The following is a list of lessons learned from an amateur gardener battling the weeds in her first real garden. You can decide for yourself whether or not you find these lessons strangely true about life and sin and spiritual things in general.
1. Expect to get hurt. Or at least embarrassed.
It doesn’t matter how well prepared I am, how confident I feel or how much I paid for my gardening gloves. I’m going to get a little beat up out there. If it’s not my arms getting ripped up by thorns, it’s unexpectedly walking around a corner and surprising a chicken who panics and explodes into squawking and flapping and scratches the heck out of my chest and face. And I know the neighbors pretended they weren’t watching when I was using all my body weight to pull up a huge root and it suddenly gave way and I fell hard on my butt in the front yard. My garden is meant to be a public display of nature’s bounty and beauty, so tending it can occasionally be a public display, as well.
2. Don’t get cocky, some weeds need serious work.
In my enthusiasm to destroy those little villains, I sometimes moved too quickly. I would get my hands wrapped around the base of some large and un-belonging plant and pull back with all my strength. I could see the ground heaving as an expansive root-system was being dislodged. Too many times, I’d think, “I’ve got you now, sucker. Prepare to die.” And make one final rip. But that’s when the stem would pop and the roots would drop nicely back into place and I’d be standing there (or again, fallen on my butt) with nothing but a handful of stems and leaves. Eventually I learned that some of that stuff out there has been allowed to grow for far too long. I was going to need some more serious tools, or maybe just some help.
I’d expect that “bad” things would make their home in “bad” plants. Poisonous, nasty things. Ugly, squirming, un-helpful things I’d be happy to evict. But as I pulled up huge sections of leaves and thistles and vines, I’d see lots of normal, every-day bugs scatter in all directions. Happy little garden spiders, daddy-long-legs, lady bugs, roly-polies, caterpillars. They hadn’t known those leafy little clovers were outlawed in my garlic bed, so they made their home in them just the same. I felt a twinge of guilt for re-homing everybody so abruptly. But I had to remind myself: I am the Gardener. They are just surviving, but I am cultivating. I am working this into a life-giving and fruitful place in which all things will be welcome to thrive. It may take time for everything to adjust accordingly, but a healthy mini-ecosystem will eventually come to life in this space.
4. The right thing in the wrong place is the wrong thing.
Mostly, I didn’t know what was what out there. It was hard to discern what belonged and what didn’t, since I wasn’t the one who selected and planted everything in the first place. I kept my iPhone in my back pocket and was constantly Googling my educated guesses. At one point, there was a giant, stalky cluster of plants growing in the middle of the gravel driveway. I guessed and Googled and, yes, sunflowers! They were only tightly shut blossoms and not yet beautiful, but soon they would unfurl and be ready to adorn my kitchen table. But … I kind of wished they weren’t growing there. Right in that spot. I deliberated for a bit. Sunflowers aren’t a weed. Sunflowers are awesome. But … sunflowers don’t belong in the middle of my driveway. My whole goal was to create a well-balanced and functional space that served us well. The sunflowers, no matter how bright and pretty they are (or how good they make me feel) were simply in the way. They were the right kind of thing, but they were in the wrong place, so they had to go.
5. You reap what you sow. And also what you don’t.
I planted the spinach. I planted the kale. I planted the acorn squash. I did not plant the dandelions, the blackberries or the comfrey, but they are all there too. Only a small percentage of what grows out there is intentional, and it will die if I ignore it. The rest doesn’t belong, and it will thrive if I ignore it. Why is that?! So many of those growing-things in my garden are there because they blew in on the wind or are creeping under my neighbor’s fence or are simply surviving from someone else’s garden, long before I got here. The good things, the intentional things, must be cared for and protected if I want my harvest. The other things, the foreign and unwanted things, have been sowed in whether I like it or not. It’s my job to deal with them.
The fact that I have no idea what’s happening underneath the soil usually works against me. It hinders my ability to attack the weeds effectively and keeps me from harvesting things in the fullness of time. But sometimes it is the only way to receive the sweetest surprises. Once, I was ripping leaves out from behind the arugula bed and *pop!* there were small, red potatoes dangling in the roots. What?! I pulled the next bunch. More potatoes! I brushed off the dirt and inhaled them; they smelled like earth and butter. I fell to my knees and drug my fingers through the ground and found more and more potatoes. It’s funny, if it hadn’t been for the weeds — for the uprooting of the weeds — I would have never realized there were delicious potatoes perfectly ripe and ready for harvest. It was the process of cultivating that revealed my hidden treasures. We ate them for dinner that night and I’ve honestly never eaten a better potato.
7. The weeds are going to lose.
It was overwhelming at first. The garden was beautiful when we arrived, thriving in the gentle Seattle rain and early summer sun. But slowly, the rains had stopped and the sun was hot and the garden was not a beautiful place anymore. The good things were dying and the bad things were thriving and I was late in trying to take control. And it was just me and my helpful four-year-old out there (so basically just me) working and then taking breaks to entertain a hot, bored four-year-old. I would fill an entire wheel barrow with yard waste and still the garden would look so unruly. But I kept at it. A few hours here, a few hours there. Wheel barrow-full after wheel barrow-full. Lots of times falling on my butt and lots of Neosporin on scratches from blackberry vines and angry chickens. Sometimes I had to remind myself, “I am a human being, dangit! You are just weeds. You can’t beat me!” And slowly but surely, I started to win. The weeds were built for survival, they have a strong offense with quick-growing roots and a defensive strategy full of thorns and allergy-inflaming fluff. They put up a tough fight, but they can’t really compete with me. They can hurt me, frustrate me, demoralize me … but they can’t really beat me. They can’t win unless I let them.
And so it has been with my garden. This dirty, scratchy, painful, beautiful, life-giving, fruitful, frustrating thing that gives me so much more than I could ever give to it.
And so it has been with my life.
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*photo courtesy: britney @baretribeblog.blogspot.com