Make Beautiful Where You Are

Six years ago we planted a tree.

That fall, I looked at the hallmark website to find the suggested gift for a five year anniversary. My choice was either wood or silverware. And since Jen and I already had enough spoons, why not make a Japanese Maple from Home Depot our gift to one another?

It’s not something I do every day, planting trees. I found the perfect place, and the young sapling went into the soil of our front flower bed like a small package. We nurtured it at first, and then God took care of the rest. It seems like everything grows here in East Tennessee. Glory to God in the highest, I love living in Appalachia.

I’m in awe of these maples. They grow into a slow kind of beautiful. And they stun you with their red leaves if you let them. Today, our little maple is not much taller than when we first planted it, but we’ve learned to enjoy her quiet growth.

Slow is an important word for trees. I remember visiting 600-year-old and 200-foot-tall red woods north of San Francisco. These massive trees reminded me once again that I am not the center of it all. The Muir Woods, like slow-spoken grandfathers, made me listen like a child to the world around me.

With three rowdy boys under seven, a wife to care for, a lawn to mow, and sermons to write, it’s nearly impossible to make anything beautiful these days, especially the flower beds. I’m productive if I maintain important things like flossing, calling my out-of-state family, or bringing the laundry up from the basement.

But growing a great garden—so I hear—takes more than survival or maintenance. It takes time. With our zippy Pinterest boards, greasy fast food, and quick Instagrams, our culture demands instantaneous beauty, and most of us don’t stop long enough for the daffodils.

Real beauty fades into the background because we’re too busy, but our lives hold even more than dying flowers. Our relationships are on a lifeline. We are disconnected and distant. Yet we prefer cheap tweets and Facebook fixes over the careful tending of our companions. Authentic friendships require pulling up weeds, and planting splendid new things together. Face to face around a campfire. Nose to nose on a couch. Knowing both tears and laughter.

There was a generation not too long ago, where a long and intimate meal was the highlight of the evening. Now, those dinners come only as often as a lunar eclipse. What a wonderful sight, sharing hearts and savoring food as we slowly discover the mystery of intimacy together. Why are we in such a hurry? Beauty is never fast. Trees grow slowly. Wine matures slowly. God knows this slower pace. Scripture reminds us that a thousand years are like a day to Him. It doesn’t seem like God is in a hurry to do much of anything. He isn’t cranking out cheap plastic charms like a sweatshop. He’s into the slow kind of beautiful.

What if we decided to cultivate beauty where we are? We might discover a profound intimacy with our friends or spouses by turning off the television. And what if we risked a little with our loved ones? We could circle up the living room chairs, ask questions, tell silly stories to our children, invite lonely neighbors over for coffee. We could make something magnificent with our time.

It’s a commitment to live differently and cultivate what you already have, but it will most certainly produce lasting beauty. There we grow deep and wide, like our marvelous maple, flourishing each year in the yard.

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