i am NOT an avid gardener.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear, I am NOT an avid gardener. 

I love the idea of a big garden, and at times you may even catch me daydreaming about living on a self-sustaining farm complete with animals, fruit trees, vegetable gardens and a yard full of flowers. 

My reality, however, is a small patch in our almost-one-acre yard that is often overrun with weeds. Among the seemingly hap-hazard appearance of various vegetables strewn about is what I lovingly call our Cucumber Jungle. We utilize a trellis to maximize our small space and it works well! But if I stop tending to it for any period of time, like the 4-5 weeks I spend at summer camp, for example, the vines quickly grow out of control and it takes several days to get it straightened out. This was the case just this week. I had to pull each vine out to check how healthy it was and how much it could potentially bear after several weeks of neglect. 

The act of gardening - the unhurried process, the delicate but intentional movement - has never been a waste of my time (even though I often feel unqualified to know what I’m doing!). Each time I open our little gate and enter that sacred space with an open heart, the Lord speaks to me in various ways. 

This week I was reminded of all the “good things” I do in my daily life. I am a wife, a mother, a friend, a sister. Professionally, my titles consist of Marketing Coordinator, Creative Director and Assistant Director. I give my time in many capacities - serving at church, attending or leading Bible studies, pouring into my kids while shuttling from one activity to another, equipping staff for their roles, creating and implementing plan, the list goes on without the mention of grocery shopping, laundry, meal planning - and on and on and on…

Without careful attention, my life often feels like a jungle of vines growing every which way, out of control and in every direction. In those times I feel suffocated, lost, unable to focus and utterly drained by all the failed attempts to keep everything growing, fruitful and beautiful. 

As I was sorting out the cucumbers yesterday I was asking myself that although the entire list is full of “good things” - “are all of these things good for ME?” 

A cucumber vine is a wonderful reminder of how to take inventory and “weed out” even the seemingly “good things'' that fill my time in order for the fruit that I bear to be the best. 

You see, there is to be one main vine that gives life and nourishment to the rest of the plant. However, several additional vines will try to spout and shoot off in other directions. These are called suckers

I must ask myself the obvious question: Are there “suckers” in my own life that have taken over, even in the name of good things? The answer might not be so obvious at times. 

A sucker can still produce fruit. It can still maintain the appearance of a healthy vine. Sometimes a sucker can even overpower the main vine and pull all the nutrients into itself and away from the rest of the vine (again, causing death to what remains). 

On the surface, there may be good things that look fruitful and a wise use of my time, energy and resources, but are these things pulling my attention away from my main objective? Do I even know what my main objective is anymore? 

Nothing hurts my amature gardener's heart more than to snip off what looks like a thriving sucker. But I know even from my minimal experience, that the main vine cannot grow if a sucker is thriving. Sure a sucker can produce fruit; it can even grow good fruit. But the best fruit can only come from a well-cared for main vine doing what it was created to do. 

Another element of the cucumber plant is what I like to call clingers. These are little arm-like vines that grab onto anything nearby in order to continue to grow and hold the vine up. When my plants are pruned and growing properly on the trellis, these clingers are extremely helpful and assist the main vine to grow upward in a mostly orderly fashion. When my vines are unattended and out of control, these clingers will wrap themselves around whatever is close by. Sometimes, this is even its own vine, a sucker, or a neighboring vine. Once this happens, growth can become stunted as the clingers choke out the pathway. Sometimes the clingers latch onto a lower tier of the trellis which causes  the direction of the vine to change. 

What am I so desperately holding onto, clinging to, that may be choking out another avenue of growth? Is there something in my life that is meant to be a good thing, but is actually hindering my upward growth because it is changing my overall direction? Am I holding onto something so tightly that it could be choking out another person's ministry or blessing?


Then, there is the obvious step of pruning away the dead leaves that are taking up space and life in the garden. 

After I regain control of Cucumber Jungle, it can look bare and too empty. After a closer look, though, I will see that the main vines are thriving and able to produce much fruit - that there is space to breathe and grow, and that the vines are all growing in the correct direction. And the pile of pruned suckers and deal leaves? Those serve as a reminder of the freedom that comes from looking intentionally, even critically, at the good things that once filled my time, but were not actually life-giving. 

So, my dear friend, what now? I encourage you as we are beginning to transition from one season into the next to look objectively at the “good things” that take up time and space in your life and have the courage to snip the suckers that are pulling from your resources and redirect the clingers that are changing the direction of your growth so that your harvest will be bountiful and life-giving. 

chelsey dankert

Chelsey Dankert is the Creative Director of By Design Journal. When she's not designing the layouts of our beautiful journals, Chelsey is enjoying life with her husband and their four children! Chelsey loves cooking, color-coded organization, Bible journaling and enjoying a delicious coffee with a good friend. Her true joy is found in worship - either within the walls of her home church or the great outdoors!

Photos provided by Chelsey Dankert

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