Nature is a wonderful teacher, and I’ve learned many life lessons by spending time in the garden. At times my garden seems like a metaphor of my life. Both of us have been struggling this seemingly endless season of our lives. Me with my cancer and chemo and everything that goes with it, and my garden with the lack of rain and the sweltering heat of a Louisiana summer. In my fragile state, at times, I haven’t been able to take the best care of my plants and flowers, and they have suffered for it. Nothing stirs me to move more than when I look out the window at my garden and see leaves drooping and flowers dropping petals. They look so sad, lonely, and neglected. In my mind I hear them crying out to me, “How could you!” “Look at what’s happening to me!” “I’m in pain!” “Where are you?” “I need you!” There were times when I had neglected them for so long and they seemed so far gone that I doubted that even a drink of water would bring them back. But, thankfully, I was wrong. Even as I stood next to them apologizing, with the watering hose in my hand, promising that I would not forsake them again, almost immediately I could see life flowing back into the stems and leaves. I could see the strength returning as very slowly, the flowers raised their heads towards the heavens in thanksgiving. Pruning off the dead buds and cutting back the too far gone branches, their tenacity amazes me. Compassion fills my heart as I imagine them sitting in their pots, dying a little each day, waiting for me to come with life-giving water. I know, it’s a plant, it doesn’t have a brain. But, to me, I have a responsibility to nurture and care for every living thing that God has created. I love my plants and I know it may sound silly to some people, but I am filled with compassion for them when they are visibly in distress. Their strife makes me sad.
In comparison to my love and care of my flower garden, I know that God cares so much more abundantly for me. I empathize with nature so much because those very same questions and reproach that I have perceived directed toward me from the flowers in my garden, I have at one time or another directed toward my God. Just as the garden depends on me, I depend on God. He is my sustenance. Without Him, all hope would be lost and I, like my flowers, would wither away and die. Like them, so many times this summer, I have wilted under a burden of suffering. But, God in his mercy, looked on me with eyes of compassion and healed me with His love. Healing comes in so many ways. It is not always in the form of physical healing, but can be a healing of the heart and spirit, the courage to face whatever life brings, a supernatural strength to get through the dark valleys or bare the heaviest burdens, and, most importantly, the gift of knowing that we are never alone – even on our darkest days.
Like the watered flowers, life is beginning to flow back into me. I’m feeling better, and more like my old self, every day. I may wilt a little in fatigue or in the night when I can’t sleep because of the joint and nerve pain in my legs, but, I’m learning to deal with it. Like those flowers, I’m holding on. I’m learning how to deal with the new “normal” that is my life with this disease. I, too, am tenacious.
Even the insects in my garden have something to teach me. Just observing them in their environment brings me so much joy. One of the lessons I learned from the bees is – get up early. If you want to water in the morning, do it before the bees wake up. They do NOT like to be disturbed when they are having breakfast. And, even though it seems you have won a battle as, in their frustration, they fly away from the plant you are watering – they will get their revenge. I learned this the hard way as one of the little buggers laid in wait for me outside my back door yesterday afternoon. I was all prepared to take Rosie for a short walk and just as we stepped out the door, WHAM, a bee stung me on my leg. Oh well, I’m not going to hold it against him. After all, the poor bee gave up his life in his pursuit to protect and feed the hive. I suppose it got tired of me invading its territory. Even insects are capable of self-sacrifice!
Patience is a virtue that the Hummingbirds model all too well. Whenever I remove their feeders to wash and refill them with fresh sugar water, they patiently sit on the clothesline under my arbor or flutter among the flowers close to their perch watching and waiting for me to come outside with the delicious nectar they love so much. They have learned that I will provide for them, just as I have learned that God will provide for me. If I am patient, God always gives me just what I need; it may not be exactly what I want or expect, but it is what I need.
I don’t know how many times this “season” the birds who inhabit my yard have waited in vain for me to fill the bird feeders when, at times, I was too sick to notice they were empty. And, yet, they showed up every day, checking to see if their favorite meal, black oil sunflower seed, had arrived. There have been times when I saw them congregating on the bar above the feeders and I just couldn’t make it out there to fill them. Still, they trusted that I would eventually come. Their conversation might have gone like this, “Where is she?” “Doesn’t she know we’re hungry?” “Just wait, she’ll come.” “Nope, I’m going to find my own food.” “No, we need her, she has food that we can’t get on our own.” “Don’t give up!” Their plight and their perseverance in the face of seeming abandonment resembles my own inner battle, and strengthens my resolve to fight on, to never give up. I depend on God to feed me, to give me food that nourishes my soul and gives me the strength and vigor to withstand those days when my “plate” seems empty. His food fills me with hope for a healthy future and the determination to never give up.
Truly, the things one can learn while spending time in a garden is invaluable! Gardening is, undeniably, an instrument of God’s grace. But, the most important garden we can tend is the garden of our soul. If you work with God to nourish the condition of your soul, growth will follow, and the harvest will be magnificent.