Thursday, July 20, 2006

Best Yard on the Block - Part Two

The wild pecan shoot is gone. So is that nameless, faceless, merciless weed among the crepe myrtles. Years of pine needles have been hauled off the the dump. New flowers stand in clusters and in rows giving me reasons to smile every time I walk Maya. With a budget of $15,000 and unlimited advice from the finest nursery employee in South Charlotte, I couldn't have done what Marlon and Alexandra have done with less than 20% of that hypothetical budget.

But all this beauty has a cost, and it is not merely financial. We must be sure that the flowers are watered regularly. We must trim the holly and nandina bushes regularly. Every three or four months, fertilizer must be spread. In the fall, some of the flowering plants must be replaced with pansies which are hardy enough to survive our brutal Charlotte winters...brutally mild, that is. Anyway, there is much maintenance work to be done if we are to keep this yard as beautiful as it is today. After listening to the call for vigilance that our gardeners issued, Steve and I smiled at one another and looked back at them with one simple question: "Can we keep you on retainer?" I suggested that they drop by whenever they are in the neighborhood and do whatever it takes to keep us on the straight and narrow path towards gardening nirvana. We cannot do this alone. They need only recall the state of our yard on the day they came in order to know that.

I recently taught two Bible study lessons to a group of women from our church. I challenged them with the idea that there is spiritual truth in every situation of our lives. I asked each of two tables to come up with a list of ways to lose weight. What should you do and not do in order to lose weight? The two tables came up with two very different lists: one focused on specific steps like drinking lots of water and green tea, exercising, reducing or eliminating carb intake, sleeping well, and other suggestions along those lines. The other table was more intellectual in their list: first, we must weigh ourselves and see where we are right now. Then we must admit that we have weight to lose. Then we must make a conscious decision to make changes in our lives.

I suggested to them that all those truths are relevant to our spiritual lives. We must admit that we have a problem, that we are separate from God and from one another. We must admit that we want to be reconciled with Him and with each other. We must make decisions about who we are, what we long for, and accept that there are drastic changes that are necessary. On the more practical side, we must decide what habits or activities in our lives must be dropped and which must be taken on. We must stop eating the junk food of most of what's on television, in the media in general, and begin to ingest spiritual food that builds us up and grows us into maturity. Eat the Bread of Life. Drink the Living Water. Run the race set before us.

As it turns out, gardening isn't so different. The soil needs to be fed, watered, and prepared to bring forth flowers, fruits, and trees. Inexpensive, hybrid grass seed yields a hybrid weedy lawn. Gotta get the best seed in order to get the best yard. Sure, we can keep adding pine needles on top of pine needles, but eventually the damage that grubs and insects and other critters living underneath will be evident to all passersby. Removing it all is sweaty, itchy, tedious work, but there is no option of the goal is a yard worthy of admiration.

Eight or nine months of itchy, sweaty, teary work with my therapist have yielded an emotional strength and stability that I didn't think possible when I started. Years of codependent, enabling behavior coupled with long-term guilt over things that weren't my fault and covered with a thick layer of superficial answers to profound questions about who I am and what I long for in life all needed to be excavated and hauled to the curb. I've learned how to recognize the squirrels in my life, the people who plant seeds and nuts of self-centeredness, neediness, and narcissism in my mind, then they scamper away feeling relieved, with plans to return and dig up their little treasures at some future time. I've put down rodent repellent. I've also learned that I can be a bit squirrelly in the lives of some people I know and love: sowing my own particular brand of nuttiness in their souls' gardens. Gotta nip those tendencies in the bud. Long after my sessions with Jim come to an end, I will have to continue to keep a close watch over the creeping ivy of self-importance, the choking weed of self-criticism, and the fast-growing vines of nagging neediness and envy. It's a dastardly combination that overruns Gail's Garden with dizzying speed and disastrous consequences.

I will never have the best heart on the block.
My soul will never be the most cultivated or colorful.
I expect that I will always need outside help to keep the weeds under control.
My thumbs are a milk chocolate shade of brown - no green in sight.

But right now, today, after the much-needed rain of email,
telephone calls, invitations to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and tea,
after reading several blogs and consulting other uplifting resources,
after a time of prayer, reading, and journaling,
after walking, talking, eating, and laughing with Steve and the kids,
after some iced coffee and a stroll through the front yard with Maya,
My front yard is looking and feeling fine.
Mighty fine.

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