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We’re past the halfway mark of the summer, and I can feel myself beginning to hold on too tightly. My anxiety rises as I wake up to a darker sky, as the busyness of fall creeps closer on the calendar, and as I push my shopping cart more swiftly past the school supplies.

Perhaps this is also why, at the end of July, I’ve begun to attempt to bring the outside in. To cut stems from my flower boxes and stick them in vases all over my house, hoping they might propagate, that they might grow a root I could plant and save. To defy the seasons, to save summer, to hold on. 

I can’t save everything, of course. I can’t bring all of the outside in. In a few months, my annuals will wither. The tomato plants will freeze. The leaves will change colors and fall. But I still feel compelled to try.

Of the hobbies I picked up during the pandemic, two remain: growing houseplants and baking sourdough bread. Both are about tending — both require me to slow me down, to be witness to a process that requires both my attention and my patience, to be committed to a practice that feels both scientific and miraculous. 

To tend means “to incline, to move in a certain direction.” Its etymological roots are in the Old French word tendre, which means to “stretch out, hold forth, hand over, offer.” 

To tend is to both hold on and to let go. 

The irony is that when I tend — whether its to gardening, baking, teaching, parenting, or writing — my first instinct is to make it about my will, my determination, my resolve. But tending is an offering, an opening up rather than baring down, a stretching out rather than pulling inward. 

My pastor, in a recent sermon about beauty, told us about Michelangelo and how he believed it was his job as a sculptor to uncover, to tend to, the statue in the stone. “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free,” he said. Michelangelo believed his hands were the vessels by which God used to unveil something bigger than himself.

I love this idea, but best not to idealize it. Michelangelo likely did not carve with a light shining down on his hands. Tending is far more fraught. I find moments of light get in only when I can set aside my self doubt enough to allow them. When I can get myself enough out of the way to make space for the spirit to work. 

I had a very clear moment when first beginning my novel, the piece of writing I’ve been tending for a few years, when the characters suddenly felt much larger than me, when it became clear that the story wanted to be written. Other artists may describe this as enlightenment or inspiration, but I find those words too shiny. For me, it was organic and spiritual, more akin to getting my hands in the dirt. It was a loosening of my own control to accept my role as the vessel, not the wind. Like a cut stem, if I could stay steady and patient in the water, the miracle of a root might slowly begin to appear.

For the remaining weeks of summer, you will likely find me outside, cutting stems from my garden. I will bring as much of summer as I can inside and though I’ll be out of window space, I will try to save as much as I can from the cold that will inevitably come. But I also hope I’ll keep learning that I cannot force every stem to take root, that tending to one’s faith is as much about letting go as it is holding on.

Cuttings in vase photo by Jacob Spaccavento on Unsplash
Summer sunset photo by Hemendra Ahuja on Unsplash
David photo by Rowan Simpson on Unsplash

Dana VanderLugt

Dana VanderLugt lives in West Michigan with her husband, three sons, and spoiled golden retriever. She has an MFA from Spalding University and works as a literacy consultant. Her novel, Enemies in the Orchard: A World War 2 Novel in Verse, releases in September 2023.  Her work has also been published in Longridge Review, Ruminate, and Relief: A Journal of Art & Faith. She can be found at and on Twitter @danavanderlugt.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    You so often give us words (and feelings), and thank you for this one. (Tender. Tendril.)

  • Deb Borst says:

    As I read your piece today, my spirit kept shouting, “Yes, yes!!” Thank you for giving voice to what resonates so deeply in my own heart…the love of everything summer, and the longing to drink in every last drop…the effort to avoid the back to school displays and every subtle signal that my favorite season is moving past it’s prime of light and fullness, life and vibrancy. Thank you, too, for your beautiful description of the true meaning of “tend”. As I tend my own garden today, it will be “as a vessel and not the wind”, thanking God for these gifts he invites me to savor with an open hand, knowing they are for a season. Thank you for blessing many through your writing, for “staying steady and patient in the water” trusting the root to appear. May God bless the fruit of your tending as your book is released in September, Dana.

  • Rena says:

    Very insightful. Thank you for opening my eyes to all this conveys.

  • Jack says:

    Oh do I love Dana writing. I say it that way because with Yeats: “You can’t tell the dancer from the dance.”

    I decided this year that my summer’s not gonna end. I’m going to say things, like, “Look! It’s snowing in the summer! The leaves are so colorful this summer! Wow the crocus came up in the summer!”

    Thank you, Dana! AGAIN!

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Our friend Jack is right, and like the book you’ve written in verse, which I am eagerly awaiting, this piece also blurs the line between poetry and prose. For example: “Like a cut stem, if I could stay steady and patient in the water, the miracle of a root might slowly begin to appear.” Wow.

    Thank you! And a big “Amen!” to a better balance between tending and willing.

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