Deadheading

I enjoy being outside in the summer, especially in the morning before the sun sends down the full force of its intensity. One of my favorite tasks is watering the potted plants on our front porch.

 

I like a variety of colors and textures in these pots—stalks of purple salvia, fuchsia trumpets of million bells, and petit bouquets of pink and yellow lantana. But one of the easiest flowers to care for and find at the store is petunias. They’re so simple and cheerful. And they come with an added bonus for people who like fussing with things, like peeling off labels and picking at stickers. I get to deadhead the petunia blooms nearly every day.

 

It’s amazing what a difference it makes to pinch away these shriveled, brown blooms! In the space of just a few days, my petunias can go from looking like they’re ready for the compost pile to full and lush and beautiful. Even the most unassuming plants are more complex than they may seem. Little Petunia is constantly trying to keep itself alive by passing water and nutrients throughout its maze of roots and stems. When I take away those dead blooms, Petunia can concentrate on its healthier parts. It can conserve energy. It can send out new blooms.

I see a similar reward when I deadhead bitterness from my life. I can wake up early, before the heat of another busy day has worn me out, and choose to do what Ephesians 4 instructs: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This may look like cutting back on social media or being open to the Spirit’s nudges to serve in a particular way or limiting my exposure to people who radiate bitterness like the sun on a hot afternoon in July.

 

Then I can put my energy into doing some more of what I read in Ephesians: “…put off your old self…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” I can receive the reward of fresh, new blooms. Oh boy! I can feel the contented sigh rising up through me already! Why does it too often take so long to cast off that yucky burden and exchange it for something so much better?

 

When I’m done deadheading my petunias, I look down at the handful of sticky, brown flowers. I wad them up into a smooshed ball and throw them out into the yard. They’re gone, on their way to transforming into the dirt where my grass is growing. There’s no reason to hold on to them, not with better than bitter alternatives waiting for me. See ya later, old self!

Framily

A couple of years after our youngest son joined our family, I took Ezra to a birthday party for a school classmate. When the party was over and we were driving home, he asked me where the birthday girl’s siblings were during the party.

 

“She doesn’t have any brothers or sisters,” I told him. Ezra, youngest of four, was shocked. “Some families just have one kid,” I explained. “Some families have four kids.”

 

“And some have six,” Ezra said.

 

I agreed, but then I glanced at him in the rearview mirror and thought about his response. I wondered what he meant by his calculation. Did he choose it randomly? Or was he counting all of the people in our family? (4 kids + 2 adults = 6) He had only been in the U.S. for a short time at that point, which meant he’d only had about two years of speaking/hearing the English language with all its inconsistencies and eccentricities and double-meanings, so I was accustomed to repeating and rephrasing. He’d also only been in the physical presence of his parents, siblings, cousins, etc. for just a few years, so I had to constantly find new ways to explain the concept of a Forever Family.

 

“Our family has four kids,” I told him. I counted off their names on the fingers of my left hand as I moved the steering wheel with my right. “You, Knox, Ella, and Lucy. Four.”

 

“Six kids,” Ezra corrected me.

 

“What do you mean?” I asked. Then Ezra reminded me about the two college students living with us. They were there for the summer to work with our church youth group, and they’d been sleeping in our basement for a week or so. Ezra was ready to include them in his final total. I explained that the college boys had parents and they were too old to be adopted. “Anyway,” I said. “They’re pretty much already grown-ups.”

 

As we pulled into our garage and I parked the van, Ezra opened the door. He looked back at me before hopping out and said with all seriousness. “Mama, dem boys is our famry.” Then he ran inside to find his two newest brothers.

 

We’ve learned so much since Ezra joined our family more than five years ago, but one of the biggest lessons has been how we define family. More than ever, we’ve realized that family absolutely doesn’t have to involve a shared DNA. We can carve out deep, sacred relationships with people who cross our paths but never appear on a single branch of our family tree. We can make connections with others by being their cheerleaders for big moments and just being available on an average Tuesday night, by making room at the table and making time in our schedule. Then Friends can become Family.