There’s a table in my foyer that I built a few years ago from cherry. It is sturdy and simple with clean, unfussy lines. The base doesn’t have any curves or challenging angles; it’s all square corners forming its framework. The top, however, is an ellipse. No matter what the artistic medium, ovals are difficult. Perfectly rounded and elongated without having any bumps or divots is an especially hard thing to do well. It is definitely not a refined table. The top edge is slightly and imperfectly rounded by my old hand plane, there are a couple of seems that aren’t completely flush, and there are probably even tool marks that don’t belong. Yet it has the simple grace of being thoughtfully designed and carefully hand-crafted.
Grace is usually quiet.
Back in the day, when I had a “real job” ‑ the kind with a paycheck and timeclock – I worked as a floral and graphic designer for a huge floral wholesaler. My job was to style and photograph products for our many catalogs. It was a fantastic job for me: different every day, always moving and creating, and best of all, the flowers! Many an early morning would find me at the flower market, coffee in hand, buying a myriad of blooms with my employer’s money! On a really modern shoot one time, we had seventy stems of breathtaking crimson arachnia orchids. With that many seriously expensive flowers, it’s a simple thing to make a gorgeous arrangement. All we did was pile them in a vase and make sure their good side was showing! But who has hundreds of dollars to spend on flowers that will “be here today and tomorrow are thrown into the fire”? (Matthew 6:30)
Hand-crafted art makes beauty and richness out of the most modest ingredients. This March, when all of Ohio was hungrily watching the ground for any sign of approaching spring, I went to our giant maple tree and cut branches that were just beginning to bud. Tiny tips of red and chartreuse graced each branch. They had a wild fierceness and quiet beauty. And they were free.
Homegrown beauty can best be viewed with the heart, not the well-educated eye. My twenty-five-year old self may well have scoffed at a single dandelion in a water glass. But many heartbeats later, I see that dandelion as the first break-fast of spring for the honeybees, the promise of resurrection, and a reminder of the little hand and heart that gave the offering. Who knew dandelions were so holy?
There is infinite beauty in patient quietness. Whether we are gardeners of the soil or our own hearts, we need to learn to appreciate the waiting. Most of the gardening year, green is yielding green, rather than a showy bloom. So sit back. Take a deep drink of coffee. And rejoice. You’re being given the gift of waiting!
As part of my “growing the gardener” program, I challenge myself to grow something new each year. This year it was china asters. I planted them as tiny seeds inside in my library window while there was snow on the ground. I love that process of starting seeds indoors. It’s a chance to watch sprouting and growing as if under a microscope. Once “seed starting season” begins, I will usually check those pots of soil no less than ten times a day to see if they look different this hour than they did last. The china asters sprouted within a week, grew beautifully at a good rate, and eventually were ready for their big move outside. The weather warmed, the birdsong rang out, and the china asters just turned greener. By July, every other plant begun from seed had begun to burst with color, and the china asters were still a mound of green leaves. It was well into August before they bloomed, but when they did there was more rejoicing over the first china aster bloom than over the hundreds of sunflowers that made their home in my vegetable garden!
My home-grown flowers and simple table may not rival shiny, expensive, and store-bought. I rather like it that way. I know I never appreciated the intricacy and glory of the expensive, out-of-season blooms that we used to buy and use and discard nearly so much as the ones that I watch day after day as the soil heaves with sprouting, bursting green, budding, blossoming, unfurling.
Simple, homegrown, handcrafted beauty has a loveliness cannot be bounded by a price tag.
Handmade vs. Homemade
When I was a wee lass, my mother, the talented seamstress, taught me to sew. I think she grew weary of my many requests for knock-off American Girl and Little House on the Prairie dresses and looked forward to the day I would take up the task of making my own attire. She is an incredible teacher, but to my small self, at times a frustrating one in her demand for quality.
“It can look handmade but never homemade,” her words still ring in my ears every time I set a sleeve into a bodice and have to clean up a puckered seam.
“Handmade” was an acceptable standard. It called in the streets that here is something carefully designed, something touched with human hands, crafted with intelligence and skill. Handmade is the product of education, patience, and a sprinkle of talent. But “homemade” was spoken of with a scowl of disdain. Homemade meant shabbily, hastily, cheaply, not only in price but in the time and effort applied.
“Your sewing should always look as if it could have come off a store rack. It should be good enough that no one knows you made it,” my mother would preach. Yes, preach. Those sewing lessons moved far beyond teaching. I cannot count the times she would examine my work only to declare,
“Jordan! This is a mess!” Oh! The shame! The fabric could be humble, the pattern could be easy, but the execution must clean and flawless. Lowly ingredients were not a reason for untidy work.
Oh! The glory! What was taught and preached and learned through those experiences became a driving force that would baptize my years and efforts. My mom was developing me, not just my skill as a seamstress.
Growing a Gardener
Gardeners come in all shapes and philosophies: from die-hard organic to greenhousers to those with a single pot of basil in the kitchen window. And we’re all growing! We think that we’re growing vegetables, trees, flowers, herbs and houseplants, but some thirty years into this passion, my garden is growing far more in me than I am in it! Things that used to be intimidating, are now quite easy: i.e. celery. And there are plenty of things that I still can’t get quite right. For example, I cannot grow houseplants. Many African violets and spider plants has been generously given to me, and I look at the giver with apology in my eyes and mourning in my heart because I know that little houseplant is doomed. Maybe someday!
God began this whole story in a garden, and so much of our life is about growth! Painfully slow or painfully fast, the process of birthing fruit, pruning away of disease or unnecessary shoots that would otherwise become broken or damaged. Scripture overflows with gardening analogies! In Luke 13, Jesus tells a parable of how painful growing can be sometimes!
“’Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he (the gardener) answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:7-9
Sometimes a plant or tree will look healthy and green and alive but fail to produce any fruit. Gardeners will sometimes take a sharp spade and cut all the roots a few inches from the base of the plant. This shocks the plant or tree into thinking that it’s dying and it will feel a sudden desperate urge to reproduce. Then the gardener throws manure on it.
Most of us know what it feels like to have your roots cut off, death hover nearby, and have smelly fertilizer applied generously. We’ve felt it when the relationship ends or the illness doesn’t. But God is determined to find fruit in our lives, and He is a gentle and loving gardener. He is committed to our growth even if it means shocking us nearly to death and then piling on the manure. But that fruit! Joy and gentleness, kindness and love! Galatians 5:22,23
May the Lord bless the work of our hands.
“Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1:17
Second-generation homeschooling mom of five wee snickbuzzards, Jordan Durbin is a maker of humble pottery, fine artist, calligrapher, gardener, pickle maker, baker of all things gluten-inclusive and butter-laden, violinist, vocalist, rabbit raiser, wife of one good man, lover of her blessed Redeemer. She has a Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. She is an avid coffee drinker, reader, and published children’s book author and illustrator. She aspires to proclaim the resurrection with every moment of her life.