The promise of growth

The long, garden shrouds are the perfect ending my glum rule-of-three walk.

Looking like body bags for giant caterpillars, they stretch out in the dormant plots of a community garden. They are just what I need for my musing on the end of the year.

Like a folk tale, my walk has been building in a triad of similar scenes. Each of the stops has had an element of deterioration and missed potential.

Stop one was an abandoned greenhouse. When filled with seedlings, such a place welcomes a visitor with a rush of warm, moist air, brimming with expectation. This structure, with broken windows and overrun with dead weeds, seems forlorn and forgotten.

Stop two was even sadder. As I passed a large, isolated house, I saw bright yellow signs announcing that the house was no longer “fit for human habitation.” Peering through the windows, I saw rooms with people’s neglected belongings.

All three echo the melancholy words of Terry Malloy, the washed-up boxer from On the Waterfront: “I coulda been somebody.”

This is the time of year when I pause and evaluate. I look back over the last twelve months and with a cold eye to judge how well I’ve progressed toward my intents at the start. I actually give myself grades. And have for many years.

But, despite my three dour visuals, I am not discouraged by my perennial don’t-show-the-parents personal report card. I do miss the mark. And I often think I “coulda been somebody” better. But Philippians 4:13 reminds me (translated by David Martyn Lloyd Jones), “I am strong for all things through the One who constantly infuses strength into me.”

He goes on:

“The very essence of the Christian life, according to the New Testament teaching everywhere, is that it is a mighty power that enters into us; it is a life, if you like, that is pulsating in us. It is an activity, and an activity on the part of God.”

In folk tales, the third time something happens, it has a twist. In my three visuals, the shrouds in the garden are different because they are more than signs of life regretted, of missed opportunity. They are life ongoing: plants protected from the cold, waiting to burst into fruit again.

This is what I need to remember as the calendar resets itself. God is at work in me. He is active – to will and to work for his good pleasure. And he empowers me at every turn, regardless of my spotty track record, to join him in the work.

As if to punctuate the moral of my story, on my walk back, I pass a forsythia branch with an improbable, winter blossom.

It is never too late to grow.

Our power to be different comes from you, Lord. As we contemplate how you would have us change in this coming year, guide our attention to your activity. Help us to unleash your power through the habits we develop. We want to grow!

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it!

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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