Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Growth - The Collateral Damage Myth

The mysterious appearance of the mutilated creature calls for an investigation and the swift punishment of the perpetrator of the heinous crime.

Who… I demand, Who did this? Who put this frog on my doorstep? 

Justice is required, and justice will be served, as long as there is life in me.

You did…

The familiar voice frames the two simple, monosyllabic words with such inexpressible anguish, with such heart-rending pain that I topple off my justice/juror/judge high horse with a humiliating thump.

Y –y-you aaare bback…

I never left.  The Gardener from Outer Space speaks softly, but to my ears it’s the sound of the rolling thunder and the crash of lightening that splits the rock.

You… you’ve been here… all along…?

Yes…I’ve been here, with you, all along…

Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. Nathan then said to David, You are the man! 2 Samuel 12:5,7

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Growth - Massacre on E Street

I feel quite energized by the clear attainable goal set out before me - a vast wilderness of our unkempt yard in desperate need of taming.  My hands clutching firmly the sputtering power mower between us. A horse ready to gallop.

Only a blind man would fail to see that what we have here is a mission and an objective. And doggonne it, I am ready to accomplish it.

Within minutes, the neglected lawn begins to take shape. Following close behind, the edger puts the finishing touches.  For a novice, I must say I am quite impressed with myself.  Seeing the instant results of my hard work is so refreshing and doubly rewarding.  I could get used to this. Despite the heat, despite the sweat, I want to keep going.

I am done in record-breaking time - the lawn mowed and edged, the bushes pruned, weeds pulled out of flowerbeds, and all concrete areas swept clean and spotless. It's quite a marvel to behold. I stepped back onto the street to get a better view as I admire my handiwork.

It may not be Better Homes and Gardens yard, but this sure is best I can do with what we have here.

Tired and deeply satisfied, I slowly walk towards the front door. As I turn the corner, on the freshly swept sidewalk next to our welcome mat, a grizzly image assaults all my senses.

In stark contrast to the clean, sun-bleached pavement there is a mutilated body of a small creature. Upon closer inspection, it turns out it's a little frog, all bloated in the heat of mid-day, with guts and blood spilling out of its butchered body, an ugly smear staining the concrete around it's disfigured shape.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Growth - New Growth New Problems

Laying prostrate on the ground, I realize I’ve never seen our yard from this perspective.  The blades of grass closed in over my head, and suddenly I’m faced with a problem I haven’t encountered before.  

I could lose our children in this grass, not to mention our guinea pig George!

The scary thought is trailed by another – actually quite invigorating one.

I get to do some REAL gardening work now! I get to MOW like all real gardeners!

For years I’ve watched all our neighbors mow their lawns weekly, while our lawn-mower sat idle in the garage, buried under the layered mountain of miscellaneous junk since the day we moved into the house. The old owners left it behind since they thought we would need it.  But, once the yard fell under my care, they were proven quite wrong. I never found any use for it at all, since there was nothing – not even weeds – that grew in our yard.

That is, until today…

I jump up and wade my way through the tall grass towards the garage. Undaunted by the junk-yard mountain, I plow my way over and under outgrown toys, bags of aluminum cans, spilled guinea pig shavings until I spot the wheel of the dusty red self-propelled Toro.

It takes me several hours before I am actually able to start it, but once the engine revs up, I feel strangely empowered despite the deafening noise and the old machine-oil burning stench.

I am ready to roll. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Growth - When Something So Good Turns Out to Be So Bad

Enveloped in the blue silence of the sky and the faint smell of manure ascending from the earth below, suddenly I feel rather foolish for putting so much stock into the modules and the workshop; into those carefully crafted and well-organized words as if one can reduce the heaven into a bullet point and summarize the texture of the earth in a closing paragraph.

As if those painstakingly distilled, simple how-to’s can accomplish what only the Gardener from Outer Space can…

… create something out of nothing…

… turn the wasteland into an oasis…

… open the ears of the deaf…

… open the eyes of the blind…

… bring life out of death…or..

… make me, even me,  a gardener…?!!!

The preposterous thought makes me want to bury my head into the manure-enriched soil. But, before I am able to do it, another one hits me like a leftover pavement brick from Bob's walkway. 

What if ...this workshop... intended to help… intended to instruct men and women into the marvelous art ...into the fascinating science… into the awesomely miraculous artistic science and scientific art of gardening... is actually reducing, even eliminating our need ... or at least our perception... our recognition of our desperate need for the Gardener from Outer Space… to show up... on our street... in our driveway... with the shovel and the manure pile... with the garden hose and the seeds... 

The thought is so terrifying, so bone-freezing sacrilegious that my knees buckle under its weight.

What an idiot… what a completely colossal fool I've been! I cry out, with my face planted between the rows of tomatoes, my mouth filled with the enriched dirt. Before I choke completely, I turn my head, noticing the maple tree staring at me. 

It gently sways its branches in silent agreement.

I am not sure if I want to kick it or hug it… or both. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Growth - The Hard Work of Listening

I am not sure where the kick and the hug came from, but I sense something inside me, all knotty and stitched-up begin to unravel in their wake.

For a person who evaluates the moral fabric of her day as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on the number of words produced on a page, an implication that more can be accomplished through silence than all those syllables stitched together into verbs and nouns, simile and hyperbole, which, in turn, are slapped into sentences  that pile up into paragraphs and chapters… well, it’s unnerving.

But, the thought is also strangely…hmmmm…. how shall I put it…? 


Even liberating…?

For when the burden of the incessant word-production is off one’s shoulder, that one is freed, is liberated to… try something radically different...

 ... something counter-cultural and...

... truly revolutionary...

Something outrageously unhip...

... like sitting back and ...


...really listening...? 

Or at least begin to do so...

For even I, the dummiest of all dummies know that listening, as easy as it may appear,  might be one of the hardest human activities ever invented... right up there with resting. And I can tell you first hand that one can’t really listen and hear a thing as long as his or her mouth is constantly moving.   

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Catching a Ride or Spinning the Wheels

I knew we were in Colorado when with an increasing frequency we were passed by the cars, trucks, SUV's, mopeds, mini Coopers and Beetles hauling bikes. Two, three, four stacked together... sometimes enough to provide human-powered transportation for an entire soccer team.  To an outsider, this bike thing just stands out. O.K.? No offense intended.

As we approached Denver, we got stuck behind a small sedan carrying a pair.  The two bicycles were identical except for one thing.

Bicycle A sat comfortably on the hinges that kept it firmly attached to the car, quite relaxed, seemingly enjoying the ride.

Bicycle B, equally firmly attached, had one wheel spinning furiously at the 70 mph flow of traffic.

It was exhausting just to watch it - working so hard, spinning so fast as if the fate of the world depended on it. Of course, all that spinning in the air made absolutely no difference in terms of getting further faster or expediting the arrival at the desired destination.

What made the difference was that it was safely attached to the car... not even clinging to it by its own feeble will power!

In Colossians, Apostle Paul says,

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Colossians 3:3-4

My life is hidden in Christ.  All the spinning of my own little wheels is not going to get me any further or any faster to the desired destination.  Of course, it might make me feel better... make me feel like I am doing something important... The faster the wheel spins, the more important it appears - or so it thinks.

But most likely, it's only going to wear out the curious observers trying to pass me by.

It is vain for you to rise up early, 
To retire late, 
To eat the bread of painful labors; 
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Psalm 127:2

Friday, July 19, 2013

Growth - When Silence Speaks Louder Than Words

I look down and see the idle, worn-out garden hose next to my feet. I stare at it for something like an eternity, the tornado of questions swirling inside my mind and my heart: 

Why bother? Why bother at all if you can’t tell the difference between the real ficus and the fake…? If miracles can be choreographed, manufactured, packaged and distributed like cans of chicken noodle soup out of some miracle-cranking factory ‘out there’… without hearing the Gardener’s voice...without a hose and a shovel… and a manure pile? Without the death and the burial of the tiny seeds… ?

The deafening silence of the sky above and the earth below is filled with the litany of my complaints.

I pause suddenly realizing something I haven’t considered before.  

What if…in their silence…they might be saying…something… but I am unable to hear it from all the noise I am making?

The thought startles me stiff.

I look at the sky again… 

Blue.  Big. Deep. Speckled with puffy white clouds shaped like a clown riding a pony and a decapitated rabbit chasing it.

I look around my yard.  

The azalea bushes. The maple trees.  The cilantro and basil.  Tomatoes and squash. The green tufts of grass under my feet. The sparkly drops of water trickling out of the garden hose next to my feet.

Taking it all in, I gasp for I realize that what the wordless blue sky and the quiet earth below have accomplished... 

have birthed, and 

nurtured, and 

grown.. their silence...

... is more, much more than I ever have with all my chatter. 

The revolutionary thought feels like a strange mix of a ruthless kick in my gut and a tender hug around my shoulder. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Growth - An Escape Route

Standing in the middle of the garden, I am surrounded by now almost painful reminders of the Gardener’s presence and activity...

The faint smell of the cow manure...

The rows of basil that sprung out of their tiny tombs...

The green-capped tomato balls with blushing cheeks...

How can something that was intended to become so good, turn out into such a colossal disaster?

The disappointment and the despair following in the wake of the great workshop fiasco exceed, far exceed my capacity of either comprehension or emotional digestion.  I think I am going to puke. 

What I really want is for the Gardener to suddenly swing around some distant corner of the outer space in his white truck and land in my driveway right this very moment.  I want him to come and whisk me somewhere far far away where there is no pain and disappointment; where there are no unanswerable questions assailing my mind and my heart, where appearances are not deceiving and the genuineness of every miracle is self-evident. I want him to take me to a place where I can embrace even the worst reality as infinitely better than the best fabricated story.

I wait. 


And wait.  And wait some more.

Apart from the chirping of the cardinals in Bob’s tree, everything is silent.

The blue sky above. 

The green grass below….

As if on some cue, the cardinal stops chirping.

And I think my head is going to explode from all that silence.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Growth - The Doorway of Disaster

There is a deafening silence on both ends of the line as the meaning and the interpretation of our respective statements settle above the threshold of our consciousness.

I can almost hear Mrs. Flower’s feverish thoughts bouncing inside her head, suddenly splitting with a PR headache of unimaginable proportions:

OMG, we’ve asked a delusional hallucinating lunatic to run our gardening workshop?!!

 I, on my part, am reeling from the revelation that there could be someone – anyone – who works in the Place Where Miracles Happen Every Day who doesn’t hear the Gardener.  The discovery shatters my gardening world (or at least what I thought I knew of it). It feels like a large terra cotta pot full of wilted geraniums has landed on my head. The weight of the flying debris from the wreckage is crushing. 

Mrs. Flowers appears to recover from the impact of our colliding assumptions much faster than I do. She excuses herself politely, promises that we’ll be in touch and, to my great relief, ends the conversation.

The gravitational pull of the geranium 
pot on my head seems to attract the walls of our suburban house which are now threatening to cave in on me.  I must step outside to get some fresh air. I stumble out of the door, one question reverberating like the siren of an emergency vehicle somewhere inside my brain:

How is it possible that something that promised to be so incredibly good turn out to be so horribly bad?

Never ever have I needed the Gardener more desperately.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Growth - One Step Forward, Five Steps Back

Rrrring, rrrrr-ing!  Click.

This is Mrs. Flowers with the Place Where Miracles Happen Every Day! I hear the familiar friendly voice.  How can I help you?

When she answers, the pit of my stomach remembers why I hate confrontation of any kind and suddenly I feel an urge to hang up. Dismissing the option as more fitting for an adolescent than an adult, I clear my throat, introduce myself, thank her for her time and for the cue cards.

Yes, I’ve had opportunity to look them over. Yes, they sound very positive. However, there is a very small problem - just a trifle - that we need to solve before we move any further.

A problem? She asks genuinely surprised.

Well, y-y-yes… I stutter.  You see, Mrs. Flowers, the cue cards are all nice and good, but that’s not what the Gardener has been telling  me all this time.  There is no mention of the manure pile, and no mention of the…

Mrs. S., Mrs. Flowers interrupts, are you... telling me... that Gardener is talking to... you?

I grind to a screeching stop. 

Now, in that moment, in that split-second moment before I answered, I wish… I wish I thought before I blurted it out…. I wish I said something diplomatic, and self-deprecating and humble and politically correct… Like, I know it sounds crazy... or, I know it sounds preposterous, or even, I realize I have overactive imagination which I have passed onto my children... I write wildly fantastical and unrealistic stories about...  

But, I didn’t.  I said none of that. 

I was so shocked, so completely caught off guard that without batting an eye I blurted it just as it was spelled out like a neon sign inside my brain:

Mrs. Flowers, are you telling me that the Gardener is NOT talking to you?!!!!

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. John 10:27,5,28

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Growth - The Day When All Miracles Lost Their Appeal is the Day When a True Miracle Occurs

But it goes beyond, far beyond that.

For not only do I see that apart from Him I can do nothing, accomplish nothing...With the stack of cue cards scattered all over my cluttered desk, I realize that apart from Him, I don't even want a miracle.  

I don't care a squat for a picture-perfect miracle-gro blooms-on-steroids garden if it doesn't have... 

...His fingerprints all over the old beat-up garden hose and the shovel;

...His footprints on the dirt and the manure; 

if I don't hear His voice in the song of the rain and the wind

and His laughter in the rustling in the grass and leaves. 

And with that crisp realization immediately comes another.

I have a very difficult conversation ahead of me.

For, apparently, there was a huge misunderstanding between Mrs. Flowers and me, and a boatload of assumptions on my part and hers, and before I can do anything else, before I can proceed any further I must clarify this misunderstanding and ensure we are all at least in the same book and the chapter if not on exactly the same page.

So, I pick up the phone and dial her number. 

Monday, July 08, 2013

Growth - Every Garden Needs a Gardener

I flip through the stack of index cards, their messages indeed short and sweet, upbeat and positive. I want them to be true, I want gardening to be a-five-simple-and-easy-steps, accomplished overnight or over a week-end with instant awe-factor, no-sweat results. I want a garden that is cared for by an automatic sprinkling system and hired out lawn service, without my personal involvement. The gardening that makes no claims on my time, energy and attention.

A gardening at a push of a button, something I can do from the air-conditioned comfort of my home, preferably on my mobile device, as I sip coffee and watch HGTV.

Gardening without dirt under my broken fingernails, the smell of manure on my skin, the sting of sweat on the small of my back.

No-mess gardening that doesn't pull me in and reveal that it is not my garden that's the problem - it's me! The huge billboard-garden advertising what a powerless pauper I am in desperate need for...

Suddenly I stop and realize that something has changed...

For all this time I've been wanting, looking for, searching for a miracle. A short-cut miracle that would expertly and professionally change and fix my yard and make it presentable ...

All this accomplished - apart from me...

But now, I realize that I wanted the change not just apart from me, but also apart from...

... this intensely personal...

...shovel-in-his-hand personal...

... garden-hose-in-his-hand personal...

Gardener from outer space!

And now I see that without Him, I can do nothing, accomplish nothing.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Growth - Dogs and Ponies, Short and Sweet

With that, she stands up and explains that she is running late for an important appointment.

Always so busy around here.  I am not sure if the statement is intended as an apology, an expression of regret or something akin to bragging. But I can introduce you to Mr. Plank on your way out.  He'll help you with your workshop booth. He is also assisting with the set-up of the dog and the pony training workshops.  Your little deal is right between those two. 

She opens the door and smiles again. Picking up on her subtle cue, I grab the stack off her desk on the way out and follow her as she swiftly navigates the maze of stairs and hallways. We find Mr. Plank hammering away, my booth almost finished.

We just need to accessorize, and it will be simply perfect.  Just remember to keep it short and sweet, says Mrs. Flowers as a form of good-bye.  I watch her back as she briskly walks off to her important meeting.

I chat briefly with Mr. Plank, watch the dogs and the ponies do their amazing tricks with their trainers, wondering if I should bring my kids to their training school. Then I head home unable to put my finger on the bag of mixed feelings that settled over me like a storm-pregnant cloud.

I put the stack of index cards and my print-offs on my cluttered desk and sink my face into the palms of my hands.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Growth - You Can't Grow a Fake Ficus

We sit down in Mrs. Flowers' large office, the entire wall covered with floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the courtyard. The view is breath-taking. There are several potted plants around the room, and I can't help but admire their vigorous green and boisterous blooms.

Are you caring for these? I point towards a healthy looking ficus in the corner, quite impressed. I've killed just about every ficus that ever dared crossing our front step. But these... I motion around the room, they look amazing.

Oh, no, no... She bursts into laughter.  Actually, they are all... artificial. The latest technology - everyone thinks they are real. The day they were shipped to us, our janitor watered them, convinced they were real. 

You mean they are fake?!!! I am embarrassed to show off both my ignorance and incompetence in one grand gaff.

Well, that's another word for it.  She giggles. As you can imagine, it would be terribly impractical to keep live plants. This way you get the look without the mess and the hassle. 

The pit of stomach sinks two inches in response to her statement.  I shake off the feeling by switching the subject.

I brought my notes for the workshop. They fall woefully short of capturing what the Gardener has been teaching me, but this is my best shot.

I push the stack across the shiny surface of her desk and our hands almost meet again.  My dirty, broken fingernails in sharp contrast to her bright-red polish.

Very well, very well... she mumbles as she flips through the pages.  However, we already have a script prepared  for you. We try to keep it short and sweet here. This, she taps the top of the pile with her forefinger, might be a bit too much for our customers. As you may understand, we do everything in our power to keep them happy. 

With that, she pulls out a small stack of index cards and sets them on her desk on top of my print-offs.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Growth - The Place Where Miracles Happen Every Day At Last!

I work feverishly days and nights on developing the workshop material.  I pour my heart and soul into the modules, trying to capture the essence of what the Gardener has been teaching me all these months. Finding myself at the deadliest dead-end of all the gardening dead-ends.  The desperate prayer. The Gardener from Outer Space.  The no-end all-inclusive contract. The manure pile. The seeds. The garden hose.

The garden hose!!!!

Consumed with all the workshop stuff, I completely forgot to water the garden. My meeting with Mrs. Flowers is scheduled in less than an hour and I think I have just enough time....  I run into the yard, dump a thousand gallons of water on the wilted plants, practically drowning them. Mud-splattered from head to clogs, I realize I won't be able to clean up before I leave.

They are all gardeners over there.  They'll understand, I assure myself, grab the print-offs of the modules and hand-outs, jump into the car and drive off.

The office building of the Place Where Miracles Happen Every Day is bigger and much more palatial than I've imagined.  And much, much cleaner, especially for a gardening hub. I give my name to the guard, telling him that Mrs. Flowers is expecting me. He eyes me suspiciously, looks over his list, double-checks the spelling of my last name, nods as if surprised to find me and finally lets me in.

Standing inside the enormous, tastefully decorated, pristine lobby in my filthy garden clothes, I feel small and extremely self-conscious.  Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea after all.

Just then Mrs. Flowers steps through a side door wearing a tailored suit and a beaming smile. She hesitates a moment before she extends her beautiful, smooth hand topped with long, perfectly manicured nails and vigorously shakes mine.

I take a faltering step back, overcome by an irrepressible urge to hide the deeply embedded dirt under my fingernails.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Growth - It's Complicated

I pull up a chair and sit down.

Never before have I received a call from the Place Where Miracles Happen Every Day, and I certainly never thought that anybody working there knows my name.  They may know me as the ultimate brown-thumb loser, as the pathetic gardening wanna-be, the bottomless-pit of failure of all things green... But, to actually know my name, and use it with a semblance of respect....?!!

What follows flabbergasts me even more.

Namely, the word has gotten out about my garden and Mrs. Flowers thinks it would be simply marvelous if I could teach one of their gardening workshops. They will supply all that I may need and provide...

Teach a gardening workshop in the Place Where Miracles Happen Every Day?!!! The idea is  outrageously outlandish... it has instant appeal.

This is crazy! Why would they want ME to teach a gardening workshop?

Along with the confusionI admit I feel enormously flattered by the offer. Plus, the reality is, I've been learning so much from the Gardener and I am bursting at the seams to pass it on to others. His revolutionary approach, his wacky method-in-his-madness... his uncompromising dedication to growing the gardener along with the tomatoes.... The more I think of it, the more I get excited.  We could multiply this by hundreds and thousands, and maybe even millions...we can change the landscape of the world by helping people understand that anybody can grow a garden.

It all sounds so good, I never even pause to question any of it. I say my enthusiastic yes to Mrs. Flowers and write down in my calendar the time and the date of our first strategic planning meeting.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Growth - It's Not Complicated

The next morning the Gardener tells me he needs to go away for a few days. I feel panic rising inside. I have become so dependent on him, I don't think I can get out of bed, much less take care of the garden without his immediate presence.

He assures me it's not going to be for very long, he'll be back before I know it. If I just stick to the basics of what he's showed me, if I keep it simple, doing only what he's already told me to do, everything will be fine.

His words relieve my fears, and I try to encourage myself, It's not that complicated,  as I wave good-bye, watching his white truck drive away. Still I feel like the rubber garden glove that just bid good-bye to her right hand.

He hardly left, and I already miss him terribly. I unfurl the hose and drag it to the vegetable plot. Watching the water flow, cascading down the leaves makes me feel his presence as if he is right next to me.  Then I notice the tiny green ball-heads forming underneath the yellow flower caps of the tomato plants.  Never in my life have I seen fruit formed out of delicate flowers and the marvel and the mystery of the transformation captures my attention and my emotions. The sight of them cheers me up further.

In no time, they will be ripe, I think, the Gardener will be back and we'll celebrate over a large bowl of basil tomato salad sprinkled with feta cheese and toasted sourdough. 

I can do this, I feel self-confidence bubbling up inside. Just then I hear the phone ring. I drop the hose, race inside the house and pick up before the answering machine kicks in.

Good morning.  This is Mrs. Flowers from the Place Where Miracles Happen Every Day.  May I speak to...

Monday, July 01, 2013

Growth - Anyone Can Become a Gardener

Not only the vegetable garden, but the entire yard looks better than it has in years...Soon I may even need to mow the lawn. When we first moved in, I didn't realize there existed such a thing as 'mowing the lawn"! My neighbors look happy as they bid their good-byes, thanking me for a great party and complimenting me profusely on my raving gardening success.

I know I can't take any credit for either, and keep referring to the Gardener, insisting it's all his doing. And, if he can make me - a dark-brown thumb, city girl - a gardener, then he can make anybody a gardener.  There is hope for everyone! They listen politely, but from the look on their faces, I can tell they think I have spent too much time in the sun.

After everyone leaves, the Gardener and I finish cleaning up. When the dishes are put away and the citronella  candles extinguished we sit down.  He pours out some wine and hands me a glass.

I gaze into the dark-red liquid and suddenly feel quite overwhelmed. I search for words to express what I feel, but every one seems woefully inadequate.  So I decide to keep it simple.

I thank him for all he has done, and as I say this, I realize I am honestly grateful not only for the blooming tomatoes and the incredible party, but also for the manure mountain delivery, for the National Planting Day disappointment, the old, beat up garden hose and above all for his daily presence in my house and in my yard.

I know that without all of the latter there would be no blooming tomatoes in my yard and nothing to celebrate with my neighbors.