Sunday, May 31, 2015

Enjoy the "here and now"

My sister and her family came up north for Memorial Day weekend last weekend. I spent a lot of time working in the garden and ‘creating” (word I like to use to essentially mean ‘repurposing” garage sale treasures into the garden area) and putting in a new flower bed. As I mentioned in prior posts, I love to putz around in the yard when I can; first, because it provides me with a distraction from the many thoughts that often swirl in my mind; second, because is it physical activity that doesn’t classify as the dreaded “exercise” (a word I don’t like); and third; because it gives me something beautiful to nurture and take care of.

On Saturday evening, Kelly came over and the two of us spent some ‘sister time” sitting in the yard overlooking the gardens.  She told me multiple times that day that it the yard looked beautiful and each time she said that, I countered with, “thanks, BUT….nothing is really in bloom yet…and it WILL be gorgeous in a ….few weeks…or a month…or.”  She is unable to come up for the 4th of July week-long reunion so she won’t see the gardens when the perennials bloom. I was somewhat apologetic that she won’t see the garden in its full glory, but commented about how silly it is for me to ‘wish my summer away” just so that things will be ‘beautiful” because really once it’s over, it’s over and so is summer.  I also remarked to her about how each week something else blooms….but essentially…once it blooms for the few days/weeks, it is done for the season and I wait another year, so which really is the best time….NOW; when there isn’t much but foliage to greet me…..or LATER; when the yard explodes with color?  Many would say in a month from now….but not me.

Certainly in a month, providing the frost forecasted AGAIN for tonight doesn’t damage the blooms, the perennials will be gorgeous…..but what about the ones blooming now?  What about the lilacs and lily of the valley whose fragrance greet me when I come out the door to go to work each morning?  What about the few remaining tulips in bloom?  They will be gone….but to be replaced with others. Too often I overlook the early bloomers because I’m so focused on the end result.  What about the anticipation and excitement I feel right now as I planted the annuals and check each day to see what perennials survived the bitter cold this winter?  That will be replaced with a sense of satisfaction….but is one feeling really better than the other?  What about the stubborn determination I feel that THIS SUMMER, I am going to outsmart the deer and weather conditions and I WILL… hear that….I WILL…..get cucumbers to grow this year?  Certainly that HOPE feels good; maybe not as good as a home-grown cucumber is going to taste, but good, nonetheless. 

My point is this: Too often in our lives, we put all the emphasis on the END….the RESULT…..the big ‘day” or holiday….and we forget to appreciate and value the joy of the journey/process.  For me, personally, the month of December is far more exciting and joyful as I prepare and decorate for the holidays than the 48 hours of complete chaos/stress that we call Christmas Eve/Day.  The months/years of excitement planning a wedding/party/special vacation (whatever) is often as joyful as the moment (which is usually awesome but can lead to the “after celebration” let-down.  Parents who are suffering from the empty nest will often attest that the chaotic and hectic schedules of child-rearing are often the ‘best years of one’s life” and the goal of “getting all the kids grown and out of the house so it stays clean” isn’t always the joyous event one anticipated. The same goes for graduating school/college, reaching retirement, turning a certain age……OR….finally reaching one’s goal on his/her personal journey.

I have often spoke about the importance of “enjoying the journey” rather than focusing on the destination/goal.  My gardening experiences this past week has simply reinforced this principal.  While it is incredible to reach one’s goal and the sense of accomplishment is amazing, there is SO MUCH joy to be found along the way.  Think about it… does it feel to put on a pair of pants and find that they are too big?  How great it is to be able to do something like walk up the stairs for the first time in years and not be out of breath? How awesome is it to go to a party and be strong enough to say, ‘wow, that looks good, but ‘no thanks’?  The list is endless: putting a new notch in the belt; buying a smaller size; getting a compliment; touching your toes or crossing your leg……or a hundred other things.  Do you really want to miss those special moments….just to get to reach your goal and be faced with the much-harder task of keeping the weight off?  Don’t get me wrong; there is immense joy in BOTH….just don’t focus so much on the end that you forget the present.

No doubt, you will feel amazing when you reach your final goal. No doubt my garden will be awesome in a month or so when it is in full bloom…..but what are you failing to notice/appreciate TODAY….as you wait/work/hope/anticipate then?  I sat on the swing on Tuesday morning before work and looked around at the gardens…..and this time I noticed those things that WERE present now…..not just focused on what is yet to be.  I picked some spurge and lily of the valley to put in a vase and each day this week, I was greeted with the fragrance of “what IS today” and was reminded that “what IS today” is as much a gift/blessing as ‘what WILL be in a few weeks.”  My focus this past few days has been to look for the blessings/joy in the “HERE and NOW”….all those things that I take for granted and overlook simply because I am waiting for ‘something better” to happen.  I shouldn’t have been surprised that once I began to ‘look” that I would notice…..a real RED HEADED woodpecker (not the downy, hairy, red-bellied or pileated) perched on a tree on my route to work, or the steam rising out of the pond because it was cold in the morning, or the sounds of the mating birds or just how beautiful the leaves of a fern are as they are unfurling from the ground.  These are things that I would just sometimes take for granted….but are only for a fleeting season.   What are YOU missing out on today…..while you are anticipating/waiting/hoping for something in the future?

God is present in the HERE and NOW and there is JOY/cause to celebrate each step in the journey!!  Today I rejoice and am grateful for all that IS…..and hopeful for all that WILL BE! Make it a great day…..for someone else…and for yours

Friday, May 22, 2015

Happy Friday

Hi all… I am SO HAPPY that it is Friday and the beginning of a 3-day holiday weekend here in the US. It has been a very long week and I have been running on fumes for nearly 2 weeks now. I’m not sure this weekend will be one of rest and relaxation because a large number of my family members will be coming up north to Pip’s place for the first ‘unofficial” weekend of the summer. There will be a lot of activity and it will be good to see my family, but I’ll likely be busy on my garden projects a good portion of the weekend, and perhaps a little “garage saling!”


I spent most of last weekend planting multiple flats of annuals and vegetables and so far I have had to cover them up the past THREE nights due to very cold temperatures and frost. Tonight is another one of those nights. In spite of my best efforts, I lost quite a few plants and nearly the entire flat of zinnias and the 4 baskets of  containing a different variety of them. Even covered up, the zinnias just couldn’t take the cold. So far, only ONE of my watermelon plants survived, so you can be sure I’ll be planting more of them!


Earlier this week I wrote about how my gardening mirrors my journey and sometimes, even in spite of my best efforts, I am not always successful. Sometimes it happens when dealing with family members or friends and conversations don’t go as i hoped they would and conflicts/misunderstandings happen.  Sometimes it happens in nature, with plants or trees….or baby birds I try to save when they fall out of the nest….or stray animals that land on our doorstep. Sometimes it happens in our personal journey to wellness and we have ‘slip up’s or fall off the wagon….in spite of any precautions we put in place.  We must realize that we are not ALWAYS going to get the outcome we hope for in EVERY situation or reach every goal we set….but that does not mean we are NOT SUCCESSFUL.  In simply means, we need to try something else.  Being successful doesn’t always have to be measured in OUTCOME; it can be measured by what happens on the inside…on the changes that happen during the process; the changes in our thinking and habits.


And so… I was out in the pre-dawn hours this morning pulling the tarps and sheets off my plants….shivering in the process…. I could feel myself becoming agitated when I noticed pot after pot with shriveled up leaves, and yet another dead goldfish in the pond.  I wanted to mutter about how stupid the weather was; how ridiculous it is to be 31 degrees on Memorial Day weekend; how dumb I was to spend so much money and time on plants that didn’t even last a week….and so forth. BUT…there was nobody there to listen to my ranting, so what was the use?  After all, I was the one who planted everything so early, knowing that I live in northern Michigan and we often get frost this time of year.  I was the one who insisted on getting the goldfish last weekend, knowing it would likely be too cold for them. I was the one who hastily covered the gardens and didn’t take the time to secure the covers with rocks to prevent them from blowing off.  ME… THERESA….And so….really, what was the use of being crabby or negative?  Oftentimes….but not ALWAYS…..we play a role in the negative outcomes of our endeavors…or at least have to accept a small amount of responsibility.


So….instead of letting it ruin my day, I went back inside and poured another cup of coffee and began to remember all the joy I got in the past few weeks waiting and planning for planting day.  It was so therapeutic for me to shop and choose this year’s flowers; to design the pots; to actually play in the dirt, and to feel the sun on my body after a long, cold winter.   A little frost can’t take that away or the joy I got and continue to get from gardening.  In fact, it just means I’ll get to do it again when I replace some of the flowers I lost!  I enjoyed the process…and even though I had a little set-back this week, the plants will rebound and the gardens will grow and prosper in a few weeks. (Hear that Mother Nature?  LOL)


I try to live with this same principle every day in many areas of my personal journey. While things didn’t work out as I had hoped to in my personal life in recent months, they worked out exactly how God intended them to and rather than being negative about things, I have chosen to remember the good, the joy and the fun experiences I had, and like the frost-nipped begonias who will recover in time, I have rebounded and am peaceful and happy as I work to rebuild the long-term relationship I ended several months back. Sometimes things happen in our lives and we have to “replant’ and do things differently in the future. 


Many times along the way in my journey to wellness, I have had to stop and regroup after a plateau or a few weeks of struggle. I had to remind myself to “enjoy the journey”….to rejoice in the process of change and not focus so much on the end.  We are all going to experience set-backs as we strive to change. We are going to have slip-ups; we are going to give in to temptations; we are going to want to quit….but we must keep trying. We can’t give up just because of a little bad day, any more than I can just throw all my frost nipped planters away.  Life happens; setbacks happen; illness happens; arguments…..tragedy…..disappointment……heartbreak……FROST…..happens, and there is often very little we can do to ward it away.  We can be warned about it….sometimes…..and we can take preventative measures (how about this weekend?  What are you planning to do to stay on track when you go to that family picnic or graduation party?)  We can try our best to minimize the damage or negative effects of our situations, but, even then, sometimes we just are not going to get the results we want. No matter what we do, sometimes people die. No matter how hard we try, sometimes we don’t  get the job we want or pass the test we take. No matter how good a person we try to be, sometimes we get bad news from the doctor, and even we when do EVERYTHING right, stay on track with our eating, get exercise, and follow the plan….sometimes the scale doesn’t move in the right directions.  BUT….we can’t just give up and allow negative thinking to control us…we have to just ‘regroup” and get back in the game, and keep trying. 


It is yet to be determined just how much stuff I’ll have to replant after tonight’s frost….but….so be it.  I’ll just get some more flowers and try again.  You might have to start all over from scratch in your personal journey too…or in your relationships….or after a death/illness/break-up/ whatever…..but it’s all part of the process.  Don’t just stay stagnate and negative. Pick yourself back up and start all over again!


Try to have some fun this weekend…..and be safe on the roads. The traffic heading north in Michigan will be very heavy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I am unstoppable

Good Morning!  Believing and living by the philosophy of the words on this clip is not an easy thing to do, but certainly a noble goal.  Many days I can accurately and honestly proclaim PART of these words, and sometimes I can embrace them all. Today, I encourage you to  read those words slowly and, if you aren't "THERE" yet, pick one or two phrases and concentrate on just that line.  Day-by-day, as we surrender our will and lives to our God, and allow Him to change us from within we will become more and more confident and empowered. Today, I choose to be "bigger than my concerns or worries."  What about you?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Work and wait

Hi everyone!  I hope you had a great weekend and are raring to start a new week. I had a wonderful weekend, but I was very busy working outside in the gardens. To many,  gardening is work, but to me, although it is extremely physical labor, it is ENJOYABLE work and even better therapy.  I’ve waited all winter long to begin the week-long task of planting.  My body is aching today, but I managed to get 9 flats, 10 hanging baskets, and a lot of vegetables planted!  There is still much to do, but I made great progress and the weather cooperated for a change. Today I am peaceful, hopeful, and happy.

It is remarkable to me how relaxing and therapeutic it is for me to “create” new beds and color combinations, and plant the annuals. It is physically, mentally, and spiritually uplifting, and for 2 days, my mind avoided much of the daily stress that often clogs up my thoughts. Gardening is so much like my journey and I am empowered as I dig.  The theme for most of the weekend was “work….and wait!”  That, essentially, is what I do each spring and what most of my journey has been. I work to carefully transplant each delicate plant from the nursery pot to its home in a big pot or one of the beds, all the while hoping that it will grow and produce vibrant blossoms or fruit.  It would be foolish to plant with the mindset that, “this is going to die anyway, so what’s the use?”  Rather, I plant with the full expectation that THIS YEAR I will actually get a watermelon big enough to eat; THIS year my lilies will bloom BEFORE the deer eat the buds; THIS year I will manage to keep things watered and protected from the frost (wouldn’t you know it…it’s in the forecast for Weds!); and THIS will be the year that I see the results of my hard work.  So much work…..and so much anticipation……and oftentimes, not the results I hoped for.

So much like our journey!  We work and work….full of determination that THIS time we will be successful. IT would be foolish to begin a journey expecting to fail.  So much hope that THIS time we will resist temptation and manage to keep at it long enough to see the results before we get discouraged. So much effort….and we have to WAIT and WAIT and WAIT…and stick with our plan, even when we don’t see the results for weeks at a time.  So many times we think we can take the easy way out (maybe we buy a big planter already in full bloom), but we still have to work to maintain it. There is no EASY WAY in our journey either. It take work and effort, even when we don’t want to do it; even when we are tired and would rather do something else.

 I went to bed last night completely exhausted, but happy because there was an 80% chance of rain. I was thrilled because I was too tired to water in all the new plants spread ALL OVER THE YARD. Anyone who plants knows that watering in a new transplant is critical to your success, and I was relieved to know that I didn’t have to spend an hour or more watering before I went to bed. Mother Nature would do it for me….or so I thought!  As of 11 pm, there was still no rain and when I looked out the window, I could see stars so the forecasted storm broke apart and missed us completely.  I was bummed!!!  It meant that I would need to water plants right at daylight before I went to work to ensure that they would survive the hot sun.  So…at 6:00 a.m. before it was even light enough to see what I was doing, I was out fighting the mosquitos watering my plants.  WHY?  Because I had already invested a lot of money, time, and effort into the plants….AND…I want them to produce MORE than I wanted to sit in the lazy boy with another cup of coffee.   It’s about MOTIVATION and COMMITMENT. 

Oftentimes on your personal journey you are going to have to do things you don’t want to do…IF….and ONLY IF… want to see results.  Sometimes you are going to have to get up early to pack a healthy lunch, or get a bit of exercise in BEFORE you begin the day.  Sometimes, you are going to work and work and work….and you are still not going to see results (in my case, the deer will eat my plants, the frost will get them, or they will just not take root), but I tell you what, you aren’t going to see results if you don’t put the effort into it. I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t have much success if I don’t keep my gardens watered in the heat of the summer. Sure, every once in a while you will get lucky and lose a pound or so during a binge week, in much the same way that some little plant will self-sow and grow all by itself, but those things are few and far between.  Our journey is about WORKING….day-in-and-day-out, putting in the effort whether we feel like it or not….and WAITING to see results, all the while remaining hopeful and confident that THIS time you will reap what you sow!  I have faith that most….but not all….of my plants will prosper and bloom if I continually care for them….and I have faith in YOU TOO…that you will be successful in whatever it is you seek to change….IF you are consistent with positive thoughts and healthy choices. Don’t give up on yourself!!!!  You can do it!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

Good Morning and Happy Mother’s Day to all women in the group, regardless of whether or not you have children/grandchildren of your own. Today is a day to celebrate women and the ways in which we nurture those around us. Mother’s Day is not an easy day for me because my mom passed away when I was in my 20’s and both of my grandmothers have died as well. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has passed since their deaths; days like today always remind me that they are no longer “physically” with me each day…….and yet, I know that their spirit and tenacity are deeply rooted in my soul.
It’s been a busy few days. I was out-of-town to speak at a conference for my job at the college this week, returning on Friday night, and then yesterday was graduation. Even though it was pouring down rain, it was a full house and there was a lot of joy and celebration in that gymnasium. I felt a lot of emotion as I watched as many of my students received their hard earned diplomas, often attending school while dealing with a plethora of ‘outside issues” and academic, financial, and/or personal ­­struggles. It strengthens me on  my own journey when I witness the rewards of hard work in others. In my day-to-day interaction, I’m often privileged to share my own story with a student, not just the weight loss journey, but also the story of returning to college in my 40’s, unemployed, obese, and desperate. Like you….and me….those students had to be focused and determined in the pursuit of that diploma, and continually remind themselves that the outcome would be worth the effort.

Whether I’m speaking to a large group, answering e-mail from some who has read my story, or encouraging a student one-on-one, I am often asked, “Theresa, have you always been this driven?”  I smile, and say, “Absolutely, however, most of those close to me refer to me as stubborn and bull-headed.” Driven: I like that. Usually, I say, “determined,” but driven works.  I usually then share that I learned that trait from my parents and grandparents.

Every year, as Mother’s Day approaches, I reflect on those individuals that helped me become strong and instilled in me a determination and drive to keep on going and a strength to persevere with things get tough. My mother and grandmothers are right at the top of the list, as so, on this Mother’s Day morning, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the many ways that these beautiful women continue to influence my life on a daily basis, even though they have been in heaven for many years.

My Grandma Brinkmeier, Evelyn, grew up on small farm in rural Michigan. She experienced grief at a very young age, losing a brother when he was nine years old. Her 16-year-old sister, along with two of her cousins, were killed in a trolley car accident while traveling to the church for the wedding rehearsal of another cousin. Her mother died when my Grandma was only 12 years old. She developed psoriasis early on in life, and for as long as I can remember, her body was scabbed with painful sores. And yet….she was kind, happy, generous, and full of faith. She was a woman of prayer and always trusted that God would see her through whatever trial or tragedy came her way. She taught me to be grateful for the blessings in my life….even when life was hard.  In spite of all the hardships she endured, she always put the needs of others first….and God blessed her with a happy adult life. She and my grandfather were happily married….and still deeply in love….for 58 years when she died at age 78.  Grandma was my biggest “cheerleader” and in her eyes, I shone like a star. I really miss her….and yet, I know that her generous spirit…and her faith….are deeply rooted in me. Unfortunately, so is her love of food!

My grandma Borawski, Florence, had a similar childhood. Growing up during the depression, one of six children, money was always tight and yet, they got somehow got by. She often spoke about wearing hand-me-downs as a child (hmmm….and here I am a Salvation Army Thrift store queen! J), but when I was growing up, I loved to go her in bathroom because the counter was COVERED with make-up, perfume, and lotions of all kinds and she loved clothes (hmmm….again! J).  Her grandparents owned some cabins up in Indian River, Michigan and she spent summers up there in the north woods. This is likely where my love of northern Michigan came from. Grandma was one of the “toughest” women I know, and would take on anyone….male or female….that challenged her. As a bartender for more than 20 years, she often told stories of picking up some drunk guy and “tossing” him out the door. All she had to do was look at us with “that look” and all of us grandchildren would straighten up in a minute.  And yet… I never remember her ever saying a cross word to me.  In her eyes….I could do no wrong.
Like Evelyn’s, my grandma’s life was filled with heartache. She lost my dad when he was only 34 years old. She never got over his death; how could you? Those of you that have lost children would understand; I cannot even begin to comprehend what it must be like to lose a child. She buried a second son when he was 47. Between that, she dealt with my grandfather, a man who struggled with alcohol issues, was often drunk, and ended up having a debilitating stroke in his early 50’s. I never remember grandpa being able to walk or talk….and yet, my grandma took care of him as long as she could while continuing to work full-time, maintain a house, and raising six children. I remember her telling me one time that my father was in the hospital in Detroit (35 miles in one direction), my grandfather was in the hospital in Toledo (35 miles the other direction), and my great-grandma was in the hospital in Trenton (in the middle) and EVERY DAY…even though she didn’t get home from work until 3 a.m., she would get up, take care of the household stuff, get things ready for dinner…and make the trip to see EACH OF THEM in the hospital….before going to work in the afternoon.  How did she do that?  How did she get through those years of struggle? How did she keep going and going and going?   She was strong….and stubborn….and determined….and just somehow found the strength to “do whatever she had to do.” And she had fun along the way. She was always the center of attention, well-liked, and the life of the party. She loved to sing, laugh, have a good time, and celebrate. And….in her eyes…. I could do no wrong! And even though she didn’t really acknowledge it fully until late in life when she had nothing but time on her hands, she was a woman of great faith. To this day, I maintain that my MIRACLE began the day she went to heaven and had a little chat with God….because her death was the beginning of my journey to a healthier life.  She died in 2011 at age 90….and I miss her deeply. And yet… I KNOW….that her determination, drive, and strength have been deeply rooted in me….and have been instrumental to me on my journey.

Finally, my mother…..the woman who gave me life. Another woman who endured hardship, grief and loss….and yet…was the kindest, most generous, and caring woman I know. She married the love of her life, my dad, at age 26, and gave birth to three of us; I am the oldest. I was only eight years old when mom lost my dad at age 34, leaving her a young widow with three small children. Although I knew the sting of grief, I never UNDERSTOOD the loss she must have felt until I grew up and fell in love myself. How do you go on when you lose the love of your life at such a young age and have to support and raise three children alone?  How do you make yourself get out of bed each day….go to work….put on a happy face…do what you have to do?  I never remember seeing her cry until later in life.  What I did see, is a woman who ALWAYS put the needs of others first….coming home exhausted from work…and yet going to visit the neighbor lady who was dying of cancer, baking something for the bake sale and church, sending a card to someone who was ill or lonely, or visiting the sick.

She was an amazing woman….one of GREAT FAITH. She married my step-dad in the late 1970’s and welcomed his six children into her brood and shortly after that, she developed cardio-myopathy, a serious heart disease that would eventually take her life at age 54. And yet….in spite of the crosses she was given….she always drew her strength from God….and taught me to do the same. She always believed that God would give her what she needed to handle whatever came her way. She was driven….she was strong….she was kind…she was loving….and above all……she was COMPASSIONATE.   I want to be like that when I grow up!
And so… these early hours of Mother’s Day, my heart is somewhat sad today because I miss these three women….and yet, mostly, I am eternally grateful to them…..and to GOD….for the blessing they were (and continue to be) in my life. They have taught me to love; to endure; to cherish each day; to be kind. Mostly, they have taught me to “KEEP ON keeping on” and to TRUST that no matter what….no matter how hard the road becomes….no matter how tough the journey is….that GOD will always be at my side; will always direct my steps; and will always give me what I need to carry on. 
So when asked….”Theresa, have you always been this determined”, I simply must say, “Absolutely, I was taught by the best!”   I will “keep on keeping on” because I know …that wherever they are this day….their spirit is alive and well in me….and that they are praying for me, supporting me, and giving me strength.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom…and Grandma’s.  I hope that each day of my life I live in a way that makes you proud….and brings honor to your name.

As you reflect on your own personal journey, try to find someone in your life…past or present…that will inspire you to keep going when you are weary and want to give up. Someone that will believe that you can do it, even when it appears impossible. Someone that will support you; pray for you; encourage, and always see goodness in you.  Surround yourself with those people; draw strength from them; and when all else fails….KNOW THAT I WILL DO THAT FOR YOU!  I believe in you….I am here for you…. I struggle with you….and I KNOW that with God….all things are possible!  Enjoy your day today….and be especially kind to those who are sad this day.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Recognizing good from bad

Good Monday Morning!  What a glorious weekend it was in northern Michigan. Spring has finally arrived, and at last, my days off coincided with the warmth and sunshine. It was so good for me, mentally and physically, to be able to spend so much time outside working in the gardens, cooking turkey burgers on the grill, AND….floating in my new little backyard pool for a little while. The water temp in the pool was only 65 degrees so I did very little swimming and a lot of floating on the raft, but it sure felt great to be in the sun and enjoying the outdoors after such a long, cold winter.

I get so much joy out of my gardens and it sure was wonderful to look and see the little mounds of green popping up out of the ground, giving me hope,  that yes, even after a long, cold winter, life continues to exist.  I even had two tulips bloom this weekend! One of the things I like best about working in my flower gardens is that it gives me an opportunity to really listen to the world around me and often I feel God’s presence around me, strengthening, inspiring, and speaking to me….not to mention it is very good exercise!  This weekend was no exception.

One of the first spring tasks is to clean out the beds of the fallen leaves, decaying foliage, and other debris that has accumulated over the winter. This is a long, tedious job that must be done by hand so that I don’t damage any of the plants or garden accents that are there.  I spent several hours both Saturday and Sunday,  and only managed a couple of the garden areas, but as I worked, I kept thinking about how much I’ve learned over the years about perennials and how much better I am at this sort of thing.  Let me explain…..

More than 20 years ag0 (this week, in fact), I purchased my first little place ‘up north” in northern Michigan, just around the corner from my current home. At that time, I was working in ministry downstate, lived in an apartment during the school year but would spend most weekends and all summer up north. I was so excited to discover that my new get-away had a large rock garden in the back yard. It was overgrown with plants and didn’t look like it had been kept up in many years. One of my first priorities was to clean that large garden out and plant flowers. At that time, “flowers” to me meant marigolds, petunias, and geraniums. Those were the plants I knew.

 I worked for several days, until I was sore and sunburned, and pulled out EVERY sign of growth….EVERY single plant….EVERY thing in that large raised bed.  I was so proud of myself! That pride and sense of accomplishment lasted only until I met one of my neighbors in the grocery store a week later and she was congratulating me on the new place and told me how much she always loved the large rock PERENNIAL garden in the back yard.  Perennial garden?  What’s that, I asked? My heart sank as she explained that perennials were plants that came back year-after-year and got bigger and better as they aged.    I had no prior knowledge of gardening, and you guessed it: I totally cleared out, pulled out, dug out….EVERY SINGLE perennial plant that was sprouting from the ground! I had no idea what I had done, but was dismayed to discover that I had destroyed several hundred dollars’ worth of plants…many that took many years to mature enough to actually bloom… due to ignorance.  At that time, I didn’t know the good from the bad.

I have learned a lot since then, and yesterday, as I picked up debris, cut back and pulled out last year’s dead growth, and pulled the weeds that are already growing (seriously, there isn’t even leaves on the trees up here yet and I have WEEDS???), I kept thinking about how the “good” and the “bad” are often found growing/dwelling together and how important it is for us to learn to RECOGNIZE the good amidst the bad. We often aren’t very good at it and it is a skill that takes time to learn.  In terms of gardening, it means that I had to be very careful to get rid of those things that I have learned are weeds… learn when/if I should cut back foliage and prune a plant….to learn what is a plant that will come back again this summer even when it appears dead now….essentially what is good and desirable and will eventually flower and bloom…..and what is not. This is something that I’ve gotten better at by learning, trial and error, and experience….and even now, I still make mistakes that I later regret.  Hmmm….. not so different than life, is it?

In the garden that we call ‘our life’, we often find that we have many good things….blessings, people, experiences….all around us but they are often found amidst the not so good things….grief, illness, sadness, loss, etc. that sometime threaten to overtake our well-being and spirit. Very often, the struggles are must easier to focus on. I firmly believe that in EVERY SINGLE situation/experience/person that we encounter…YES, even heartache, loss, disappointment, failure….that there is good there, even when we can’t readily recognize it.  There is ALWAYS something of value about every person; we just sometimes have to look really hard to see it. There is ALWAYS a lesson to be learned in every experience; it just takes time and patience to discover it. There is ALWAYS an opportunity to grow in our faith and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS something to be grateful for, but like those perennials, we have to train ourselves to recognize our blessings. The more we do it, however, the better we will become.   And, certainly, like gardening, it can be really hard sometimes……and painful…but we will be better people in the long run.

My friends….if the struggles of your journey are threatening to take over your spirit; your road seems long and all uphill; you are wanting to give up or feel discouraged, take heart and have faith that amidst all of that, THERE IS SOMETHING GOOD….you just have to look really hard and learn to recognize it.  Even if you are trying really hard to stay on track, but haven’t seen the results that you want….or you’ve tried again and again and just seem to blow it…don’t lose heart….positive things are happening.  Even if you only get through two hours before eating that cookie, you still got through two hours! Even if you quit smoking for two days and then lit one up again…you still went two days. Even if you’ve lost weight and gained a few pounds back (a few of summer shorts from last year wont zip without a struggle….sigh), don’t fret because you KNOW how to do it, you’ve done it before, you’re still better off than you were at your heaviest…and YOU CAN DO IT AGAIN!!!!

We are all a work in progress and, like perennial gardening, we sometimes make mistakes. We sometimes fail to recognize the good in the midst of the bad. We sometimes just want to throw everything out and start all over again, but if we do, we can lose out on some very wonderful lessons…and blessings.  Reading countless gardening books and magazines has taught me to recognize what to keep and what to get rid of in the garden, but only GOD can teach/help us to recognize the good in all things.  That is exactly why I pray each day… “Open my eyes this day, God, that I may see and RECOGNIZE your presence in every person, every situation, and every thing I encounter this day.”  THANK YOU….for being a ‘good thing” on my journey and for your patience with me during these past several months.