Early this year, I planted a garden.
I decided I’d had enough of our weedy, uninviting yard, so I took spade to earth and I bought vegetable starts at a farmer’s market so I could feel extra good about myself.
And then it mostly all died, which tends to happen when you completely ignore something.
This morning, I spilled most of a package of frozen peas (which my toddler was loudly waiting for me to cook). They skittered across the floor, into every nook and cranny of the kitchen.
It felt like the same thing. Not just because of the peas… because of the peas, plus this discontent and that miscommunication and this thing I said I would do that I didn’t.
It felt like a failure of attention, a failure of intention, a loss of potential.
Look, I’d like to just meet you here on the good days, friends—the days when my house is clean, and I’m making progress, and joy, gratitude, and kindness just bubble close to the surface. But those days are just the crest of the wave; there’s always still the trough.
It’s the downbeat—that part of our rhythm we’d like to pretend doesn’t exist. But it’s also where the real work gets done.
The trough—could be days, months, even years long—is where we meet again that truth we shouldn’t be able to forget (but we do anyway): we need God.
At the crest of a wave we might say, “It’s okay, I got this.”
In the trough, we know we don’t got it.
Back to the garden: the vegetable plot I neglected is now completely overrun with weeds I don’t want to pull, and the whole patchy lawn (which is hardly separate from the supposed “beds” around it) is sprinkled with dog refuse that I can’t be bothered to go out and clean up.
And in the midst of all this ugly, this neglect, this chaos, friends, is the blessed kale. I planted one tiny kale start this spring, and I now have an absolutely enormous patch of kale. Weeds? Bugs? Heat? Cold? Drought? Rain? It doesn’t care! It just keeps growing.
You’d think I would be overjoyed at its success, but let me tell you the truth that I actually just realized today: this kale has been making me angry.
I don’t want to acknowledge that it exists, like I’m ashamed of its behavior. “How dare you flourish in such an ugly yard, in such a weedy garden, kale? Can’t you see it’s not all perfect?!”
But it’s not asking my permission. It’s just going ahead and flourishing anyway.
And isn’t that just the way. We don’t get to dictate the terms of our life. We don’t get to burn the whole thing down and start over because the good is intermixed with bad. That’s not the story God’s telling here—but we’re not wrong to wish it were.
That longing for all good is kind of the point, I think.
And here’s the secret of those crests and troughs: we don’t actually stop failing when we feel like we’re succeeding—and we don’t stop being wonderful even when we just feel terrible.
We experience this as a rhythm, as an up-and-down, but we are actually, at all times, both a glorious, incredible, eternal creation of God and a flawed, broken, finite sinner desperately in need of a savior.
This is the tension of our humanity, that God uses to draw us back to Him.
I’m trying to appreciate the kale’s beauty and bountiful harvest now, while also allowing myself to grieve my failure to tend to the whole garden. It doesn’t do me or my garden any good to pretend that we’re perfect when we’re clearly not—but it also doesn’t do us any good to pretend the kale isn’t thriving, when it clearly is.
Thank you, God, for tending to me better than I tended to my garden—and thank you for kale.