that the tattered leaves I could see meant a certain slow death…
Then I looked up.