It was totally unprompted.
I was saying goodbye to my grandkids who had spent the night. Before climbing into the car, my four-year-old grandson saw the dandelions growing in the lawn. He picked one and give it to me. Then he picked another and give it to his mama. Tears stung my eyes, and I gave him a good squeeze.
Friends, that simple act of watching him engage with nature and wanting to share it with me, and his mama, just touched my heart. Immediately I was taken back twenty-ish years when my own kids would do that. One of my favorite photos of my youngest son is him at age 4 holding a bouquet of dandelions before giving it to me. I remember showing my daughter how to make dandelion crowns when she was about five; teaching my kids to make a wish on a dandelion seed head and blow, not worrying bout the many offspring it will produce (aka more time spent weeding). Summers were simple and carefree back then - filled with little pleasures and special moments. The days were long and we lived them outside: kiddie pools, picnics, sand castles, chasing butterflies, riding bikes, tending the garden. I think back even further to when I was growing up and have similar memories: getting lost in a good book, swimming with my siblings, exploring the woods on our property, water-gun fights, catching fireflies, and just laying in the grass watching the clouds. Summer was a special time.
How different summers are now. Admittedly those days as a young girl and then as a young mom weren't all rainbows and butterflies, but I'm thankful I can look back and cherish them. Lately life just seems complicated - unsolved health issues, managing the effects of rising inflation, the challenges of relationships, the stress of work - l sure could go for those simple summer dandelion days. Can you relate?
Maybe there's a way to recapture the essence of those days. What I'm really in need of is finding rest amidst the stress. A vacation isn't in the cards this summer, but even those often leave us feeling exhausted when we return. How can I get the rest I'm looking for on a daily basis? Jesus says in the book of Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Like a drink from the fountain, he refreshes us when we come to him. A few moments spent in his Word, singing a praise song, saying a prayer are small ways to find rest in him. This gives me hope and inspires me to make the most of these summer days in small ways. Determined to recapture some of the simple pleasures of summer, here's what I've come up with:
Create a simple morning routine.
Summertime and routines seem contradictory, but how we start our day impacts the rest of the day. It sets the tone. Over the years I've learned that I function best when I have a morning routine. My day seems more productive and focused. Studies show this to be true for most of us. I still need that routine during the summer, but in a more simplified and more relaxed way. Starting with a devotion on the patio, yoga on the lawn, a morning walk, a check on the gardens . . . that's how I envision my ideal summer morning. Even if I could do one of those things every morning, connecting with God and with nature does my soul good.
Make a summer bucket list.
In order to capture the essence of summer, we need to live it intentionally so it doesn't slip away. Before you know it, September will be here. Instead of asking yourself, "Where did the summer go?" ask "What do I want my summer to look like? What are the elements of my ideal dandelion days?" If you are a list maker like me, you'll like this exercise. It doesn't have to be a vacation, it can be small things like reading a book in a hammock or for me, just reading a book!
Here are some things on my list:
- daily walk in the gardens
- find recipes for the herbs I'm growing and make them!
- read a fiction book
- watch a butterfly flit from flower to flower
- blow bubbles with my grandkids
- go barefoot in the grass
- watch the sun set
Cultivate what matters. Summer is a good time to check in with intentions that were set back in January. For me, I need to ask myself, am I cultivating what matters to me? Hmmmmm . . . honestly, I've gotten off track. So how can I refocus and cultivate those things that do matter? One way is to clear my schedule as much as I can. Saying no to a few things this summer is saying yes to simplicity. Maybe a 'no' to mindless scrolling is a 'yes' to more time outside or more free time to do the things on the bucket list. It's a choice! We make decisions all day long regarding how we spend our time, and as author Emily P Freeman says, those daily decisions are making our life.
What about you? Do you long for dandelion days and the simple pleasures of summer? Do you long to experience and savor all the flavors of summer, instead of letting it pass by in a blur? I hope you'll take some time to think about the summer days that lay ahead and how you want to fill them. Let's recapture that child-like sense of being carefree. It's in the small things, the small moments, that we can find joy, peace, and contentment. And maybe, just maybe, I might pick a dandelion and make a wish. :)
It was dusk and had just rained - a sweet, summer kind of rain. She walked through the beautiful, lush gardens. There was music playing in the background, and the breeze carried waves of distant conversation. Yet she walked, her long gown trailing over sopping ground, her fingers running through tall grasses, stopping only to smell the flowers. Such is my memory of a scene from the 1992 version of 'Howards End'. It was the lovely garden and the peaceful smile on Mrs. Wilcox's face that has and will stay with me for a long time. In her garden . . . she found peace and contentment.
From those pages of fictional England where 'even the air smells delicious', I find myself in my favorite spot in my house, and a few moments of quiet. It's a cold, rainy day in May which happens to be my 'off' day. I settle in with the long-awaited magazine, In Her Garden, and enter into another world of beautiful photos and essays. It's just what I need at this moment. A phrase catches my eye as it's woven through the pages: 'In my garden . . . ' and each author, in turn, shares what she finds in her garden. . . immense peace, inspiration, connection with nature, freedom, growth, memories . . .
I find it pretty amazing that such a place can provide a universal balm to the soul. It's incredible, really. If you've been following along, you may have noticed that my blogs have been pretty heavy lately. I find writing as a type of therapy, to sort things out, work through them as thoughts flow from heart through pen to paper, in this case, keyboard. The garden provides this for me as well. A walk down the Hellebore path, pulling a handful of chickweed, planting a few sweet pea seeds . . . it all does wonders for the spirit. In my garden . . . I find refreshment and restoration.
How can the garden, or even bigger than that - nature, offer such healing and solace? Nature is amazing - from the very smallest creature, to the mightiest oak, to the miracle of life contained within a seed, and the intricacy of a spider web - It's all amazing. There are scientific studies that show the mood-lifting benefits of digging in the soil, and I'm sure there are other studies that indicate the healing power of nature. But I have a theory of my own. Maybe it's being surrounded by beauty that refreshes, maybe it's the calming color of green that restores. Maybe, but I believe that through nature, we have an intimate connection with the Creator himself. God, maker of all things, is our true source of peace, inspiration, freedom, and joy. Through his creation, he offers us a place to just be for awhile. He shares with us the joy of watching things grow. He uses nature to nurture us. Even the psalmist says "He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul." (Psalm 23:2-3).
One my favorite things about the garden is that it's a place to be creative. This, too, is a gift from our heavenly Maker, who created the very first garden. Made in his image, we have been given the gift of creativity. We create tidy rows in the vegetable garden, combine colors in the flower garden, and arrange trees, shrubs, and perennials in our landscapes. We create spaces for gathering, spaces for kids to play, and spaces to start and end our day in. In the garden, we can creatively express ourselves, and this too, can be healing. "At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source." - Rachel Naomi Remen, MD.
The rain has stopped for now, and the garden calls, so into the garden I go for some plant therapy. In my garden. . . what do you find there?
It's the month of April, and the 'Sweet Lillian' Amaryllis that I planted back in December finally is blooming. The bulb, buried up to her shoulders in potting mix, sat for what seemed forever. Daily I watched and waited, wondering if she was going to bloom this year or not.
Nature has its own timing. Flowers bloom and the seasons change on their own schedule, not ours, and yet each season comes when the time is right. Nature doesn't hurry. There's comfort in knowing this as I grow impatient at times during this season of waiting and overwhelm that I find myself in.
Maybe it's in this feeling of overwhelm that solace is found in the simple; that time spent watching the sky slowly change is calming and peaceful. Lately I've been fascinated with it. Every morning a new painting as the sun rises, every evening shades of pinks, blues, and oranges as the sun sets, and in between, the painting on the celestial canvas is ever changing - never the same. Yet the sky isn't always a blue ocean of cotton candy clouds. It can be filled with darkness heavy with storms that are not calming or peaceful.
These stormy skies of life have been dominating as of late, and the culminating overwhelm finally needs a release. So I succumb to tears that have been just below the surface the last few days. Like rain, they come in heavy. Then slow deep breaths as the storm within subsides, and it's then that I hear it . . . 'Be still. Be still and know. . . that I am God'. Suddenly peace pours in, filling me up with each breath. He knows. God knows. He sees, and he is in control. And he is working. Right now, as I sit in this pot, buried up to my shoulders, he is working - and I am slowly growing.
As author Kaitlyn Bouchillon wrote in a recent Instagram post:
"If you’re feeling buried right now . . . Can I just quietly whisper that perhaps you’ve actually been planted? There’s more to come. This is not even close to the end."
Yes! Planted is so much better than being buried, right? And when we are planted, the best thing to do is soak in the light of the sun (Son), and grow. Maybe this is the purpose of waiting - to grow slowly. I think of the Amaryllis bulb. It looked like nothing was happening, but underneath, in the darkness of the soil, roots were forming, growing slow. As we wait on God and trust his timing, we are growing, too. And when the time is right . . . blooms!
There's something else that I'm reminded of as I watch the sky: God is an amazing artist, creating these living paintings for us every single day. What a beautiful reminder that He is present! Every moment of every day, He is here with us, calming our storms, working while we wait, and nurturing us as we grow. The blessings are there, we only need to open our eyes to see. Hope, peace, contentment, and joy can exist in the waiting. So let the calm fill us, continue to look up, and let those roots slowly grow.
Some things are so beautiful, I can’t help but stop and admire.
Usually it’s nature that catches my eye and steals the breath with it's stunning beauty. Driving past this wrought iron gate had the same affect – caught the eye, pulled off the road, had to get closer to take it all in. Graceful curves, white aged to yellow, chipped and rusted, but to me it was beautiful. What struck me most was the contrast – strong iron shaped into gentle curves. How many years had it stood here? How many storms had it endured? Strong yet so graceful. How hot was the fire that softened hard iron to form beautiful swooshes and swirls?
I see the same beauty in someone close who battled the ugliness of cancer with such grace. Keeping her eyes focused on the ultimate Grace-giver was reflected in her response to what life had handed her. Through the firestorm, her strong faith unwavering was beautiful. Grace under pressure.
Long seasons of testing and trials are made up of small moments that define us. Like fire, they can refine making us stronger or they can consume and weaken us. I think of this as I stand on what seems a mountain of whys and unanswered questions. Trying to be strong as I move forward through the day, my breath a constant prayer, at times I feel I could crumble under the sheer weight of it all.
'. . . we are weak, but He is strong'. Those songs learned at a young age can be such a comfort! Yes, Jesus does love me. He is strong. And it's in that strength, HIS strength, that I can draw strength and find peace; it's in His grace that I see blessings that are still here, amidst all the uncertainty. And I know that all of this is grace.
Maybe you're not in a season like that. The truth is that we all face small everyday fires that can define and refine us. The question is, how do we respond when in the midst of those everyday fires . . .
to the heated moments of a stressful day?
to gossip that surrounds, or pain that hounds?
to words that sting and tempers that flare?
It’s in our nature to react to these pressures of fire with more fire: to be unkind when treated unkindly, to give anger when shown anger, to lash out when lashed at, to break under pressure. But what if we respond with what’s unexpected - kindness. What if we respond with what is undeserved - grace. What if we see our situation as an opportunity?
Each small moment fire can be an opportunity to reflect the undeserved love - unmerited favor - the grace God has shown us. When we react to moments of pressure or a season of trials with a posture of grace, our unexpected response and our attitude could stop fire’s fury, catch the eye, and be something beautiful. Just like that wrought iron gate. Grace under pressure.
May God use whatever fire is in our moments to make us stronger and be a reflection of his grace. ‘Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’. 2 Timothy 2:1
"To the nest, to the nest"! I remember those words like it was yesterday, sitting on the bleachers at my daughter's 5th grade basketball games. Her coach was shouting to the girls to hustle back on defense to guard their 'nest'. Those words come to mind now after a long day on my feet, juggling five things at once. Stressed and exhausted from decision fatigue, all I want to do is go home - to the nest! to the nest! As I step outside, the long, cold fingers of winter seem to reach through my warm coat right to my bones.
Once home, I settle in with a warm blanket and a cup of tea. Still wound tight with the stress of the day, my eye catches the hand-written note with a crayon heart. I take it in my hand and open it, as I have many times before:
Mom, I love you more than my puppy.
I melt into a puddle.
It was one of the many Mother's Day cards from my four kids when much younger. I've saved them all, maybe just for days like this, when I need that sweet reminder from those days that seem so long ago. Holding small hands in mine, snuggling together to read a book, and hugs a-plenty. More tears . . .
We are emotional creatures, aren't we? The heart is such a tender thing - it holds hurts and love full up. And when the heart is too full, it overflows into tears, words that can't be spoken.
How we need those reminders that we are loved! I think of my kids, now grown and flown, building nests of their own. But the roots they formed while here will keep them grounded, at least that's my prayer.
My focus this year is to cultivate those things that matter in my life, and to create a schedule that reflects that. But perhaps instead of things, I should be cultivating postures. I remember teaching my kids a song about the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The melody still easily runs through my mind. What if I put my focus on cultivating those things?
Since it's February, it seems natural to start with love. But where to begin? What does a posture of love look like? I head to the Bible, to 1 Corinthians. The writer says that of all things, the greatest of these is love. And if our actions are not done out of love, then they are meaningless. So I ask myself, if we all need reminders that we are loved, then how am I showing others that they are loved? Are my actions motivated by love? What does true authentic love look like, and how do I cultivate it?
Looking back at the past two tumultuous years, I think about all the things that have divided us - friend from friend, parent from child, and husband from wife. It's heartbreaking, but even in the brokenness, love is the one thing that is stronger. For me, that's the unconditional, forgiving, and endless love of God. That is the kind of love that is greater than all else, and I want to be rooted in it. Loving without condition, loving even when we've been hurt - it's not easy, but its the path back toward restoration.
"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power . . . to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ". - Ephesians 3:17-18
Knowing that I am loved in that way, compels me to demonstrate it to others. This month of pink hearts, roses, and conversation candy hearts, I'm going deeper. I want a life rooted in true, authentic, Christ-like love. How about you? What if we allow the hard tines to cultivate love in all we do? What if we allow it to be our driving force, and let it fill our hearts until it overflows into our actions, so that our posture becomes one of love?
It's 6:30 am and the sky is still dark.
Only a few days before Christmas arrives. Wanting to start the day with a little quiet time, I find myself in the living room on the couch with only the lights of the Christmas tree to keep me company. I think back to when my four kids were still under this roof. There was a lot more activity in those days leading up to Christmas - more concerts, parties, shopping trips, and admittedly - more chaos. But watching the anticipation and excitement of the wait build in my kids is something I still treasure. We'd open doors on the little Advent calendar hung on the frig, and light the Advent candles as many evenings as we could, counting down the days until Christmas Eve.
Now that the nest is empty, there's more moments of quiet and calm. I'm learning to appreciate each season of life and the changes that tag along, but I'm savoring the constants as well - like the sky is still dark at 6:30 am on a mid-December morning. And there is still excitement that builds during the wait for Christmas' arrival.
But waiting isn't always fun and excitement. Sometimes the wait is hard. Sometimes it feels like I'm holding my breath, and worry can sneak into my days - depending on the situation. Waiting for a diagnosis, a job offer, for reconciliation with a loved one . . . we all are waiting for something.
I think of Mary as she waited for the birth of her baby. I imagine she was filled with anxiety of the unknowns that lay ahead. She must have waited in wonder, that of all the women through all of time, she was carrying God's son. She waited with with joy when her cousin Elizabeth greeted her with great praise. She waited with bravery, willing to take on what God was asking of her - to carry the Messiah as a virgin. She waited filled with peace, placing her trust in God and his promise.
And while she waited, God was working in her - growing in her.
This forces me to look in the mirror and examine my own waiting posture. Like Mary, I wait with a mix of emotions - anxiety of the unknown, impatient for an answer and resolution right now. At times I wait in wonder, perplexed at why the answers are so evasive. But there is also peace and contentment in the waiting because I know God is working things out for my good. Even joy finds a place when I focus on the blessings, no matter how small. It's in those moments that I see the wonder of His grace and love.
Yet the wait can seem long. We wait for Christmas - it always comes. We wait for spring - it always comes. We wait for answers - and the answers always come - not always with the speed and surety that we crave. Sometimes its 'yes', sometimes its a 'no', because there's something different, and maybe even better, that's coming; and other times its 'not yet'. Through it all, I have learned this: in the waiting, God has not forgotten us. He is working behind the scenes, growing in us. He asks that we be still and trust him because He is God and He is good. His love for us is a constant that we can hold on to.
So my prayer for each of you is that you unwrap the gifts of joy and peace as you wait, no matter what you are waiting for. If you are holding your breath and are filled with worry, may you find moments to breathe deeply, to pray, and to be calmed by His presence. May you find contentment, and know that you are growing while you wait.
And for this week, in these next few days, may your wait be filled with wonder - the wonder of Christmas. May we all see it through the eyes of a child again.
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!