wither – verb | \ˈwi-thər\
: to shrivel or cause to shrivel from or as if from loss of moisture
I pulled out all the tomato and pepper plants last weekend from our tiny backyard garden. Most came free with only a quick yank. By the time I folded all the spindly stems and browning leaves into the large, black trash bag, it bulged out the sides and sagged from the heft.
For the past few weeks, I stalled from doing the work, hoping the last warm autumn days might ripen the remaining green tomatoes or encourage the tiny round bell peppers to grow. But this weekend we had company coming, and we planned to sit out on the back patio with a blaze in the fire pit and knives in our hands to carve pumpkins. No one would enjoy being surrounded by the vestiges of my overgrown garden.
My mind flitted back to the garden just this morning as I watered the small basil plant that grows on my window sill. The basil in my backyard garden developed into 10 times the size of the measly plant growing in the Ball mason jar. Of course the backyard basil gets 10 times the sun, too, and 10 times the fertile soil. But it also hovers between life and death as forecasters begin saying words like “frost warning” and “freezing temperatures.” My inside basil is safe and warm and protected from all harm. But that also might be why it often shrivels and sags and produces leaves only in fits and starts. It’s been the same size for the past several months.
Just outside our kitchen window, a little off to the left, our neighbors’ maple tree dresses herself in a seasonal ensemble of yellows and oranges with accents of red. Each day she adds a new layer of color, even as she begins to drop her leaves into piles on the sidewalk below. Soon, maybe today, I’ll take a picture of her in all her glory. If I wait too long, I’ll miss the show entirely, and the only picture I will take is one of brown branches, full of the bleakness and barrenness of the approaching winter.
I think of Jonah and his anger toward the withering plant that left him faint in the summer sun. I am Jonah, doing nothing to grow the beautiful maple tree in my neighbors’ yard yet feeling deflated when the leave are gone. I am Jonah, doing very little beyond planting the tomatoes and peppers in my garden, yet feeling angry and sad that they are now gone. I struggle to feel thankful when the growth stops each year and the world lies bare and dormant over the winter.
And I remember Jesus cursing the fig tree because no fruit hung from its branches. I continue to be flummoxed by the lesson Jesus teaches there: that the disciples themselves can have the same power to curse and destroy. What about the fig tree? I wonder. And what about the people who usually harvest the figs that refused to grow this year? And what if next year the figs would have grown in abundance?
The answer in all of this, of course, lies in the spring that will come again next March, April, and May. The Spring, when the neighbors’ maple tree will sprout tiny buds and dress in light greens and foamy petals. The Spring, when I’ll make my way to the garden center and buy small trays of tomato and pepper seedlings and coax them into the cold, dark soil. The Spring, when creation reminds us of the Great Renewal that will restore all things to their intended glory: withered vines and withered lives alike.
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.
~ One word a week for one year; one life changed forever. ~
My Year in Words walks through a year in the life of author Charity Singleton Craig as she reflected on one word each week.
“It seemed like such an ordinary year at the time. If I hadn’t been recording it along the way, we might have missed it. My Year in Words is significant because I paid attention, I kept track, and I wrote it down.”