The woman stood nonchalantly on her front porch, calmly and innocently pruning her potted flowers (which looked beautiful, I might add) as I ran past the house on my morning jog.
They were lovely flowers, all perky and overflowing out of the pots. Brimming with buds and vibrant petals they stood, in my mind, in stark contrast to the ones on my front porch looking parched from the sun and sullenly deserted.
Scott and I have joked over the last few years, that that spot on our porch must just be killer for flower pots. Too much sun? Too little? Who knows? Maybe it's the fault of the concrete or the spider lurking behind the front door with his webs connected to the pots that they seem to wilt and die every year.
(Or, ahem, the fact that we can't manage to water them consistently. Pruning? Isn't that a fruit?)
Whatever the case, something about that unassuming woman having time to prune her flowers ignited something not so nice in me...Poor woman!
(My request for forgiveness comes later in the post, don't worry!)
Must be nice to have time to prune your flowers, I found myself thinking.
The plants on my own porch desperately needed pruning. Our vegetable garden has been overtaken by tall grass and weeds this year, and we never even got around to mulching our small flower beds. Our swing set is half stained, the tarp piece that covers the top 'playhouse' component fell apart and blew off over a year ago, and the most hidden corner of our backyard is beginning to look, well, very..."white trashy" for lack of a better explanation, with its stash of plastic pools, old toys and a copious number of tall, gnarly weeds.
My irritation drove deeper than flowers (obviously!). It stemmed from the fact that there are so many areas of our house and lives that feel like they need our attention these days that we just can't keep up. Scott and I, individually and collectively, often don't know where to begin and can feel like we're failing more than flourishing in the areas that are most important to us (quality family time, how we're living out our faith, exercise/healthy eating, investing in our marriage) as well as areas that are less important, but still need attention, like the yard and house management.
The flowers, on that morning, were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg (perhaps a fruit/root analogy would be more fitting, but we'll stick with icebergs for now!)
The truth is I don't care that much about the flowers on my front porch. Sure, I'd like them to stay alive, and to keep blooming, at least until autumn when they're replaced by mums and pumpkins, but my discouragement was not really about the flowers. Or the dying tomatoes. Or the trash/stash in our back yard (lol!).
The real challenge is that I feel like our day to day lives have become so full of domestic responsibilities that it can be hard to intentionally put time behind the things that really matter-- carving out time to spiritually nourish and "prune" our own hearts, investing more deeply in our children's personal and spiritual lives, finding ways to serve others in the community, or even just connecting more deeply with our neighbors.
I want to be able to do it all...not in a compulsive and perfectionist way, just in a way that allows me to feel like I'm fully being who I am supposed to be. Who God created me to be; wife, mother, daughter, friend, good neighbor, church member, carpooler, writer, thinker, ...whatever else happens to be on my "plate".
But, sometimes the plate just feels "too full", and like "too much", and like even though I'd like to eat all that food that is piled on there (or manage all those tasks!), it seems virtually impossible. And, it probably is.
Sometimes I stand back and observe other families that seem to have figured it out; they're managing the chaos, walking through it with grace, and somehow finding time to serve others, be connected to each other and go on cool trips and adventures, all while pruning their flowers with a smile on their face.
There are times when it feels like we're the only ones. Like everyone else somehow has their act together, the lawn cut and their flowers pruned while we stand there scratching our heads trying to diffuse the latest argument between the kids over who gets the pink bowl and who gets the blue.
I just want to pull the shutters down on my front windows..."No, don't look in here! No, there aren't kids screaming, and toys everywhere. Oh no, that house project hasn't been going on for two years now! We just started that yesterday...I swear! Sure, you can come over for a lovely chicken dinner, with the table nicely set. No, no. That's not my child standing on the kitchen counter...gulp...naked....with a mouth full of chocolate chips!"
Maybe some other families do have their acts together better than we do...
Or maybe they just hide it really well that they don't...
Or maybe they just don't write blog posts about it all (;
Whatever the case, comparisons are rarely, if at all helpful. Especially when you're comparing your "insides" (what is really going on), to someone else's "outsides" (the "image" they want you to see, not what is actually going on).
When I consider the families that I do know more intimately, the ones who also have young children, I realize that the reality of their lives is much more similar to our own. They're living some version of the same, young family life craziness--busy schedules, breaking up fights, maneuvering the idiosyncrasies of kids wants, desires and attitudes, all while trying to cultivate something meaningful.
They're tired too. Sometimes their lawns get cut and the flowers get pruned and sometimes they don't. They fight and make up. Their kids fight and make up. They have days when their patience is thin and the voices get loud, and others where they are praying with their kids and teaching lessons like the parenting champions that they are (sometimes all in the same breath!)
Several hours later, I was thinking about that lady again and the more I thought about her the more my heart went out to her. I have no idea what was going on in her life: She might have been struggling with her marriage, or working through the issues of a hard relationship, or dealing with job loss, or illness in some capacity.
She might have looked at me and thought, Must be nice to be able to get out and go for a run. The more I thought about it the more I realized I was glad she had a chance to prune her flowers that morning. It might have been the one moment in her day that allowed her to focus on the beauty of life, rather than the hard parts.
Sorry God. I know...bad attitude. What's the deal? What do you want to show me?
Well, there might be some areas of your heart that need a little pruning. The places you are not trusting me. The places where you are giving into discouragement rather than standing on hope and peace about your own life, and the season you are in.
Ugh. Yes, you're right. Is there more?
Your flowers, literally and figuratively, could be pruned in five or ten minutes a day. You can read a book with Ava, color a picture with Ella and throw a ball with Aubrey in the same amount of time. Do what you can, give what you can, be who you can in the short bits of time and it will add up to something bigger in the long run.
Really, God. Really? It will?
It will. I promise. Now trust me, and go water your flowers.
God has been teaching me, for months now, to not become so overwhelmed by the many tasks, but to focus on what I can do in a given day, and to then give the rest to Him (and then "rest" in Him...love that intentional play on words!). That while the enormity of our responsibilities can feel like too much, that if we pray about our vision, ask Him to guide our priorities and help us to see more clearly where and how to use our time, that He is faithful to answer those prayers.
So, go do that small thing and trust God with the big picture!
Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.