“If I ‘accidentally’ advertised ‘free WEEDing opportunity,’ really emphasizing weed and really de-emphasizing the -ing, would people get the right wrong idea and come—and then stay and help weed?”
Those were my thoughts as I weeded yesterday morning. I considered posting something on Facebook and even crafted visual aids to drive home the effect—-in my mind. But the shortened, and the most honest, version of my thoughts would be, simply, “Help!”
Weeding is overwhelming.
Back in my college days, I spent a summer waiting tables at Uncle Lou’s restaurant near the Wildwood, N.J., boardwalk. It was there I learned the phrase “in the weeds” to indicate when I couldn’t keep up with the tables or orders I had. As a waitress, I welcomed help and also willingly gave it when others were similarly “in the weeds.”
I had no idea how that phrase pertained to being overwhelmed while serving until this summer. I have been outside working the yard at least two hours daily—mostly weeding—since I stopped teaching at the end of May. I don’t think I will run out of weeds anytime soon.
Our wooded acre is overfilled with weeds of many types—including a variety of prevalent vines—but by far my greatest nemesis this summer has been wandering jew. In fact, that weed is the reason I have spent my summer outside instead of inside writing (or doing interior decorating).
In the first days of summer, my 17-year-old son, who was having difficulty finding a job, was tasked with working two hours a day for us—outside. One day before my husband went to work, he stated emphatically, “Have Adam clear out the wandering jew from around the azaleas.”
The wandering jew had created a virtual 20 by 15 foot carpet through the monkey grass that bordered the azaleas as well as under and through the circle of bushes themselves. Frankly, the task seemed impossible. What was impossible, however, was my teenage son. I pushed and prodded, cajoled and considered clobbering this 6’3″ young man for 15 minutes before he finally went outside to complete the task. He returned 15 minutes later, saying he had “made a big difference.”
“You were out there for only 15 minutes!” I exclaimed.
“I did enough,” he said, telling me he had used a rake and cleaned out a large area.
“You are supposed to be working for 2 hours! If you can ‘make a difference’ in 15 minutes, then you should be able to eradicate the weed in your allotted work time,” I reasoned.
He was unmoved. After I repeatedly threatened, he reluctantly went outside—and worked another 15 minutes.
I was furious—and also inspired.
I grabbed the rake and created mound after mound of wandering jew. I raked until I got a blister. I raked until the blister popped and raking became too painful. But I had raked until I made a BIG difference. Then I left the piles for him to haul away after he got back from basketball practice.
Except it poured. He got a reprieve for that evening. The next day he began a real job—with the threat that he would have to move the piles upon his return.
Except it threatened to pour again. Since I was off and available and unwilling to let dying weeds lie, I chose to cart the 11 wheelbarrow loads to the back burn pile. Adam got a reprieve forever—or for however long he held his job. And suddenly I was spending my summer in the weeds. By choice.
Though my father taught me well through his lawn care and landscaping business, he couldn’t teach my skin to better tolerate the poison ivy that infiltrates the woodsy area surrounding my own home. That allergy plus our family’s priority on working and raising our children has allowed my lawn to go to pot—just a phrase, not the weedy variety that might draw a helpful crowd—through the years.
Frankly, I like doing yard work. The results last much longer than any kitchen or bathroom I have cleaned or dinner I have prepared (unless you count the “once on the lips forever on the hips” part). When working in the yard, I feel I am living a parable such that Jesus might have taught. The heavens may declare the glory of God, but what I see in the earth declares His presence to me as well. As I have toiled this summer, I have likened this yard to my heart. The potential for true beauty is there, but I have a lot of weeding and pruning and removal of debris to do. I sense God’s hands working on my heart while I work the land.
Wandering jew is a funny weed. As a child, I remember having hanging baskets of wandering jew, and we considered it a plant, not a weed. Apparently, wandering jew has numerous varieties, some with variegated leaves, but the type in my yard boasts green, waxy leaves and is prolific and hardy and has, so far, remained impervious to chemical warfare. It doesn’t look altogether different from the wandering jew my childhood era considered plants, and I have no idea how it ended up weaving itself into my life at this time.
This summer’s wandering jew is a good example of the definition for weed, namely a plant that is growing where it isn’t wanted. A weed could be a dandelion or poison ivy or even a tiny oak tree sprouting where I don’t want it. In a basket hanging from my back porch, the wandering jew might be pleasantly reminiscent of my childhood. Infiltrating nearly all sections of native plants in my yard, however, it is a weed. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” I think he must expand his definition. The wandering jew weed, for instance, must be a plant whose virtues are no longer valued.
I certainly don’t value it now. After “removing” it from around and through the azaleas, I repeatedly go back to the same sections to find and remove new growth. The weed comes up easily enough, but it sends out roots at each nodal point and reproduces through above-ground runners, seed and tubers. If I don’t get every last trace, it comes back. It seems nearly impossible to get every last trace without disturbing all the wanted plants around it.
God wants my heart to be a fertile soil growing what He has purposefully planted. Most of the weeds I am yanking remind me of sins or distractions God wants removed from my life. The wandering jew is different; it is a “has been.” It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13:11.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
It seems that this particular weed represents those things in my life that once held virtue and good purpose but are now part of my Christian “childhood.” Or teen or early or middle adult years. It is time to put away childish things.
This weekend, I entertained ideas of deceptive weeding party invitations because I was dreading my work in a large section of Boston ferns that had become infested by wandering jew. The day before I had voraciously grabbed gloved handfuls of the weed—and though I filled numerous wheelbarrows with it, when I looked at the fern beds, I could barely tell a difference. I felt like quitting; it seemed hopeless. I later went to the Home Depot and purchased a cultivator and on Saturday put it to use.
The right tool at the right time made all the difference. The long handle saved my back, and the four-tined claw allowed me to grab huge handfuls of wandering jew and swing them right into the waiting wheelbarrow. I had determined to complete one of the large fern sections, but the tool made the job so much easier that I was able to work an additional hour and complete both large sections in the front yard.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed and “in the weeds,” I was able to see beautiful beds of Boston ferns freed from the infiltrators.I know the cultivator was just a simple tool, but it reminded me that God provides what we need to eradicate sin, remove distractions, and even move into new areas of growth in our lives. It was a tangible example to me of 2 Corinthians 9:8.
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
I think my weeding is good work. I don’t think I need a weeding party—deceived or otherwise—to join me in this quest, for I believe God is using this thankless task to make my heart better soil for His plantings. The more I do in the yard, the more I see I need to do. I have a strong sense that this is a task I will never finish—despite my best efforts—and that its purpose is more to change me inside than it is to change this one-acre plus parcel of land.