Love grows in some pretty ugly places. In the mud and clay and even the sand in some deserts, you will find seeds sprouting and growing. Even in places where there is almost no other beauty, seeds will grow. Give them warmth and water and a little attention and they may even flourish.
We sometimes forget that the same is true in our lives. We think love always grows in beauty—in the fine soil of a fertilized garden, in the tidy rows that are arranged, tended, and pruned there.
But no, life is messy and humans are predictably broken. Only a few are not messy at least every once in a while, and they are probably just not aware of how muddled up they can be...
But that isn't even the point of today's thoughts. Today my focus is stronger, more concentrated than the idea that love grows in messy, mucky places.
Sometimes the BEST growth takes place in those places. Sometimes love grows BECAUSE things are not great. Sometimes we have to stop and reassess and decide that love is worth it. And that is when it grows best—when we intentionally give it the warmth and nourishment from deliberate effort.
People get into trouble. Kids, teenagers, adults...we all mess up. When someone loves us in our mess, we know it.
If in the mess, in the disappointment, in the misunderstandings, we choose to say—even though this is not what I thought it would be or hoped for, I choose to love you. And if in this moment I can clearly convey that you matter to me—just you, not your achievement or the happiness you give me or the life we have dreamed of creating together. Not all that. But you. Just you, you matter.
If in a moment of a muddy, messy, rainstorm in a garden that is begging to be weeded—if I can say, "Yes, you matter to me." Then yes, this is where love is growing in our lives.
Love grows in the opening spaces of Spring! Yes, of course it does—after a winter of being unseen, at rest, in quiet and waiting...anything and everything that will grow comes alive.
But did you know that some leaves that look dead in winter, that loose all their moisture and lie flat to the ground, are actually dormant but not dead.
Just like a caterpillar that has gone into a cocoon and slowly changes, these leaves adapt and lie under the snow—looking dead. You can strip them off the plant and there will be all new growth. But you can also watch and see them come back to green and be alive under the generous gift of the warming sun.
Humans are not so different. You may have come across someone who seems unable to engage in the trust it takes to be truly a friend. But don't give up—love grows here, too. Here where trust has been broken and hurt has covered a tender shoot, there is hope.
Go back to the beginning of how things were supposed to work and offer food, safety and "glad eyes"—eyes that say "you matter to me." Find things you both laugh at, and engage with shared humour. Find something you both love to drink (coffee) or eat—chocolate? And make those a habit of sharing time and slowly savouring the good flavours. Share favourite movies, a place you love to walk—pointing out how your senses give you delight with the song of the birds, or the shape of the trees. You get it, right? I'm just priming here, not giving you instructions...
If there were absolutely no roots ever planted, this might be a long, hard, not-very-satisfying uphill journey. But if ever this soul had someone who cared, you are nurturing those brain pathways of trust.
And love will live again. Love is the strongest force in the universe. We need to cultivate it, provide good conditions, be patient, watch for the season.
Wherever you are, above all else: believe. Love grows here.
Grit is great. Defined by Angela Duckworth who has researched for over a decade, grit is passion plus perseverance. It is now one of the qualities colleges and universities commonly look for to predict who will "make it" through their program.
Grit definitely has a place in our lives, where we need to know our purpose—why we are doing what we are doing. And we pair it with passion—so we are doing something that springs from within us, something we care about. Grit gets us through the inevitable obstacles that life throws in our path.
But when grit takes over it often takes us in the wrong direction. Our determination without a sense of limits is not a good thing.
Worse yet, or maybe not—maybe this is just me—but I think it is worse when someone else's determination (grit) takes over and pushes me down a path I don't want to be on, or steam rolls right over me when we are on the same path.
Has that ever happened to you? Someone with too much passion, purpose and even power (a boss, a leader, a decision maker in your life)—someone "takes over" and although you may try to speak out about this, your words are not loud enough or strong enough to match their whirlwind of good intention. Many people with too much grit have arrived there with a lot of "best intentions."
One thing that helps temper their path is a voice that is strong enough to call them to attention. But when that fails...and it does...people get hurt.
If you find yourself *here*—if something inside you is saying "yes, that's me" (might be now, might have been 6 months or 6 years ago)— If this is your "yes", then there is bad news and good news for you.
You may feel like you were left with no options. Nowhere to go, no one to listen, no energy for a further fight. But you have one option and it may sound like bad news, but it is in fact very good news.
Your option is sadness. Grief, sorrow, sadness and tears. If you can be safe enough with yourself to actually cry about what you lost—what in your soul got crushed under another persons' load of grit—that sorrow, those tears, are a gift.
Tears are not a last resort, although we often treat them that way. Tears are not something to avoid at all costs—even if that has been your habit.
Tears are nature's answer to the horrible things that inevitably happen and they actually have purpose and design.
Tears wash through our brains like a cleansing potion—they remove the toxic waste of the adrenaline and cortisol that came with a stressful event. And they clear the way for new pathways to emerge.
If you have been stuck in the ditches in the aftermath of a grit storm, you can begin your move out of the muck with a good bath of tears. Watch a sad movie, read a sad book, listen to a song that makes you cry— anything to get you in touch with sadness. Begin your own journey by being kind enough to yourself to acknowledge that what happened to you was not just or right—you know this because you certainly don't want it to happen to your friends or children. And be sad, truly sad that it happened to you.
Give yourself time, maybe about six months, to feel the dark feelings of loss and pain. Don't look for the gains, let them come when they decide it is time. Don't rationalize or make yourself figure out how to make this worthwhile—those things will come to you naturally and in the right order if and when you are ready.
And you will get up out of the ditch and leave the tears there as a salty pond of hope for someone else to find, when they too get hit by the grit truck with someone else's load of purpose/passion/perseverance.
You, on the other hand, are becoming a more deeply and profoundly compassionate human. You have taken the time to consider loss and pain as worthy of kindness—and you will carry this gift and the eyes to see into another's struggle with hope wherever you go.
But start here. Start with your yes. Start with yourself.
I write on how humans develop and grow through challenges we face. I've divided this into three categories--Growing Love is about relationships and how we create conditions for growth despite the inevitable challenges. Cloudburst is about grief, specifically—which is a tricky topic. We need to keep growing but pushing is the opposite of helpful. And in Dancing on Hot Sand I talk about personal inner growth in hard places—spiritual growth, without sounding religious, I hope.