Thursday, February 20, 2014

Inch by Inch

            Last winter, I went through a deep four-month funk, a depressed and despairing time.  (I go through these regularly.  It’s just a cross I have to bear.)  And I struggled long and hard through the winter months to get a grip, to give my fears and concerns and negative self-views over to God.  I worked hard to find Him and His healing in it all.  And somewhere around spring, I began to come out of it as I learned to be okay with my failures and with loneliness.  (That’s a journey I’m still on.  Have been for years.)

            Well, it finally got to be planting time, and I was nestling a whole bunch of new tomato plants into their beds.  But a few weeks later, I woke up to find several of them knocked over, looking like they had been dehydrated at the stem.  And so I tried again and put in a few new ones.  Same thing.  Literally overnight, about ten plants or so simply fell over and died. 
            I researched what could be killing them and figured it must be Verticillium Wilt, a soil-born pathogen that prevents them from absorbing the water they need to survive.  And I read that it can live in the soil for years. 
            As I stood there surveying the plants and assessing where the soil might be contaminated, I suddenly felt like I was spinning into a deep, dark hole again.  Gardening is my biggest earthly passion (outside of family and God, of course).  It’s what makes me feel most alive, most productive, most worshipful.  It’s not just something I want to do; it’s something I need to do because it’s where I feel most at ease and refreshed.  And now, it felt like it was slipping away.  Like God was going to close the door to it. 
            I had already lost a dad to divorce when I was young, then 2 step-dads.  I missed out on really being a part of my biological father’s family.  I don’t have much of a relationship with most of my mom’s family.  My brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins recently scattered, so holidays are very quiet now. 
            Additionally, after renting for 11 years (6 of those years in a moldy rental that was making us sick), we finally bought our first house, and it appeared to be totally move-in ready.  And then after getting in and removing a few walls for some minor reasons, we ended up with a lot of surprises and way too many necessary repairs that we can’t afford to fix.  And so I’ve had to accept a half-done house which falls far below my dreams of a homey home. 
            And I have very few close friends.  I’m not using the degree that I’m paying so much money for because I’ve chosen to stay home with the kids.  No one close to me wanted to read the book I took over 5 years to write.  Besides my quiet time with the Lord in the morning, I get barely a moment to myself all day.  We live within the same four walls all day, all month, all year, because my husband takes our one car to work and so I have no way to get around during the day.  And I can’t seem to do or finish anything in my life well – dishes, laundry, schoolwork, cooking, cleaning.  It’s hard just being a mom because you work all the time and get no vacation, no pay, no weekends, no immediate results, and no recognition.  You never feel like you do enough no matter how much you do. 
            I have had to work long and hard over the years to give these disappointments and discouragements over to the Lord, to be content with how different reality is from the way I wish it would be.  And now, God was going to take away the one thing (besides my family) that I had left.  The one thing that made me feel alive.  Like I could breathe. 
            During this same time, I had bought myself two little, solar-powered, dancing daisies.  One said “pray” and the other said “praise.”  I hardly ever buy myself anything because it’s hard to raise 4 kids on one small income (while still paying off my school loans, too).  I don’t even ask for things for Christmas or my birthday because I’m so used to not letting myself want things we can’t afford.  But I needed these.  I desperately needed to see their cheery little faces dancing in the sunlight.  I needed to know that I bought something special and meaningful for myself, even if they only cost $5 each.  And I put them in the window, and smiled.  After four months of crushing despair, I needed to smile.
            A day or two later, one of my boys asked to see one.  And he gently picked it up, and then he gently accidently dropped it.  Sending it crashing to the floor where it broke.  I tried for a long time to get it to work.  I even took it apart to see if something inside just needed reconnecting.  But it never danced again. 
            More than anything at that moment, I wanted to pick up the other daisy, raise it above my head, and send it smashing to the ground myself.  I wanted to stomp it to pieces and scream, “FINE, IF THAT’S THE WAY IT’S GOING TO BE, I DON’T WANT ANYTHING ANYWAY!”  But I just gave the broken one to my son to play with, and I set the other one on a shelf.  And I decided to not buy anything else for myself for a long time.  Because that’s the kind of thing that happens when I treat myself to something.
            And now here I was looking at the garden that I was losing.  I imagined all my tomato plants dying off and pathogens invading every part of my garden.  I began to picture years of work and dreaming and planning going down the toilet.  And I felt my heart breaking.  I wanted to run through the garden tearing out every plant I had.  I wanted to rip out the beds and turn it all back to grass again.  I wanted to shred my dream into little pieces and throw it away so that I wouldn’t have to feel the ache of failure and discouragement again.  I didn’t need to go back there again, after just coming out of that four-month funk.  Sometimes, it just hurts too much to want anything, to hope.  And sometimes, I’d just rather not want and not hope.  It hurts less that way.
            But somewhere deep down, I decided to hang in there.  I wouldn’t give up yet, just one more summer.  The rest of the plants were already in anyway.  May as well let them live out their time.  And I knew that I had to place the garden in God’s hands.  To hold it loosely, because holding anything too tightly isn’t good for me spiritually.  After all, if He was going to take it away then no amount of holding onto it would make it better.  I had to give it over to Him.  Come what may.
            And so I tore out the dead plants and left their spots empty.  And I began to come up with a different plan for next year.  I would move the tomato bed to a different spot and see what happened.  And for now, I would just focus on the plants that survived. 
            And you know what?  I ended up still getting so many tomatoes that we ate all the fresh ones we wanted, and I dehydrated so many that I still have a lot left to last for months.  It turned out okay, even with the setbacks.   
            The thing about gardening – and about life – is that there will always be problems.  There will always be obstacles, discouraging years, awful seasons, and problems to overcome.  But there will always be enough goodness to make it worth it.  There will always be enough blessing to encourage us to keep going, as long as we count those blessings and don’t give up when things look hopeless. 
            You know Isaiah 40:31:  “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  Well, not to add a verse to Scripture, but in some seasons of our lives, I think it’s more like, “We will crawl on our bellies over jagged rocks in the hot, dry desert, and we will still find the energy to drag ourselves just one more inch forward.  Always one more inch!”
            That feels like my life most of the time.  Just one more inch every day!  By the grace of God.  But for some seasons of life, one more inch is all He asks of us.  Because He knows that’s all we can do at that time.  It’s okay if all you can do is crawl right now – just a tiny bit.  Just make sure that you are crawling toward Him.  Pour your heart into that one inch and don’t worry about the ground that you can’t cover yet.  Just a little bit every day is all you need to focus on.  It’s inch by painful inch that the sloth made it to the Ark.  And God didn’t send the rains until it did. 
            And so, as the season went on with its inevitable losses and discouragements, I decided not to throw in the towel.  I decided to keep going, to use each obstacle and setback as a learning experience.  And now I know more about tomatoes than I did last year and I know where to not put the plants for a while.  I am armed with new plans for this year, which are hopefully better plans.  And who knows?  Maybe next year the garden will be better for it.  Maybe it’s by going backward a little that I am able to see things more clearly and find the right path forward.  One step backward, two steps forward.  Inch by inch.  Just like in life.