Something Beautiful

"I just want a year where there isn't a crisis every month. I think I'm ready for that," came my friend's voice on the other end of the line. I offered my agreement, because hey, who wouldn't want a stress-free year, right?

However, as I hung up the phone, I wondered if my friend really meant what she said, or if it had been expressed more as a wish. As I considered the "crisis" I am going through that has sparked one of the deeper grief cycles of my life, as well as the many adversities I have experienced before, great or small, there are few, if any, I would change if given the opportunity. After all, those experiences make me who I am.

I remember the first time I decided to grow sunflowers. Excitedly, I took the seeds and put them into the little water-soaked peat cylinders. Sure, the package said to sow directly into the garden, but it was too early for that. Besides, the garden bed wasn't even ready!

In four days, I nearly jumped for joy as the first leaves poked out of the moist black peat, a few with shells still clinging. By the end of the day, the shell had dropped off most of the sprouts and those two little leaves were spread wide to catch the sun on every little green miracle.

Four days later, those same, perky sunflower sprouts were tall, gangly, weak, and falling over the sides of the peat pellets. Had I been more experienced, or had it not been March with at least another 6 inches of snow to melt from the garden, I may have tried to save them. But it was my lack of experience that got me (and my poor, innocent sunflowers) into this predicament in the first place.

A few days later, they shrivelled and died in their little miniature hot house. Had the weather been appropriate to put them outside, the results may have been the same.

What had I done wrong? Dirt, water, sun, moisture, warmth--all the things necessary for growth were there, weren't they?

Well... not really. These poor little coddled sunflowers were killed by kindness--they didn't have any adversity. They needed wind, and cooler temperatures, so they could develop at a slower rate and grow strong as they grew tall. They had no resistance to anything, so did not even have the strength to stand up in an environment with nothing oppressing them.

It took me a few more tries learning this same lesson with sunflowers, tomatoes, and several other plants, before I really figured out that when they get those second leaves, prune off the first ones and plant them deeper. Get those sunflowers out to the garden (or at least on the deck!) as soon as you can. Give them some wind to resist, or they will lie down and die.

I did learn how to grow a sunflower eventually...

The art of growing bonsai trees is fascinating. According to, the whole point of training a bonsai tree is to make it look like nature created it, only in miniature. This process is extremely complicated, and requires the bonsai artist to make many snips and prune it at precise places for the desired shape to emerge.

Bonsai-in-training (also known as “potensai,” potential bonsai) should point to a future, more mature creation which the artist, at least, has somewhat in mind. And because these are made with living, growing things, those future piece are never complete or finished...

The best bonsai – whether a single tree or a multi-plant and rock landscape composition – touch us, make us take notice, stop us as they catch our experience and imaginations to show us something new.

Becoming a master bonsai artist takes time and experience:

Bonsai are a blend of horticultural knowledge and art. As one’s experience with a given type of tree increases, concern about keeping the plant alive and healthy can take a backseat to concern about a particular design. The best, ideal, masterpiece compositions seem natural, without artifice or affectation. They don’t call attention directly to the artist; they don’t deliberately show off their features (or flaws).

It has been scientifically proven now that plants have a "pain response" to damage, and can actually transmit signals of danger to surrounding plants (in a natural environment where the entire growth complex has interlocking roots) through chemical and other signals. (I'm a little fuzzy on the details.)

So I am sure that the bonsai tree is not overly fond of those snips that the master artist makes to bring out its beauty.

It hurts when relationships end, or we are verbally attacked, or we have to say goodbye to those we love. It hurts to give something up, even if we know it is for the ultimate good. It hurts when you are forced to examine your beliefs and maybe even make fundamental changes to the core of our internal structures.

But, like the bonsai, time heals our wounds, and we take on a more beautiful shape. As our "true form" begins to emerge, others notice. Our Master Artisan is making us into something that reveals beauty to others, that makes them take notice and shows them something new.

Crisis is hard. Grief hurts. But I would much rather be a strong, tall sunflower, or an intricate and complex bonsai, each a masterpiece of beauty, than a poor, coddled sprout that dies young in the luxury of inadversity.

And, despite her joking wish, I know my friend feels the same way.

Now being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.
— Phillippians 1:6 (NIV UK)

Steven Curtis Chapman wrote the songs on "The Glorious Unfolding" after walking through the loss of his young daughter Maria. The title of this post was inspired by the song "Something Beautiful" from the album.

The entire album has been extremely comforting to me recently, but the song that keeps coming to me today is this one:

Finish What He Started

by Steven Curtis Chapman

You take two steps forward and three steps back
On a journey of a thousand miles
And you cry and you pray
But you know at this pace you never will arrive

Well I know in your heart you believed from the start
God had a purpose He knit you together for
But life has pulled at the seams
And you're unravelling
And you can't hold it together anymore

But God will, He will finish what He started
No thread will be left unwoven
Nothing will be left undone
Every plan and every purpose
That He has will be accomplished
And God will finish what He's begun

And it may feel like 40 long days in a hard driving rain
Or 40 years in a dry desert sand
But when He's finished we will see
A beautiful tapestry
And know that nothing has been wasted in the end

Oh, and God will, He will finish what He started
No thread will be unwoven
Nothing will be left undone
Every plan and every purpose
That He has will be accomplished
And God will finish what He's begun

And we'll stand as the ones completed
By the miracle of His love
We'll sing of His goodness and sing to His glory
As we tell the story of how

God has, He has finished what He's started
Not a thread will be unwoven
And nothing will be left undone
Every plan and every purpose
That He has will be accomplished
And God will finish what He's begun

I know that God will finish what He's begun