Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
After ample spring rains came ample June rains, and another abundance of precipitation for my garden this year. I barely can remember such a summer, one without hauling the water hose. The garden produced tomatoes a month early and by July had us steadily busy with a bounty of produce and overgrown everything. The neighborhood flower farm thrives again, lush faces dancing above bushy stems on cool, damp morning breezes.
But even this idyll lives in a broken world. There is no perfect growing season in this life. Rains brought on an especially acute case of powdery mildew and other fungal growths. Then I noticed in the vegetable beds I had thick bunches of parsley one day, and the next day they were flat on the ground, dying. Sorrel that was thriving in June showers turned yellow and died in late July downpours.
A farmer helped me understand the perils of saturated soil. Abundant rains can lead actually to reduced yields. Soil needs water, but it also needs air. When the ground fills like a soggy sponge, it may suffocate a plant. Examining greens and parsley, whole plants came up in my hand. Their roots had dissolved in rain-soaked soil: root rot. The soggy imbalance of water over air struck first those plants with the shallowest, most tender roots.
In the garden and in life, we can be lulled by what seems a buoyant ride into ignoring underlying perils.
You can have too much of a good thing. In the garden and in life, we can be lulled by what seems a buoyant ride into ignoring underlying perils.
How often do I marinate in a prevailing culture, content to take on water in a shallow place? Or think I am swimming through life when I’m idling, becoming waterlogged? There’s only one remedy for root rot: The plant must be lifted from the soil in time, while some roots still survive, and moved to completely fresh soil.
The garden in 2018 has revived me with its need for both slow and urgent action. It requires patience—for seeds to sprout, for vines to bud and flower, for rain and sun to yield harvest. But it may suddenly need urgent intervention, or all may be lost. I couldn’t save the parsley, but I could spray mildewed zinnias to rescue the flower farm.
We live in a culture where we have times to tend and water, to faithfully wait, and times for urgent action. We have to be alert to real danger. This month I met two people who have made history with decisive steps within their ordinary day-to-day callings.
Jack Phillips, the now-famous owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., faces fresh harassment, despite a ruling in his favor from the Supreme Court in June. Phillips is a weary man determined to make tolerance a two-way street. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s ongoing harassment makes it more clear Phillips was right to draw battle lines when first challenged more than five years ago to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “Phillips is not trying to restrict gay marriage or gay rights; he’s simply asking not to be forced to take part.”
Heidi Matzke is the executive director of Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Sacramento, Calif. A pastor’s wife and mother of three teenagers, she has invested more than 20 years in pro-life work. But when California passed a law in 2015 forcing crisis pregnancy centers like hers to advertise abortions, she said, “I knew we were in trouble the moment I read the law.”
Her determination to join other pregnancy centers to battle the law culminated in a 5-4 Supreme Court victory in June in NIFLA v. Becerra and a memorable defense of free speech, thought, and expression from departing Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Matzke before an August gathering of journalists also recounted ongoing harassment, including challenges from within the church. “Churches do not talk about this issue any longer,” she said. “But abortion is not a political issue, it is a gospel issue.”
Root rot happens even in the church. We settle into too much of a good thing, fail to seize decisive moments, to heed signs of peril lying beneath.