The only thing I really know about gardening is that to do it well takes a lot of hard work and dedication.  I’ve never had a green thumb but have known a few people who do.  Those who are really good at gardening are able to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors, and those who are great cultivate gardens so lush and plentiful that others are able to find nourishment as well.  To be a gardener is to give life.

Gardner is a good name.  The name Gardner is an ancient derivative of the German Gartner which was the occupational name for, you guessed it, gardeners.  This week my Aunt and Uncle, Bill and Sandy Gardner, will celebrate something all to rare in our world.  They have been married 50 years!

The amazing thing about this is not just the longevity of a marriage that has taken place in a culture of celebrity-worship — where the very concept of marriage is mocked and politicized into all sorts of unholy nonsense.  No, the truly amazing thing about my Aunt and Uncle’s marriage is that if you spend more than 5 minutes around them you get the obvious impression that they actually love one another deeply and enjoy each others company.

The Gardner’s have 2 children, Ron and Deanna, who both have marriages and children of their own.  This garden has given life.

What my Aunt and Uncle are probably less aware of however is the sustained impact they have had on the rest of us.  As part of their extended family I for one can confess having received from them a life-long witness to the hard work and rewards of cultivating love and faithfulness.  This garden has given light and reflected a beauty larger than itself.

Anyone who has been married longer than a week knows that there are difficult seasons.  Seasons that require tilling the ground and waiting patiently to see signs of life.  There are storms that have to be weathered.  Weeds require getting the gardener’s hands dirty and brow sweaty.  Blood, sweat and tears are sown into the earth.  Those who endure are able to see, smell and taste the fruit of their long labor.

I remember fondly our families getting together over the holidays and Bill and Sandy inviting us to their place at the lake during the summer months.  To them it was simply an assumed generosity with which they lived their lives.  But to an observant child it was an invitation to learn by experience what it meant to love vulnerably in the context of a faithful marriage.

Uncle Bill and Aunt Sandy, “thank you” seems so insufficient.   Know that the seeds you have sown have scattered far.  There is a Master Gardener reflected well in the life you have so generously shared.  I’m grateful to have stood in the warm shadows of your garden and I admire still your devotion to one another.  May the Lord of the garden grant you many more years of faithful marriage.

And you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.

Isaiah 58:11

The past few weeks I’ve been harping on my students about the importance of seeing the context of the larger Story of God in the Scriptures while looking for his work in their own lives.  There are patterns and themes in the Scriptures that reflect the same ones in our own lives and vice versa.  When one of them gets past the blank stares and glassed-over quietness they open up and share honestly their struggles and questions… this is really the part of the job I love!  Someone steps into the fray long enough to vulnerably share a chapter or two of their own story.

Last year I read a fascinating book titled Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships. by Curt Thompson, M.D.  Here is a snippet that I have found very useful:

“…we can be changed by allowing God’s story to intersect with our 0wn.  When we tell our stories or listen to another person’s story, our left and right modes of processing integrate.  This is why simply reading the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts has so little efficacy.  The same can be said for Jesus’ admonitions during the Sermon on the Mount or the apostle Paul’s instructions to the early church communities.  Isolating commands for right living apart from their storied context is at best neurologically nonintegrating and, at worst, disintegrating.  This is why telling our stories is so vitally important.

But narratives are not the only instruments within Scripture that can help us integrate our minds and lives.  Poetry is a another powerful literary tool.  It has several distinct features:

  • By activating our sense of rhythm, poetry  accesses our right-mode operations and systems.
  • Reading poetry has the effect of catching us off guard.  Our imaginations are invigorated when our usual linear expectations of prose (that one word will follow obediently behind another on the way to a predictable end) don’t apply.  This can stimulate buried emotional states and layers of memory.
  • Finally, poetry not only appeals to right-mode processing, but to left mode as well, given its use of language.  This makes it a powerful integrative tool.”

It’s no wonder then that poetry, as a literary genre, is so commonplace throughout the Scriptures.  Our lives are being written, our stories are being told, and we make much better sense of our these stories as we know the Grand One of redemption.  Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and said “we are his workmanship,” the “poema” in the Greek… we are the “poema” or poem of God.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light. 

Psalm 36:7-9