At the time, one thing that appealed to us about the house was the fact that they had orchestrated fairly elaborate landscaping around the house. English ivy filled many of the shrubbery beds on the front and sides of the house and the back yard was taken up much by and English garden complete with little paths through it and even a little herb garden.
This all seemed exciting when we moved in. They had taken good care of all the shrubs and perennials and they sure were pretty. We had more time then and it was fun to work in the garden out back. In fact, I even planted more things, adding some hostas, day lilies, peonies, and other flowers. At any given point, except in the dead of winter, you were sure to find something blooming around our house.
Like I said, it was fun to work in the garden ... for a couple of years. And then it became a lot of work. I had added too many things and it became a mishmash instead of an exquisitely designed landscape. After Evan was born, we weren't able to work in the garden much at all and it became horribly overgrown. We'd occasionally hires someone to help with it but it overwhelmed them as well. At one point I counted that we had something like 180 shrubs or trees to maintain on our relatively small city lot. It started as the Garden of Eden and then became the Garden of Eden on steroids ... and eventually became our own little slice of hell. We kept the curtains pulled so we didn't have to look at it.
About six years ago, we had some remodeling done to our home and, at that time, we eliminated a chunk of the garden out back. Last year, when we had the pool put in, we took the opportunity to re-do most of the landscaping. The English garden is gone. The herbs, which had turned into a large, mean weed patch, are gone. We still have a lot of beds but the plantings are smaller, well separated, and easier to maintain.
One of the biggest challenges in making these changes was eliminating the English Ivy which had growth throughout the shrubbery beds on basically three sides of the house. Okay, it had also grown up the walls of the house. It was beautiful but you couldn't stop the stuff. A couple of years earlier, we had tried to hire someone to get rid of it but he didn't know what to do. He walked away and said it would be very hard to get rid of the ivy.
But last year, the landscaper we had work for us, was up to the challenges. He weed whacked all of the ivy down to ground level and then sprayed the dickens out of it with Agent Orange or something. Twice. One thing he had to watch, though, was that he did not spray it too close to the shrubs. Of course, the ivy had grown into the shrubs, determined to use its viney tentacles and choke the shrubs out of existence.
Overall, he was successful, though. Most of the ivy is gone. Bits and pieces of it pop up now and then and there are still a few shrubs where it has a stakehold in their bases. In those areas, we still have our work to do. So, usually every week or so this year, I go on patrol around the house with my humongous jug of RoundUp, spraying everything in site that does not belong. Back when we had the gardens still in place, I hated killing things that sprang up. That is largely why they became so overgrown. Now I rather enjoy the killing.
I have seen, though, that killing the English Ivy is difficult. Those Brits are a tough, stiff-lipped lot, you know. Sometimes I swear I can hear the ivy chanting "...never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in..."
I have to spray each little start of ivy at least three times if not four or five with RoundUp before it will start to succumb to my chemical sabotage. I suspect that it will be many years down the road and I will still be doing this. It seems like I can't so much kill the stuff as make it ... well, uncomfortable ... until it eventually gives in. For a period of time during this process, it seems to dig in deeper, determined to beat me ... but eventually RoundUp wins.
I know ... this is a bad habit of mine but I have been trying to make a religious analogy out of all of this and finally I have stumbled across it. I think that, to a large degree, our job as Christians is not to try to overwhelm or attempt to stomp out things in this world that are not Godly but rather to make them uncomfortable and drive them to a process that only God can work through. Build the relationships with both believers and unbelievers and then get to the point of where you can ask challenging questions ... questions designed not to squelch or overwhelm but just to make them uncomfortable. Make them think about their beliefs, their conditions, and their current situation. Challenge them in ways that eventually lead to a demise of things not of God and a proliferation of His love, justice, mercy, grace and salvation.
So, I am going to try to look at my life more that way. At first, it drove me nuts that I had to spray the ivy several times in order to kill it. But now I am seeing that making it uncomfortable is effective eventually, without coming on too strong and, in essence, losing ongoing points of contact too quickly because I drive it away.
(All that said, when you encounter someone in a stake of brokenness and humility, bringing them comfort and hope is critical. Jesus brought comfort to those who were searching ... but he asked the uncomfortable of those who thought they had it all together.)