My wife loves plants. I love beautiful places that encourage a restful heart. The result is that I have learned to love gardening and the general niftyness of the plant world. Caring for plants can also open our eyes to larger truths. For example: After thinking over the relationships I’ve been blessed with, I’ve concluded that people are what gardeners call “part-shade/part-sun” plants. As you may know, a full-sun plant does best when stuck out to fend for itself, soaking up the sun with no shade, protective or otherwise. (Think daisies in a field.) A full-shade plant cannot ever be challenged by direct sunlight, or it withers. It needs a constant covering, and lots of water. (If you’re familiar with hostas, you know what this looks like.) Part-shade/part-sun plants need protection from the sun’s most brutal rays. But they also need something to reach for – they need sunlight overhead to become strong and healthy. They do best growing in dappled shade, near, but not beneath, older and larger plants. We, like they, need the help of more mature friends – people who have survived our current stage of life. But we don’t thrive if our every move is coached, corrected and kept “safe.” We grow strongest when we’re given a goal to shoot for, protection from our worst errors, and allowed to work the rest out for ourselves. This can be especially challenging for parents. Scripture and instinct should keep us from abandoning our young sprouts to the withering sun. But do we bury them in shade, producing wispy, wind-blown tendrils instead of sturdy little shoots? Maybe nurturing our children means talking through issues of culture and Christian morality instead of hiding from them. It might even mean saying “yes” one week and “no” the next, depending on whether their souls are growing bleached (too much sun) or spindly (not enough). It certainly means remembering that they are living, growing things like plants, not lumber to be assembled. People are partial-shade plants. So let’s love like birch trees.