Last night, I stood in our front doorway to say goodbye to my husband, who left on a short snowboarding trip to celebrate the end of the quarter. (Leaving me cause to celebrate of my own — house to myself, huzzah!) As he was busy packing his board into the back of his car, I really just wanted to say, “OK bye honey have fun!” and go snuggle into my nice warm bed with a book. While it would satisfy my true cat nature, I thought it wouldn’t be very wife-like, so I figured I should at least make some effort to bid him a proper goodbye.

So instead I remained in the doorway, trying to find something to divert myself from the cold, harsh reality of the world outside my bed covers. My eye was soon drawn to the flower bed by the front door, which is my current obsession, I mean, project. Normally, when my gaze falls on this particular bed it is with a critical cast — analyzing how much each plant has grown in the ten seconds since I last inspected it, planning what plants to put in next, or figuring out what to do with the existing ones.

In the dark, I couldn’t see any of this. All I could see were the shapes of the established plants, illuminated by the light spinning out from the doorway: the spiky leaves of the iris, the spindly branches of the rhododendron, the delicate oval leaves of the startup (OK, weed!) growing into the cracks of the front pathway. No matter what the plant, in their blind, instinctive way, they were all twisting away from the shady overhang of the house towards the life-giving comfort of the sun. And every single one of them, regardless of size or shape, was leaning at the exact same angle.

At that moment, the shape of their yearning struck me as simply, elegantly beautiful, and stayed with me long after the house grew quiet and I was tucked up in my bed. I think we are all a little bit like the plants, growing towards whatever source of heat and light we have put first in our lives. If we are put in a situation where we have good exposure to that source, we thrive and produce things of great beauty. We might do OK in less than optimal situations, but the growth just isn’t quite the same as when we’re allowed to follow our personal sun.

Take my good friend who is getting married in June. The other day, I was lucky enough to witness her baptism, a symbolic washing away of the past before starting a new life with her wonderful husband. She and I have very similar stories, and somehow, miraculously, we both seem to have ended up at very similar places in our lives.

For her, religion has been the light towards which she grew. She met her fiance at church a little over a year ago, and by becoming a part of the community there, she ultimately gained the courage and confidence to accept his love. As the culmination of that year of growth and hard work, her baptism was a hugely important step in her life, and I was immensely honored to bear witness to the cleansing of her soul.

Alas, my own belief in organized religion took flight once I went to college, along with my virginity and a number of other cherished symbols of youthful innocence. So I was slightly skeptical about going to church again, thinking the dry tinder of my soul’s transgressions would surely catch fire immediately upon setting foot in a holy building. Luckily, no such combustion occurred, and the ceremony was done with such simple beauty that it brought tears to my eyes and restored some measure of faith to my battered, cynical heart.

What truly took the breath from my lungs, however, was the look of sheer joy on my friend’s face as she emerged dripping from the water. In a word, it was holy. She had the look of a plant who has found the perfect angle to the sun, and I for one cannot wait to see how she continues to grow and bloom.

So for my dear friend, faith has been the light that made her growth possible. But we all have different ways of leaning towards the sun, and it sometimes takes a while to find which angle gets the best exposure. My husband’s is teaching, and mine without a doubt is my family. I spent years trying to get away from my hometown, only to get desperately homesick as soon as I left and come running back at the soonest opportunity. Once I finally embraced my life here and my role as a family person, I started to grow in ways I’d never imagined possible: I fell in love, got married, and achieved a contentment that no amount of traveling had ever produced in me.

Most recently, in order to improve my sun exposure, I left my job to spend more time as a caregiver for my family. Although the decision continues to be a scary one, I keep reminding myself that I am only doing what every good plant does best — following my sunshine.

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