when your plans don’t turn out at all — what turns out to be the actual case

So, yeah — if there were gardening police, I’d be on death row.

Lock me up and throw away the key.

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You know –

when your garden hits a midsummer crisis and sheds its demure and orderly rows of polite and blooming tomatoes and goes all punk and angry, acting like its some python-infested jungle that might reach out and grab you by your thin and fragile jugular if you look too closely?

There came a point, early, already in June, when I briefly considered installing a snow fence around the rebels in a paltry attempt to protect the pure and unadulterated eyes of the Mennonite farmwives down the road.

I died a thousand deaths every time the mail lady stopped at the mailbox only to see yet again my garlic plants feebly reaching above a relentless army of redroot pigweed, wildly begging for rescue. I half expected every day to find a note in the mailbox from her:

Cannot you not see? Hear? Your miserable attempt at a garden cries out. Have you no farmer’s wife shame?

Straight-up: I wrestled with relinquishing my farmer’s wife card-carrying status.

The sweet corn germinated poorly. For all the passing countryside, it looked more like the thinning, last vestige of a balding middle- ager than a crop of anything.

The tomatoes plants succumbed early and pitifully to the lamb’s quarters, which, apparently, only disguise themselves like lambs so they can sneak up on unsuspecting tomatoes and devour them like lions. There was no zucchini at all. To be the farmer’s wife who is zucchini bankrupt? 

Who is out begging for zucchini in the church foyer after Sunday service? There are. no. words.

I confessed to the Farmer in murmured tones one night on the porch, what was most shattering in the whole scandalous, embarrassing affair:

“I have no zinnias. No blackeyed-susans. How many years have we been here? No matter the babies or the all-day sickness or the working 18 hour days in the barn, we have never not had zinnias.”

I pray my ridiculous high-pitched grief will adequately convey the direness of the devastation.

“17 years.” The Farmer’s looking over nonplussed at the bloodied carnage of my garden. He slips his arm around my waist and pulls me in.

You gotta remember that you were doing important things this spring. Something that I’m thinking will harvest far more in heaven than sunflowers or zinnias — or zucchinis.”

He winks at me.

Sometimes doing the most important thing eternally – doesn’t look like you are doing anything noticeably.

When we drive by the Mennonite neighbors on the way to Sunday morning service, I make a genuine Everest attempt to not look at Mrs. Martin’s rows of full-bloomed lavatera lustfully.

Turns out that someday after you turn 40 or read the Sermon on the Mount for the 378th time, you wake up and get it:

Envying someone else’s life doesn’t make your life better like actually enjoying your own does.

And it also turns out that when you have empty flower vases and no zinnias or lavateras, you end up going to a ditch.

You go to a ditch, to the woods, to the weeds growing behind the local Seven Eleven or the green potty in the park, and you just pick what you can find.

Your life is a vase that needs to find beauty whatever wild place it can.

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Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward & learning to enjoy whatever life has –and this requires transforming greed into gratitude,” wrote the ancient theologian, John Chrysostom.

Sitting there with Queen Anne’s lace scratching up my ankles, watching Shalom pluck and pick, you think maybe….

Maybe you want Mrs. Martin’s lavateras and Mrs. Bauman’s weedless squash, or maybe you want kids that aren’t rebelling loud and ugly or you want a husband that whispers quiet that you’re beautiful or you want a degree on your wall or a number on your scale, or grand accolades ringing in your ears —

but maybe …. Happiness isn’t something you ever achieve, but only receive — like a gift. Like taking now as an unexpected gift of keys that will open you to more of God.

Shalom’s got light in her hair. There are wild and free flowers right in the ditch across from the embattled garden. There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.

Yeah – there are weeds and disappointments and seeming failures. There are days that tear out still-beating chunks of your bare heart, whole seasons that feel like every breath is through burning smoke. There is always hope.

The real essence of the universe is endless grace – which is the theological term for surprises. As long as there is still time —there will be surprises.

Apparent failures can be the way your Father births a successful faith.

Shalom and I fill vases with wildflowers.

“See? Doesn’t matter if you didn’t get to plant zinnias this year, Mama. God was growing something else to fill things up.”

And I swallow hard and nod. God is always growing something to fill the empty places up.

And it’s always possible – joy is always surprisingly possible.

You can have joy any moment you turn hidden greed for more into honest gratitude for now. No matter the prison, you can be Freed by Gratitude.

Shalom leans into smell the sweet peas.

Joy isn’t about how much our lives have — but how much we enjoy our lives.

Joy is never made by Having More. Joy is always made by EnJoying More.

More Christ, more now, more grace.

The weeds on the windowsill all look like glory.

 

 

 

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(Foreign Language Translations of One Thousand Gifts)