WORDS | IMAGES BY BETHANY STUMPF
This past summer, one of my best friends from high school passed away during the week of my birthday. It was a peculiar moment in my existence…a conglomeration of celebrating life in two very different ways. In one moment I was celebrating the life I still had yet to live and in the next celebrating the life that Ashly had left behind. Until that day, I had never really thought how with each day’s passing so am I passing. Recently, those feelings from the summer came back to me while doing something very different than a birthday or commemorating Ashly. I was gardening. Caring for a living plant made me realize even more that everyday we grow up.
Watching plants “grow up” has helped me mark my own growth over the last couple of months. With each day they grow, I grow with them. Somedays theres little growth, somedays theres lots of growth but overall the challenges they face produce stronger and healthier plants.
Seedlings, before planted outdoors, require hardening which is done by giving them some resistance though wind. This allows the plants cells to grow stronger for the upcoming outside elements. If you put unhardened seedlings outdoors they won’t be able to handle the harsh environment and eventually die. As humans, we also need hardening to handle the winds that come into our own lives. Hardening for us looks different than plants but the idea is the same. Rather than creating a tough exterior like plant cells, for us it is developing inner strength while maintaining a soft exterior to those around us. The winds of life create a test for each of us that both grows us to be stronger towards harsh realities and maintains the soft gentleness needed to feel compassion and love for others. Ashly was great at this. Even in the last months of her life, she never grew hard towards those around her even though the circumstances were making her internally very strong.
While I don’t know if my plants will survive my harsh treatment of them, I do know that they are teaching me so many lessons. I have learned that nothing good is achieved without hard work, everything takes time, and learning is accomplished through using everything around you as a textbook.
Furthermore, plants are also helping me understand the peace often talked about in the Bible. When we are willing to trust the growing process God puts us through we don’t have to be afraid of jumping in and letting some resistance come towards your way- knowing that it will make us stronger in our faith and wiser to the things of the world and of Hid goodness. How do we expect to grow faith if we don’t ever test it through doing something that requires lots of faith! The best thing about plants is they don’t doubt their creator. They grow and produce fruit whether it survives or not and are unafraid of the time and place knowing God will accomplish what He wants through them. The truth is there will never be a time and place perfect for the projects you want to start. The key is to begin and let whatever obstacle that come be teachers to make you smarter, stronger, and better for the next time. I read a really good quote the other day that I found extremely encouraging from the maker of This American Life, Ira Glass– he said
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
This isn’t just a creative thing he is talking about. It’s life. We will never have the “perfect” life and there will always be struggles but by putting in the hard work and striving to do better each day and with the grace of God we will grow through all the difficulties, successes, and fruits that come along the way.