This past weekend Justin and I drove my girls to Alabama to spend a week with their grandparents. We spent one day there—swimming in the Flint River, eating grapes in the sunshine, overdosing on chips and yellow cheese dip at my favorite restaurant with a table full of my favorite people.
That afternoon, the sun low in the sky, we drove to my cousin Bethany’s house just outside of town. She and her husband Ben live on two acres in a midcentury home in a neighborhood of similar homes. Ordinary enough. But as soon as we stepped out of the car, I felt like I’d stepped through a portal.
Ben showed us the garden—blooming squash blossoms, potatoes in tire planters, 12 square feet of herbs. I marveled.
My girls ran to the back yard to chase chickens, four not-quite-hens. The girls and the chickens ran past a blooming mulberry bush and perfectly manicured landscaping, flowers… Ben pointed and said, “That must have bloomed this afternoon,” and I wondered how a person could know that, could pay that much attention to a single plant.
We walked on green, crisp grass, the tips tickling my flip-flopped feet.
A bandana-clad, obviously bathed dog ran out the back door.
Inside, Bethany had hung her aprons on hooks. She’d framed pictures and organized them on the wall. She’d found her dining room table at an antique store and it was perfect for her house and perfect for her. Beautiful.
Under our feet, Ben and my dad had laid dark wood floors, straight and shiny.
We waved goodbye to the donkeys in the pasture behind the property as we piled into my dad’s truck and pulled away.
Looking back on the visit, I can’t remember speaking a word. I can’t remember hearing many either. I remember the girls’ giggles and the panting of the dog and the rustling of the bushes as the chickens ran through them seeking sanctuary.
And for some reason, I found myself thinking about that garden and yard and house all night long. I’m still thinking about it this morning.
In the car on the long drive from Huntsville to Round Rock, Justin mentioned the garden and the yard and the house. He said, “They painted the planters. They found tires and painted those and planted potatoes. And the herbs. They planted seeds.” He said, “They bought a table. The perfect table.” Everything he was saying was so obvious, but I knew exactly what he was really saying because I’d felt exactly the same way. I cried as he talked.
What Bethany and Ben had done was something so beautiful. It was an act of defiance. Justin said, “They’ve ordered their world.” And I cried and all I wanted was to order mine.
You see, so often I get swept into the chaos. All that’s broken about this world overwhelms me and I spend my days treading water, trying, just trying, to breathe. My house gets “clean” but the molding never goes up and the sheets rarely get washed and the base boards never do. My kids’ room… I don’t want to talk about that room. My planner’s a mess and I miss appointments and I disappoint people. I’m up at one in the morning, and I’m bleary eyed and fussy at seven. If my life were a soundtrack, I sometimes think it would be the din of city sounds, all clanking and scraping and beeping and clashing.
You will say to me, I’m sure, “You’re doing the best you can.” “Don’t beat yourself up.” And I know you mean well. But, let me be real, I am not okay with this chaos life. I don’t want drive thru dinners and conversations with my kids in the rear-view mirror, my car overflowing with straw wrappers and last week’s preschool craft projects and five pairs of shoes.
I will give myself grace, but I also want the gift of peace. And peace is found in ordering the chaos.
I look at Adam and Eve, gardeners, and I see ordering and pruning as God-planted parts of my humanity. And I know, know in my body, as I walk through an ordered space and feel the current of peace running through me like palpable oxygen in my veins that I was not made for chaos.
And so I’m trying to make peace by making order. And I’m starting right now.
This week I’m gutting my kids’ room, throwing away half of what’s in it, putting everything else in categorized, labeled boxes. I’m framing pictures and painting and hunting down an old dresser to reclaim.
I cleaned out my car.
I’m getting a hair cut.
I’ll help Justin use the scrap wood in our garage to make planters.
And I feel good—no less tired, but way more peaceful.
The Apostle Paul says, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands.”
Voltaire ends Candide, a book about the chaos and brokenness of life, with the words, “Let us cultivate our garden.”
For you, it may not be a literal garden, but whatever plot of land upon which you’ve been plopped, I encourage you to cultivate it. Revisit your schedule. Rework your priorities. Restore broken relationships.
Order your world. Make peace.