Years ago, I spent some time working as a groundskeeper at a beautiful garden estate in New Hampshire. It was a lush little plot of earth set right on the rugged New England coast, a stone's throw from the sea. Every day I'd drive the 'ole Chevy "Eurosport" Wagon (aptly named the Eggplant) down the winding ocean road to the gardens, to a place that was crammed with life: dozens of hybrid roses, delicate iris, a greenhouse packed with bougainvillea, cacti, ferns and flowers. The sea air was rich and fertile, pouring over us and into us from the Atlantic. The music of the waves was always soft and near. The irony was that in the midst of all this life, I was going through a kind of death.
It was a kind of "dark night of the soul." A deep fog surrounded me then, and life seemed suddenly like a pathless void. So, finding no clear path, I took to the soil. I tossed hay and trimmed roses. We hauled dirt and cut grass, kept the greenhouse green, and the plants well watered. It turns out the simple rhythm of the work in that rose garden was just what I needed. Sometimes I can think too much.
On the way home one day, I found a little church, coincidentally named for St. Therese, the Little Flower. It was right off the ocean road, just minutes from work! So I'd pop in time and again and lay my troubled heart on the altar. "Where am I going? What do I do now?" Things never got any clearer, but there was at least this daily act of the will to "lay things at His feet." Sometimes I think that's all we can do; like little kids with shoelaces all knotted up from running around, we go to Daddy to fix it. Some knots take longer to work out than others.
I see now His timing was perfect. I spent a few months with my brother, which was priceless. We had a rundown little apartment we jokingly named the "Palace," right next door to Sander's Fish Market. Right upstairs was the coldest, meanest old lobsterman you ever laid eyes on. He had his traps all over the backyard, never said a word to us. We called him "Mr. Happy."
Walks at night along the river between Maine and New Hampshire, to a pub for a pint or just out for fresh air, were so good for the soul. And our conversations were bonding. I'm so grateful for those days when the younger brother became the older. Looking back, there were lessons all around me. I was amazed to learn about the practice of trimming the rose bushes at just such a precise angle to prevent mold, or the covering of them with thick burlap when a chill was due. Don't we need to do as much, trimming our desires, and knowing when to conceal and when to reveal our hearts in the midst of this often cold world?
My favorite lesson might seem the most ridiculous. In the early days of spring, we covered those scented rosy beauties with..... horse poop. Now that's a fun job. What a parable there is in this one. Here's a flower famous the world over for its scent, and I'm putting horse poop at its roots? The lesson - Sometimes the stinky stuff is just what we need to help us grow. This puts a new twist on the experience of having a crappy day! Maybe we should actually wish for it! Any gardener will tell you that dark, smelly compost is so often what generates the most fertile, nutrient-rich soil. And horse manure for a good gardener is like gold... nuggets.
The question then, as we continue the Lenten journey: what's crappy in your life? What's the poop with you? Maybe it can turn into something efficacious? It depends on how we respond to the soil in which we're planted...