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Napa_Valley_grapevines_1Does anyone else out there ever find themselves struggling?

Or is that just me?

Oddly enough, I recently received some encouragement around the issue of struggling from a most unlikely source while in a most unexpected place.

Last week, I had the opportunity to accompany my husband on a business trip to Napa, California. As many of you know, this area is known as the wine country: the home of hundreds of miles of gently rolling hills, uniquely beautiful architecture and acres and acres of breathtaking vineyards.  In my attempt to be a supportive and loving wife, I soldiered through several difficult days of tasting fine wine, dining on culinary masterpieces and meeting fascinating people who drink good wine and eat good food for a living.

Two things:

  1. You can see that I am still very much suffering the pain and heartache of my empty nest.  Thank you for your continued prayers.
  2. I will be moving to California soon to live among the flowers and the grapevines.  You will find me wearing long, flowy skirts, flowers in my hair, pouring wine for strangers in whichever winery tasting room has the most profusely flowering garden.  I will be, with no irony whatsoever, using words like buttery, oaky, fruity, charcoal, nose, and hints of to describe this wine.  I am hopeful that, prior to that, I will have some idea what those words actually mean as related to wine.

But back to the issue of struggling…in case you are keeping score, the description of my hedonistic, bacchus-like visit to the wine country thus far has NOT been characterized in any way by the word “struggle.”

On our first day in Napa, my husband and I accompanied one other couple to their favorite winery where we began our wine tasting adventure.  The young woman who was our hostess for the private tasting immediately won me over by being adorable and also being named Brooke. (I make friends easily.) In addition to being named Brooke, we found out over the course of our afternoon with her that she:

  1. has a degree in theater performance AND
  2. has a job that pays her money with which she supports herself.

With two children currently studying theater in college, we found this hugely encouraging and thus, Brooke became our new best friend.

Brooke seated us in comfy chairs with a heavenly view of the vineyards and taught us all about the process by which grapes become wine.  She showed us samples of the dirt from their different vineyards and explained how the type of soil informs the distinct personalities of the different wines we were tasting.  At one point in our conversation, in discussing irrigation processes in rocky soils, she said these words:

We want the vines to struggle.  Vines that struggle produce better fruit.

At which point, I asked her to repeat what she had just said and started scribbling furiously on my placemat.  I was thinking of you, dear reader.

She went on to explain that when the vines struggle to get water and nutrients from the soil, they form stronger, deeper roots.  These stronger, deeper roots bring forth fruit that is richer, fuller, bigger, juicier and, simply put, make better wine.  In grape growing and wine making, struggling is encouraged, promoted and celebrated.

Isn’t that good news? Does anyone else find it a relief to know that, in nature, struggling vines produce better fruit?

Or is that just me?

Does anyone else seem to do things the hard way, more often than not?  Make the easy, complicated?  The simple, confusing?  The straightforward, hard?

What does struggling look like?  Perhaps it includes the following. Fight, wrestle, grapple, strive, endeavor, compete, contend, scramble, flounder, stumble– just a few of the synonyms for struggle. Several of these words, particularly the last few, felt familiar to me.

Even when the grappling, floundering and wrestling is all within the confines of my own mind, it often seems like others are taking a more direct path to achieving their goals and getting things done. Every time I compare my insides with other people’s outsides, it often looks easier for other people.

But what if the struggling, the wrestling, the stumbling, the wandering is all part of the journey?  What if the learning and growth happens THROUGH the struggling and not IN SPITE of the struggling?  What if, as part of that process, we learned to struggle well?  To struggle wisely?

I really prefer for things to come easily.  I would like to wave a magic wand and  become instantly self-disciplined, focused, inspired, devout and extremely efficient. In fact, I would prefer if someone else actually waved the wand. I would like to be cured of procrastination and self indulgence and wake up every morning ready to seize the day.

But alas, it appears that struggling is part of the process. When I wrestle with things I  find difficult or hard to understand, I am reminded of these two things:

  1. I am a child of God and He is with me every step of the way.  I never struggle alone.
  2. Because of Jesus, I have the Spirit of God within me.  That Spirit is not a spirit of timidity or fear, but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline.  Because I struggle with life giving power on my side, I never struggle in vain.

For me and for grapevines, struggling is part of the process. For me and for grapevines, deeper and stronger roots connects us to the source of that which gives us life. For me and for grapevines, it is God that ultimately brings whatever fruit we bear.

I’m not sure if the grapevines have an opinion, but I am willing to work a little harder and dig a little deeper in order to grow the richer, fuller, juicier fruit.  The kind that produces the really good stuff!