Monday, February 10, 2014

When The Snow Falls


{If you are reading this in an email or feed reader, you may need to visit the blog directly to view the above photos.  If so, simply click here.}

The snow finally came to visit my neighborhood this past weekend.  It was a very brief stay but it was beautiful and I am grateful.  I took a photo walk through our garden and these are some of my favorites.  If you would like to see more, you can view the whole collection on Flickr:  Garden in Snow.

Wherever you are and whatever you are buried under, Dear Friends, may you know it sure and strong that there is beauty and hope even in Winter.

Monday, January 20, 2014

When You Need To Know If You Can Count On God

It's an evening in July when I scratch it down, right there on a page of my journal.


It's the three-thousandth entry in the gratitude journal, and when I write it out, I only know this:  That number seems too big and too small, all at the same time.

It was the last month of 2010 when I began a journey I didn't understand.  A journey I didn't even know I needed to take.  I just knew that I wanted things to be different.

That I wanted to be different.

And maybe I had no idea how to change and maybe I didn't even know if I could change.  But it only took 7 months for me to figure out what I really did need to know:  There's only one thing that can ever change us at all and it's Love.

Being loved, it can change everything.

But believing we are loved?  This is what really does change everything.

The first thousand entries in the gratitude journal, they open my soul to what I spent a whole life desperately seeking.  For the first time in all my broken years, I know it now without any more doubt at all--God loves me with an everlasting love.

And when I write this down on paper-- 
#1000 - I am loved
--I'm broken and made whole, all at the same time.

I keep on counting because I never want to go back to the days before I knew Love.  But the second thousand is harder than the first, and it's 17 months before I figure out what living loved might mean.  Because life comes hard and fast and I break deep and often, and I start to wonder if God's walked right out on me at long last.  But then He shows up in a deserted parking garage on a Friday night and He spares the life of a father and I catch a glimpse of what it is to be loved.

And it's nothing like I thought it'd be and somehow everything I need it to be, all at the same time.

Gift number 2000 might be the strangest one of all, but I write it down anyway:  #2000 - Figuring it out at last that it's the holes in a thing--a life, a soul--that let the light shine through.

Yes, living loved means all the aching, broken places lead us straight to God.  And all the cracks in a soul bleed only Him into a world in desperate need.

This is what the second thousand entries in the gratitude journal teach me--and also this:  If I want to live, really live--I've got to keep counting for always.

I want to live.  So I keep on counting.

The third thousand gifts, I count them in some of the hardest months of a life.  Those 6 months, they're the ones in which I fall ill again and again.  The ones in which I can barely breathe through all the upheaval.  The ones in which I nearly drown in a darkness I name Hopeless.  But I count on, and I don't even know how, but I live.

I'm sure of it now that the real living is only found in the counting--the counting on God.  Because that's what the third thousand gifts teach me--that even in our darkest days, God hasn't abandoned and He's not going to.  That we can still keep counting on God even when we're not sure if we can keep on breathing.  That even in the pitch-black night, there is hope and there is life--because there is God.

I record gift number 3000 on a night in July:  #3000 - Not feeling alone anymore, in my struggles, in this journey, in this whole mess of a life.  But now it's 6 months and 500 gifts later and I see it plain, how the end of one thousand is always just the beginning of the next.  The next chapter of a life story.  The next revealing of Grace and Glory and God.

And maybe there are still things I don't understand any more now than I did at the beginning:  How the goodness of God can be endless, how Love can be endless, how the gratitude journey can keep a heart beating right on through all the dying mess of a life.

But there's this one thing I've learned 3,502 times over:
You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13
When we look for God in the ordinary, mundane pieces of a life--we find Him.

When we look for God in our beautiful, hope-filled hours--we find Him.

When we look for God in our fiercest, darkest, most terrifying nights--we find Him.

When we look for God--we find Him.

And when we find God, we're the ones who are really found.

I'm happily, gratefully, and wholeheartedly taking The Joy Dare again for 2014--the dare to find God a thousand more times before year's end.  Join me?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When It Hurts to Heal

It's the first week of June when I'm out watering the Memorial Tree and my heart just about splits open with joy.  There among the newborn leaves of late spring, I see it clear--tiny clusters of buds just beginning to form.

It's been nearly 5 years since I planted a tree in my grieving, and truth be told, I didn't even know it was supposed to bloom.  I chose this tree for the shape of its leaves and their brilliant, fiery colors in Autumn--who needs flowers on top of all that beauty?

But when I see those first buds growing with abandon, I'm giddy with the surprise of it and I want to shout it out loud that grief's brutal and deep and messier than anything, but it can be beautiful, too.  Yes, a whole life can burn straight to the ground in the wake of what's been lost and God can still grow a tree right out of the ashes.  But God doesn't do anything halfway--He doesn't stop with new life out of death.  He turns it into Beauty and Glory and Grace.  Yes, a whole heap of Grace.

This is what's coursing through me when I see those blooms at their beginning.  But I'm afraid, too.  Afraid they'll shrivel up before they even open.  Afraid that if they open, they'll never mature into a fruit that's meant to last through a whole winter of darkness.

And this fear?  It drives me to do the craziest thing.  I refuse to take a photograph of those beautiful, God-breathed buds.  I refuse to document the grace of this moment because I'm terrified of what's to come.

Oh, yes.  The fear of impending heartache?  It can steal the joy right out of a life if you let it.

Those tiniest of buds, they do open up into yellow-green blossoms, their bright red centers barely peeking out through those curled petals.  But even then, I keep the camera in the house and I keep holding my breath for what's to come.  Because as much as I believe in the God who redeems all the broken bleeding mess of a life, I'm still desperately weary of being the broken bleeding mess.  Yes, I'm more than a little ready for the hard labors of grieving to give rise to an abundant harvest of Hope and Healing and Him.

So I whisper pleading prayers over the Memorial Tree for days.  I beg God to let it bear fruit, let it be a symbol of all the healing that's been and all the healing that's still to come.  And when I see those flowers just beginning to round and redden with new life, I rejoice.

But it's only a matter of days before I know something's not right.  The signs of life fade clean away, dry up into nothing.  And that's when my heart really does split open.

But my heart's not the only thing that's a bit broken.  It's my body, too.  Because it's then that a few weeks of restless nights turns into 3 months of no sleep, and it's as if the bottom's fallen right out of my healing journey.

I stop writing and I stop reading and I stop recording the graces of a good God.  Maybe it's only because I become too weak to stand up or climb the stairs or put thoughts together in any way that makes sense.  But maybe it's also because my heart's a broken bleeding mess and I'm just a little tired of being ripped open again right when I'm beginning to heal.

My doctor keeps the faith and he tells me again and again that we're not getting no where, that the reasons I'm not sleeping might just be the clearest signs of a healing body we've ever seen.  But when you haven't slept for 12 long weeks, there's not much strength left for understanding the hard things.  There's only enough to keep breathing in and out and grabbing hold of every hand that's held out to you.

So that's what I do.  I breath and I hold on and I wait for whatever's coming next.

Because I finally know this deep--being afraid of what's to come, it doesn't just steal joy.  It steals strength, too.  And when you've no longer got enough strength to be afraid, maybe that's when you really start to live again.

It's the first week of September when I sleep through the night for the first time in 3 months.  And I sleep the next night, too.  And the one after that.  And ever so slowly, I find my way back to the healing road and realize that maybe I never left it at all.  Because my doctor's been right all along--my body *is* healing.

It just doesn't always feel like it.

And maybe this is what the year's teaching me more than anything else.  Sometimes it hurts to heal.  Sometimes healing is brutal and deep and messier than anything.  Sometimes healing takes every last bit of courage we've got just to keep on breathing and holding on.

And there may be days, weeks, months when we won't acknowledge those tiny bits of hope and recovery we've seen because we're terrified they won't grow into that big, beautiful Redemption we're so desperately yearning for.  But what if we could just believe that healing doesn't always look the way we thought it would?  What if we could just believe that sometimes healing can be the hardest road of all?  What if we could just believe that when we feel ripped open again, it might just be God rebuilding us from the inside out?

If we could just believe?  Maybe then we'd really start to heal.

I don't know why the Memorial Tree didn't bear fruit this year.  Maybe it was the weather.  Maybe it was the soil.  Maybe it was me.

Or maybe it was only this:  Growing and healing and becoming take time.  They don't happen all at once.  They don't happen the way we expect them to.  But they do happen.

He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6b

As the last days of September slip in, I open up the gratitude journal after 3 months of silence and I begin again to record the graces of a good God.  With the simple act of pen to paper, I say no Fear and I say yes to Joy.  Yes, I welcome Joy back into all the broken places--back to where it belongs.

And ever so slowly, I begin to heal.

To read more about the significance of the Memorial Tree:
When You've Been Reborn and You Want to Say Thanks

How to Give Thanks When a Life's Been Buried

Garden Update:  The Memorial Tree in Spring 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Farewell to Spring...

Evening In Spring

Daylight is
Slipping out of sight
To make way for a
Coming silence

As the garden
A sigh of relief,
I smile and
Follow suit

The hard work of Today
Is finished
And the pressing
Concerns of Tomorrow
Have not yet

In the brief
Hours of evening,
Hope awakens
And quietly takes root

I wrote this poem one wild April a few years back but never shared it with anyone.  On this, the last day of Spring, I thought I'd bring it out into the light and let it stretch its wings a bit.

And if you want to savor the beauty of Spring for just a bit longer?  I've posted photos from the RoozenGaarde Display Gardens, taken earlier this Spring, on Flickr, including those featured here in this post.

Farewell, Sweet Spring!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

When All You Have Are Fragments


I wonder about it sometimes.

How a writer can still be a writer when she cannot write.

When words flit around the edges, just out of reach, and the story God's writing with a life is too big to find its way onto a page.

The silence, sometimes it really is deafening.

Oh, the writing's never been easy.  More like wrestling with a Great God and somehow, through all the striving and the yearning, giving birth to the story of a life word by word and line by line.

But for long weeks, months even, I have only felt barren.

And I am beginning to wonder if this is the end.  The end of being a writer.  The end of being who I thought I was.

But maybe that's just it.

Maybe the story God's writing with my life is redefining--refining--who I am.  And maybe who I am, maybe she is a writer, too.

Maybe she just needs time to find her voice.

I take courage from a woman who writes broken and unfinished, who tells her story in bits and pieces when she is able--if she is able.  Yes, I believe it deep, that some chapters of a life can only be told in fragments.  And when we aren't the real Author anyway, who are we to say that this is not good enough?

Who am I to say that this is not good enough?

I don't know what I will write in the weeks and months ahead--or how I will write it.  Maybe it will sound different than before, a little stilted and a little unfinished.  But I hope somehow you'll still hear God's heart beating strong for you, for all us.

Because this life?  It's all His story anyway.

And I can't shake the feeling that I am still a writer--that to be who He wants me to be means that I must write.  Even when the words are out of reach.

Thank you for Grace on this journey.  I am grateful to walk the road with you.


You may have noticed a few changes here at Growing Is Beautiful.  I am slowly working to simplify and beautify the look and feel of the blog.

I have also decided to switch the comment system over to Disqus to facilitate better discussions with you, My Dear Readers.  If you are unfamiliar with Disqus, you may use it to comment on the blog with your existing Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts or you may simply enter your name and email in the designated boxes and comment as usual.  You can also opt to set up a Disqus account, which is free and generally painless--at least that has been my experience!

Please do let me know if you have any questions or experience any difficulties.  I can always be reached by email, Courtney {at} GrowingIsBeautiful {dot} com.  Again, thank you for Grace!