My mother has a garden.
It is one of the things I missed most when I left my parents' house after college. (That and their borderline gourmet cooking skills.)
Mom calls herself a plant collector. She is truly enchanted by plants. When she talks about them, she can give you the whole name, and the family. She knows where they like to live - full sun, partial sun, shade. She knows how much water they need - "Now this one is usually found in dry areas like deserts, so don't overwater it."
When my mother is dealing with her garden or learning about a new plant you can see it in her face - She is awake to the world.
She is delighted by what she sees. She is paying attention to this created thing in front of her. And she did not create it. It was created by something else.
I've spent the last several years of my life pursuing goals. There's nothing wrong with goals. They are good for us. We benefit from having an end in mind. But nothing is healthy if it becomes the only thing.
I have been living here in the Chattanooga area for more than three years now. I have experienced every season in this habitat - winter, spring, summer, and fall. But I have not seen them.
When the seasons change in my mother's garden, she is aware of the sight . . . the feeling.
And there's a wonder about it - how is it that all of these living things know to react to the changing days? How is it that they've become survivors? How do the big, purple flowers by the lamp post know when it's truly spring and they can open?
I visited during the first warm weather and there was no sign of them. I came back three weeks later during the warmth after a cold snap, and there they were!
When I lived at home I remember thinking that the garden was beautiful. And, as I said, I missed it when I moved. But it was a nondescript love. It was a love of the feeling of being surrounded by green.
I don't remember being fascinated by the big, purple flowers specifically. Or loving the way that the light danced through leaves in the evening, across the front yard.
For the first time since moving here I noticed something amazing in the spring season. Thistles.
Thistles have the most miraculous looking flowers. The big, angry stems grow up full of thorns . . . and at the top a perfect, fluffy, soft flower smiles out at the world. It is purple. It looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book.
They grow on the side of every highway in town! They are tall. They are bright. How can I only now be seeing them?!?
Just look at this. And think about the miracle of it.
Thistles are plants that we try to destroy in our own gardens. They are dangerous. They grow up taller than some people (short people, like me). They are full of nasty thorns. They will grab onto your clothing or your skin as you walk by and leave ugly scratches.
But they are beautiful.
The butterflies know it.
The bees know it.
But we only see the thorns. So we don't know it.
I wanted to record an album.
I wanted to get a job.
I wanted to become a highly professional teacher.
I wanted to be a successful music minister.
I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.
Life is more than ambition. It has to be.
"Look at how the wildflowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." - Luke 12:27
When we look at the thistle, we only see the thorns. When we look at our own lives, we see the parts that we choose to see. We have an amazing talent for blocking out whatever we choose to ignore. Sometimes the choice isn't even conscious.
Something has changed my sight.
Just over two years ago I thought my path was changing again. A totally unexpected opportunity showed up out of nowhere. It looked shiny. It seemed important. I was enamored with it.
I placed all of my hope in that opportunity.
I'd already spent several years consumed with thoughts of my goals - music performance, teaching, a long list of impressive qualifications.
It wasn't a big stretch to shift gears and assume that just because something was impressive, God was handing it to me.
Oh, but I had forgotten . . . . my God is the God of the wildflowers and the birds. He is the God of public speakers who stutter. The God who warns against a nation wanting its own king just so it can be like everybody else. The God of the kid with the slingshot . . . and the God of the Prince who chose Peace over power.
The opportunity fell through.
Praise God that it fell through!
I didn't see it then, but I know something important now.
Right before the opportunity was presented to me, I came with a group of women to walk this labyrinth. We prayed. A familiar song by Sarah Groves came to me as I walked it, "From this one place I can't see very far. In this one moment, I am square in the dark. These are the things I will trust in my heart - we can see something else, something else . . ."
It was prophetic.
Several months later I was plunged into complete depression. I believed that God was done with me and with my work. I honestly thought I'd been abandoned. You know that commercial that says, "Depression hurts, cymbalta can help"? I can confirm that depression can be physically painful. I could not relax. I could not lean back in a chair without my nerves crying out. It was dark.
And how could I ever talk to anybody about it? How could I admit to anyone that maybe God was not with me?
Here is what I know now: God was there.
I could only see the thorns on the thistle. But God could see the flower. I am stuck inside of time. There is a clock set against my human life. God has no pendulum bearing down on God's own existence. We don't share the same perspective.
So the opportunity was gone. I forced myself to walk a lonely road of recovery because I had placed all of my hope in something that was not certain. Guess what? Nothing in this life is certain. Absolutely nothing.
The only certain thing is the love of God.
Don't misunderstand me. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT GOD MAKES BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO PEOPLE. I absolutely do not condone that kind of logic. But I will tell you what I do believe.
I believe that God is present in all things. I believe that when bad things happen in the midst of our free will and our human world, God is there, still creating goodness. I believe that when I am plunged into the darkness of depression, God is with me, waiting and breathing into my heart the breath of life.
It took me 50 tries to record this song correctly in the home office last night. Hah! So I hope you enjoy it. For those who don't know what "Czerny" means in the 3rd line - that's the name of a composer who wrote a bunch of exercises for piano students to do.
I don't actually believe that the "opportunity" falling through for me was a bad thing.
In hindsight, I can see it - I am exactly where I want to be. Every weekday I am surrounded by children. They teach me about life. They show me so much truth. Every Wednesday night and Sunday I am with a choir full of such diverse people . . . people who teach me about grace as they offer it to me. And the album? I recorded it. And it didn't take the "opportunity" to get that done. That happened because this community full of choir singers, parish people, and my school family came together and supported it.
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord." - Romans 8: 38-39
For the first time since the fallen "opportunity," I returned to the prayer labyrinth with my mother and my sister. And we walked it. It had been almost two years at that point.
And I knew then that God was going to be with me no matter what.
This year I have received a big gift - I have been awake. I have been awake to something much bigger than ambition . . . maybe for the first time in my adult life. I have been consistently seeing the little corners and in between spaces light up with the presence of God.
Nothing - no fallen opportunity - no dashed dream - no failed relationship - Nothing - can separate us from the love of God.