Growing or Thriving?

Do you remember when I first posted “Strawberry Flower” (when I painted it in April)? At the time, the strawberry wasn’t actually ripe yet. Indeed, it was barely a strawberry when I chose to paint my daughter’s strawberry plant that hangs outside. I painted into the future a bit, by imagining the strawberry as already ripe and ready to eat. Shortly afterward, my amazing prophesy came true! 😉

This morning I checked on my patio garden and I was alarmed to see that the cucumber vine had found my beloved new peach tree! ACK! I will need to end that monstrosity! I’ll unwind the coiling tendrils from it’s grip on the young peach tree trunk and attempt to “train” the vine to go where I want it to go. Diverting the vine from grabbing hold of random things nearby has been an ongoing battle with this crazy cucumber plant, which now looks like Jack’s beanstalk. Suppose I shall climb it someday to see what’s beyond the clouds?

On a happier note, I’ll soon have a bumper crop of cucumbers, most of which I plan to make homemade pickles with. They’ll make sandwiches taste delicious! I’ll also include other vegetables when I make pickles, so there’s plenty of flavor. The nutrition is better than buying pickles from a store, but not as good as eating cucumbers raw without any added sugar. The ones we eat straight from the garden will offer the best benefits.

And now for the vine metaphor that this blog post is leading to… thriving vs growing:

The cucumbers and strawberries are both are big success. My oldest daughter and I were wistful after seeing my youngest’s prized project, so we now each have strawberry plants too. Ours are also thriving. All three of our plants have grown vines that suspend below the pots. It’s possible to grow more strawberry plants from the vines if they grow roots. So, not only do we have delicious strawberries today, but we may have more plants for the future. And as I’ve already mentioned, my cucumber vines are sprawling endlessly. 

However, my wisteria vine is merely growing. The first year, we had plenty of beautiful, truly gorgeous, draping purple blossoms swaying from the expanse of its vine. The following two years, we had no flowers at all. The vine simply grew and grew, winding itself around and around and around, teasing us with leafy foliage, some of which would then die off and leave a mess behind. 

This season, the wisteria vine produced a single flower. That’s it, just the one. Then the vine continued to grow, spiraling around everything in its path. Before I caught it, it had wound itself around my dear red roses and snapped one of the established budding stems, severing it! It killed one of my roses! That got my Irish up, so I was quick to yank the wisteria vine and move it to the “naughty corner” of the garden where it is now sentenced to winding itself around an ugly post. It has beautified the post, and it has no roses to harm. From there, it’s fine that it may do nothing more than grow and grow, without ever producing the flowers that it is capable of.

With my metaphor firmly rooted, let’s ponder this philosophical question: Are we growing or thriving? When we simply muddle through life, adjusting to the changes in seasons by adapting and surviving, we may grow without thriving. We may even be a harmful influence on others, as our energy overpowers those who were flowering or producing fruit, suppressing them or even breaking their spirits. 

When a vine grows and grows without producing much, it may be more invasive than beneficial- like the wisteria. Even if a vine will one day produce a bountiful harvest, like the cucumbers, if the initial growth is a vine that latches on to everything else to pull itself up, it may harm the garden as the vine gets itself where it wants to go. The method to our success matters. A truly thriving spirit doesn’t need to pull others down to raise themselves up.

The strawberry plant has dropped vines that are not only producing fruit, but are floating below the plant, swaying in the warm breeze like it’s dancing. My daughter has placed a window planter box on a table below her plant (the plant I painted in the video at the top of this post), and the vines are gently hovering over it, nearly sweeping the soil now. Soon, they will land and we’ll see if she can grow more strawberry plants from these pretty vines.

A person who is thriving will dance through life without hurting anyone. When they succeed, they will drop their vines to inspire others to grow and thrive as well. There is a big difference between growing and thriving, and it also matters greatly how we get to where we want to go: if we keep climbing without ever reaching down to lift others up, or if we remember where we came from and look back to help those who are left behind.

Whether an underachieving and toxic wisteria, or a successful but overpowering cucumber, if we are a vine who goes on whatever path we want, with no regard for others, we aren’t thriving. We’re just growing, until one day we are no more. In the end, we’ll have nothing to show for our time here, but a withering coiled vine that eventually fades away.

But if we are a strawberry vine, we leave behind the ones we’ve inspired. We are never truly gone, as our energy carries on into the future. This is a life that is not merely growing, but thriving.

Maybe we’ll remember my wisteria-cucumber-strawberry metaphor when we feel too lazy, tired, or discouraged to work and invest in others the way that we know we should. I include myself in this. Whenever I come up with these metaphors for you, I put these seeds into my own mind as well. I feel instantly hypocritical if I don’t practice what I preach. So, I’ll strive to be a strawberry plant. And it just so happens that my favorite color is red!

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