Hope, Faith, and Gardening

This week, I headed outside to tackle some spring yard work- cleaning up leaves, picking up sticks, trimming shrubs and grasses. Yes, it was still cold, and yes, there were still piles of snow here and there; but the chores of spring wait for no one. These aren't always my favorite tasks, but as I am clearing out the old I get excited by the new growth and I'm reminded that spring is really coming regardless of what the thermometer says.

Over the years I have had a lot of wonderful successes and just as many failures in my yard. Plants have bloomed, plants have died, plants have been eaten! This is the capricious nature of gardening.  The garden is always at the mercy of too little rain, too much rain, natural disasters, bugs, diseases, mold, mildew, and various critters.  You can do everything right and your thriving garden can still be reduced to nubs in one night by a hungry deer.  When you decide to put your mark on nature, you learn to give up a certain amount of control.  Of course, as in life, our sense of control is just an illusion. Through the unpredictable nature of gardening, many life lessons can be learned. Gardening teaches you the beauty that comes from patience, perseverance, and persistence. Although it can bring tough lessons, gardening is also a creative, rewarding, and optimistic hobby.  It isn't easy to look at a patch of hard, cold, dark soil right now and imagine that beauty will "possibly" be the reward in a matter of months.  But, that is the life of a gardener- you have to have faith in what you don't see and have hope for what's to come in the future.

Yesterday I was reminded of one of my most memorable gardening lessons.  When we moved into our current home, I was excited to put my mark on the yard.  Outside my patio door was a planting area that had a few overgrown herbs, but nothing much else to look at.  I decided to plant two uniquely colored shrub roses that would bloom most of the summer- a little bit pink, a little bit peach, with a touch of yellow.  The colors reminded me of a tropical sunset.

The roses were planted and they settled into their new home.  They grew quickly and bloomed prolifically. Besides the annual attack of Japanese Beetles, they were a dream.  For six years they blossomed and grew and I had the good fortune to look out my patio door and enjoy them each day.

Last winter, a particularly harsh wind storm blew through overnight.  When I got up the next morning, I looked outside and immediately saw the gap in my landscape.  One of my beloved roses had been blown completely out of the ground. It was gone without a trace! Thankfully the other rose survived, but since it was part of a pair I worried that I wouldn't find another one to match. Even if I could find the same unusual variety, it would still take years before the new rose would reach the same maturity- this was very disappointing.  Since it was still winter, I had some time to think about what I would do to replace it.  A few weeks later, another storm blew through and literally blew the other rose right out of the ground! To have it happen once was unusual, to have it happen twice was unprecedented.  Even though it was "only plants", I was still sad thinking I wouldn't be able to look out my window each day and see my pretty roses.

Sometimes in the garden, you lose one thing to gain something potentially better (that's why gardeners are optimists) so I started thinking about what would be even prettier than the roses.  Spring turned into summer and still I couldn't quite find what I was looking for so the spot stayed empty.  And then one day, something caught my eye when I looked out the patio door. It appeared to be a weed but when I went outside for a closer look I realized it was actually a sprout of the original rose bush! Somehow, despite the trauma of being ripped out of the ground, enough root remained to allow it to grow again.  Deep from within, this tiny sprout appeared and in time this miniature little rose even started to bloom. Shortly thereafter, the other rose did the same thing. Both of my roses that appeared to be gone for good were now making a comeback!

It would be easy to write that off as a gardening victory and move on.  But, since gardening is full of life lessons I pondered the greater meaning.  Is the lesson that "change is inevitable"?  Or that "life will surprise you"? Or that "patience has its rewards"? I sensed a different message.  In this case, I could personally relate to the rose.  

I have been that rose, and I'm guessing you have too.  I have been happy and comfortable in my life when I have been completely uprooted by a sudden storm.   Whether that storm was the loss of a job, or an unexpected move, or a life-changing test result, or the loss of a loved one- the result was the same.  The storm blew me out of my comfort zones.  I was knocked off my feet, the breath knocked out of me.  The world seemed dark and barren, incomplete, and unfamiliar. It was easy to feel like routine and life itself would never be the same.  I felt so damaged and depleted that I couldn't imagine a life of fullness ever returning. Does that sound familiar? Have you been through a storm?

Then one day, a tiny sprout appeared! Out of a dry, cracked earth came a tender stalk.  It was fragile but growing.  A small sign of new life from a root that we may never have known was there.  A strength that came from a place so deep that we were left surprised.  Even when all appeared to be lost, there was still life, hope, love, strength, and beauty inside.  It was a lesson that repeated itself- a growing and persistent whisper-- hold on, have faith, don't lose hope.

Gardening can teach you a lot about loss and abundance.  Doubt and hope. Death and resurrection.  Every year we watch a cold, dark ground come to life.  Every year we secretly doubt that it is going to happen until we are surprised on a daily basis by life bursting forth bud by bud, leaf by leaf, flower by flower until finally spring cannot be denied!  For me, the life lessons of gardening come back to hope and faith.  When all appears to be gone in life, as in the garden, I have great hope that there is more. And I have great faith that God will restore me just as He does my garden each year. 

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