Messy, beautiful life

Over the past few weeks as Spring begins to take shape, I have been gradually cleaning up the debris of winter again.

I’ve written many times about collecting the various objects the earth spits out after a winter of freezing and the shifts of thawing, objects left behind in the past by acts of carelessness, forgetfulness, or even malice. This year, I’ve gathered a few more bottle gaps and pieces of broken glass and scraps of paper. I’ve also written about picking up sticks and the creative way God “prunes” and “tends” through the destruction of Spring storms. I collected about 10 bundles of sticks and branches so far.

But unlike previous Springs, this year I also found myself with a bunch of leaves to rake. Despite my best intentions and mediocre effort, I did not get the raking done last fall. The front yard was completed, but the flower beds were loaded with leaves and twigs of various sizes, and part of the back yard remained covered, even after five months of blowing around.

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So, before the grass in the yard rotted under the wet cover of dead leaves, and before the young perrennials were intimidated by the darkness of that soggy blanket, I got the rake out and went to work. Out with the old; make way for the new. Without cleaning out the dead things, there would be no possibility for the new life.

And then one day I found myself laying on a bed of leaves in the middle of a forest. I was in a nearby state park attending a prayer summit hosted by my church. We were given an hour to spend by ourselves praying, and as I had had a very hectic week, I decided to just find a place in the forest to lie down. As I was marveling at how tall and thick the trees were, it dawned on me that the forest seemed to be full of life despite an obvious lack of raking. Why did I have to rake my leaves at home to get life, but here, life seemed to come out of the leaves?

The difference is what I am growing. Most living things need the benefit of the sun, and if they are so small that a bed of leaves covers them up, then they get cut off from their source. A forest of massive trees, however, can still connect with the sun, even if the floor is covered with leaves. The leaves aren’t bad; in fact, the decomposing leaves add a lot of nutrients to the soil that helps plants grow. But the soil is only part of the growing process.

I found this metaphor at work all over my life. It seems I too have seasons where life gets messy, and in order for anything new to grow, Jesus has to help me clean things up. The last few weeks have been a Spring for the spiritual part of me, too. The past year and a half since my cancer diagnosis have left some bad habits and paralyzing anxieties that Jesus is raking up so I can get a little more sun in my life. He has some new things to grow in me that are just taking root.

But there’s also an aspect of my life and faith that is firm and established, and Jesus is leaving things a little messy. Things like my singleness and disappointments over relationships, financial burdens and some chronic pain are not preventing me from growing; the sun can still get through over them. Eventually, they’ll return key nutrients to my life and actually help me grow.

Unlike the leaves in my yard and the leaves in the forest, it’s not always so easy to know what parts of my life I need to work to clean up and what part I just need to rest in. Oh, that Jesus would give me the wisdom to know the difference.

I’ve heard from a few of you that you still check this blog every week, even though I haven’t been very faithful to write regularly. My friends over on Facebook are feeling similarly neglected. I found myself in an extremely busy season over the past couple of months. And now I am trying to find a way back to sanity. Hopefully, I’ll be here at least a little more regularly soon. Bless you for still coming.

I am doing well physically. I continue to have some minor pain around the area of my second surgery. However, the doctors are pretty confident, given my good CA-125 levels over the past several months, the consistency of the pain, and how good I feel otherwise, that this pain is just adhesions or scar tissue. This is apparently pretty common after major abdominal surgeries like I have had.

My next round of tests will be in middle to late May.

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of lifeā€™s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.


  • Jennifer ,

    This is speaking to me right now.

    Weird … I posted a very similar picture tonight on a blog post about tending the Earth. … Found you tonight through spaghettipie.

    You blessed me.

    • Anonymous ,

      Hi Charity,
      Glad to see you are still writing. Wishing you a wonderful Easter celebrating His resurrection!
      Stay well,
      Sheila McT

      • Ted M. Gossard ,

        Charity,

        So good to hear from you again. Yes, I know what you mean from my perspective. I’m so glad God is both ruthless and patient as well as persevering.

        And your words reminds me of the passage: “he has made everything beautiful in its time.”

        Blessings on you.

        • Marcus Goodyear ,

          Yep. My life is pretty darn messy right now. Here’s hoping God is going to grow something new.

          In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep churning through the stinking pile…

          : )

          • Llama Momma ,

            So good to hear your voice…beautiful thoughts.

            blessings to you…

            • Erin ,

              Glad to read you again, Charity.

              I’m drawn to your description of the dead leaves- whether to rake them away or leave them to decompose and fertilize is a decision left up to God. I will admit that I want the stinky, soggy, dead leaf litter in my life to be raked clean away. A couple of specific situations, from my perspective, just plain rot.

              I have a sense that I am being fertilized. Can I submit to this? Can I joyfully and hopefully accept the slow grind of decay-becoming-nutrients? I’d rather feel the warm dappled sun, honestly.

              • spaghettipie ,

                Charity, you take some of my Lenten thoughts one step further! I so appreciate your insight and am thankful for any words that you share, no matter how regular or irregular.

                • L.L. Barkat ,

                  Finding one’s way back to sanity… well, that sounds like some journey! šŸ™‚

                  Happy to be at your side.