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.