I have the honor of leading the book discussion of Luci Shaw’s Life Path over at SheLoves Magazine today. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!
After I got married, my parents drove up to our house with a trunk full of childhood memorabilia. Now that I had a garage of my own, I had to store these treasures. One box was filled with journals from middle school and high school. I didn’t get very far in reading them before I cringingly shut the box tightly and left it to gather dust in the garage. The angsty thoughts of my teenage self were just too much!
And yet, I couldn’t throw them away. There was something sacred about those journals and that time in my life.
Throughout Life Path: Personal and Spiritual Growth through Journal Writing, Luci Shaw iterates over and over again the importance of taking the time to reread our journals. Journaling isn’t for important events or deep thoughts. “The true journal is a commentary on all of life, and often it is the casual comment, the trivial event that is shown to be significant as you reread it later.” (p. 55)
The importance of rereading journals came to mind last autumn. My husband and I had a business decision to make and were going back and forth over the pros and cons. One day, he was flipping through an old journal and found that he had written we would make this particular business decision by the date he happened to be reading it. It didn’t help us get to an easy answer, but the reminder that we had actually been thinking and praying about this particular choice for years, gave us confidence in our final decision.
Shaw shares a story of a member at one of her writing workshops only writing on one side of the page. That way she is able to go back and write down reflections, insights, and revelations about her journey. (pg 69)
This interactive view of journaling takes our private processes and makes them less “morbidly introspective” and more of a spiritual practice.
While out in California to meet relatives before our wedding, one of my aunts commented that I had always been a bit harsh but Frank softened those rough edges. After my initial defensiveness, I’ve realized she may have been right.
I’m a critical person by nature. I have high standards for myself and for others and am always critiquing. Frank is a natural optimist, seeing people and situations through a rosy tint. It takes a huge effort for Frank to lose faith in someone’s potential. I still wouldn’t call myself the most generous person on earth, but he is rubbing off on me and my expectations of humanity are shifting.
Earlier this year, I read Luci Shaw’s The Crime of Living Cautiously and part of a chapter struck a chord and stuck with me. In “The Risk of Relationships,” Shaw ponders how we define flowers and weeds. She talks about the relativity of designating certain plants as weeds, noting wild day lilies that grow along highways and the resiliency of clover in fields (pp 95-6). She connects this image to our own relationships and habits of categorizing those around us as flowers (those like us) and weeds (those we don’t understand). And yet, these are all relative distinctions.
For our first anniversary, Frank and I hiked the West Highland Way, a 95-mile trail climbing through the Scottish Highlands. Keeping us along the Way were guideposts carved with the Scottish thistle. The Way, in general, is well-marked and we rarely needed the thistle to guide us. On our last day, nearing the end of a long 14 miles, we lost the path and couldn’t find a guidepost. I was so tired, my feet hurt, and knowing the end was so close made things seem worse. We searched for the thistle and finally, as I slumped against a stone wall, Frank found it around a corner. I perked up and we trudged into Fort William, proud of such an accomplishment.
When we arrived back in Colorado, after about two weeks’ absence, we found our yard overrun with our own thistles. The weeds had gone to seed and spread and I spent the next weeks pulling up the nettles, a never-ending rash on my forearms. The irony was not lost on me that summer, as I grumbled over our weeds. The very plant that, just weeks before had been my guidepost, was now my deep-rooted enemy, infiltrating my garden.
Because we don’t use chemicals on our yard, thistles come back every year. Last year, we resigned ourselves to them, trying to see the beauty but I think they may have choked out our poppies as a result… While blooming, thistles are beautiful – I love the tall stalks and light-purple flowers. But until they bloom, they just prick. Even our two-year-old knows to keep away from the “fistles.”
Initially, I connected Shaw’s analogy to others: I’ve learned so much through that prickly relationship; She became more beautiful once I viewed her as a flower rather than a weed.And, I’ve come to realize, I’m being the weedy one. How am I being prickly toward others? How can I shift and show more blossoms and fewer nettles?
When I give myself grace, when I allow myself to shift from weed to flower, I begin to give grace to others. I have such trouble shifting mentality, but when I am gracious with my own needs, my own values, my own insecurities, I am far more gracious with the seeming imperfections of others. I have started asking, How can I be a guide rather than a nettle? How can I see the wild beauty in others rather than pulling them out and forcing my own, neatly planted ideals?
Shaw describes God as an artist-gardener, loving the wild mix of plants and flowers, contained and rambling that cover His garden. She says,
“So I have to believe that uninterrupted nature, weeds and all, is divine art” (pg 98).
Sometimes we need the nettling, unpleasant side of the weed. Sometimes I need that push-back to my own ideologies in order to shift perspective and grow. In trying to embrace the weed-as-flower, I can just as easily not recognize its inherent weediness. How can embracing all aspects of the wild beauty of the weed empower me to embrace all aspects of a difficult relationship or habit?
“And then perhaps a relationship can begin to form and flourish between a flower and a weed. They can perhaps beautify the landscape together” (p 100).
Maybe, instead of sweating and giving myself rashes, I need to sit back in the hammock, surrounded by nettles and poppies, intentional and unintentional plantings, and enjoy being part of this wild beauty.
Do you struggle with weediness? How can you see beauty in weeds this week?