"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
October 27, 2015
Enemy Vine
by Marian Stoddard

When the missionaries dug up the garden plot for me last year, they spaded and turned the earth for a depth of eight inches or so, and added the bagged compost a friend had given me, leaving it ready to plant. The ground needed to rest for a couple of weeks in order for the compost to break down into the loose soil.

I went out, about two weeks later, to look at it and think about how I would lay out the plot this time, and I noticed one tiny, tightly furled shoot poking up right in dead center. It made me think of a submarine periscope, trying to spy out the surroundings without being seen. I hadn't put anything in the ground yet, so I wondered--slightly amused--what it would turn out to be. It was undoubtedly not something that could be allowed to remain, but I wasn't alarmed.

Turns out it was morning glory, popping back into battle with all things cultivated.

Morning glory is the bane of my gardening existence. I hate it.

Bring up the subject, and other gardeners nod wisely and advise that you have to get all the roots out, or it will come back. It's very difficult to eradicate. (Tell me something that I don't already know.) It thrives automatically and invades at every opportunity, and probes every weakness. It wraps itself around everything it can find.

I have a white clematis planted in the back corner, which has tried to die twice. It is finally growing well and I have watched and removed morning glory out of that corner very carefully. But it comes in from beneath and through the fence, behind the clematis; while there is a house with a lawn on one side, that is being tended, the property on the other face is an overgrown vacant lot and I can't control that. I simply have to try to stay on top of it on my side.

Another, more delicate, type of clematis that I planted farther down the fence line didn't get tended well, and instead of climbing up it spread out along the ground and was completely entangled with more morning glory. I tried to separate the strands carefully, but the clematis vine was more brittle than the morning glory vine, and it broke off to the ground. It's growing back now, and I'm trying to coax it upwards, but I didn't get any flowers this season. This one, at least, seems to be resilient, and I think it will be all right.

The yard here had not been tended well for quite a while. There are a lot of weeds and scraggly patches. Because I have only so much physical capacity, I have concentrated on growing my vegetable garden and setting in flowers. I made a tulip bed in back, planted a circle of lilies, and planted some boxes in front. I put out tomatoes, various squash, beets, snow peas, chard, and beans. The grass hasn't been tackled much.

When the weather started to turn warm in the spring, it was the weeds, of course, that shot up first. They were rapidly followed by morning glory spiraling up the bare stalks. Meanwhile the grass was barely waking up; it was depressing.

I pull it out from the bottom gap in the wood fence. I pull it out from the outside of the chain link on the south side, where it grows vigorously upwards and blocks the light for my tomatoes. I dig deeper than I would think necessary whenever I plant something in back, trying to find the runners and exert enough force to yank the horizontal, earth-covered root lines out. I try, but there is always more.

Morning glory has taken hold on the north side, in the pocket corner between the exterior wall of the house and the safety fence that guards the basement stairwell. Last spring when we had to go out of town for a funeral, I knew that it was up over the back of that fence, but I didn't have time to worry about it. When we returned, it had crested the top edge and shot down the inside face of the stair wall, and gone under the basement door. There were about four runners trying to fan out into the open space of the floor; there was no light there, so the vines couldn't form leaves, but they were still searching: pink naked shoots looking for purchase.

There are a few spots that have been pulled and dug, watched and pulled again, enough that they seem to be staying free of the invasion for now. I have no illusions that the battle is won. The stuff doesn't give up.

It's a lot like the struggle between the natural man and the spiritual disciple. King Benjamin said that the natural man is an enemy of God, and ever will be, except he yields to the enticing of the Holy Spirit. That word "except" is the key; if we only follow the impulses of the flesh--or in other words our imperfect nature in a fallen world--Satan is the one who will pull on us. He is not an imaginary enemy. But he doesn't have to win.

King Benjamin says: " For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.'' (Mosiah 3:19)

It takes a conscious effort to grow a garden, or even grass after such long neglect; the morning glory grows naturally, and spreads across anything it can reach. I have to plant lilies or tulips, or tomatoes or beans, deliberately and tend them, working to dig down and pull out those sneaky vines that would entwine and suffocate them. Isn't that the way of life? It's harder work to do the things that really matter, and simple to just let nature take its diminishing course, but that way we gain nothing and lose so much. The fruits are worth the labor.

King Benjamin succeeded in reaching his people's hearts in his last great address to them, found in Mosiah chapters 3-5 in the Book of Mormon. He sent out for their response:

 "And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. " (Mosiah 5:1-2)

When we receive light and truth, and let it fully fill us, sin is banished. Pain is melted away. If your heart is broken, God can heal it. If your struggles fight back, God will help you again. (And then again.) He continues to be there with us, he continues to lift us back up, and the roots of an old life will be done away in Christ. Sometimes our life is transformed in a moment, sometimes in a gradual process, but all of us must reach upwards and choose obedience, and love. Then what is gracious, lovely, patient, faithful, and kind becomes natural. Alma asked, "Have you received his image in your countenances?" because that light shines.

Our enemy vines might be selfishness, short temper, or any of a number of things; we might not be able to yank all their roots out ourselves, but our Savior can reach them. It seems to me that he doesn't pull them out so much as make them wither. As we are begotten spiritually in him and continue to grow, our heart's garden transforms. The beautiful plants flourish and bloom, and the weeds, those weaknesses that are part of the natural man and seek to creep in, will not find nourishment any more. They just die naturally.

I think that's what he means when he says that he will create in us "a new heart" so that we walk in the newness of life, in light and joy. The scriptures are filled with the promise and invitation to come unto Christ and be born in him; may we each find that happiness.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.† You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com.†

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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