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From Dumpster Fires to Flower Gardens

You might have noticed, but the world seems a little unstable and complicated right now (understatement of the year). It’s 2021. We have a new president-elect. There’s a global pandemic taking place. We’ve lost loved ones and mourned our former way of life. Families like mine spent a month celebrating the comforts and joys of the Advent season and Christmas, and now we all feel just a little hungover, missing the warm glow of Christmas lights I had strongly considered keeping up until June. With all of the distractions of hope and joy the holidays bring behind us, how can we prepare ourselves for whatever grief and sorrow 2021 also seems to want to bring our way?

At the start of 2017, the world also felt unstable and complicated. A combative and difficult election had just ended, and a new president would be inaugurated in a few short weeks. In the months leading up to the election, a part of my extended family fractured, and some of my friendships went up in flames, both over differing opinions about what it meant to be an American and a follower of Christ. 

In the wake of all of that, I wasn’t sure how to engage with the world anymore. There were two sides, Christians on both of them, with strong opinions about which side to stand on. If you stood too loosely in the middle, someone with their feet firmly rooted on the left would push you categorically to the right, and someone with their feet firmly rooted on the right would push you categorically to the left. Trying to stand in the middle and resist the pigeonholing was exhausting.

And then a comic by Jose Maria Nieto floated into my Facebook feed and changed everything for me:

You might think I’m crazy, but I think 2021 is going to bring flowers. How come? Because I am planting flowers. You are planting flowers. We’re ALL going to just start planting bright, big, bold, audacious, blooming flowers everywhere we go. We’re going to weed out the bitter roots of anger, jealousy, name calling, finger pointing, and hate, and plant instead kindness, joy, hope, comfort, and love. We are going to do it, because the Holy Spirit doesn’t sow bitter roots, the Spirit harvests fruit, luscious and juicy fruit, fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

It’s 2021 and the world looks like a dumpster fire, but flowers grow in the strangest places. I’ve seen them sprout in the cracks of concrete sidewalks. I’ve seen them growing in abandoned lots. I’ve stumbled upon them sprouting off the edge of cliffs where hardly any dirt accumulates and yet they’re still able to take root, still able to bloom.

Wherever we stand, no matter how downtrodden or weary we are, we can be a people who plant flowers. Before we plant anywhere else, the seeds of those flowers must be planted in our own critical, irritated, self-doubting hearts. That’s where the words of Jesus come in: blessed are you who mourn, for you will be comforted. Let not your hearts be troubled. In this world you will find trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world. Love one another. Love even your enemies. And more and more words the Lord spoke and continues to speak to his church two millenia removed from his time on earth. Love one another as I have loved you.

Photo: Benjamin Combs

Once we’ve planted the seed of YES, I will plant flowers, that sweet little baby seedling needs some sunlight and water poured on it. Pray. Study scripture. Remember the love of the Lord and look for opportunities to plant flowers everywhere in your community, at the food pantry, in the grocery aisle, at the homeless shelter, in the community garden, along the park trail, in your workplace, when you are walking, at your dinner table, and even in that chaotic and bitter space called social media, plant all the flowers.

Maybe together, we can make a beautiful garden grow.

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