The Seventy-Sixth Letter: Afterthought Seeds & Garden Confessions

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Dear Daughters,

Deep breath.

I went out to pick veggies in our garden this afternoon and when I saw a weedy-looking tree sapling growing by the carrots, I pulled it out vigorously and tossed it into the yard with some other weeds. (I was a little surprised a sapling had grown up without my noticing it before, but I was pleased with my effort to rip it out.)

A minute later, I noticed another one just like it on the other side of the carrots, and that’s when I realized I had just yanked one of our two baby blueberry bushes.

Sigh.

Because it has been one of those days, the whole episode feels like a metaphor somehow:

Trying so patiently to grow something beautiful and then in a moment of carelessness, long before the seasons it will take to bear fruit, yanking it out by the roots.

And then haphazardly trying to bury it back down in the ground again, digging down to the good soil with your fingernails, watering deeply and thoroughly with a gallon-jug from the recycling bin.

Praying you haven’t done too much damage.

So much metaphor.

Girls, your dad and I have a reputation for being gardeny people, and I will confess to you that much of that reputation is decidedly undeserved. Clearly.

Sure, he grew up on a farm, and sure, I remember weeding at Grandma Lehman’s house in the summers, trying to learn the difference between weeds and flowers that she seemed to just know instinctively. I never could figure it out. Clearly.

But much of what your dad and I do know about gardening comes from trial-and-error-flavored conviction, and it started in some rather not-garden-friendly soil in Waco.

Since those early days of gardening as newlyweds in the Texas heat, we have gardened on and off, more or less, depending on the year. Some years we tilled up a huge plot in the yard. One of those years the whole plot flooded during heavy rain and our seeds washed away. Some years we helped out with our church’s community garden. Some years we’ve supported local farmers rather than grow our own veggies.

But we have this reputation as foody, gardeny, earthy people. Probably because your dad taught food ethics and had the students involved with a garden on campus property. And probably because people in Kentucky all know who Wendell Berry is. Probably also because I’ve written articles about the unexpected blessings of community gardens. And probably because I can be kind of preachy about things like fresh foods and cooking from scratch and the Mennonite cookbooks and, well, you know. You know I’m preachy.

Still, I confess to you, I feel like a newbie every time I plant a garden. Why can’t we ever get zucchini and squash plants to grow? Why do we never get enough cucumbers to pickle when other people we know have prolific harvests? Why did our cabbage shoot to two feet tall and then get eaten by bugs? Why does the basil planted at our house never grow to the heights of the same basil we plant at the community garden at the church?

I will never know the answers to these questions. (Except the cabbage one. I asked a farmer at the market about that and he gave me some advice.)

And also, I feel like an amateur because no matter how much we do end up growing, no matter our successes and failures, I am completely astounded by the miracle of every single flower that appears on our plants. And when it comes to harvesting actual vegetables we can eat? I mean, girls, I am as excited about it as you are. It feels so undeserved. It feels like privilege. It is.

I mean, how the heck do these seeds work? How does good soil and some watering and some sunshine produce such undeserved bounty? It’s no wonder so many parables are about seeds and growing and provision and the Kingdom of God.

If I’m not careful, I’m going to start preaching again.

And you get so excited about the green beans in particular. You’re proud of yourselves that you can take your little red sandbucket over to the garden and find yourself a snack.

This year, we have a raised bed the length of the house. We’ve got the aforementioned blueberry bushes, which will hopefully remain plural, and I did buy some other veggie plants on sale late in the season, but much of what is growing out there right now in the muggy heat of this late-July day was from afterthought seeds dug out of our freezer, tossed into the ground without much planning.

Without much planning and without expectation that they would grow. (We didn’t know if the freezing had preserved the seeds or not. It was trial and error in that regard too. We don’t remember when the seeds were originally purchased.)

The dozens of beans you’ve picked this year all came from those afterthought seeds.

I’m astounded.

I’m serious. Every time that something grows, I am astounded at the miracle of it.

I really am.

Today, after pulling out that blueberry bush and chiding myself—half embarrassed and half angry, I’ll admit—the garden yielded a half-dozen carrots, a cucumber, a handful of beans, and four cherry tomatoes.

It’s not much but it’s still hope incarnate.

It’s the Kingdom of God, right here in our garden.

It’s God’s faithfulness exhibited in the goodness of creation, the goodness of wonder and taste and dirt and roots.

It’s poetry, girls. Poetry.

And so, I’m clinging to that goodness, that faithfulness, that hope: maybe the blueberry bush will make it.

Maybe.

Because this whole gardening business is just chock-full of metaphor. Even the mess-ups.

Love,

Your Momma

The Thirty-Fifth Letter: Metaphors & Daily Life

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Dear Daughters,

We purchased a vintage Sears Kenmore sewing machine at a yardsale before the eldest was born. It was missing a piece, a screw, something minor that enabled it to fold down into its sewing table. It had a needle though, and it seemed to work when we plugged it in, and yet until this week I had never threaded the bobbin. This might be a metaphor.

Our memorial Easter lilies and tulips brought home from church have been knocked over repeatedly, sometimes multiple times a day, petals blown off during high wind warnings, leaving bald stamens full of pathos. We’ve brought them inside for the myriad freezes since that exceptionally warm Easter morning a few weeks ago. Then they go back out onto the porch steps, looking forlorn. Everything feels like a metaphor.

The thing is, the dailiness of daily life often feels hard, even knowing that others have it harder. Friends with chronic illness. Friends mourning spouses. Friends with crumbling marriages. Friends with infertility.

Meanwhile, my daily life is sunshine and seeds explained to a preschooler. Death and heaven and Jesus and God in a 3-year-old’s terms; a toddler alongside me in the pew at a funeral.

Daily life is sunshine transforming the smell your scalps from baby shampoo into wood chips. I don’t know why, but it’s true for both of you. You smell like wood chips, like bark mulch, deep in your hair, when you’ve been outside. We don’t have wood chips in our yard.

Daily life is novels read with a 30-pound toddler on my lap drinking milk, playing with my phone, using a wet wipe to swab the book down.

It’s reading and painting rather than writing, most of the time, but when I do write, it’s laying in the grass alongside both of you, half of my note pages covered in preliterate scribbles. I always bring two extra pens outside. My writing these days is jotted notes and ideas rather than poems or stories, reserving brilliance for some other day, some other season, some other unimaginable-for-now life.

Daily life is hot jeans in the sunshine, and barefeet sensing the cold mud through the warm, early-spring grass. Also perhaps a metaphor.

Daily life is squeezing freelance work, which is kind of drudgery, and creative work, which is not, into two mornings a week and an hour in the afternoon. The schedule doesn’t work well, dissatisfies and exhausts me, without pointing to a better solution for today. For this week. This month, this year.

I can sing the theme songs for Dinosaur Train, Doc McStuffins, Daniel Tiger, and Dora the Explorer. This is not a metaphor.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Most of us spend so much time thinking about where we have been or where we are supposed to be going that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are. When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives, the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say, ‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am‘” (An Altar in the World, 56).

Looking down at my feet, I see chipping toenail polish, and I see, well, I guess I see hope. I see hope in the daily, when I’m not too exhausted and worn down by it.

You sometimes play together these days, for example, sometimes keep out of my office while I’m trying to squeeze a little more work in the day, sometimes keep out of the kitchen, off my legs, sometimes don’t tug on my clothing or put items in my back pockets for safe keeping.

There is hope in these small victories, these small glimpses of independence.

There is also hope when you do crawl up onto my lap again, require a nose-wipe or new ponytail or snack, ask another question that cannot be answered, want me to read another book, or even the same book, again and again.

Yes, most days, there is hope and beauty. Most days I love something, even if it is simply that the day has ended and you are asleep.

I do love this whole sunshine, hot jeans, and mud-cold toes combination, which I would experience less, without you itching to be in the yard.

I love the wood-chip smelling hair, the goofy songs the preschooler sings while she swings, that the toddler asks for “Swing Low” to be sung before bed.

I love that you eat lentils and tofu as well as chicken nuggets, that the preschooler’s face is sprinkled with freckles, like mine.

I love that the toddler wants to cuddle even when I’m drenched in sweat, that you both cheer me on–“Go, Momma, Go! Go, Momma, Go!”–when I run with the stroller.

And I love that there is still a me here, beneath this mom-ness. A lover of a good story, a hot cup of tea. I still love new pens and fresh, college-ruled paper, and the art aisle at Walmart, though I still despise Walmart. I love big, blank canvases, country music in the car, toe-nail polish, and big earrings. I love eye-liner, Post-It notes, to-do lists, and flip-flops. I love cutting things out of magazines and unbaked cookie dough. I like singing and laughing and flannel sheets under down comforters. I myself love a good snuggle.

The daily life is this, all of this.

And most days, I love its dailiness.

Love,

Your Momma