Growth Is Not Linear

Growth Is Not Linear

I believe that plants are my love language. If they were an animal, I would call them my spirit animal. Alas, they are not. I can not explain to you the joy I experience from plants of all varieties. Succulents are my favorite, followed closely by roses. Within the last few years, as my illnesses and symptoms have evolved, I have found myself gravitating into the plant and gardening section of every store I pass. Home and garden stores have been added to my list of Self-Care Day destinations, and I often come home with a new, tiny, potted friend. I pour my soul into watering them just enough and never too much, and I may or may not whisper encouraging words to them as they work hard to grow and bloom into their most beautiful forms. These tiny plants offer me hope and teach me about growth and life and perseverance. They show me what it looks like to find the light and drink it in deeply and slowly. 

The unique design of each individual plant is what draws me in and leaves me in wonder of their Creator. How can these tiny little things be full of so much beauty and life? Their flowers and colors are beautiful, no doubt, but it is the depth and the dirt of the roots below the surface that allow them to thrive. How magical that the most important and vital component of a plant’s growth - the root system - is hidden beneath the surface. It is intricate and complicated, and yet it is designed with a life-sustaining purpose. There are seasons in which the flowers blossom and bloom with vividly bright colors, followed by seasons of withering and apparent death. And yet, as long as the roots continue to drink of the water provided to them, the flowers will one day bloom again. 

I believe it is the same with us. 

Our root systems - the foundational stuff that we dig our heels into throughout all seasons - will be the stuff that either sustains us or causes our withering. My root system is my faith in God. The Bible talks about living our lives rooted in God, strengthened in our faith, overflowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:7). It says that as long as we plant our souls in the depths of God’s love for us, and consume the life-giving messages from God in the Bible, we will continue to thrive. There will be times that we flourish and blossom with bold colors and warm souls into the people that He has created us to be. But at times there will be seasons of drought. Our hearts may close up and our brightness of hope may fade, but as long as we are planted in faith and rooted in God’s love, we will survive and bloom another day. 

I know this may seem hard to believe, and those doubts are personal to me, too. For years I’ve walked back and forth across the fine line of growing and withering. When I was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome at 12 years old, I had no idea what the future could look like. It felt like my life had been ripped out of the ground, roots and all, and thrown away. For years I was consumed by pain and controlled by medications and physical therapy appointments, succumbing to the demands of the health care world. But eventually, after a lot of hard work and trial and error, I found myself in a season of remission. I could walk again, return to school, and live a life of normalcy. In a life of illness and pain, there are distinguishable seasons of improvement or deterioration of the frail body and the fragile spirit. 

It felt like my life had been ripped out of the ground, roots and all, and thrown away.

At times, it felt like I was growing rapidly and blooming for all the world to see. While in remission, I was afforded an opportunity to live fully and freely, with my illness a mere afterthought. It seemed as if I was becoming the most beautiful version of myself, and I naively believed that nothing could change that. I would just continue on this upward trajectory of growth forever, until all thoughts of pain and illness were just specks of dirt beneath me. My confidence was high, my hope was abundant, and my growth was on an incline.

With a mentality like this, the changing of the seasons is always shocking and confusing. No one had ever told me that with remission comes the threat of relapse. I was completely caught off guard the day that I walked into school on my own two feet and left in a wheelchair just a few hours later. The pain was back, my muscles contorted, and my life was forever changed.  It’s as if you go to bed on the final warm night of summer and awaken to the first bitter freeze of winter, skipping the autumnal chill altogether. Everything freezes in time. Lungs tighten and you can see the puff of each tight breath in small clouds before you. This is the time to be dormant. All growth halts for a season, and petals fall to the earth below. It looks like death. It may even feel like death. All signs of the brilliant beauty of life silently fade away. 

I was completely caught off guard the day that I walked into school on my own two feet and left in a wheelchair just a few hours later.

With that initial relapse and each subsequent worsening of symptoms, it has felt as if my stem has been cut and all growth and progress has been lost. I fear that I will have to start over - to be replanted once again. In my trajectory of growth it has meant relearning how to walk several times, teaching my brain that touch is not a painful stimulus, and accepting all over again that suffering is never my fault and it’s okay to seek help. 

What else do we do in this season? When the joy and excitement of progress and new growth comes to an abrupt end? It feels heavy and dark. How does one survive? 

We dig deeper. We find our roots planted firmly below the surface in our hope and faith in God. It seems to be the perfect time to exist in a quiet stillness, in a forced focus on the source of life instead of distracted by the fleetingness of life, itself. Because sometimes relapse happens or pain worsens, and that steady upward trajectory of growth takes a sharp downhill turn. It's in those times that the substance of our roots will make the difference between spiritually surviving or dying.      

...relapse happens or pain worsens, and that steady upward trajectory of growth takes a sharp downhill turn. It’s in those times that the substance of our roots will make the difference between spiritually surviving or dying.

And then we gently remind ourselves that the outward growth may have paused for a moment, but the inward growth continues. This is merely a break for our hearts to be re-centered and prepared for future seasons of life; to be grown and stretched in new and different ways. It can be a reflective time to look back on what we have achieved and how far we have come. We can smile at the memories of how brilliant our colors were and how empowered we felt by our sweet nectar. We can (and should) express our gratitude to our Maker for His creativity and stability that allow us to become who we are. 

All the while, we wait. We sit in the dirt of life. Things get messy here. It’s easy to feel less than in this season - less pretty than others, less worthy than others, less bold, less loved. It is likely that there will be times when we are overwhelmed by the distraction of our withering leaves and the fraying threads that weave together our broken spirit. These are the times that we can only see the current destruction, and no current beauty at all. The thought of a growing future seems unrealistic and unattainable. 

But God is a perfect gardener. He tends to us daily and exceeds each and every one of our needs. He knows when our spirits have run dry and need refreshing. He knows when we feel stranded in the darkness of our circumstances and He shines light on our souls that never fades. His word is nourishing food for our spirits. 

What I am particularly grateful for is that He loves us in all of our forms. He rejoices and celebrates with us when we bloom big and beautiful, but He does the same when we wither and fade. He is never-changing and ever-constant through our ever-changing seasons of growth.

Growth is not linear. It was never designed to be an easy or straight path. Instead, it was created to challenge us and push us to new heights, while allowing for periods of rest and reset. It may look dark and bleak at times, but hope is never lost if we keep it rooted deeply in Jesus. 

We will one day bloom again.

Written by: Ally Zinsmeister

If you could earn a medical degree through patient experience and hours of watching Grey’s Anatomy, Ally would be a top-rated specialist. Yes, Ally’s our favorite kind of sick chick — she’ll order a lavender mocha, but she’s not above straight black coffee, her first (and only) post-surgical request is chicken nuggets, her idea of a good time is organizing (color-coding and alphabetizing, anyone?), and her go-to party trick is showing off her magnetic back (courtesy of her spinal cord stimulator)! But aside from all her sweet and relatable quirks, this Texas native is incredibly passionate about faith, advocacy, adoption (both dogs and someday children), and she even serves as an amazing leader on two of our volunteer teams! Through her own battle with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Ally keeps us all guessing what barrier she’ll overcome next, with the help of her service dog, Malibu, of course! One thing’s for sure — we all love our Ally.

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