Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tired but Thankful Thursday

Today I feel like calling it Tired Thursday. Not because I'm not thankful. I am. But I am also tired. Very, very tired.

Maybe that's because the moving process is finally in full swing here at my house. Moving is hard. Don't let anyone tell you different. I am on the verge of completing move #7 in less than eight years. You would think by now I'd have it down, that this would seem normal and routine. In reality, it seems to get harder each time I have to pack it all up and start over again. I think this will be my hardest move yet. Although there have been many challenges to living in this house, it is my first house and I have absolutely loved being in my own place. I have felt such freedom and independence, such space to grow and change. And such room to garden! But once again it is time to uproot (literally and figuratively!) and find a new home. I am THANKFUL I had the opportunity to live here in my little house and experience the blessings it provided. I am THANKFUL that although I don't know where I am going, God does. I am THANKFUL that it doesn't matter if I ever find a "forever home" in this life—I already have one built for me by the One who formed the universe. I am THANKFUL for all the times I've been given the strength to start again. I am THANKFUL for the hope of yet another new beginning.

Yes, I am THANKFUL. But I am also tired.

Maybe that's because, amidst all the moving preparations, I have also found myself in the middle of a very difficult and painful relationship conflict this past week. Relationships are hard. Don't let anyone tell you different. I think it's safe to say that over the past several years, relationships have been the cause of both my deepest anguish and my greatest joy. If it weren't for the latter, I probably would have sworn off relationships all together. And I suppose that's the point. It seems like that's exactly what God experiences in relationship with us, His chosen ones, His creation, His beloved. We are the ones He loves, the ones He wants to return His love, the ones He wants to shape and use for His purposes. And when we run to His arms, when we sing "I love you" at the top of our lungs and mean it, when we welcome His work in and through us, when we shout His name to the world, when we love the least of these for His sake—oh what joy it must bring Him! But it does not come without a cost. We do not always seek Him, love Him, honor Him with our lives. We do not always do the work He asks of us. We do not always allow Him to refine and change us into the image of His Son. Sometimes we walk away. Sometimes we run. Sometimes we give up. Sometimes we say hurtful things—and sometimes we mean them. Oh how it must break His heart! And yet, He is not dissuaded from pursuing us until the end of time. Yes, relationships are hard. But I am THANKFUL for the courage to choose relationship and community over isolation and independence. I am THANKFUL for the friends who have surrounded and upheld me this last week, helping me process my thoughts and emotions, encouraging me to move forward. I am THANKFUL for the example of God's love and His tireless pursuit of relationship with us. I am THANKFUL that God believes I am worth the effort. I am THANKFUL for the promise of an eternity with healthy and unbroken relationships—not only with each other but with the One who chose us for Himself before the world began.

Yes, I am tired. Tired of starting over. Tired of saying goodbye. Tired of facing the unknown. Tired of broken relationships. Tired of hurting. Tired of fighting. Tired of trying to understand. Tired of trying to be understood.

But I am also THANKFUL. Not just a little. Not just some of the time. Not just when the sun is shining. I am THANKFUL way down deep in the farthest reaches of my soul every single day because the One who created me has chosen me for Himself, called me out of darkness, redeemed my life, and rewritten my story. And every day of my life He will continue to love me, change me, strengthen me, and use me for His glory. Yes, I am THANKFUL. Are you?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Arboretum in May

As I mentioned in last week's Thankful Thursday post, I spent another magnificent day at the Washington Park Arboretum in mid May. Apparently I have never taken a thorough journey through the Arboretum at this time of year, as there were a multitude of things I had never seen blooming before. I had 4 hours to wander the grounds, and I still didn't see everything! But it was fun to stop and examine all the interesting plants and take note of their names. For those of you who read my post last week, I am sure you are dying to know what Aristotelia chilensis looks like. Well, here it is: It caught my attention because of the combination of fall-colored leaves, new green leaves, and blooms on the verge of opening. It reminded me of the way growth doesn't always happen in neatly defined stages. We can be growing in one area, staying the same in another, and falling behind in still another. How thankful I am that though we must be active participants in our growth, we are not the One who ultimately brings it about. And this tree reminded me that our lives can still be beautiful reflections of God even when we are very much a work in progress and all of our growth is occurring at different paces. I also enjoyed seeing the myriad of dogwood species hidden in various places throughout the Arboretum. When most people think of dogwoods, they think of this: But what about this? And this? Or even this? Dogwoods can certainly be diverse in their appearance, but it is fun to look closely and take note of the similarities, too. Well, it's fun for me anyway. You may already be bored silly! In any case, I have finished sorting my pictures from this most recent recent trip to the Arboretum and have posted them to my Shutterfly site HERE. I hope you enjoy them, and if you haven't taken a trip over to the Arboretum lately, you are really missing out :o).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Plants of Promise: Koto No Ito Japanese Maple



Latin Name: Acer palmatum 'Koto no ito'

Common Name: Koto No Ito Japanese Maple (And you thought "common name" meant easy to pronounce)

Description: Small, slow-growing deciduous tree, 4' to 5' H x 3' to 4' W

Cultivation: Sun/part shade, hardy to -10 F

Where I Found It: Swanson's Nursery in Seattle last fall, on sale for around $60

Why I Love It: Japanese maples are one of my favorite groups of trees. And for a girl who loves to take pictures of flowers, that's saying a lot. They have a wide variety of leaf shapes and colors; turn stunning shades of yellow, reds, and oranges in the fall; and have a wonderfully elegant shape to their branches. A 20-year-old Japanese maple tree that has been allowed to grow into its natural form is a beautiful sight to behold. If you haven't stopped to take notice of one lately, you really ought to. And if you need me to point one out, I'd be more than happy to do so.


This week's Plant of Promise is a very special Japanese maple called Koto No Ito, a name which means "Strings of a Harp." I say special because it's my tree, and all my plants are special to me. But it is also different from some of the other Japanese maple varieties because of its leaf shape: The leaves are deeply cut into very thin lobes, which is why the tree was given the name Strings of a Harp. This picture shows just how tiny the leaf lobes can be:


The leaves emerge in bright yellow-green in the spring, turn to a darker green for the summer, and then turn orange and yellow in the fall. Even after 30 years, the Koto No Ito will only reach 12 feet tall, so it is a great container tree or specimen planting for a small garden. And the thinly cut leaves give the tree a very soft appearance with a lot of movement in the wind.

All in all, you really need to get one for yourself. Okay, okay, not everyone has to get the Koto No Ito variety. But I am definitely of the opinion that no garden is complete without at least one Japanese maple of some kind.

Here is a website I found with information on many Japanese maple varieties and pictures of their leaf shapes and colors, including the Koto No Ito: East Fork Nursery . If you aren't yet convinced of your need for a Japanese maple, you might just change your mind after scrolling through these pictures!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thankful Thursday

It's been another challenging week for me, but strangely I am finding much to be thankful for. Here are just a few of the things on my mind today:

*I am thankful for the beautiful weather on Sunday and 4 glorious hours spent at the Arboretum—my home away from home :o). I took 431 pictures and loved every minute of it. I found lots of interesting plants I had never seen blooming before and even took pictures of the name tags so I can look them up later and see if I want to add them to my collection. Or just sound really smart when someone asks me what that plant is and I can respond casually with, "Aristotelia chilensis, of course. Didn't you know?"

*I am thankful for getting some answers from my new doctor about possible causes for my chronic health concerns. Okay, I admit that I cried when I first got the test results, but really it's not that bad and I am starting to get excited about making some changes and seeing if I start feeling better.

*I am thankful for my mom. She often tells me how she has nothing to offer me, that I am more gifted and insightful than she could ever be. But the truth is that she has much to offer me. She is the first person I want to talk to whenever I am hurt or upset about something. She is always eager to listen and encourage me, and she believes in me far more than I have ever believed in myself. Thank you, Mom, for everything!

*I am also thankful for the rest of my support system—friends who know me completely, love me as I am, and still challenge me to be better. You guys have been awesome this week in helping me process, offering your insight, making me laugh when I really needed it, and encouraging me to stay strong in the journey God has placed me on.

*I am thankful that God knows me completely, that He is more patient with me than some of the people in my life, that He alone is the judge of my heart and my spiritual condition. How thankful I am that we are not at the mercy of other people's judgments!

*I am thankful for the open-door policy at my parents' house :o). Due to the timing and finances of the upcoming move, I may need a place to stay for a couple weeks in between houses and my parents are more than willing to have me back in their house for as long as it is needed. Knowing that I have a place to go takes a lot of stress and pressure off me regarding the move and I am so very thankful for that.

*I am thankful for progress. However small and hard-fought it is, I am grateful for every step forward.

So, my friends, what are you thankful for today?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Introducing: Plants of Promise

I am pleased to introduce a new weekly feature here at Growing Is Beautiful called Plants of Promise! I thought everyone (including myself) might enjoy a little lighter fare here on my blog intermixed with all the heavy and emotional things I am processing through my writing, and this seemed like a perfect way to start. Besides, I have quite a love of plants and I am very excited to have the opportunity to share about my favorites. So without further ado, my first Plant of Promise:
Latin Name: Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'
Common Name: Tiger Eyes™ Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac
Description: Dwarf deciduous tree reaching 6' H x 6' W
Cultivation: Full sun, drought tolerant, hardy to -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where I found it: Home Depot for under $20 last fall.
Why I Love It: Where to begin? There is so much to love about this tree. I have always liked the species tree Rhus typhina (simply called "staghorn sumac"), which is fairly common around the Seattle area. The architectural shape of its branches is beautiful in winter, the fall color is magnificent, and its overall appearance is unique all year long. However, many people object to the staghorn sumac's penchant for spreading by suckers and underground runners (as in, the roots will grow many feet from the original tree and new plants will emerge above ground). In the right conditions, it can become downright invasive. And that's one reason the Tiger Eyes™ variety is so special. Not only is it a dwarf cultivar (the species staghorn sumac can reach 30' H) with deeply-cut leaves, but it is also considered to be very slow to spread. In the spring, the new leaves come out bright green, changing to yellow for the remainder of the spring and summer, and then turning red and orange in the fall. Even in the winter after the leaves are gone, the shape of the branches can provide a unique focal point to the garden.
My Story: Last fall after the death of my friend Nathan, I wanted to plant something special to remind me not only of Nathan but of the entire process of grieving, healing, and moving forward. I chose the Tiger Eyes™ tree because the shape of the leaves and their color in the fall reminded me of Nathan's love of "flames." I planted it in a pot instead of the ground because I knew I would want to take it with me when I moved. Although the plant should be hardy to -30 F, being a very new and tiny tree during our unusually cold winter here in Seattle left it susceptible to freezing. In the early weeks of spring, when there were no signs of awakening in my little Tiger Eyes™, I began to fear that it had succumbed to the cold. I tried to hold onto hope, not only for the plant itself but for all that it represented for me, but when the top of the tree began to mold and ooze, I was nearly certain it had died. Then one day about a month ago, I saw this:
How I rejoiced that day! The top was still black, mushy, and a little moldy, but the buds lower down were clearly showing signs of new life. And now?

Yes, indeed. Tiger Eyes™ has survived the winter and is bursting forth with life and hope. I can't wait to watch it grow and change over the seasons this year, and you can certainly count on more pictures to come! If you are interested in more information and pictures on this week's Plant of Promise, here is a great website I found: 'Tiger Eye' Sumac

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fully Known

While I was in Oregon earlier this month, I had the chance to spend some time at the gravesite of my friend Nathan, who died in a car accident last fall.

The last time I visited his grave, he had only been buried for a week. There was no headstone, only a temporary name plaque to mark his place. There was nothing but sand and weeds—and the elk had already come to eat the flowers and trample the ground. His grave mirrored the condition of my heart: Broken, empty, and heavy with grief.

I didn't stay long that day. I whispered a few words, choked back my tears, and walked away. I had hoped the tangible evidence of his death would bring some measure of closure to my heart, but as soon as I saw it, I realized I didn't want closure. I didn't want to see, to know, to feel the finality of this loss. But it was too late. I did feel it. And I have never stopped feeling it since.

My recent visit to Nathan's grave was different. And yet it wasn't.

As I pulled into the cemetery, I couldn't bring myself to turn off the car. I didn't want the music to end, didn't want to face the silence, didn't want to be alone. After a few moments, I gathered my courage and climbed out of the car. For the first time all week, the sun was shining brilliantly and I was thankful for its presence.

As I made my way towards Nathan's grave, I began to wonder why I was even here. What did I hope to find? Healing, comfort, answers? And what was I going to do when I got there? After seven long months, was there anything left unsaid, any tears not cried? I didn't know.

Even from a distance I could see that much had changed around Nathan's grave since the last time I was here. B and her family had worked hard to bring some semblance of order, hope, and remembrance to what had previously been so desolate. I took my time looking over each detail, reading the words, trying unsuccessfully to gather my thoughts.
 
B had chosen a small stone bench and placed it at the foot of the grave, and it was here that I settled myself as I waited for the words to come. Again I was thankful for the sun warming my face and the breeze constantly moving, gently breaking the silence. I studied the words on a stepping stone that had been placed on Nathan's grave:
And suddenly I knew what I needed to say.

I told Nathan that his death has changed my life, changed my view of God, changed the person I am becoming. I told him I have always loved him as my brother and how much I regret never telling him that while he was still alive. I told him what it has been like these last seven months, how broken I have been, and how far from God I now find myself.

But I also told him I am grateful. Grateful for the tearing down of my misconceptions about God. Grateful for the burning away of the things that matter less in light of eternity. Grateful for the chance to start over in my spiritual journey.

And I told him I am hopeful. Hopeful that I will heal. Hopeful that I will reconcile with God. Hopeful that I will be stronger, wiser, and more beautiful in God's eyes when I have found my way through this valley.

I wanted so much for Nathan to speak to me. I wanted him to tell me that he is okay, that he is safe and happy. I wanted him to tell me that he does not miss us the way that we miss him. And I wanted him to tell me about God, tell me how to find Him, tell me how to move forward.

But of course, Nathan cannot tell me these things. Some of them I must simply choose to believe. Some of them I must find out for myself. Some of them I will never know until I leave this world.

So instead I told him about the tree I planted to remember him by. I told him how this little tree nearly died over the winter and, in the process, nearly broke my heart. But I told him how it had come back to life in spite of the bitter cold and how I hoped that my story would be the same. I promised that someday I would come back and tell him the end of my story.

And then I remembered.

He already knows.
"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:12
Yes, Nathan knows fully, even as he is fully known. And someday I will, too.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thankful Thursday

Last week I was down in Oregon visiting with friends, and though I tried my best to get the Thankful Thursday post finished in time, it just didn't happen. As you can see from this picture, it was a busy week. My hair turned red and I became a mother of three. Okay, not really. Well, my hair did turn red but the three cuties belong to my friend B. I had a great time away, but the week went by too quickly. This post will be a combination of last week's blessings as well as this week's.

*I am thankful for safe travels and dry roads. I was nervous about driving a borrowed car and towing a trailer (I had never towed anything previously) and am very grateful for the smooth driving and dry weather on my traveling days. Of course, it would have been nice if the weather had been a little less stormy on all the other days of my vacation, too, but I am still very grateful that the driving ended up being relatively low stress.

*I am thankful for time away from the daily grind, time to renew friendships, time to be adventurous, time to enjoy life.

*I am thankful for laughter, especially when it is shared with good friends.

*I am thankful for nieces and nephews who think I'm somethin' special—but who aren't afraid to say it like it is. My 4-year-old niece: "My mom taught me how to chew with my mouth closed." Me: "Oh. Wasn't I doing that?" My niece: "No, not really." Okay, thanks for telling me!

*I am thankful for a "play day" this week with one of my dearest friends—our first child-free adventure together in 6+ years. It took us a bit to figure out what to do with ourselves, but we ended up having so much fun. Lots of laughter, a few crazy adventures, and a ton of great memories.

*I am thankful for the courage to try new things—and for the people who encourage me to do it.

*I am thankful for friends who have already offered to help me pack for the upcoming move—before I even started packing and certainly before I asked for help. Such a blessing to have friends who are eager to lend a hand! I packed the first couple boxes last night, so I guess the moving process has officially begun. I'll be sure and let you know when I am in need of assistance—or just in need of interesting company while I pack!

*I am thankful that God chose to spare me from a traumatic accident this week. A few days ago, I was driving home from meeting a friend and about 10 blocks from my house, a dog ran out in the street and was struck and killed by the truck immediately in front of me. Had the dog ran out only a split second later, I would have been the one to hit him. It was awful enough just to witness it, but I know it would have been so much harder if I had been the one to hit him. I am still trying to get the images out of my head, but again, I am so very grateful that God protected me from being involved in the accident.

*I am thankful that a very special plant in my garden is very much alive and bursting forth with new growth. I am thinking of starting a "Plant of the Week" post here at Growing Is Beautiful, and I can't wait to tell you about this very special tree. For a long time, it appeared to have succumbed to the winter freeze, but now it is clear that although the top died back, the rest of it is alive and growing like crazy. Thank you, Lord, for small (and big!) mercies.

Okay, now it's your turn. What are you thankful for today?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Layers

A friend once told me that we heal in layers. I wish I could remember who told me this. I want to thank them for giving me a metaphor to hold onto, one that has helped me process and move through many difficult times over the last several years. It is so simple, yet I find I have to remind myself of this concept every time I am faced with the need for healing in my life. Maybe because I am, in many ways, a linear person. I like to imagine things moving in a particular direction, preferably forward and in a relatively straight manner. I want to see progress. I want to know that I am moving toward the goal, whatever it might be and whenever I might reach it. I want to feel as though I am further along today than I was yesterday or last week.

But the process of grieving and healing is not like that. Not even a little. In fact, it doesn't really feel much like a process at all. More like a muddled mess of emotions and thoughts. More like falling backward, straining forward, and going nowhere all at the same time. At least that's how it seems until I wrap my mind around these four words: We heal in layers.

I used to think about this in terms of the long haul—this life-long journey of being refined into the image of my Savior. As I've mentioned before, it is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day reality of this growing business, feeling as though I will never be the person I was created to be, wondering why God hasn't thrown up His hands in exasperation at the slowness and the mess of my progress. How often it seems I am struggling with the same imperfections, fighting the same battles, facing the same fears, learning the same lessons over and over again. But when I am tempted to give up, I find much hope in knowing that I am healing, growing, and changing in layers. It is rarely a once-for-all victory. Little by little, each time I face the same giants, I become just a little stronger, just a little more humble, just a little more like Christ. And layer by painstaking layer, the woman I was born to be is slowly being unearthed.

Over the last few weeks, I have been frustrated, discouraged, and, yes, rather angry with the so-called grieving process in which I find myself. Much of the time, it feels as if God is playing some kind of cruel game of bait-and-switch. He points out something that needs to be processed, worked through, and overcome—and I throw myself headlong into it, wrestling, feeling, thinking, giving every ounce of strength. Only to find in the end that what I labored so hard to resolve is no longer relevant; it has merely revealed something completely different that must be dealt with. And so the story goes, over and over again. I feel defeated, outmatched by a God who is constantly changing what He wants from me. After seven awful months, it seems as though I am no closer to healing than when I began.

But then I remember: We heal in layers.

And finally I understand. These four words hold an even greater power than I realized. It seems to me that when we suffer a deep wound—death of a loved one, loss of relationship, betrayal, stolen dreams, and the like—our heart, the center of our being, becomes surrounded by layer upon layer of brokenness. And as much as I would like to jump straight to the center and heal what lies at the root of all this brokenness, I am beginning to understand that it doesn't work that way. I must start at the outside and work my way in, one layer at a time. In my linear mindset, I expect this process to get easier, less messy, more understandable with each step I take. I expect it to look and feel as though I am making progress. In reality, each layer I tackle brings me closer to the deepest part of my wound. Each layer intensifies the hurt, the anger, the loss, the confusion. And though I am moving forward, it feels as if I am going backward. I am more hurt, not less. I am more angry, not less. I feel the loss more deeply, not less. I have more questions without answers, not less.

But now I understand. I am healing in layers. And after seven awful months, I am closer to healing than when I began. I am hurt, I am angry, I am lost, and I am tired. But layer by painstaking layer, I am healing.