Awkward floated to my lips a few times last week before I saw the pattern. The stumbling and crashing of growing children and adolescents finding themselves in bigger bodies than the days before. Constant adjustments during mask practice sessions. Remembering the diapers and the keys and the shoes, only to forget to pack lunch in a new season’s morning routine. We are making it through, but it is painfully awkward.

As my daughter, Robyn, sits on the ledge of the last month before officially being a teenager, she is nearly full grown with red hair tossed anything but effortlessly into a ponytail and strong feelings about every song on her playlist. Noticing her labour to grow brings palpable memories into my middle-aged guts: the planning of a perfect first day of school outfit, longing to belong, feeling stuck between an adult and a child.

And the garden, too, is pressing into the last days of summer, with leaves dying while perfectly imperfect beans and beets and pumpkins grow under leaves, beneath the earth, and off the vines. Parts of the plants have been burned by the sun, torn by the wind, look worse for the wear, and still they grow. We forget to water quite as often. An awkward vine or branch escapes its cage, hanging from a planter or crawling into the grass.

My carefully nurtured succulents have made their annual pilgrimage from the deck table to my office window. They are packed too full. A bit overgrown for their pots, Awkwardly pressed into each other in anticipation of the winter

In all of the distancing required by the pandemic, I still have not found a way to encounter and leave people that feels right. Deep longing looks are not replacements for teary hugs. Nodding is not the same as a high-five or handshake. Waves are terribly lacking when I really just want to walk you down the hall to the door. The awkward absence of touch will be a thing of my worst dreams for many years, I think.

The leaves are turning and beginning to fall. A tree that never quite gets established in my front yard is nearly naked. For years I have felt anguish for naked fall trees, as though it is me who has been caught between the light shift dresses of leaves and the shawls and sweaters of snow.

And all these awkward stages in life and in creation are part of the miracle of being alive. They are neither better nor worse than seedling or mature stages of growth. Where did I learn to judge the awkward as bad, the uncomfortable as awful, the exposed as wrong?

Here I am, at this stage of life, parenting a toddler and a teen, crawling through a pandemic, reimagining my heart for work, walking gently out of the legal stages of grief. This is my right now life, pressed too tightly into the pots of my own home and office, and simultaneously hanging out into unknown territory, bumping into the walls I hadn’t noticed before. It feels awkward. I long for the comforts of the places I have been before, while I ache into whatever reality is coming next.

What if one of the grounding gifts we receive in living is just continual growth? If each stage is just as necessary as the one before and after, then this awkward place and space is gift too. Gently, God is revealing a spirituality of growth in my life, where some things emerge, awkward and new, while other things fall away. 

The gardener that is God is so much less concerned than I am about what is produced when and how quickly. There are whispers in my discomfort that I am not alone. I can feel my kids joy despite being cramped up with it. It is so easy for me to see Robyn’s beauty even while she works so hard to find it. My life is full of dead leaves and bright red and green tomatoes, organized shelves and junk drawers, kids who can do it themselves and who still need to learn.

This awkward place is full of grace, so I am pulling out my socks and scarf. I am learning and growing in love here too. May it always be so.

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