Martha Stewart said that gardening is a humbling experience and I’ve come to learn she’s right.  I would add writing to that statement as well.  With 116 titles to her credit Martha probably knows this too.  I started gardening and writing at the same time four years ago and I’m still a novice at both.  Fruit has come but it has truly been an exercise in humility.  I don’t know where to put a comma anymore than I know the best way to stake a tomato plant.  I still want to put an “e” on the end of tomato and potato but then we’d really have to call the whole thing off.  Gardening and writing are that maddening for me and I wonder why I keep persevering with both.

I can blame my cousin Genie Gratto aka “The Inadvertent Gardener” for this. She inspired me to try my hand at both believing they would be as therapeutic for me as they have been for her.  She was both right and wrong.  Right because when it all works the perfect word to describe a situation and the perfect tomato to put on your BLT make for a great day.   Wrong, however, because now I have two more things to be frustrated with.  What she failed to consider when she spurred me on was that I didn’t grow up with anyone who gardened like she did and I didn’t study writing like her so already I was at a disadvantage.  This has made my frustration fuse shorter.

My first year of gardening was a great success which gave me the false impression that I knew what I was doing.  Everything I planted thrived and overnight I felt like a gardener.  I blogged too and while I wince when I read my first posts I didn’t give up like I thought I would.  That was my first goal – write something every week no matter how bad it might be.

Year two things got tougher.  With my life in turmoil I gave in to my eagerness to get the garden started so that I could feel successful at something, I planted too early and my plants died in a freeze.  The same thing happened with my blog.  Enthusiastically I wrote about some happenings in my life and later those words came back to bite me like a cold chill.  My timing wasn’t right.   I was able to recover with my garden but it took a couple years to dig up what I’d planted with those words.  Both good lessons for me – timing and the right environmental conditions are everything when it comes to sowing seed.

With year three I didn’t care what the results were with my garden because I was distracted with everything going on in my life.  My mindset was that any harvest that came was a bonus.  I felt the same way about my writing especially after feeling the burn from the previous year.  I tended to both without putting any pressure on myself.  The garden thrived and I made the shift from writing commentary driven essays to story-driven.  With the garden I didn’t hover and with story-telling I followed a thread to see where it would take me.  Both adventures taught me about the value of just letting go.  Hard things for someone who likes a plan and structure to whatever project I’m working on.

Now it’s my fourth year with both endeavors and it’s proving to be my absolute hardest.  The garden is vexing me and so is what I call my, “I want to throw in the towel manuscript!”  The garden frustrates me because I thought I’d figured it out by now and was careful to apply every lesson I’ve learned from previous years.  I planted the same things I did year one foregoing any new varieties figuring it was best to go with what you know.  Next, I didn’t plant too early waiting until the master gardener at the nursery said it was safe to plant.  Then I used the organic plant food he recommended before putting the plants in the ground.  When a frost threatened I painstakingly protected all my plants.  In terms of watering I didn’t hover and let all the plants get a little thirsty before I gave them more water.

I trusted all this thoughtful care would be enough but despite my best efforts last week it became clear that my garden wasn’t going to make it.   A fungus lurking in the soil had gotten the better of my efforts.  With no signs of life I had to start over if I wanted to have any kind of harvest this year.  I almost cried.  I’d never considered the idea that some subterranean force could destroy what I was creating.  How in the world would I have known that?  Tearing my plants out last weekend was hard.  I was thankful there was still time to start over, but I didn’t like the idea that something could have been done in advance to prevent the problem.

Writing has been like this as well, and between the two feeling humbled is an understatement.  If you’ve always dreamed of writing a book let me warn you it’s the hardest thing I’ve EVER attempted.  When my editor sends me a cheery message telling me she hopes the words are flowing like water I want to jump in a lake.  If only it were like turning the water on for my garden where I have a faucet, then words would sprinkle all over the paper.  Pages upon pages would grace her desk.  She would do her part in our duet and off the story would go to the publisher as promised. They would do their bit and after all this collaboration my book could sit like a piece of fruit on someone’s desk waiting to be consumed.

Unfortunately, that’s not how things are going for me at the moment.  It’s not the timing, it’s not the soil, and it’s not the weather in my life.  It’s the metaphorical fungus I didn’t know was creeping under the ground.  It’s the black spots in my past that I’ve blocked out because I don’t like to think about them which is sort of a problem when you’re writing a memoir about change!

Thus, writing for me at the moment is just like the blasted soil in my garden.  If I don’t deal with what’s under the soil I can’t produce a harvest with any integrity.   I know this because every time I try to write around the tricky spots my editor sends me back to the drawing board just like my garden did this week.  With the garden, of course, the emotional hurdles are silly but with my manuscript that’s not the case.  Writing the story you know you’re supposed to tell the way it should be told requires turning over some dirt which is messy and like most people I don’t like a mess.

I also feel guilty about it because I’ve always been taught that you can’t change the past so why dwell on it.  What’s done is done – move on get over it.  As Christian’s were told “forget what lies behind and press on”.  (Phil. 3:13-14)  You are a new creation in Christ – the past has no claim on you.  If you are stuck in the past you haven’t taken to heart the promises of God so something is wrong with you – or so the logic goes.  However, what I’m learning the hard way is this isn’t true and this kind of teaching is destructive.

It holds a Christian hostage to forbid bringing things from the darkness into the light, where the grace of God can touch them.  Ironically, in the Philippian’s scripture that’s always quoted, what Paul is forgetting is not his past hurts, sins, or un-forgiveness.  He is referring to his old way of trying to achieve righteousness – the ways he vainly tried to please God.  I can’t help but wonder if one of those was pretending he didn’t have anything to hide.

It’s foolish to think that our past doesn’t affect us today because our present feelings about the past do yet we’re fed this kind of reasoning all the time.  As humans we neatly divide our lives into past, present, and future while God looks at our lives from the perspective of eternity where there is only the present.  For this reason, the question shouldn’t be have you let go of the past, it should be have all the things impacting your soul been exposed to the light of God’s grace?  Has the pain, fear, guilt, anger, or shame been acknowledged?  If so, it can be healed.  If not, it will remain in darkness yet very much alive just like the fungus in my garden.

The good news for me and I hope you is that everyone encouraging me to press on says what I’m going through is not uncommon for any creative endeavor so I just have to stick with it.  “Work at the writing like you do the garden,” I’m told and eventually there will be a burst of life.  One day you will have more pages than tomatoes with lots of other fruit to compliment your life. 

Since all of life is a creative pursuit, maybe the same encouragement is needed for you?  Something isn’t growing in your life and you find it very frustrating.  Is it a timing issue or the environment? Maybe it’s the seed you’ve sown or what you’re doing to water it? Or, perhaps there’s something under the surface eating away at you that needs healing?  You don’t know but God does so consider asking for the eyes to see things from His perspective now rather than later.   As messy and painful as it might be don’t wait for what you’re planting to die on the vine – tend to it today believing for a harvest tomorrow.  Good fruit can still come!

  1. I’ve felt for years that we don’t somehow encourage/reward/smile upon the people who are willing to be more vulnerable. And yet, I sometimes run into people to “dump the load” at your feet and expect you to “fix” them. Where is that balance, Karen, where you can be vulnerable yet you don’t invite enabling, etc.? It makes relationships messy, that’s for sure. I can imagine you’re saying that “messy” is ok and really what makes relationships so special. Thanks for writing.

  2. Oh…wait…I didn’t tell you that both endeavors would be hard? OOPS!!! 😉

    That is such a bummer about the garden fungus, but I’m glad you just ditched the dead plants and started again — you’ll see plenty of fruit this summer! And as for the writing, well, uncovering the past is always hard, as is the (ha) simple act of putting pen to page (or fingers to keyboard). You CAN do it. And when you look back and see all those pages you wrote and realize how much you accomplished through your effort, it’s going to feel great. I’m so proud of you for what you’re doing!!!

  3. If we don’t have enough faith, we won’t be healed.
    If we don’t have enough faith, we won’t be successful.
    If we had faith, we would not be grieving.
    If we had more faith, we our grieving would not be so prolonged and complicated.
    If we had more faith, we could overcome our past traumas without having to revisit the trauma and spend time working on it.
    All we know is that ‘all things work together for the good’, and so messy, prolonged, painful process is o.k.

  4. Zema…Yes, messy can be special. I like to think that looking at the past is very different from dwelling in the past. It doesn’t seem healthy to dwell there but you can’t ignore the circumstances from which you came.

    Genie….Yeah, you forgot to mention how hard it would be but I try to remember I also wouldn’t have a pot of mint growing for mojitos either so it’s all good. Thank you for encouraging me way back when and now. I know you know so it means a great deal.

    Nancy…Amen! I love your garden tales…and always love your perspective. Maybe you should be writing too?

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