A few years ago we purchased my husband’s childhood home from his parents. I love the sprawling backyard that overlooks a farm – waking to the pink light of the sun rising over the field, the distant sound of a tractor, the wild turkey that pecks and scurries around our landscape, the old maple trees that stretch and provide shade.
I especially love all this when I’m not distracted by the weeds popping up out of the ground cover and those big patches of dirt where we took out the old shrubs and haven’t gotten around to re-planting anything yet.
One late summer afternoon my husband came home from work to find me irritable and pulling weeds with my youngest son crying at my ankles. “We’ve got to do something about this yard,” I griped as a warm welcome home.
He looked up casually and calmly said, “Well, our choice is to care or not to care.”
He’s so level-headed, steady, and full of common sense that it can make me crazy.
During the 10 years I visited this home before it became mine, I never once noticed a weed in the backyard. I once asked my mother-in-law if they were there. They were. They just didn’t torment me until they became mine.
Maybe — as much as I hated to admit it in that hot, irritable moment — Tim is on to something. It is my choice what I get to invest my time and energy in, what I get to care about. I make choices to parent, to teach, and to write, so if I care deeply about those things, what else will have to go?
I hate the busy game. “Are you busy? I’m busy. Much busier than you.” I fall into this trap so easily, though I know it accomplishes nothing while creating stress on both ends of the conversation.
But, I play it well.
(Here is where I forced myself to delete the list of everything I’m currently balancing in my life.)
For years I’ve been tucking away the wisdom of others on the topics of choices and time. One of my favorites comes from my writing godmother, Anne Lamott. She fiercely advocates for figuring out what’s going to go if we intend to write or live with any passion. Less social media. Letting the housework go. Skipping the news for a night.
For me, living with any intentionality is a consistent battle with guilt and obligation, a refusal to be enticed by the things I feel like I’m supposed to care about.
I assume I’ll be greeted with judgement when I admit to others that I rarely put laundry away — retrieving unfolded clothes straight from the laundry baskets next to the dryer works for us. And I fight guilty twinges each time I write a check to a friend who helps me with our housecleaning.
But refusing to let guilt and obligation guide me is exactly what frees up the space and imagination to parent, teach, and write better.
Recently, I was telling my mom that after a long, frustrating day, my best therapy is often getting into my kitchen, turning on some music, pouring a glass of my favorite red wine, and cutting vegetables. Cooking. Mixing. Making. Concocting. The time passes and the kids stop by to whine and ask for stuff and I just keep going. I don’t mind — it feels worth it. She looked at me with sudden understanding in her eyes and said, “That’s how I feel in my garden.”
If you’ve ever been to my mom’s house, the first thing you’d notice is the garden. The flowers. The pots and perennials and flower beds. The lush colors of life all around you. She loves this. This is her thing. I water my plants when they look like they might fall over and die; she fertilizers daily. She takes the time to prep, prune and preen, and can’t pass by a weed without stopping to pull it out. She thinks nothing of it. The time is invested without a second thought.
Here’s the thing: I notice my mom’s beautiful garden, her flowers because they matter to her. No one notices my weeds. Because they do not matter to me.
But I do hope they notice the things I care about fully, the things I invest in. I hope when they come for dinner they can feel love and warmth from my kitchen. I hope when my students show up in my classroom they feel my passion about words and language. I hope when I put my writing out in the world others nod their heads and say, “Me too. I get that.”
When I think of my friends one of my favorite things about them is watching them living out their passions, whether it be for dancing, or writing, or caring for orphans. For poetry, teaching kids with special needs, composting, nutrition, or counseling. That’s not to say that these endeavors are easy or that the work is always fun, but they put the time in because it matters and because it fills them up somehow.
And it’s so good to watch them give their good to the world. To witness the beauty that can be cultivated by their quiet and consistent commitment to showing up to do what means most to them.
It’s what Frederick Beuchner was saying when he wrote, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” It’s what we pray for when we repeat, “May your kingdom come, your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” It’s playing a part in piecing the world back together.
Part of living into grace is loving the gifts of others around me, while accepting my own weeds. Because although I love and appreciate a beautiful garden, it doesn’t have to be my thing. I have other things. You have things, too. And comparing “not my thing” to “your thing” would be silly.
So, this morning, I’m staring at those weeds in my backyard with love, not contempt.
Because leaving them allowed me to get this written.
Now, go and do your thing.