When You are Buried, Bloom

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I’ve been thinking about plants a lot lately - plants, digging and dirt. I have this urge to go outside and plunge my hands deep into the soil, pulling up weeds, worms and earth. Maybe it’s because I volunteered at an urban farm on Earth Day and had a great time. Or maybe it has something to do with my city-dwelling soul looking for some space to breathe. There is nourishment in nature.

We talk a lot about gardening and growth in the spiritual sense: have faith as big as a mustard seed; you reap what you sow; I am the vine, you are the branches.

I read these verses and see images of plants growing above the ground, blooming and ready for harvest. 

We talk about the seed, we talk about the soil, but we don’t often talk about what it’s like for the seed to be put into the soil. Before the seed can grow, it must first be buried underground. Before it can bloom, it has to be weighed down by dirt. Before light can bring life, the seed must first be buried in darkness. 

This year has not been kind to my husband and I. Dan’s father, Daryl, died a year ago in June. It was unexpected and traumatic. He’d been diagnosed with cancer a few months earlier and had just received an excellent report from the doctor. 

The tumor in his stomach had shrunk from the size of a crescent roll to the size of a thumbnail. One more round of chemotherapy and a potential surgery, and Daryl should have been home free. 

Dan flew to Pittsburgh to celebrate with his dad, to cook him some good food and help him get his strength back before finishing up chemo. Two days later, however, his dad was in the hospital. A week after that, he died. The cancer had metastasized. Microscopic cells, too small to be picked up by any scans, grew rapidly during this small break from treatment. They turned out to be fatal, a blow to my husband’s heart unlike anything he’d ever experienced.

In the following months we’d encounter a series of additional losses. Each one piled heavy on us, like a shovel full of dirt, burying us further underground: my job ended, and with it a dream; some dear friends and mentors moved away to California; another friendship shifted in ways so painful I still cannot make sense of it, and my sister lost her baby at five months pregnant.

All of it, heavy, to the point of hopelessness. 

I sat in bed one night, journal open, Bible by my side. I don’t typically end my days in prayer and reflection; it’s how I begin them. But this day was different. This day I needed answers. 

Why is this happening? I cried out to God. Why am I back in this place of job hunting? Will it always be this way? And what about my husband? What about his heart? Why would you let all these these things happen when we haven’t even recovered from the first?

Why? Why? Why?

As I cried out to God, asking for all the things I wanted, but didn’t yet have, He directed my attention to another prayer I had been praying for the better part of two years: Dear God, will you help our marriage grow? Will you help us with our communication? Please help us find a way to connect to you, to pray together and create a shared vision for our lives. - Amen.

One thing that’s never clear enough about marriage is just how hard you have to work at every single aspect of it. Both people loving God and having a relationship with Him doesn’t mean praying together will automatically come easy. 

My husband and I connect with God in very different ways. My more structured way can sometimes feel oppressive to him. This devastated me when we first got married because when I pictured marriage, I pictured us praying together, working together, dreaming and building a future together. It caught me off guard that this didn’t happen right off the bat, so I started praying, asking God to help us find a way.

You know what God showed me that night in bed while I was begging for things I did not yet have? He showed me He was answering those two-year long prayers for my marriage. My husband and I were starting to pray together more than we ever had before. We’d started talking about our lives and our future, praying for and about our dreams. 

God showed me this little seedling marriage of ours was indeed beginning to grow. Beneath the surface of our circumstances, under the dark, heavyweight of the dirt, we were growing.

A few weeks later, in a counseling session, I told my husband how I’d been feeling stuck - in my professional life, in our finances, in our marriage and our ability to move forward. 

In the dramatic way I do, I exclaimed, “We’ve been married for two-and-a-half years and nothing has changed!”

But my husband, in the steady way he does, gently directed my attention to all the things that have changed. Just because we are not where we want to be doesn’t mean we aren’t further than we once were. Just because we don’t feel like we are blooming doesn’t mean good things aren’t taking root.

Blooming is a process and we all find ourselves at different places in that process. 

When you’re feeling stuck, when you’re not quite where you want to be, you can choose to bloom. You can choose to see that every little step taken, every hardship and pain, is an opportunity for your roots to dig a little deeper and for your prayers to grow a little higher. Before you know it, you’ll be opening your eyes to see the sun and realize you are, indeed, blooming.  

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