Last week Tami declared she’d be at the gym the next morning “unless Hell freezes over.” She wasn’t there. And then Florida froze over. I’m not sure what that means. It was ironic, if nothing else. But I found irony in a freeze in Florida.
These are Boston ferns days after Florida froze. Burned by the freeze (which is ironic in itself). And these are BOSTON ferns. Shouldn’t they prefer or at least heartily tolerate cold?
Boston is 1,214 miles north from where I live in Florida. The city’s average low temperature is 22 degrees in January. It reached 22 degrees one night in Florida that week, and these mamby pamby ferns from up north took a dive.
(The tropical orange tree, elephant ear philodendrons and native azaleas are doing just fine, thank you very much.)
Look closely at this photo (below), and you’ll see weeds shriveled from the cold.
Does this make me happy? Yes and no, ironically. This type of weed, Tradescantia fluminensis, is a spiderwort common to South America that made its way to our continent by pretending to be a lovely houseplant. (I remember owning one after I graduated from college.) It is commonly called “wandering Jew” and is the most pernicious, prolific weed I battle in my yard. It overruns and seemingly suffocates the plants I want to keep — such as the jasmine vines you also see, thriving, in the photo.
Oh, the irony!
What’s ironic about this is that I have been tediously pulling wandering Jew from my yard for months. (You have to get every single piece of the plant or it grows back from what is left.) When the beast is thriving among my azaleas, I can grab my cultivator rake and yank mounds of the weed in a single pull. I’ve had weekends in which I’ve displayed my weed warrior success with the number of trash cans and bags at my curbside. One four-hour stint yielded nine bags of weeds.
(Yes, I am proud.)
But my latest two areas of weed pulling have been more difficult. The wandering Jew had woven itself over and under and through both the Boston ferns and jasmine spacious areas in our yard, and in order for me to remove the weed but retain the desired plant, I’ve had to handpick each and every wandering Jew vine.
Over the Christmas holiday, though I worked a few days in the yard, I had only two trash cans filled with weeds by vacation’s end. I returned to work after New Year’s with bright green wandering Jew laughing from its tangled web in the jasmine. I had only gotten half the area weeded and was sad to return to work with my home “to do” list still outstanding, knowing, too, that the remaining wandering Jew would begin to re-invade the area I had already weeded.
But I was wrong.
On Thursday, after days of long, hard freezes, I patrolled my yard to see the damage. The Boston fern, the bed cleanly weeded, was burnt and blackened from the cold. The jasmine, however, looked quite healthy — but noticeably absent of its former reign of weeds.
Really? I’ve been laboring over these weeds for weeks and months and all God had to do was wave His hand over the thermometer and selectively take out the weeds? (The Boston fern will regrow; I hope the wandering Jew is gone forever, although my “friends” assure me it will grow back.)
Regardless, the irony — or the sermon, perhaps — in this freeze in Florida is not lost on me.
People who know me know I awaken early in the morning — at least during the work week — so that I can work out before I work. But often times I have to work at sleeping too.
While I can quickly fall asleep most nights, if I awaken in the night to use the bathroom, I too often struggle to fall back asleep, because “my brain turns on,” as I term it. Even if I attempt to stifle thoughts, I find myself thinking through tasks at work and issues at home. And too often I get out of bed — with no intent to return — because I am then fully awake. At 2:30 or 3.
And then I begin work. Because I could clean the litter boxes before I start my daily routine, right? Or sweep and mop the floor? Or write?
When like Martha…
I’ve often related to hard-working Martha in the Bible — and, I think, felt some pride in that comparison. Here’s the brief story in the gospel of Luke:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42, English Standard Version).
Like Martha, I am anxious and troubled about many things — including mundane weeds in my yard. When I’m not working at my job, I’m usually at home working at something. If I’m awake, I’m at work. Like Martha, I am distracted with much serving. (And, like Martha, I’m more likely to approach the Lord to whine about my work rather than directly ask my sister or whomever to work with me.)
“But one thing is necessary.”
Mary sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to his teaching. I manage to listen to sermons while I’m working around my house. I sing worship songs with the radio while I’m completing tasks. I pray as I drive to work. But I rarely sit and give exclusive attention to the one thing that is necessary.
My No. 1 “strength”
My boss gave each of us a copy of Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 book for Christmas, which included an online code to take Gallup’s strengths assessment based on 50 years of work by psychologist Donald Clifton. (Fascinating!) The idea is that rather than try to fix your weaknesses, you determine your strengths and seek to make those work for you.
My top strength? Achiever. It doesn’t make for long nights of sleep. It doesn’t make vacation or rest a habit. It does make for long “to do” lists and a tendency to count laps when you swim or bags of lawn debris when you weed.
The Clifton book suggests that an Achiever work with a person who has Focus as a strength because that strength can help an Achiever be more efficient. (I can, literally, get lost in the weeds.) A person with Focus, however, starts each day with “Where am I headed?” and sets goals. An Achiever starts each day at zero and has “to do” a list of tasks to feel accomplished.
Starting a day sitting at the feet of Jesus feels about impossible.
One day I got it right.
I remember one day nearly 20 years ago when I home-schooled my three youngest children, made flower arrangements for my sister-in-law’s wedding and made a meal to take to a friend who had just begun fostering a set of twin boys, as well as made a meal for my own family of seven. It was a banner day for this Achiever.
Why I remember it, however, is because when I delivered the meal to my friend’s house, she thanked me and asked me how I could possibly have fit it in (and she didn’t even know all I’d checked off my “to do list” that day).
“I started the day with prayer and Bible study,” I told her, “and God multiplied the hours and my abilities.”
I remember it vividly. How sad that it stands out to me because that day was so unique.
Most days I don’t.
Instead of starting my day in His presence, asking Him to multiply my time and make me able, my tendency is to run through my morning routines — albeit while listening to sermons and praise songs — so I can get to the gym where I can count laps in the pool or reps as I lift weights, before I go to work and complete task after task or feel frustrated because tasks take longer than they should or I didn’t get enough done, so I can get home, make dinner, clean up after dinner, pack my bags for the next day, and go to bed hoping my bladder doesn’t awaken me before my alarm clock Monday through Friday so I can sleep through the night and then spend my weekends doing battle with the weeds in my lawn on the weekend (between loads of laundry, cleaning, and running errands)…
Whatever happened to Christ’s promise in Matthew 11?
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Instead I am “anxious and troubled about many things” and so I miss the one thing that is necessary: a real relationship with Jesus that makes me spend time with Him. Just that. Time. Focus. Jesus. Not driving, not putting away clean dishes, not folding laundry, not multitasking. Not working. Just sitting with Him.
Like Mary. Not Martha.
So what’s ironic?
The irony of a freeze in Florida isn’t so much that Boston ferns can’t tolerate the cold nor that tropical plants such as orange trees and philodendrons. It isn’t because Tami declared she’d be at the gym unless hell froze over — and then she wasn’t there and Florida froze.
It’s that the freeze in Florida showed me God’s power and my lack thereof. It showed me that my unceasing efforts (trying to save Boston ferns while eliminating wandering Jew, for instance) are for naught.
But one thing is needed.
Yesterday as I walked with work friends, I tried to explain why I set my alarm for 4 on work days, and reflecting on the my history, I realized that I had formerly awakened at 5 and managed to get everything done — except that time with Jesus. So I set the alarm for a half hour earlier just for Him. Then I got distracted with more tasks that eventually absorbed that time I had set aside for Bible reading, prayer and reflection. So I set the alarm for a half hour even earlier.
When I realized that a local radio station had sermons at 4 and 4:30, I started listening, instead of reading the Bible by myself — because I could work as I listened to God’s word. Multitasking with a sermon background.
But I suspect Martha also overheard Jesus talking, his sermon, as she madly prepared a lavish meal, and Jesus pointed out the flaw in her thinking:
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
It’s ironic what a freeze in Florida can communicate.