It seems I have now set a new record in the length of time between blog posts. From May 31 until now would be close to four months.
It's beyond my ability right now to remember whether or not I have said anything definitive on this blog about why I have written so little in recent months and even a couple of years or more.
A rather fascinating story lies behind just about everything in life, and that's true for this as well, but for now suffice it to say that around the same time I decided to return to school to work on a doctoral degree in ministry, my mom began to have significant health problems. The combination of these things has simply (and in quite complicated ways at times) demanded my focus, my time, my energy more than I could ever have anticipated.
In late April, I turned in my last paper for school. And at some point in the summer I turned in the official prospectus for my thesis. And after that all the paperwork for approval from the Institutional Review Board. I'm now officially in the thesis phase of the degree. Since I had "levelling" work to do (extra classes because I didn't go into the degree with a Master of Divinity degree already), this means I am now freer than I have been in three years. Not free, but not continually under the pressure of huge reading lists and deadlines.
So slowly, slowly, life has been shifting to a more liveable pace. I'm returning to the routines and rhythms that were interrupted pretty severely for almost three years.
And so, at some point in the late spring or early summer, I began noticing the straggling green things out in the pots on our deck, and I thought, oh, one of these days I will have time to plant flowers again. Planting flowers has not been completely neglected, but it has not been the regulary activity that it once was, so that something was blooming pretty much all year round. Where we live, it usually means pansies in the winter and impatiens and petunias for the spring and summer.
Of course I had to get that prospectus turned in and all the IRB paperwork. But in the back of my mind I was dreaming of buying and planting petunias, at least a few, to enjoy through the heat of the summer. I also remember noticing with the peripheral vision of my awareness that those plants out in the pots still had blooms, and it seemed awfully late and hot for that. Pansies don't generally make it into the summer heat in full sun.
On July 30, I finally actually walked out there and watered and weeded, thinking there was still time to plant some petunias, if I could find any for sale that late in the summer.
And for the first time, I realized . . . these were petunias!
Which meant they had been planted early LAST summer, and that I had never planted any pansies in the fall. These guys had made it through the winter and come back to life.
So, I did of course water them, and I pulled out the amazing little weeds that find their way through the air into the pots. And I pulled off the dead blooms.
And I laughed at myself and at how crazy life can get, and smiled at how beautiful it is that these flowers made it through with absolutely no help from me or anyone--just the sunshine, the soil and whatever rain fell on them over the course of most of a year. (And this was the coldest winter we've had since we've lived here.)
It felt as if they were saying, "Surprise! Welcome back!"
"We're still alive, and so are you. It's time to stretch and breathe and grow again."
I've been watering them and pulling the occasional weeds and the spent blooms, and they've continued to grow through the heat of the summer, and as the air has begun to turn toward fall's shorter days and cooler temperatures.
The spearmint from last year made it through, too, not surprisingly. Mmmmm.....
Maybe soon I'll even clean these pots so they can be as pretty as what grows in them.
And I even dare to hope that I may manage to get pansies planted for this fall and winter.
It's hard to know how to describe the past three years. A lot has happened, a lot has had to cease for a while. "Upheaval" comes to mind as a one-word description that avoids the extreme emotional content other words would carry with them.
But these flowers bring to mind other words, words that remind me in a comforting way that while my life matters, and each person's life matters in ways we surely cannot fathom, each life is also part of a whole that gives us meaning and hope and comfort beyond what we could ever come up with on our own. These beautiful words--
While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.
After three years of pursuing a "Doctor of Ministry degree in missional and spiritual formation," I may have learned more about spiritual formation from these sweet petunias that came as "missionaries" to assure me of the good news that life is much bigger than my life, and strength and resilience and beauty are everywhere in the midst of it all. Even when I'm exhausted and oblivious.