Last weekend, I was at my mom’s helping her clean up her flower beds. It is that time of year, you know. Most of her beautiful perennials have already strutted their summer stuff, and now they are mostly brown and droopy. Left on their own, the dry, crunchy leaves and stems would eventually fall to the ground and compost into nothing, leaving the vibrant root structure to bloom again next spring. That’s the way it works in the wild. But in a flower bed, the process becomes a little unsightly. So, now that summer is nearly over, we began the process of cutting out the stuff that looks dead.

There is just one problem when you begin the cutting process before the first frost. It’s not always as obvious which plants should be cut and which to leave. Many of the plants are brown from top to bottom, like the gladiolus and lilies; those definitely have to go. A few of the plants are just coming into their prime and are at their peak, like the chrysanthemums; those definitely stay. Then there are the flowers that have beautiful buds at the top, but the lower leaves and petals are dried up and crunchy. What do we with those?

As I hovered over the plants on my hands and knees, gardeneing scissors poised for cutting, I realized I wanted gardening to be a little neater, a little less subtle. It would be easier just to cut down everything that was starting to turn brown — the garden would look less complicated that way. But cutting down some of these plants that had turned brown and crunchy on the bottom would mean we would miss the opportunity to enjoy the beauty they had left on top. Some of their best blossoms and brightest hues were sitting atop a brown, stubbly stem. Maybe these plants weren’t in their prime, but they still had a little strutting of their own left to do.

Isn’t this just like life? I want my relationships and job and hobbies and spirituality to be easy and straightforward. I want the good parts and the bad parts to all be obvious. And I want beauty to be narrowly defined. But it’s never that simple. In fact, if I try too hard to keep things neat and tidy, I miss out on much of the grace and beauty that Jesus has in store for me.

This weekend, I have been doing a little work around my own gardens — planting some fall flowers, harvesting the last of the tomatoes, trimming back bushes and raking leaves. It’s a little bit of a mess out there. My mulch is too thin, my hostas look burnt out from the sun, and my poor squash just keeps blooming but never produces fruit. But if ever there were a picture of my life right now, it’s those gardens. Though they may look a little rough, there’s a lot of life going on. My Russian sage looks like it has finally taken root; the carrots are poking their heads through the dirt; and the mums are just about to burst into full bloom.

It’s messy, but it’s beautiful.

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I have only two more radiation treatments left! I have tolerated the radiation much better than anyone, especially me, expected. Also, I just had my CA125 tested again, and it’s down a couple more points to 9! This would seem to indicate that right now there is no evidence of cancer. Thanks to God!