Refuge

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Another post from the past. One of my garden-related favs.

My husband has long extolled the virtues of winter interest in the garden. I remained unconvinced for quite a while. After all, once the thermometer reaches a certain point, I consider the backyard hostile territory, inhabitable only by feeder-raiding squirrels and children who don’t know enough to be cold. Who needs anything to look at outside when I have seed catalogues and hot tea inside?

My husband, however, just took the wrong approach.

I’ve finally discovered a reason for winter interest gardening that appeals to me. Basic laziness. The winter garden, it seems, is supposed to remain untidy. Forget deadheading those coneflowers and rudbeckias. Never lop down those fading grasses until spring. The birds and bunnies will thank you profusely. When those perfectly manicured lawns and gardens die or are cut back to the ground by zealous horticultural perfectionists, winter animals must look much farther afield for the seeds, berries, and protective cover they still require. They need a place of refuge.

Refuge is real

Thus, the gardener who neglects her seedheads and procrastinates her trimming finds herself rewarded by a yard full of thankful cardinals and finches, flaunting their colors at nature’s buffet. What a lovely license—untidiness in my yard can actually make it more hospitable to others. My backyard brambles draw those who need shelter from coyotes and cold. I can provide a place a refuge for those for whom the winter winds are too harsh.

I’m finding that can also hold true in the rest of my life.

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When my children were small and my husband working 12-24 hours a day, I discovered an awful demon in my quiet, retiring heart—uncontrolled anger. My inability to handle conflict had been well-hidden for many years (even from myself). I had easy-going friends, and I had married a man who rarely did anything I could get angry about. (OK, we did have a few discussions about empty cereal boxes on the counter and improperly aligned toilet paper rolls, but they didn’t exactly rock our marriage.)

Then we had kids.

Children, by their nature and seemingly by their firm desire, cause conflict. I had few coping skills for that kind of loving struggle. The day I found myself red-faced, screaming at them, “Why can’t you learn some self-control!” I knew I had a problem.

As God healed and taught me, I discovered something else—an awful lot of women felt the same way. They hated themselves, doubted their ability as parents, longed for someone to understand how they could have so much love and so much anger all at once.

Yet an embarrassed silence reigned over them, because talking about fears and shortcomings opens one up to further misunderstanding and pain. Only one who understood could break the silence and minister to them. Only someone who had an “untidy” life herself could extend a hospitable ear to hearts that needed nourishment and shelter.

Choking on Perfection

In the western suburbs of Chicago where we live, perfection reigns. It also chokes. Perfect-looking people in perfect cars commute to perfect jobs, then come home to perfect children and perfect houses. Deviation from the script isn’t allowed.

Yet, at times, I recognize the desperation behind those masks. The heart that cries, “Just let me see that you’re not perfect—then I can stop trying to prove that I am.” These people search for hospitality for their souls, and they don’t find it in the manicured perfection of our self-protecting masks. They find it in our untidiness, our inability to make all our pieces fit, our willingness to admit our weakness.

That surface-manicured standard reflects not God’s perfection but my pride. “My (God’s) grace is sufficient for you. My power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). What an intriguing paradox of what I’m supposed to be. Transparent enough so that His grace shines through my cracks and blemishes. A pointer for hungry hearts to the only one who can make order of their chaotic lives. To do that, I must be willing to admit to my own chaos.

Vulnerability is the start of becoming a refuge.

Honesty and grace keep us that way. If we all truly believed that, “There but for the grace of god go I,” what kind of shelter could we offer to people for whom the winter winds of perfection and criticism are harsh and hurtful?

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I love the grass heads bowing under snow outside my sliding glass door. I appreciate the beauty of rudbeckia seedheads, lovely in their own right without the starry golden petals. I glory in the cardinals, goldfinches, and juncos that find my untidiness so inviting to those in need. When the lawn services come one last time to “clean up” my neighbors’ yards, I’m glad to remain a place of refuge.

In the Weeds

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Weeds are the supreme challenge for an enneagram 5.

You simply cannot accomplish the elimination of weeds. You can’t feel capable when surrounded by waist-high thistle. You cannot prove your worth by becoming the master of every errant dandelion.

I have a problem with this.

Back to Work

Mornings around here have evolved into their common summer patterns. First thing, I go out into the yard to spend an hour or so working in the yard, before the sun has had its chance to turn this acre into a sauna and me into a sweaty, dirty sauna-ee.

Usually, it means pulling weeds. Giant weeds. Weeds that are taller than I am, if they’ve been left too long.

I don’t mind the work. The bigger issue is what it does to my mind. It’s created a problem with the way I see things. I can’t go out into my yard without seeing the weeds. There my be lilies and roses and coneflowers flashing and dancing all over the yard, but what do I see?

The weeds.

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No matter how much good overflows my yard, I am conditioned to look around and see all the work that needs to be done. Unless I make the conscious effort, I can’t enjoy the beauty because I’m focused on what isn’t perfect.

I know how long that to-do list is, and I know I haven’t reached the bottom of it. I don’t know why I’m convinced there is a bottom to it—we rationally know there never is. Yet we still believe there will one day magically be a moment when we look around and rejoice that everything is accomplished.

(I think that day is the one we die, so why are we do eager for it anyway?)

Meanwhile, weeds.

This might sound familiar to some of you.

Grace

I don’t do this in other peoples’ yards. When I go to their gardens or their homes, I see gorgeous flowers, delicious dinners, a house that looks welcoming or a garden that invites me into relaxation.

I don’t see their weeds first. (OK, I do see weeds—I have a tendency to almost start pulling them. Occupational hazard. But I don’t think they’re terrible people for having weeds.) I see what they’ve managed to do, not what they haven’t done.

Why am I so quick to see the flaws in my own world and not the beautiful pieces?

Why do I only notice what needs doing instead of relish what has been accomplished?

Why do I offer grace to everyone but me?

Take Time To See

I’ve been taking some time this summer to do that. To intentionally look around and see the wonderful places my hands have created. I’m looking first at the flowers, the patchwork of foliage and the different textures playing together in dappled light. The hues I placed next to one another on purpose—a purple-leaved heuchera here to catch the purple vein in a fern there. There is artistry. There is accomplishment. There is an unfinished canvas, to be sure, but there are corners of triumph.

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What’s required in my garden might be needed in my life, too. After so much time recovery from last winter’s injury, I began to learn this lesson, too. Look at the wins. The losses are hard, and they are to be grieved. But they do not define who we are.

There are corners of triumph.

Even in my date book, there are spaces for writing down “this week’s wins.” How wise is that? What would change in our joy if we habitually wrote down this weeks’ wins and focused on them, rather than this week’s items that did not get checked off the interminable to-do list?

I wonder.

So I’ve begin that practice, too. I’ve started looking at the list of tasks for church, writing, family, and life and started telling myself the truth.

What doesn’t get done doesn’t change my value.

What does get done is cause for celebration.

Whatever is left over can be done another time, or never at all, and the world will still turn, and I will still be beloved.

These are hard truths for an Enneagram 5 to believe, wrapped up in our need to feel capable. So I’m learning to turn over that need and focus instead on a more necessary one—the need to know who and whose I am. The need to offer and receive grace.

The need to accept weeds. But not see them.