Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pruning my project

Warning to gardeners: What you are about to read may be difficult. What has happened in our yard may very well be disturbing and appalling to you. For any offense you suffer, I am incredibly sorry.

We have lived in our house here in Minnesota for two full years, and I just recently looked around to take stock of the plants that grow in our yard. I have noticed their presence, but my yardwork over the last two years (or should I say war waged) has been with the dandelions that seem to think they are the rightful owners of this property. At any rate, we are starting to get the yard under control, and in a recent dry spell I had time and energy to look more intently at the plants.

Just outside our front door are five large and generally overgrown Bridal White Spirea. Last year my husband took a buzz saw, okay, so it wasn’t a buzz saw, but rather a trimmer. His approach to these plants, however, was much closer to that of a hack than a meticulous gardener. The plants were overgrown last year too, so he trimmed them down to get the scraggly limbs under control. I can sense the gardeners bristling because I am fairly certain that my lingo gives me away. I truly have no idea what I am doing. I don’t remember what time of year my husband hacked, or if it was a good time for the plant. I don’t think he did it when they were blooming, but I am certain we put those bushes under a lot of stress because of our lack of knowledge.

So this year, the plants started to get over grown again, but I noticed that several of the branches were completely void of leaves and flowers. A large portion of the plant was essentially sitting in the middle of the bush… dead. The flourishing branches had become intertwined with the dead ones, and it was hard to distinguish between the two at times.

So, I got on this pruning kick. I wanted to get some of the dead branches removed so that the plants looked better. As I started to tear away those branches that were dead, I realized that nearly two-thirds of the bush was lying on my sidewalk while the scraggly third that remained looked thinned out and sad. It looked better without the dead portion taking up space, but I worried for the little bit that was left.

Within a day, the branches that remained were full of flowers and blooming beautifully. I could tell the plant was breathing a sigh of relief to have all of that dead weight removed from the innermost parts.

The pruning had to happen, and I think I may be able to save the plants after all, but in the pruning process I discovered another metaphor by which I can identify a stage in my life.

Nearly 6 years ago, I started a book project about marriage that literally changed my life. I set out on a journey to discover answers to questions that I had about my own marriage. It was a critical point in my life as a mother of two small children in the midst of moving from house to house. It was a hard time, and the research project provided me an intellectual and emotional outlet that felt phenomenal.

That was the growth of a big, healthy plant. Life continued, I concluded the research, I occasionally dabbled in the writing, but I was unable to fully complete this project that I had started. Part of the reason, I justified, was because we had a third child, we moved two more times, and I started to work, full time and then part-time. Parts of the plant died away because they were no longer necessary to complete the project. I had not recognized the distraction that my book provided, and it was a constructive form of addiction…for a while. As I started to actually get the answers I had sought about prioritizing in my marriage, working through some of my own personal issues, and soaking up the all-too precious time with our kids, I didn’t need the project any more.

I don’t really need it now either, but I see the strong branches that remain from that original bush. I have seen what truths and beauty they retained while fighting through the dead and dying parts of the plant, and I am motivated to share. I have been helped so much by this project, I feel it would be a travesty to let the plant simply get choked out. Someone needs to prune, take out the dead branches and give this plant a chance to grow again.

I don’t doubt that the next phase of sharing and soliciting publishers will be a stressful time, but I intend to pay attention now. I will meticulously shape instead of hack and I will take care to guard this precious gift that I was given by all those women who volunteered to share their lives and their experiences in marriage. It is my thank you to them to pay it forward…and finish writing it down.