5 Lessons From an Overgrown Garden

July has been about cleaning up loose ends. Am I the only one who gets busy and puts tasks off until “later, when my schedule calms down”? I hope not! This year I had a lot of travel and projects in May and June, so I kept putting things off until July. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how much I’d been doing that until July happened and I was faced with a mountain of tasks.

One of the things I needed to work on was a patio overhaul. Our patio spans our living space and I spend all day looking over it to the hills and valley beyond. This Spring the patio space had inadvertently turned into a personal dump. My sister coined it “the ghetto patio.” It may or may not have had a queen-sized mattress and box spring set being used by my son as a place to spray-paint parts for his projects. It needed work. Serious work.

After we borrowed a trailer, overstuffed it, and took it to the dump we remembered how much we enjoyed being out in that space. We started to make plans to do something about the gardens on either side. In the span of a few weeks time, we had a new raised bed full of daylilies, a small water feature in a Japanese garden, and a revitalized hosta bed on the right end of the patio. It’s not finished, but it’s well on its way to being a pretty spot to sit and enjoy the outdoors. As long as we don’t face northwest.

Because, if we look that way, we see the other garden area, the one on the left end of the patio. That one’s a total disaster. It was originally planted with my mom’s extensive hosta collection. Over the years, it fell on hard times. And by hard times, I mean complete neglect. When a garden is neglected here, there’s never a shortage of aggressive growing things intent on taking over. Imagine handing a toddler an open bag of flour and stepping away for ten minutes. It doesn’t take long for the entire place to be covered in stuff that was never supposed to be there. And it’s ridiculously hard to clean it up.

But that’s what I decided to do. It was either clean it out or put blinders on when I went outside and even horses look weird in those things. So, I decided to tackle the hosta bed. I have flower pots that need watering every morning and when I water them, I spend a few minutes working on the overgrown monster of a former garden.

Let me describe a bit of what I’m dealing with. Most of the weeds are several feet tall. There is wild grapevine or something like it threaded throughout the bed, at least 20 feet long, snaking in and around everything else. There are both live brambles and dead ones in the debris acting like mines in a minefield. You never know when they’ll be part of what you’re grabbing. I’ve never used that area for trash, but somehow there’s trash all over the place. And there are small trees growing. Too large to uproot. I will need to cut them down.

It’s a mess. And I’m giving it fifteen minutes of my time most mornings. Here are a few things I’ve learned. Because apparently, wrestling weeds, trees, vines, and brambles is a good opportunity to get philosophical.

No one is too far gone to be redeemed.

I could have written the whole thing off. I could have used poison and sent all those green things to their death by spray. I’m not a big fan of doing that, But, the bigger issue is that I knew there were hosta plants under the thicket of weeds. They may not be thriving. They may not be big. They may not be healthy. But I was sure they’re there. And they’re worth saving.

Your life may feel like a complete disaster. You might see no way out of an overwhelming circumstance or difficult situation. You might feel like you’ve done things that are beyond hope of redemption. But, you haven’t. It’s not possible. I don’t have to know what you’ve done–because there isn’t a single thing you could possibly do that will put you beyond the love of Christ. He came and died for exactly what you’ve done. And he knew you were going to do it. He chose to die for you anyway. No one reading this is too far gone, too bad, or too late.

Consistent small steps lead to major progress.

Some things feel overwhelming, like this garden. It’s about halfway cleared at this point and still seems like too much to deal with. My house is also kind of a disaster right now and that feels overwhelming. School is about to start, I need to start exercising again, do a budget overhaul, and have a tough conversation with my son. All of those things feel overwhelming. Dealing with addiction, abuse, relationships that are falling apart, and financial problems are overwhelming. Sometimes we have to deal with overwhelming things. Sometimes we don’t have to, but we should.

How do you deal with something that sends you emotionally over a cliff? Like you would eat an elephant. If you were silly enough to choose to eat an elephant. One bite at a time. I’m weeding this garden fifteen minutes a day, most days of the week. That’s a small and manageable chunk of time on a consistent schedule. I’m making significant progress. You can make significant progress on overwhelming things if you take consistent small steps. But, you have to take that first step. Make it a small one. Then take another small step. And another.

Sometimes you have to go slow and take care of yourself.

The brambles in this garden are deeply rooted and dangerous. One type has very, very small stickers that find their way into your fingers and you can’t even see them. You just feel the pain. There is another kind with long thorns that regularly pierce through my leather gloves. When I started at the patio edge of the garden, there were no brambles. I made quick work of the weeds on that portion. But, now that I’ve reached the interior of the bed, they’re mixed in with the other weeds. I’ve had to slow way down, reaching and pulling very carefully. Even moving slowly, I’m coming out of my daily fifteen minutes with holes in my fingers and slightly shredded arms.

There are times in life, particularly when you’re working through difficult emotions, difficult relationships, or difficult situations when you need to slow down and move carefully. Stopping isn’t the right answer. But, as you go, be sure to extra care of your mental, physical, and emotional health. Leave extra time. Don’t expect to get as much done. Protect the parts of you that need protecting. Shower yourself with grace. Handle yourself with care, you’re supremely valuable.

There is treasure in the midst of the mess.

I mentioned earlier that I was sure there would be living hosta buried under the weeds and overgrowth. I was right. I’m finding more good plants than I expected and some of them are in pretty good shape. Hostas are tough. It’s turning the process into a treasure hunt. While the work is hot, uncomfortable, full of thorns, and slow-going, each day I look forward to seeing what treasure I’ll find buried in the mess.

There is always treasure. No matter how dark, how exhausting, how unpleasant a circumstance is, there is always treasure to be found. How can you see God? What can you learn about yourself? What are you gaining? Deeper dependence? Alignment of your will with God’s? Experience you can help others with? There is always treasure. Looking for it makes the unpleasant more bearable.

Understand it’s probably an ongoing process.

When I get to the end of clearing out the weeds and brambles, I’ll feel like I should be done. But, I won’t be. I’ll have cleared out a lot of weeds and temporarily relocated the hosta I find. But, weeds will be sprouting up in the areas I cleared first, there will be smaller weeds to get rid of that I missed, a watering system to revamp, soil to amend, and rock walls to shore up. There will still be a lot of work to do before I can plant anything. I’m not even thinking about the end goal right now. Frankly, I’m not even sure what the end goal will look like. But, I’m taking pleasure in progress.

If you’ve ever done work on your emotional health or in relationships, you’ll recognize this truth. Sometimes, when you get into the middle of the mess, it seems far bigger than you bargained for. It feels like you’ll never come to the end of the effort. It feels like every time you reach a milestone, you unearth more work to be done. When you reach that point, remember to measure the progress you’re making even if you don’t know what the end result will look like. Remember that consistent small steps result in big progress. Remember to take care of yourself along the way and look for the treasure you unearth in the process.

Whether it’s an overgrown garden, emotional healing, or repairing a damaged relationship, I hope these reminders encourage you on any overwhelming journey you might be on.

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