Hope, Faith, and Gardening

This week, I headed outside to tackle some spring yard work- cleaning up leaves, picking up sticks, trimming shrubs and grasses. Yes, it was still cold, and yes, there were still piles of snow here and there; but the chores of spring wait for no one. These aren't always my favorite tasks, but as I am clearing out the old I get excited by the new growth and I'm reminded that spring is really coming regardless of what the thermometer says.

Over the years I have had a lot of wonderful successes and just as many failures in my yard. Plants have bloomed, plants have died, plants have been eaten! This is the capricious nature of gardening.  The garden is always at the mercy of too little rain, too much rain, natural disasters, bugs, diseases, mold, mildew, and various critters.  You can do everything right and your thriving garden can still be reduced to nubs in one night by a hungry deer.  When you decide to put your mark on nature, you learn to give up a certain amount of control.  Of course, as in life, our sense of control is just an illusion. Through the unpredictable nature of gardening, many life lessons can be learned. Gardening teaches you the beauty that comes from patience, perseverance, and persistence. Although it can bring tough lessons, gardening is also a creative, rewarding, and optimistic hobby.  It isn't easy to look at a patch of hard, cold, dark soil right now and imagine that beauty will "possibly" be the reward in a matter of months.  But, that is the life of a gardener- you have to have faith in what you don't see and have hope for what's to come in the future.

Yesterday I was reminded of one of my most memorable gardening lessons.  When we moved into our current home, I was excited to put my mark on the yard.  Outside my patio door was a planting area that had a few overgrown herbs, but nothing much else to look at.  I decided to plant two uniquely colored shrub roses that would bloom most of the summer- a little bit pink, a little bit peach, with a touch of yellow.  The colors reminded me of a tropical sunset.

The roses were planted and they settled into their new home.  They grew quickly and bloomed prolifically. Besides the annual attack of Japanese Beetles, they were a dream.  For six years they blossomed and grew and I had the good fortune to look out my patio door and enjoy them each day.

Last winter, a particularly harsh wind storm blew through overnight.  When I got up the next morning, I looked outside and immediately saw the gap in my landscape.  One of my beloved roses had been blown completely out of the ground. It was gone without a trace! Thankfully the other rose survived, but since it was part of a pair I worried that I wouldn't find another one to match. Even if I could find the same unusual variety, it would still take years before the new rose would reach the same maturity- this was very disappointing.  Since it was still winter, I had some time to think about what I would do to replace it.  A few weeks later, another storm blew through and literally blew the other rose right out of the ground! To have it happen once was unusual, to have it happen twice was unprecedented.  Even though it was "only plants", I was still sad thinking I wouldn't be able to look out my window each day and see my pretty roses.

Sometimes in the garden, you lose one thing to gain something potentially better (that's why gardeners are optimists) so I started thinking about what would be even prettier than the roses.  Spring turned into summer and still I couldn't quite find what I was looking for so the spot stayed empty.  And then one day, something caught my eye when I looked out the patio door. It appeared to be a weed but when I went outside for a closer look I realized it was actually a sprout of the original rose bush! Somehow, despite the trauma of being ripped out of the ground, enough root remained to allow it to grow again.  Deep from within, this tiny sprout appeared and in time this miniature little rose even started to bloom. Shortly thereafter, the other rose did the same thing. Both of my roses that appeared to be gone for good were now making a comeback!

It would be easy to write that off as a gardening victory and move on.  But, since gardening is full of life lessons I pondered the greater meaning.  Is the lesson that "change is inevitable"?  Or that "life will surprise you"? Or that "patience has its rewards"? I sensed a different message.  In this case, I could personally relate to the rose.  

I have been that rose, and I'm guessing you have too.  I have been happy and comfortable in my life when I have been completely uprooted by a sudden storm.   Whether that storm was the loss of a job, or an unexpected move, or a life-changing test result, or the loss of a loved one- the result was the same.  The storm blew me out of my comfort zones.  I was knocked off my feet, the breath knocked out of me.  The world seemed dark and barren, incomplete, and unfamiliar. It was easy to feel like routine and life itself would never be the same.  I felt so damaged and depleted that I couldn't imagine a life of fullness ever returning. Does that sound familiar? Have you been through a storm?

Then one day, a tiny sprout appeared! Out of a dry, cracked earth came a tender stalk.  It was fragile but growing.  A small sign of new life from a root that we may never have known was there.  A strength that came from a place so deep that we were left surprised.  Even when all appeared to be lost, there was still life, hope, love, strength, and beauty inside.  It was a lesson that repeated itself- a growing and persistent whisper-- hold on, have faith, don't lose hope.

Gardening can teach you a lot about loss and abundance.  Doubt and hope. Death and resurrection.  Every year we watch a cold, dark ground come to life.  Every year we secretly doubt that it is going to happen until we are surprised on a daily basis by life bursting forth bud by bud, leaf by leaf, flower by flower until finally spring cannot be denied!  For me, the life lessons of gardening come back to hope and faith.  When all appears to be gone in life, as in the garden, I have great hope that there is more. And I have great faith that God will restore me just as He does my garden each year. 

Swimsuit or Bust

I recently experienced the annual rite of passage known as "shopping for a new swimsuit".  Although this event doesn't have the typical rites of passage activities like cake or candles or speeches, it most definitely has a time of transition- the transition from cozy, covered winter body to uncomfortably exposed summer body. There is no way to avoid the transition when huddled half dressed in a dingy fitting room with poor lighting! What it lacks in ceremony, it makes up for in trauma.

*Full disclaimer: I realize there are women out there of all sizes who are super comfortable with their bodies and who don't sweat their swimwear.  I applaud you, I truly do! I hope my daughters grow up to be like you and in time I hope I can be like that too. But for now, I am not in the "comfortable in swimwear" category. In fact, I don't ever recall being in that category.  For those who look forward to swimsuit shopping, I hope you can understand the other side :-).

For many years I have been shopping for swimwear every year or two and you would think by now that I would know the rules.  Although it is never a seamless process, there are some things that make it easier or at least more pleasant.  Here are the mistakes I made on my last outing:

1- I was in a hurry.  You cannot shop for a new swimsuit under a time crunch! So, allowing myself time to shop in only one store for one hour was the first mistake.

2- I had eaten first.  Everyone knows you can't eat before swimsuit shopping! There is no way to disguise that food baby under a swimsuit. Rookie mistake!

3- I was pale.  Our winter bodies may not have seen the sun for awhile and while that is good for the skin, it is not the most flattering color for swimsuit shopping.  It is hard to feel attractive when there are vast expanses of skin showing that are approximately the color of masking tape. And like it or not, everything looks a little better with some color on it!

4- I was experiencing PMS.  Beyond the obvious bloating and physical discomfort, there is also an emotional component that can't be overlooked.  While not every swimsuit looked great, it probably didn't warrant the full-on emotional breakdown that occurred.  Thank you irrational hormones.

5- I shopped in a store.  The last several years I have ordered a bunch of suits online and then tried them on in the comfort of my own home.  Somehow this lessened the trauma of all the other issues.  This year I didn't think about it in time to order and thought the store would be easier.  Not so much.

As I waded through the racks of suits at Macy's, I got that feeling that I often get while shopping these days.  I couldn't quite find my niche.  While I am not in the market for a skimpy two-piece, I am also not quite ready for the swim dress either.  How hard is it to make a figure flattering suit that doesn't make me feel like my mother?!?

After scouring the racks, into the fitting room I went! My arms were full of possibilities.  Given the time pressure, I had to work smart and fast.  This was not a time for overt risk-taking.  I stuck with the sensible but cute tankini and threw in a few one pieces for good measure.  A few other women went in at the same time.  We all nodded at each other in solidarity.  We understood what was at risk with early March swimsuit shopping.  As I started trying on suits, one thing became apparent- this was going to be worse than I thought! I started with the one pieces.  Historically I have very little luck with one piece suits because of my long torso, but I thought maybe this time would be different.  As I wrestled the suit into place, I clearly remembered the problem with one piece suits.  While it was very cute, due to my long torso the straps were about two inches too short so the chest cups landed awkwardly below my actual chest giving the appearance of oddly placed or sagging boobs.  Nope, definitely not going to work. Next...
I moved on to the two pieces.  It was a physical battle in there.  I could hear my fellow dressing room friends having similar struggles. There was a chorus of snapping straps, heavy sighs, and exasperated grunts.  I could picture that I wasn't the only one trying to pull on various tightly fitting suits with a security device attached in the most inconceivable and unwieldy spot.  I wrestled with straps, and bra cups, and ties that were too tight and ties that didn't do anything at all.  I tried on suits that I couldn't figure out and nearly got stuck in and suits that barely covered the necessary parts. I made it through the first round and found just enough possibility to go back out and try a different size in a few styles.  Getting a bigger size is never the best feeling, but somehow it is made much worse by having to get completely redressed and going out to get it yourself.  Now I was sweating as I put my jeans, sweater, and boots (another mistake, dress simply) to grab a few more sizes. As I returned with round 2, I quickly grabbed a few more desperation pieces and hoped for the best.

As time and effort wore me down, I eventually made peace with a black and white tankini that was somewhat flattering ( I hoped, my judgment was long gone), but still comfortable.  At that point, I was pretty much resigned to get whatever was passable as my time, patience, and emotional health were growing short.  The discard rack outside the fitting room was overflowing with swimsuits.  I'm not sure any of my fitting room friends had found success.  Trying on swimsuits in early March is not for the faint of heart.  

As I made my way out of the store with my purchase, I stopped by the men's department to pick up something for my husband.  I passed the relatively few racks of men's swimsuits.  Curiously, there weren't any large crowds of men gathered around shopping for the most flattering suit.  I didn't see any dejected men coming out of the fitting rooms convinced that there was something wrong with their bodies. In one of the greatest injustices in the world, men can literally ask their wife to pick up a suit for them and there is a 95% chance that it will work.  

Husband--"Hey honey, I can't find my swimsuit.  Can you pick up a new one for me while you're out? I'm not sure if I'm a medium or large, but I guess it doesn't matter because it has a drawstring anyway.  Thanks!"

Wife- "Seriously?!?" she says with a long slow exhale accompanied by cold death stare as she ponders all that she goes through to find a suit.

That's right, as we contort ourselves into contraptions with straps and hooks and cups and spandex and various levels of support and control, the men are still wearing giant loose swimsuits that start at the waist and come approximately to the knee.  In sizes S,M, L.  With pockets. And an elastic waist.  AND A DRAWSTRING!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? While I worry about the prospect of eating and people being able to see my food through my swimsuit, my husband can put on giant swim shorts with an elastic waist and rest comfortably.  He can sit on beach chairs without adjusting his suit in three different areas.  He can bend over without worrying that something might shift and fall out.  He can eat a full meal at the pool and just loosen his drawstring!! There is no justice... 

I know not every man wears loose baggy shorts (even though most do) and that there are men who are genuinely concerned about how they look in their swim trunks, but I think this is one area where women consistently get the short end of the stick!  There is way more body forgiveness in baggy elasticized shorts than any swimsuit women can find.

My words of wisdom: don't make the mistakes I made ( a little self-tanner goes a long way), don't take it too seriously as it is almost never as bad as you think and it really is just a swimsuit, be thankful that you are going somewhere that requires a swimsuit because that implies warmth and sunshine, and if all else fails have a drink before you go :-).

Coincidence, or Something Bigger?

What do you call it when you meet someone new and then realize you have shared some very similar circumstances in life? Or when someone who you have known for awhile reveals something that you never knew you had in common? That is usually when we exclaim,"Wow, what a coincidence!" I am always fascinated when I find these unexpected connections.  There are times when living far away from "home" that you long for some connection to something that is familiar and comfortable to you. After several moves around the country, I am beyond expecting that I will cross paths with someone I know from the past or someone with whom I will share meaningful geographical connections.  But, when it happens (and thankfully it does) those small ties to home can feel like a warm hug- a real gift out of nowhere! On a bigger scale, maybe we all enjoy these moments because it reminds us that we are not alone in some vast random world, but that we all share connections and relationships, both known and unknown, across time and space.   

 This past weekend I had a glimpse of the power of coincidence. My husband and I had the opportunity to meet my daughter's college roommate and her parents.  About a year ago, Claire did what so many prospective college students do when they are interested in a school- she joined the Facebook group where the students meet each other and start to look for potential roommates.  She fairly quickly narrowed in on Lizzy.  I don't know what their online conversations were like or what they "talked" about, but they obviously saw something in each other that they liked.  One interesting fact that my daughter shared about  Lizzy was that she was from St. Louis where we had previously lived. "What a coincidence! It's a small world!" we said.  What were the chances that a girl from NJ (previously from Missouri, born in Ohio) would meet up with a girl from Missouri in a school in Ohio? We took that coincidence as a positive sign.

As we got to know Lizzy and her parents, the coincidences started to pile up. First of all, both girls loved the same sorority during rush and were fortunate to get bids to the same house. We learned that both of Lizzy's parents went to Purdue University just as we had.  Her dad had lived in the same dorm as we did, and her mother lived in the dorm next door.  Both of Lizzy's parents were also from Indiana just like us.  Before they moved to St. Louis, they had previously lived in Zionsville, IN which just happens to be the town where we were married!  Both of us had two children the same ages. We shook our heads at the coincidences. We had A LOT in common! 

After I thought about the number of similarities, I wondered how it could have possibly been a random accident that Claire and Lizzy chose each other.  Maybe they shared similar traits of people born to midwestern parents.  Maybe they had a similar sense of who they are based on some commonality of living in St. Louis.  Maybe our Purdue-ness as parents had somehow propelled them to Ohio State and to each other! Maybe there were forces at work beyond those that we can reasonably understand.  There is no way to KNOW for sure, so we chalk it up to an amazing set of coincidences.  But it sure seems like it was part of the plan.  


Several years ago, we experienced another major coincidence. A year after we moved into our home in St. Louis, our next door neighbors decided to sell their home ( I don't think it was because of us!). One day we noticed that a nice family was touring the property.  We were outside flying kites with our girls when their two children came over and joined in.  We were excited by the prospect of a family near our age and child status moving in next door.  At some point, the parents walked over and introduced themselves and started asking us questions about the neighborhood.  In addition to a positive and friendly first impression, we quickly learned that they were moving from Houston and that the dad worked in Aerospace.  What a coincidence! We had also lived in Houston and worked in Aerospace.  Then we narrowed down where they had lived and we then realized that we had lived in the same town. Further digging let us discover that we lived less than a mile apart in the same neighborhood! We knew some of the same people. We later learned that they were both from Pennslyvania originally. So were my parents! We shared the same somewhat unusual middle name. One set of our parents had the same birthday. What are the chances?!?! Thankfully they did buy the home and became some of our closest friends.  So the question remains, was that really "just a coincidence"?  


In this case, I have no doubt that our meeting was orchestrated.  This was not a random event, we were clearly put in each other's lives for a reason. It was most definitely a God thing. But what about the smaller coincidences, what do they mean?  I have always found that a coincidence is more than just a conversation starter, it is an opener.  It gives you an opening into who a person is, and how you are already connected. The coincidence provides a way to fast track the conversation/relationship and immediately move to the common experiences that you know you share. It makes me stop and pay extra attention because it feels important. How could this person who is seemingly in my life so randomly share so many connections with me?  My gut says, "Pay attention, look closer! This is not an accident!"  

Certainly, not every coincidence leads to long-term friendships or relationships, nor should they.  But it is interesting to note the circumstances in which you experienced the coincidence.  Was it during a time of transition? Were you feeling lonely? Were you feeling a little homesick? Were you searching for something new? Were you in a period of discovery?  The timing of the coincidence could be the key to its importance.  Maybe it was meant to comfort, to provide a sense of connection, to bring a new person into your life, to offer you confirmation about something you've been thinking of, or to show you that the world is smaller and friendlier than you think. Perhaps the universe was trying to send you a message! Whether you choose to ascribe meaning to coincidences or not, I hope you can at least acknowledge the wonder that comes at that moment when you realize the unknown connection.   Pay attention when the universe seems to speak to you!

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