Roots Down


zinnias from the garden that I pluck by the handful and stick in random jars

I live on a stretch of land between country and town, a tiny little Ranch, Jr. that allows me to carry out my farm-like fantasies but still be close to a Whole Foods and organic strawberries. Without having to grow the strawberries.

And on this tiny patch of earth there is wildness, which I crave. I sit on the front porch and read my books and wish my coffee stayed hot longer. There is a bunny that we call Charlie that lives under the blue plumbago and there are now little tiny bunnies that hop around underfoot. We call them all Charlie, the little ones Charlie’s babies. This Fall we will have chickens.

When I come up the walk I often spook a deer or a lizard or another one of Charlie’s babies, and they all go scattering off like I am some monster that might hurt them. I want to say to them that I’m safe, that I am not going to step on their heads, that I come in peace. Unless they are cockroaches and then they should fear me.

And it made me think of humans, how fragile we are, how we scatter. It made me see humanity as one long sinewy collection of muscles, drawn taught with the impulse to run at the sound of footsteps, spooked by the haunting of guns and the constant fear of something.

Drugs make people jumpy. The body is dependent on something that their brain is telling them they need. People who are in love or desperate make irrational decisions. Even rather harmless things like sugar or the happy rush of being on stage or the feeling of lightness when we are winning at something can cause that feeling of loneliness when it retreats. Jumpiness when that something is not around. The good and the bad are all jumbled up together and we just want to run and hide, covering ourselves with blankets or bullets to the temple or pills. We almost crave hollowed-out lives so we don’t feel anymore and can quit running.

I went walking down the street where I live, where few cars drive. I watched all the wild around me, flying and hiding, soaring and slinking. A deer ran into the bushes. A gecko slid by. Birds fought each other like knights in the trees, oblivious to me.

I say I like the wild. And yet I walk through spider’s webs, their sticky lace atop my face, in my mouth, attaching to my arms. I prick my fingers when I pluck the agarita berries from the bushes. I’m always avoiding bugs on the tomato plants. When one flies at my face or there’s a red wasp I let out a little shriek because it surprises me and I am scared. Imagine, scared of a little wasp.

We are all like this, wanting the wild but running away. So afraid of things. Running out of money. Being mediocre. Not being loved enough. Losing at something. Failing at our marriage. Letting down our kids. Worried of what people might think of us. Feeling trapped in the mainstream. Wanting to be different.

And I am reminded that Jesus is the great calmer of the waters.

So many people think I’m crazy with my Jesus stories, this God of mine who lets bad things happen. This religion of mine who casts judgment and hurts people. And I am sorry that the world has offered this screwed up opinion of some rage-filled maniac. That is not the God I know. Like anything, religion is cooked up from a batter of jumpy anxious people and can be just as toxic if eaten.

It’s God that I love. The God that loves all, comes down to Earth for all, weeps for all, simply does not care what you look like or how dark your skin is or who you love or even what awful sin you’ve done that you are trying to escape from. We run from God because of our own inner shame, but it’s futile. It’s all seen, there’s no need to run. We will grow weary soon enough. True love is what holds us when we are searching for something we cannot find. We don’t have to use fancy words. We don’t have to be eating scoops upon scoops of religion. We simply recognize love where we find it, and in God there is love. And then we can stop and breathe deeply for the first time and quit hiding behind bushes.

At my wedding I handed out little brown packets of zinnia seeds, years and years ago, because of how hearty they are in the Texas heat and how I wanted to represent how strong marriage was. How fruitful we’d be, how beautiful when planted. Like I could guarantee security in a party favor. That was before Pinterest even, so go ahead and vomit at how nerdy that was. The marriage crumbled. I still plant zinnias. Go figure.

We are always wired to run. But don’t. Stand somewhere and listen to the wind around you, feel the sun on your face, the voice of truth in your heart. Stop being afraid. It’s just the drugs of earth and media and confused religious people telling you that you are not enough, when you are. You are God’s beloved, a wild and wonderful poem woven inside of a soul. A beautiful unique person with stories only you can tell. Don’t let this world make you hide who you are.

I live on Ranch Jr. and dodge the red wasps and wave to Charlie’s babies. I get in my car toward Whole Foods to buy strawberries. I still want to hide sometimes, from blended families and future teenagers and the thought of debt or moving or some other thing, but I’m working on it. Every day is another chance to breathe deeper, go slower, plant my roots down.  I’m learning to be grateful for the awareness of love.



In church this morning, our pastor spoke of the bio-dome experiment in the 1980’s where the aim was to create the perfect atmosphere for human and plant life. All was controlled, from the temperature to the water to the light to the air.  And yet the funny thing was that trees just toppled over after they grew to a certain height – they just couldn’t support their own weight.  Why?

There was no wind to force the trees to grow deep roots.

And that got me thinking.  About the forces that blow against us. About the trials we are burdened to bear.  We put our heads down as the wind whips and bites. We flip up our collars on Michigan Avenue and hunker down.  We don’t have the luxury of hiding, or giving in, and so we trudge forward in the headwinds and just mutter curses under our breaths at the enduring.

And sometimes we feel like breaking, when death blows like a hurricane into our lives when we least expect it.  My mother’s father died the moment he retired.  A slip off the scaffolding trying to repair a water leak on the building he had just managed to close.  They were going to travel, my grandfather and his bride, after years of toil in the sand and gravel pits, dirty and drained.  He worked his whole life for the sweet smell of victory. Retirement.  Money in the hole.  And yet a hole swept through my mother’s young tender heart.  The winds, they howled.

And often times when it rages you simply hide curled up in a bathtub covered in mattresses, because love isn’t supposed to end and covenants are too powerful to break and cells are too precious to be eaten up by tumors.  When you lift up the coils and look around, all you see is soggy destruction, and you fall to the ground weeping at the broken china and the tables overturned and the photo albums lost. Because roots, they are shallow.  A hurricane blown through a soul that believed.

Sometimes I meet people who live a charmed life. They move from job to job and relationships come and go until they settle upon a good solid choice with two cars in suburbia. They prance their way through medical school and waltz their kids into private school whilst drinking lattes in a sharp Tuesday blazer. I shudder at the thought.  That they will grow to a certain height and then topple over. Because the winds, my dear friends – they are coming.  When we least expect it as we stare into televisions and walk blindly into offices toward afternoon meetings or feel isolated inside our own marriages and are pretending to live a life.  We find ourselves suddenly and desperately alone.  Despite our wild successes.  Despite those around us who love, or beg for us to return. And like a duster on the south plains the wind kicks at our ankles like a tickle. Until it rages, and we find ourselves beneath the mattress in the bathtub, where all is lost.

It is times like these I hear James pounding in my ears that blessed is the man who perseveres under trials.  But not because of our own strength but the one who strengthens.  Don’t you see, my neighbors? You, who is standing in what was a living room but is now just wet dripping boards or you, trapped inside the walls of an operating room wanting to tear off your own skin? We can’t escape the winds, even when we try.

But it’s not our roots that are deep, for our own roots are so very shallow.  It’s who we’re linked to that matters. “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you are nothing.” James 15:5.  It is the ability to graft onto Him, and trust He will sustain, and believe in all things and in all ways God is always, forever faithful.  This is what allows us to stand.  To weather.  To be thankful for winds that tear and rip and destroy. We know that without Him we are a toppling bunch of cards.

My friends, how elegant this truth.  How grateful is my weary heart for trials.  For when the rainbow bursts forth it is a Technicolor morning, colors so bright they are blinding.  Love springs forth new and houses are rebuilt and new covenants are formed.  We raise up what was lost, not in consolation but in new brilliant glory.  And we know that the next time around nothing can destroy us.

The winds will come.  Get on your bike and head straight into them, with teeth clenched and a mind determined, for nothing can stop or destroy the love God has for you.  What is the worst the bitter winds can do? For even in death, we are not defeated. That, my friends, is perseverance. So I say to the winds: howl.