Weed tree lumberjack

For the most part, my husband and I were raised as city people. A half-acre lot was plenty for our folks. They had their vegetable gardens and rosebushes. Brent’s dad even had some fruit trees. But our homes were situated in suburban neighborhoods (in Nashville and Knoxville, respectively) with weekly garbage pickup and streetlights and city buses and access to nearby interstates, not out in the country.


Now we still live in a city surrounded by neighborhoods, but we have a little bit of land—almost 5 acres—and sometimes our citified upbringing surfaces. We accidentally neglect parts of our property, and then a Saturday free of obligations rolls around and we spend all day catching up. Mowing and weed-eating, digging up unwanted plants and trimming back hedges. We get to work, sweating and toiling like we’re preparing for the arrival of royalty to our humble village.


Last Saturday, I decided to tackle the forest of weed trees growing unchecked below a line of tall pines along our driveway. I used everything in our gardening tool arsenal: long-handled loppers, an electric hedge trimmer, a chainsaw, and a small hatchet. Many of those weeds I drive past every day had grown taller than me. Some of their trunks were thick, as much as 6-inches in diameter. How did this uninvited grove grow right under my nose?


I suppose I was looking elsewhere, my mind wandering, sussing out both the important and unimportant, and the weeds just became the expected backdrop. They were green, so I didn’t look too closely. If I had, I would’ve seen thorns and ivy snaking around the trunks of the pine trees. I wasn’t heeding the Scriptures which remind me to be watchful. “Dressed and ready with my lamps trimmed and burning,” as Jesus told his followers. “Ready to answer when the master knocks on the door.” I was caught off-guard by what can develop when I’m not vigilant.


But it’s not always just our negligence or laziness, those weed trees suddenly towering over us. Sometimes we actually invite the invasive and insidious. Take kudzu, the widespread vine from Asia, for example. It was introduced to the U.S. at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia as an ornamental plant which could be handy for shading front porches. It was eventually seeded all over the country to combat soil erosion in the face of the Depression-era dust storms. The government actually paid farmers to plant it.


At first, it seemed like a good idea and who could blame them? It grew quickly, could be fed to livestock, and smelled like grape bubblegum. But now we see what happens when kudzu goes unchecked. Without cattle to graze on it and keep the vine controlled, it chokes out the nearby native plants. We see it cascading by highways, mountains of green originally planted there to fill in the gashes made by road crews. There seems to be no stopping it. (Although the Japanese kudzu bug, which somehow traveled to a garden near the airport in Atlanta, according to a fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine, is working hard to suck the juices from the vine and may reduce the spread of the invasive plant.)


Nature is a reminder of God’s creativity and majesty and power, but it can also be a metaphor to apply to our day-to-day lives. Even the weeds can teach us. As I hacked away at those vile weed trees on Saturday, I pledged that I would do better at keeping them in check. I made promises to my Lord and myself that I would be vigilant, both in my landscaping and my life.


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!

Rained out

With all of the rain we’ve had lately, my son Ezra and I have noticed a common sight dotting the sidewalks while we’re on our way to school in the mornings—earthworms. Most have baked into a crispy twig in the hot sun, but a few still have a little wriggle in them. Ezra rescues the live ones by transferring them to the grass and dirt running alongside the sidewalk. (His benevolence to the worms slows down our trek, but I can’t deny him the good feeling of starting a day of 3rd grade knowing you’ve made a difference!)


Ezra asked me why we’ve been seeing so many worms. Why do they come out of their safe burrows just to die on the sidewalk? It’s a good question. Other than drying out in the sun, they could also be eaten by birds or stepped on. Why would they risk it? I just had to find out! Google to the rescue!


From what I read, it was commonly assumed that worms emerged after a lot of rain because they would drown in their underground tunnels. But more recent science disputes this. Worm scientists (that’s probably a thing) argue that worms are designed in a way that they could stay submerged underwater for days. Back to the worm lab (which is also probably a thing)!


One hypothesis speculates that the vibration of the rain dropping above them imitates the sound of a mole or some other worm-eating predator, and the worms crawl away from the anticipated danger. Another idea is that they use the slick, wet environment to migrate. I can just imagine the worms watching the weather forecast to see when the conditions would be favorable to travel so they could make a trip to visit grandma. (Okay, that’s definitely not a thing, even on the internet.) Another idea is that the worms surface to mate, but they (worm scientists) say only a few species do this, and knowing that worm babies don’t just appear out of nowhere but not wanting to google “Where do worm babies come from?” I left that hypothesis off my list for Ezra.


Even though a worm has no eyes or ears and a teeny-tiny brain, there are way too many similarities between us and them. We often ignore our protective design and take unnecessary risks. There are many times when we fear the wrong things (or people), and our panic makes everything much, much worse. But, if you’re a lucky earthworm, a sweet 10-year old boy will see that you’re stranded on the concrete, and even though you’re there by your own folly, he’ll lift you to safety.