Two Virtues I Need a Time of Slow Growth

I grew so much much during our time of crisis. Now back at home, I find myself struggling. Two virtues are needed for this slow growth in the little way: patience and labor.

In San Francisco, where the growth is good

The sun drew lower behind the high-rise parking garages and medical buildings as she pointed to the planter and said, “we just planted that yellow flower at our house – the one there in the middle. Do you know what it’s called?”

“No, I don’t know San Francisco plants very well,” I responded.

Plants in San Francisco’s microclimate are lush. Anise grows in the cracks of the sidewalks and within weeks of planting, gardens burst with large and impressive arrays of blooms and succulents. They like water; they like the fog.

San Francisco is many things to many people. For me, as we grow further away from our days of crisis, San Francisco is enshrined in my memory as a memorial site, a place where I honor the terrible things that happened in our lives and how they were overcome.

San Francisco represents a state of crisis. In crisis, we could crumble or we grow with more vigor, more robustness, more fruit and foliage, becoming sometimes a rather showy display of those things we never thought possible within ourselves.

Outside of crisis, personal growth slows down

At home the next day, I escape inside from the clouds of dust kicked up by the mower attached to a John Deere tractor working the baby almond orchard next door. Looking out the window I survey the center of our backyard: dirt decorated by weeds. I can imagine a lush carpet of grass, even crabgrass, so long as its green. But it will not come without work.

Dusty, fenced backyard with cement path and weeds

Here at home, blessedly outside that time of crisis, I find growth comes a little harder. I see my faults (I hear my faults as I fall short of love around four in the afternoon with my children). Like the gardens in progress, things can grow here, but they will take a good deal more work than when all the world seems to stop for us during critical moments of our lives. The rain falls on its own then.

It is time to make a choice and then to act with such necessary actions as will make those virtues grow. Walking alongside the weeds, feeling the dust beneath my bare feet, I plan the steps to a perfect lawn. Even if we rent the tools, buy the seed, sew the seed, lay the mulch, we still need sprinklers. We need enough water. So many steps. So much room for error.

Couldn’t we just hire someone?

Two virtues needed

No, that is outside our options at this time. Recognizing this, I take a moment to set a layer of patience in my heart: for the sprinkler work to be done; to calm the anxious mind that wants so to stress about the unfinished to-do list; enough to turn away from the lawn and see the flowers that are thriving, patience enough to water those flowers by hand.

Patience and labor. Every other day before the heat has settled in our bright summer sky, I go out, dragging the hose, wishing I had worn shoes, and water the wells around my flowers. I need patience with my children, my husband and myself. Lifting my hair off my neck to wipe away the sweat, I think how tired I am of doing this. Yet another flower has bloomed.

It takes work. Even though, I have known intellectually the value of hard physical work, in an automated, technological world, and being the poetic type, I rarely practice it.

This is a lesson as well. A choice must be made. First to be patient. Then to choose a better way to act that I may grow. And then continue the hard work of doing it.

In the mundane, everyday-routine, we lose those moments as days blend into each other. While in crisis, I often said my only choice was “adapt or die” meaning I could grow or I could crumble. But for the sake of my children, I would not crumble.

No, in normal life, I face a choice. It is true, the choice lacks the violence of the choice in the critical moment. Instead, it is slow growth, patience and labor to make a better family, a better wife, a better life.

closeup of plant in growth beginning to bud
Photo by Anthony Aird on Unsplash

In the same boat? Try the Prayer of Trust by St. Francis de Sales.

Messy Looking Flowers

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Coming home from the funeral, a wild mass of sweet peas invited me home.

That statement is not factually correct but it betrays a truth beyond bare facts. The sweet peas bloomed in May. With my Easter decorations, the sweet peas came. Twice a week I drove to my mother’s house and collected armfuls of sweet peas from her free-flowing garden of the fragrant flower.

Sweet peas. “Messy looking flowers,” my grandmother might say. They are the rose’s arch nemesis. With proper training and tying, the gardener is rewarded with a straight stem, but the petals lack a cohesive form. To its glory, its fragrance rivals the rose.

Last year I sought the consolation of flowers. Tulips and ranunculus at the funeral.


Then the irises bloom. Mine grew five feet this year. We saw pedestrians pause and point them out. They also came from my mother’s garden to my grandmother’s chagrin.


Remembering her dislike for their temporary bloom and the long-lasting, plain greens they leave behind, I planted them intentionally, using the greens as a border around our patio.

After the irises come the David Austin roses and those beautiful sweet peas.


Dahlias and sunflowers wait until summer.

Spring is a strange thing here in California. We have no bluebells or cockle flowers breaking through the snow-covered yard marking the hope that winter will soon end.

Instead, my mother shows me the sweet peas she started to be transplanted to my yard (in sandy, almond-tree loving soil from her home). It is January now, the beginning of the new year. The irises have little-pointed heads popping up from the ground. I know their roots are spreading underneath making them difficult to transplant now.

The ranunculus planted after the funeral are springing up, alongside weeds. My mother’s home was a paradise of flowers in a dry valley. Last year was my first experience investing myself in gardening. The irises we planted when we moved because they are easy. My husband did the digging.

This is so much like life. I grow up and see the witnesses around us of how to invest, how to remain patient, how to adjust expectations and how to make the most of our harvest. I was cheered and consoled by the work of others. Meanwhile, the roots grew.

There were a small number of people in my life I could trust. I relied on them to guide me through my first investment, console me when the impatience to make life work becomes overwhelming, propose solutions when things do not turn out the way I expected and give me flowers.

Then one day, after many years of dreaming, I finally put on the gardening gloves and dug into the dirt. After planning and planting, I did it myself. Beaming up at my husband, whose large green thumb is ever so obvious and said, “aren’t you proud of me?” I bring my mother over and show her lumps of transplanted bulbs and declare, “I gardened!”

The fruit has yet to be seen, though spring is coming. Some may look at the investments and scoff at its messiness, but others know. Others know how badly we need all types of flowers, the showy rose, humble daisy and disorganized sweet pea. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, herself called “The Little Flower,” wrote “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden.”

We may feel like life is governed by chaotic chance, but in truth, there are seeds we can plant, water and protect from the weeds. There are steps to take. Whether we rely on the examples of others or we must go it alone, discovering for ourselves what works and what does not work, each person’s life becomes a work of art unto itself and contributes to the overall beauty of the world they inhabit.

So water, weed, endure the fertilizer that smells awful but gives the nutrients we need to grow and wait in patience for the first sign of spring.