Sunday, December 2, 2012

Accepting the untidiness within

During days of reflection, I often visit the Missouri Botanical Garden. When I first arrived in St. Louis, it was still summer with green trees and flowers everywhere. Over the months I have been here, the gardens have succumbed to autumn and now into winter.

One of my favorite areas when I first came was the Woodland Garden. It was like a fairyland of supple trees interspersed with creeks and benches with flowers springing up from the turf and ferns. Overhead birds sweetly chirped during the day. Recently, though, the trees have lost their bright leaves and instead of a lush green forest floor there is a tangle of skeletal twigs and fallen leaves beginning to decay.

As I sat in the Woodland Garden looking around at how much it had changed, I asked myself why I continued to come even after it had lost its fairylike quality. As I looked around, I realized it was still beautiful, but in a different way. There is a stark, yet dreamy quality to the bare trunks and scattered garments of leaves on the ground. If the gardeners were to rake up all the leaves, many places would merely show bare dirt. The untidy lived in quality of the forest had become a part of its beauty. To "clean it up" would be to truly rob the woods of their attraction.

As I considered the forest, it became intermingled with how I see myself. Part of the novitiate is an intense time of seeing who we are and the challenge to deeply share in a venerable way. The more I looked intently at myself the more flaws and failings I saw and wanted to "rake up" to be perfect. Looking at the messy forest floor, it is an image of how I see myself—bare patches, lots of downed dying things, and yet interspersed with tiny flowers and growth pushing up through all the negative. When I asked the question of the forest why I kept coming back even in the beginning of winter, it became a sort of question about me as well. When I look at the untidy woods settling in for winter, do I see their beauty, or an area to "fix"? As I realized the answer was that I saw beauty in the untidiness it seemed to be the Holy Spirit telling me that is how God sees me. I don't have to be the perfect spring-time woods with orderly green sprigs and flowers covering every surface. Just because there are downed leaves and neglect doesn't mean the forest is ugly or no longer a forest. It doesn't mean someone needs to go in and tidy it up so it can be perfect again. It is exactly how it should be during this season and it is still beautiful.

—Alexa Chipman (


  1. Beautiful reflection, Alexa. God loves our imperfection for it is perfect in God's eyes.

  2. Great reflection.... thank you for sharing a bit of yourself. Love the photos too!

  3. What a wonderful reflection, Alexa. A good reminder to all of us. Aren't we lucky to be surrounded by nature? Such a wonderful teacher!! And thank you for your photos, too.

  4. Alexa I was touched deeply by your reflection. As I get to know each of you through your blog I thank God for the giftedness for others you have each received.
    Judy - Caldwell

  5. Alexa, your reflection is moving so I thank you for such profound thoughts. Think of all those "downed" things as nourishment for the spring time shoots of new life. They are beautiful in themselves and contain the seeds of life.