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Growing Beauty Can Be Ugly

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

I can’t say I’m sad that winter is gone. This past winter was especially dark, wet and dreary so good riddance. But with the coming of spring, I have to say, I have mixed feelings. I had a long list of things I wanted to get done this winter—accounting to catch up on, books to read, projects to finish. And some of that I did accomplish, but the big one was trying to get my high tunnel constructed and that is still undone.

But, you see, it was really cold. And I was tired. Then it was really wet and muddy. I didn’t want to traipse around in the mud and ruin the soil. Do you feel any pity? I did. Poor me! Finally, I realized I had no choice. If this thing was going to get done, it was going to get done in the mud.

Then our septic system decided to die. Yes, we live in the city, but our street was annexed by Kansas City years ago and while we now receive city water, we aren’t tied into the septic system. You’re supposed to pump it out every once in a while, but in the covid madness, we forgot and it clogged. You can still see the lush grass and weeds where the tank overflowed—a testament to composting.

Then our kind and talented neighbor saved the day by digging up our backyard and fixing the laterals that drain out of the tank. My backyard had deep gashes and mounds of dirt everywhere. Now I stare out an empty red Missouri clay backyard with grass seeds that I hope will germinate without my love and attention because I’m busy. It’s kind of a mess. It’s ugly.

So, there’s a lot of dirt everywhere. There’s a lot of upheaval. There’s mud caked on my pants, my tools, my gloves. There’s dirt in all my power tools and handles of garden tools. There are clods of mud that fall off my boots which feel like they weigh fifteen pounds so it’s like conditioning to climb up the hill in weighted boots only to realize when I come back that I forgot something. It’s messy. I’ve fallen forward and backward in the mud because I slipped or got stuck. I couldn’t push my wheelbarrow because there was too much mud on the wheel. All this and I can’t document with pictures because I’m afraid to touch my phone as no part of me is mudless.

The mess, yes. Yuck. No fun. But also, it could be a new start. I look at my newly leveled backyard and see a blank slate. Where the excrement and waste of my household made a stinking mess, there is a new beginning. Could I plant something there? How do I create beauty out of this? Maybe the bushes I wanted can define this space here. Where there was nothing but a weedy hill, I see potential of much life and beauty in this tunnel. But it wasn’t without cost.

This has been another season of personal growth and transition for me. Just like we couldn’t ignore the buildup of gunk in your septic, there comes a time when things get clogged and stinky in life. Time does not heal all wounds. What a lie that is. No, wounds need to be cleaned and tended to. It helps to have someone check on your or kiss a boo-boo or give a hug or utter, “Awww. You ok?”

I’m looking back at where I was this time last year. I had more flowers than I do now. I confess I fell behind. I’ve lost a bunch of things simply because of inattention. I’ve made mistakes. Maybe even failed. I could feel bad, and sometimes I do. I find it’s not helpful to stay there.

What perhaps you can’t tell is that there is work underground. What looks like upheaval on the surface is cleaning out clogged, gunky pipes. It’s leveling crooked places. It’s transforming weedy places into places to cultivate beauty. The work is ugly. No doubt. Sometimes it's tedious---like putting in hundreds of screws and pounding in dozens of nails. Sometimes thing break and you yell. It gets cold. It’s wet. It’s just plain uncomfortable.

All this while working on marriage, being a mama, cultivating other relationships, juggling carpool, staying on top of chores. It’s life, isn’t it? But instead of change happening in spite of these things, they happen in tandem or maybe as a result of. In fact, neuroscience research shows us that we are born for connection and our brains are formed primarily in relationship.

Yes, your septic broke, but your neighbor offers kindness and service. Yes, you lost your temper, but your kids hug you and love on you. Yes, you feel despair, but your husband reminds you of who you are and where this thing is going. Yes, you feel lonely, but a friend shows up with the gift of laughter and sweet conversation.

When we pulled out the ridiculously flimsy old lateral pipes, they were filled with rich black compost. All that waste had turned into something life-giving and rich. I scraped out as much as I could. My neighbor thought I was crazy but actually, it wasn’t gross at all. It had turned into something sweet and good.

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve taken two steps back. There are a lot of things requiring attention right now because my people are important to me. They are changing and they need me. I have stinky things leaking out which need time and attention. I have my life to live, but also this land and business I want to cultivate and continue to bring beauty that heals to my city.

They say if you aren’t growing, you’re dying. Numb is dying. “I don’t know,” all the time is dying. Growing might feel like dying, but they say it gets worse before it gets better. Take heart. It might look like muddy upheaval chaos around you, but it might just be good work. Keep at it.

Not that it’s perfect. Everything in my tunnel is a little wonky. I did the best I could on my hill in my rocky soil. Is everything level? Ish. Have I fudged a thing here or there? Yeah. So? It’s good enough. I’m proud of this wonky thing because I did the hard work myself.

For me, it’s a commitment to what I believe even when I feel weak. It’s my people. It’s my God. It’s my story and my journey. Find your people. Find your faith. Don’t give up. It’s a good fight. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t be disheartened when it looks ugly. There’s beauty up ahead.


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