Monday, March 17, 2014

Cleaning Out a Flower Bed Is Like Recovery

Saturday afternoon, I spent a good hour or more reclaiming a flower bed.

It wasn't a matter of pulling weeds, I was actually pulling what started out as an innocent little vine in a container planting given me by a friend more than a decade ago.

The plant was variegated vinca minor and it seriously should come with a warning. It's almost as bad as the honeysuckle vines that insinuate themselves into everything. Maybe it is just my soil, or the fact that most of beds are set in perennials so I don't have to disturb them, but what was once a well behaved vine dripping over the side of large container had seriously run amok.

And I had let it.

As I pulled, dug and fought to clear it from around the azalea, dogwoods, irises, day lilies and hosta that are more welcome in the flower bed, it struck me that it was much like a bad habit, an addiction, sin even.

It started out innocently enough. It was pretty and caused no problems were it belonged. Kind of like indulging an all you can eat buffet or a cold beer now and then, enjoying a compliment from a coworker, experimenting with a drug -- it was nothing to worry about. It was enjoyable, attractive even.

Then it slopped over into areas where it didn't belong, creeping down the side of the pot toward the garden. That would be when you're eating the buffet every time you go out, getting drunk on a regular basis, flirting with the coworker, or beginning to enjoy getting high.

That's the time I should have nipped it in the bud. It would have been easy to pull up those few random strands that had taken root in the garden. But they weren't really hurting anything and I wasn't even sure they would survive the winter -- what potted plant does? So I left them and they lived and grew.

Like those bad choices, they were still manageable as long as I kept a close eye on what was happening. Each growing season I pruned and pulled and let them be the filler plants in my flower bed and they still didn't look bad. Their leaves were a pretty green and white and their flowers small and purple. They still seemed innocent and something I could control.

But last summer, the double whammy of a new baby to care for and the often less than spectacular weather mean that my careful monitoring of the situation lapsed. It was like the stress of life, which can cause you to drop your guard about that occasional habit you've allowed yourself to indulge in, and the next thing you know you're somewhere you never expected to be.

When I walked by the flower bed on my way to my future strawberry patch Saturday, all I could see was the vinca minor. It was draped over the top of the azalea, hiding the early signs of iris and day lily sprouts, masking any potential hosta growth. Without any attention for just a short time, it had taken over -- like finding your clothes don't fit and you don't remember how that happened, or that you've slipped into an affair with that coworker, or that you've got more than just a problem with drinking or drugs because you're addicted and your life is falling apart.

What really made me compare the vine to the problems of life was how hard it was to get rid of it. It wasn't just a matter of pulling a few plants like it would have been had I realized its potential for taking over. It was hard work and digging and pulling and damaging everything around it. It had kept the sun from the azalea, wrapped its roots around lilies, caused me to dig into hosta to pry it free. Good things, the plants I wanted in my flower bed, were damaged by its presence and injured by what it took to get it out. Because I had ignored its potential, it had taken over.

It wasn't pretty, it was ugly and overshadowed all the good and even after all my work and effort I know it's not really gone.

The flower bed looks good right now with the first signs of the plants that belong there peeping through the leaves. It's like our lives can look when we've lost the weight, ended the affair, finally gotten clean and sober. But that ugliness is still waiting to take over if we forget how easy it was to slip.

I'll have to spend all of this summer and maybe a few summers to come watching that flower bed and pulling the first signs of a variegated leaf or judiciously using a pesticide spray. I may even pray that the weather is in my favor, so that I have time to take care of it.

I know people who have worked so hard to get back to the life they wanted, then just want to enjoy it. Ethan was, I guess, one of those. He would get the addiction out of his life just like I did with the flower, purging it from all areas, and then whew, he was done. But it doesn't work that way. Keeping away from the drugs meant he needed to watch for any signs -- a new friend who was using, a desire to linger near them in the store, too much time alone thinking about how it used to feel to be high -- just like I've got to watch my flower bed. After months of being clean and wonderful to be around, of rebuilding the life he'd wrecked with drugs, getting his body back into shape and mending fences, he'd relax and soon we were all heading down that same path again. Until everything that was good in life was gone. Until he was gone as well.

It's the same for any bad habit. Even after you put in all the work and pain of getting it out of your life, making sure it doesn't make it's way back requires vigilance and a lot of prayer, because we're not really strong enough to do that kind of "weeding" on our own. It's not over when you quit, because that can too often turn into a pause, not actually stopping.

So I'll be keeping an eye on my flower bed, and praying for people who are trying to clean up their own weed patches, that we can all root out what is causing ugliness and hurting the things we care about, even if it means that we have to keep working to enjoy the beauty we know is there.

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