38: Miracle Grow

38: Miracle Grow

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Miracle Grow

Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds.

~Norman Vincent Peale

I plastered on a Happy New Year smile as we rang the doorbell. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my husband’s friends. It’s just that they were so perfect. Everything about their girls — their sippy cups, ballerina outfits, and Veggie Tale videos — reminded me of the innocence my own daughter once displayed. But those dreams met reality when she moved out. Soon afterwards, Ashley was arrested for drug possession and later for a DUI. With all of the problems she faced, I couldn’t help but wonder where I had failed.

As Keisha opened the door, the aroma of black-eyed peas and cornbread offered a warm holiday welcome. “I hope we’re not interrupting,” I said. “We just wanted to stop by to say hello.”

“Not at all. Come in!” insisted Keisha as she gave us both a hug. “I’ll get Anthony.”

Anthony’s 6’9” frame sauntered down the hallway.

“Hey big guy, Happy New Year!” bellowed my husband John as he embraced Anthony. “How’s my brother from another mother?”

“Just fine,” grinned Anthony, smiling at the familiar wisecrack.

Aside from the obvious height difference, anyone could tell by looking at Anthony’s black skin and my husband’s blond hair that they didn’t belong at the same family reunion. But ever since their chance encounter in the office break room years ago that led to a life-changing Bible Study, they considered each other brothers for life.

“Have a seat you two lovebirds, but try to keep it G-rated. Our girls are still up,” he joked as he nodded toward his daughters playing with their dolls by the fireplace.

A twinge of jealousy unleashed a backlog of emotion. I remembered when Ashley was their age. She loved loading up her Cabbage Patch dolls in her Cozy Coupe to go “gocey shopping.” Now, even though she was old enough to drive a real car, her license was suspended due to her DUI charge.

Anthony’s booming voice startled me. “Teresa, what are your hopes for the upcoming year?”

I shifted in my seat. There was no point in avoiding the obvious. He knew about my issues with Ashley, but he wouldn’t understand. His girls were perfect. In fact, his whole family was perfect.

“Unity… in my family,” I stammered. “What about you, Anthony?”

Anthony sighed deeply and paused before he answered. “The fruit for the upcoming year is in the soil of the previous year.”

My forehead wrinkled. “The soil of the previous year?”

“Last year had its share of challenges, but even so, the hard times were beneficial.”

This was news to me. From my vantage point, they lived in Christian Happy Hollow. They went to church faithfully, founded a thriving marriage ministry, followed the ways of Financial Peace University and home-schooled their girls, who quoted scripture at three years old and never disobeyed. All the bills were paid and life was grand. What kind of problems could he have?

“In order to prepare me for next year, God planted things in my life last year in anticipation of the coming season.”

Anthony — ever the deep thinker — rarely gave answers that were understood without further investigation. I often teased him that his distinct “King James” accent was difficult to understand. “What kind of things?” I questioned.

“You know. Challenges… issues.”

What kind of issues could he have faced? His family wore halos.

“Problems and difficulties…” Anthony continued, “those things are the riches in the dirt.”

“Problems are riches? What do you mean by that?”

“If I were to mistake the riches for dirt, I would despise the very thing essential for my growth.” Anthony was starting to sound like my mother and the time she bought manure for our garden.

I remember asking her in shock, “Why are you buying that?” I couldn’t imagine why anyone would pay for recycled cow patties.

“It’s fertilizer,” Mom replied. “It makes the soil rich so that plants produce more fruit.”

That made about as much sense to me as eating my vegetables, but Mom was right. Later that year, our garden was bursting at the seams.

As I thought about the loads of stinky fertilizer that I helped haul in my mother’s red wheel barrel, I thought about my own stinky problems. I wanted unity in my relationship with my daughter more than anything else.

“I think I see what you mean, Anthony,” I began. “As much as I hated the issues I faced last year, in retrospect, I can see how they have taught me to walk in patience and forgiveness.”

“Aren’t patience and forgiveness prerequisites for unity?” Anthony asked.

“How did you get so smart?” I asked half joking, half serious.

“I’ve been through a similar issue with my sister,” Anthony revealed. “Heroin had such a grip on her that she lost everything she owned. It devastated our family and drove my parents insane. It wasn’t until after she lost custody of her children that she made a serious effort to get clean.”

I caught a glimpse of a family photo on the coffee table. I thought my issues were evidence of my failure, but this family that I mentally elevated had struggles too. Until then I thought the absence of problems is what made a family perfect, but Anthony’s observations sowed new awareness in my heart. The struggles my daughter faced are not fatal. As long as I continue to cultivate patience and forgiveness my hopes for family unity are not far from reality. I wasn’t really a failure after all. My insecurities and perceived failures are just doing their job — growing fruit in me.

~Teresa Brightwell

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