Thoughtful Boldness

Thoughtful Boldness on God's Love and Grace

The Rose Garden


11-5a_labarge_magic-show.jpgGod promised me a rose garden. In my head I had envisioned long winding paths of immaculate lawns where around each corner was a glimpse of heaven renewed. I could picture it. I could visualize it. It would be perfect! I would walk there, inhaling the strong perfume of roses of every color, size and type imaginable while singing and rejoicing at the goodness of God to me and the beauty of this wonderful and amazing creation.
But then I started working in this garden that I had been given. I found out quickly that it was an old rose garden with a long history. There were generations of memories there in its long walls and solid embankments. There were still remnants of many statues and other garden wonders. Many of these were broken, neglected and long abandoned. Old waterways that were once flowing and free and designed to echo with ripples of pouring delight were now plugged up and stagnant with debris. Garden pathways were overgrown and some were completely gone or impassable. Flower beds that used to be packed with blooms now held one or two bushes of very hardy heritage.
And on the very roses that held the promise of so much magnificent beauty there were terrible and sharp thorns. Working in this garden was a place of pain. My hands reaching out to help and repair were repeatedly pierced, my side torn, and my brand new shirt was ripped and ruined. My blood flowed and the sharp thorns would stay under my skin troubling me for days and weeks on end. Out of self preservation, I would pull back, my careful attempts to tie up and support the canes and to care for the blooms was met with stinging prickers on every side. The long gloves that I had been issued to work in the garden were clumsy, outdated and almost useless. I was constantly finding that they were getting in the way of what needed to be done. I often took them off and left them lying on the path and tried instead to do my work more cleverly and carefully with just my tools and my bare hands.
And then there was the continual invasion of weeds. –I would never be finished with them! The pulling and yanking things up, often with one hand and other times with two. Some of the roots of the weeds were very deep. When I got to the wayward mulberry bush my attempts to pull it up made me fall on my butt, sprawling with the indignity of it all and sputtering in anger. As I got up, I dropped my handfuls of mulberry leaves, and went in search of a good strong shovel. With much sweating and groaning, the leafless spindly stalk finally came up. All around me there was a pile of misplaced dirt, and the whole corner of the garden was in complete upheaval. The root that was dangling from the bottom of my fist was longer than the bush was tall. It had obviously grown there for a long time, from the many years before even before I had even thought of walking in this garden. I moaned as I spied yet another mulberry bush. This rose garden was going to be a terrific amount of work!
Then the Japanese beetles arrived and began their festival. They were eating the centers out of the blooms. Their sleek bronzed backs shimmered and glowed as they trampled on the blossoms, and fornicated openly with each other. Where there was one, there were soon a hundred. I patiently tried to shake them off of the roses, going after them one by one. My little can of water and soap was filled with their crawling, seething mass, and still they came –ignoring my puny attempts to stop their culture of consumption and their destruction of the very hearts of my roses.
I also desperately needed to prune. Dead branches stood out stark and brown amid the fragile new growth of green leaves. My hands ached from the use of the heavy shears. The pruning saw gave me blisters as I worked and cut at a terrible angle sprawled in the dirt at the base of one big old stubborn bush. I begin to doubt what I was doing. How could I ever get all of that dead wood out? Will this garden die back faster than I can care for it? I struggled on. I watered, I fertilized, I sprayed and I worried. The garden grew and died and then lived and bloomed and then wilted again. Why was this happening? Why wasn’t it working? I sat down on a bench and put my head in my hands and simply cried. How would I ever have a beautiful rose garden? This one was such a complete and total mess.
And then I felt a presence behind me. Loving hands were placed on my shoulders and a kind voice called out my name. I knew who this was. It was the Master Gardener. I was so ashamed that the garden was not all perfect and beautiful and completely finished. It certainly wasn’t good enough yet to be seen. I couldn’t bear to face the Master Gardener. I stared straight ahead at my garden that wasn’t worthy to be viewed by anyone at all. Then I tried to explain,
” I am so sorry that the garden looks like this. There is too much to do here. And of the few roses that are left, the beetles are destroying every bloom, and there are way too many weeds and there are all of those terrible mulberries with their long deep roots and now there is black spot killing so many of the roses as well. I have tried everything that I know how to do, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference at all. — Master, I give up. I can’t do anything with this garden. It is too far gone. I can’t save it.”
The Master Gardener laughed quietly with love. “It isn’t your job to save it. That is my job. Your call is to simply care for the garden that I have given you. –To care for it the best that you can.”
As I sat there in silent despair on the bench, my eye caught the dark shadow of another Japanese beetle flying into another small sweet emerging bloom in order to have his lunch. –It was all just too much to take, and I cried out in protest.
“But I have cared for your Garden, Master!” I cried. “I have fought beetles and worked and sweated and pulled weeds and sprayed for diseases and sacrificed so much here for years and years. I have tried so hard to restore this place! But this garden looks nothing at all like the amazing garden that it used to be. I will never again get it to look like it did back in it’s glory years.”
The tender voice continued, and I felt the Master Gardeners hand smoothing my hair. ” You are right about that, my child. You cannot make this garden exactly like the picture of what it once was. In fact, you should not even try. A garden is a living and growing thing, and it changes with the wind and rain and it grows with time. It is different now than it was before, and it will be different again tomorrow. You cannot step in the same river twice and you cannot live in yesterdays garden, today. You are to take what is given to you here and with those old pieces, with these plants that are left, every day work with them to create something new.”
Feeling reprimanded, I slumped down further on the bench and stared at my hands. There was dirt under my fingernails and scratches that were both new and half healed. I had calluses now in places that I didn’t before, and there were fresh green stains on both of my thumbs. My hands were much different than when I had started working in the garden. I held up my hands to show them to the Master.
“But I have been working to create something. All of my work is seemingly for nothing. I quit! I’m done! I have done everything that I know how to do and this old garden of yours isn’t even close to being finished yet! ”
“My child, you will never be “finished” with your work, since there is yet no end of the evil beetles and the disease that come to attack and destroy my beautiful creation. There will always be another mulberry bush growing in the wrong place, choking out the light and stealing all the nutrients from the beautiful rose bushes. Your job is to be faithful, my child.”
At this point, the Master Gardener took hold of both of my up stretched hands and pulled me onto to my feet. I found myself pulled around and staring into the wise gentle eyes filled with love for both me and for this old garden.
“My child, what you need is to have just have a little bit of faith. All you need is a little bit of faith, no bigger than a tiny little mustard seed. You don’t need enough faith for the next year, the next week or for even the next day. You just need to have enough faith to help get you through the next minute. To get up every day and to do the work that is laid out in front of you right now. Your job is to be the caretaker of the garden that I have given to you today. –The place that I have placed you in now. Work in love to create something beautiful today, and all of the work of your days will grow together to create a new garden, and a new place of joy and delight.”
I bowed my head at the wisdom of my Master Gardener and looked down at my hands that were being held so gently. The scratches on my hands had been healed, and the stains and dirt were now nowhere to be seen. The calluses remained. Somehow I knew that they were both a testament to the work that I had done and would serve as protection for the work that I still had left to do.
“Even though you have worked so very faithfully, there is still more work that I need you to do. Prepare a feast to celebrate and to give thanks for this beautiful garden that I have given you to work in. Take joy in what you have created and grown here already and tomorrow take up your mustard seed of faith and work each minute at the task that is right in front of you.”
With these words, the Master Gardener hugged me and held me close, and then let me go with a blessing. And the sun shown down on the roses and the mulberry bushes, and the beetles buzzed and flew as a faint heavenly scent of roses found its way down the scattered paths and embankments. It was a beautiful rose garden, both yesterday, today and tomorrow. My work was in front of me. The never ending work of the garden, and the joyful work of celebrating and enjoying how much has already been done. I had better stop sitting and get started. After all, the Master Gardener had given me a beautiful rose garden.