f Morning Rose Prayer Gardens: 03/01/2012 - 04/01/2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lent 2012, Week 6

Fast from jealousy; pray for trust
Fast from gossiping; control your thoughts 

            Entering the front office my face flushed as all conversation stopped and a depressive silence ensued from the other five women. My heart pounded hard in my chest while they stared at me walking across the area to the only enclosed space that was my office. I could hear their snickering through the open door. I’m not sure how I became the object of gossip, the adult form of bullying, but it had gone on for years.
I was in a lead position usually only held by men. I had a great deal of responsibility to keep the manufacturing facility running, but no authority to impose the necessary work flow; technically I was not a manager. The men often grumbled about work assignments but complied. With the women…it seemed a battle line had been drawn.
While at that job I remember the struggles I had to control my thoughts and not engage in the destructive fray of mean words. Sometimes I actually succeeded in getting one or two of the women to offer a genuine smile…that is until they realized that the other's were watching and not wanting to be the next object of discussion over lunch, would quickly look away.
I’ve never been able to fully understand how I became the subject of such ridicule. I admit to being task-oriented, probably missing a few nonverbal signals from the women and apparently doing something to perturb them. I never learned what I had done to tick them off, and so not knowing could not amend for my grievously offensive error. I tried to keep moving forward…which I think ticked them off all the more.
I had a quote hanging on the wall behind my desk that read “Is it true? Is it fair? Is it kind?” I would read that quote each time I entered my office, as did anyone who came to see me. Those few words succinctly reflected the heart of Christ. And with that, I and those who came into my space could take a breath for a purposeful silencing as we discussed the flow of work.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lent 2012, Week 5

Fast from anger; be more patient
Fast from pettiness; be more mature

                When I was in my early 20’s I was always angry about something. It was the age at which I learned that the world did not revolve around my expectations, and that my constant complaining and pettiness were unproductive.
                I was married at eighteen to a man only a year older. It was a good Catholic wedding with fourteen attendants, the officiating priest a relative, and the nave of the church filled to capacity with extended family and friends of our parents.
                It was 1972 and I had wanted to be married in a garden wearing a ring of flowers in my long blonde hair and a gauzy white gown that I would make. I had imagined a small gathering of well-wishers with a porch reception of cake and tea.
                My very Catholic grandmother and mother would hear none of it. There would be a three-tiered veil instead of the halo of flowers on my head. The small wedding I desired—and one that would not put everyone into debt—remained a fantasy.
                The ceremony, reception, honeymoon and following two years were relatively uneventful. It was in the third year of this marriage when the limerence of being love struck wore off. I noticed a significant change in my husband…and it was not a good change.
                He was moody and angry and I often responded the same way, mirroring his behaviors. We became annoyed at the least provocations, petty and controlling in our anger. He was rarely at home.
                I was too young and ill-equipped to recognize the root of his behaviors. I often believed him when he said I was the cause of all the marital unrest. That was until the day he left me for my brother’s wife.
                My anger and pain consumed me.
                Living with my brother until I found my footing should have been a blessing for both of us.  The problem was that my anger and hurt bled into nearly everything and anyone at his house. I would pick away at every emotional wound inflicted by my ex and share my suffering with whoever was at hand. I was impatient with myself and those around me. I tried to make things go the way I wanted them to go. I had lost control of myself and my world.
                Eventually people stopped coming to my brother’s house, stopped calling to see how I was doing and stopped returning my calls after having exhausted all their excuses for not wanting to be around me. It took a while but eventually I realized that my immature ways of dealing with the hurt and anger had driven them all away…including my brother. Shortly thereafter I moved from his house into our grandmother’s home.
                It took time and a lot of coaching from my grandmother for me to let go of the anger and learn to be more patient through the healing process. I don’t recall any one thing she said as much as I remember the calmness that she encouraged. It was a time of maturing as a woman and recognizing how much my behavior influenced the world around me.
                Now in my late 50’s, I continue to learn about patience and occasionally laugh at my own pettiness when things do not meet my expectations. Some days it’s a challenge to be charitable in all things. But to be charitable is my personal definition of maturity.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lent 2012, Week 4

Fast from worry; trust in Divine Providence
Fast from discouragement, be full of hope 

                As a gardener I had never anticipated becoming an author. My first book was released in the spring of 2011 with two other manuscripts currently in flow to be published. The publication of my first book required an unwavering trust in the Divine hand. This is the story of how the first little book came to be.
                For several years I had coordinated volunteers at St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, Michigan, and with them created prayer and memorial gardens on the center’s grounds. Several volunteers and retreatants wanted to know how to create their own outdoor prayer spaces, so I developed a program to help them with the process.
Recently unemployed and having the necessary time, I compiled all of my program materials and wrote the book A Garden of Visible Prayer. I felt almost immediately God’s attentiveness to this project; nearly the entire book was hand written in the Adoration Chapel. It wasn’t until I shared the typed manuscript with a journalist friend that the concept of publishing was introduced. A seed of hope was planted…a very small seed mind you, and one that God personally tended.
Over the next eight weeks my world would dramatically change. It was almost as if I were in a little boat on a fast moving stream shooting white-water rapids without a paddle. If God would have spoken, I could imagine him saying “Get in, sit down and hang on. We’re going for a ride.”
The events that followed were lined up by His hand. My phone call to the Catholic Writers’ Guild found the president unexpectedly at home that afternoon. A member of the guild had paid double tuition for the upcoming writer’s conference and I was the recipient of their generosity.  I was offered to share the drive to the event in New Jersey and would not have to pay for transportation and as a volunteer at the conference, my lodging would be paid. And surprisingly, because of a cancellation, there was one slot left open in the book pitching sessions which were booked six months in advance.
I was humbled and dumbfounded. I shared with a few friends what had transpired in the past week and word quickly spread. In a matter of days checks arrived to cover the last of my expenses…food.
Considering all the events that had taken place with no real effort on my part I should have been at peace, but I wasn’t. I was going half way across the country with people I didn’t know on money I didn’t have into an industry I knew nothing about. I was nearly overcome with fear at the prospect of what I was about to do. The morning of my departure was spent in the Adoration Chapel again seeking my Lord, and once I found Him and took hold of His hand I didn’t let go for the next ten days.
It wasn’t until the sixth day of the adventure that the book was pitched to a publishing editor. I stood in the hall with fifty other writers all waiting for their seven-minute pitch session with various Catholic publishers. The anxiety was nearly suffocating as potential authors waited their turn. So far that morning no one had successfully secured a publisher. I was surprisingly calm for I knew all of this was out of my hands. I hoped that my book proposal would please the editor. I hoped I would be open to hear why my book was insufficient and how to improve it. I hoped I wouldn’t faint.
I sat down with the most gracious woman I had ever met.  She asked a few questions, asked for my written book proposal, asked if I had a completed manuscript I could send her that afternoon, and then handed me her business card. A business card was confirmation that the manuscript was worthy of publishing. My breath caught in my throat as I stood to leave. The golden ticket, her business card, was in my hand.
Going through the exit door and into the far end of the hallway, I said nothing to the watching crowd as I held up the golden ticket. A roar of recognition exploded with cheering and applause and shouts to one another that the gardener had succeeded.
There were a few more twists and turns along the way to being published. But all through the process I knew it wasn’t about my book…it was His book and He had prospered the works of my hands (Ps. 90:17b).
I will be eternally humbled by God’s attentiveness. Whenever I face discouragement or worry about my writing, I have proof that everything is in His hands. I simply hope to be open enough to cooperate with his will.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lent 2012, Week 3

Fast from pessimism; be an optimist
Fast from harsh judgments; think kindly thoughts

                I had secured a work-study job cleaning and washing glassware for a lab in the Botany and Plant Pathology Department at Michigan State University. I had changed majors from horticulture because I couldn’t keep up with the class load and work requirements. Botany and plant pathology offered me a way to continue to work with plants and incorporate a growing awareness of my being a systems type person.
                It didn’t take long for the graduate students and professors of that floor to realize I did not fit in. I was from Detroit, had not attended high school and did not have the necessary foundations for research. I was also not good at small talk and usually remain silent rather than bumble my way through luncheon conversations.
                I was judged, at times harshly and often for good reason. I didn’t have the exposure to sciences and mathematics that the younger students, fresh from high school, had acquired. One particularly painful event took place while a graduate student was doing research utilizing dry-ice. I had never seen dry-ice before and asked about it. He did not hesitate to tell me that he thought I was being coy and my question ridiculous.
Like most people I too wanted to feel that I was contributing in some small way. I had worked within the labs for over a year and asked the professor and aforementioned grad student if I could do something besides wash…like maybe learn about their research. They decided to let me run a test of growth hormones on seedlings. I was excited and asked for instructions on how to proceed. They asked if I knew how to grow seeds, and of course as a gardener I could, and answer yes. They handed me multiple bottles with mixing directions and said “Then just go and do it.”
For months I carefully tended, measured and recorded. The morning after the study ended, I confidently turned in my results…only to be mocked during lunch. The study was flawed from the start. I was simple and ignorant of research protocol that they knew so well, and they had just proved to me and the rest of the staff how ignorant I really was.
I left the program. I was no longer optimistic about a future that would revolve around plants.
It was easy to judge them as harshly as they had judged me. It was easy to be self defeating and a pessimist. It meant I didn’t have to try anymore…failure was unavoidable so why make an effort.
I didn’t take classes during that summer’s break. As I puttered about the yard of the rental house near campus, I eventually came to realize my true nature. I was by birth a gardener with grubby hands and dirty knees, not a scientist. The Botany Department’s assessment of me was overly harsh but still contained a kernel of truth. I sincerely hoped they would succeed in their research…it would benefit so many people.
And I would succeed as a gardener, for we are optimists those of us who plant a seed.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lent 2012, Week 2

Fast from negativism; be positive.
Fast from complaining; be grateful. 

                The piece of ground on which I planned to work was choked with weeds, riddled with tangled bramble roots and armored by canes of wild roses. Small boulders and saplings warned me of the challenges ahead. This unused piece of land, a wilderness consuming two thirds of my city lot outside Detroit, was set in my mind to flourish and be fruitful.
                I began to dig. I dug with determination and a sense of hope and joy in my heart. I buried all the comments about the impossibility of my endeavor. A song in my spirit shored me up for the work that lay ahead.
Artist, Charlie Harper
                For there, just below the surface, beyond the boulders, brambles, roses and roots lay a soil teeming with life and possibilities. I needed only to find my way in.
                I found my systematic approach to clearing the land gradually bending. The reclamation plan of doing A then B soon gave way to the functionality of focusing on one small area at a time and slowly moving into the next tangled mess.
                Arduously I labored. Every shovel thrust seemed to meet with resistance from imbedded rocks hidden beneath the soil. Every sapling seemed to have a root system that belied its small stature. As I unearthed obstructions I was surprised by the amount of glass and rubbish that was also buried there. What I had thought to be uncontaminated land turned out to be somebody’s dumping ground; the weeds merely hid their sins.
                It wasn’t long before I had mounds of limbs and roots to burn. The stones had been carted off with larger rocks rolled to the side. The granite boulders were part of this land and would remain. Now exposed, they offered a foundational beauty. The weeds that had been piled in an out-of-the-way location were beginning to break down and would in time compost enough to be nourishment for the soil from which they were removed. The old bicycle tires, plastics, and glass rubbish had been bagged and discarded.
                Eventually the little piece of land, my back yard, was cleared and the smooth dark soil lay soft and clean. It had been resurrected and was ready for new life. It would now serve a purpose of fruitfulness and beauty. I would lovingly attend to the dwarf fruit trees soon to be planted and the flowers and herbs that would accompany them through the seasons. I was grateful for the gift of perseverance.