Robert and Keri Blanchard both like working in the yard, even though they know that someone else may be those who enjoy the beauty and fruit of it.
I am coming up to the tail end of being on vacation for the last couple of weeks. My wife, Keri, and I didn’t go anywhere fancy – we just spent some time visiting family and exploring some of the local attractions. But, one of the things that we did manage to accomplish while I was on vacation was finishing up some projects in our yard. Keri and I both like working in the yard. Last year we put in some raised beds for a vegetable garden. This year we expanded our garden a little bit. Keri is growing a whole range of produce, including different peppers and tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, watermelons, squash, and strawberries. On our porch, we also have several containers with herbs so that she can just step out the back door and grab some of those fresh plants to flavor our food.
Now, I like helping Keri with the vegetable garden, but the part of gardening that I really enjoy is finding good shrubs and flowers to make the space more beautiful. This year we made some major overhauls to the parsonage yard. Some of the changes had some religious allusion. In the one corner that gets sunlight all day, we added in some roses that have long been a symbol of Mary and Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Along the porch, I added a row of bleeding hearts as a nod to the sacred heart of Jesus, which bleeds for us. In each area where I planted these flowers, I had to prepare the space by removing the weeds that had moved in. Then after the plants were in the ground, I used a weed barrier, mulch, and an automated soaker hose system to ensure that the flowers would have a healthy environment to take root and grow.
Some of the changes were just practical. There was a section of the yard that was completely overrun by weeds and ornamental grass that our dedicated trustee and our custodian had been weed-whacking down to the ground each summer to try and contain it. So, I went and dug out all the ornamental grass by the root and did the same for as many of the weeds as I could. Then a few weeks later, I dug out more weeds that had survived the first round and had started coming back up. Eventually, with the weeds somewhat under control, I placed a few elderberry bushes that will fill up that whole space in a few years and produce some berries to help feed the birds. With the elderberries in the ground, I once again laid down some weed barrier and some mulch to help ensure that my new shrubs won’t be choked out by persistent weeds that insist on coming back.
All told our various projects to beautify and manage the yard took the better part of a month and a significant financial investment. More than once during that time, it was not lost on me that all of the time, money, and labor that we are investing in this yard we may not be the beneficiaries of. As an Elder in the United Methodist Church, the reality is that I never know how long I will live in one place. And yet, this exercise of making the world around me more beautiful and more well cared for is exactly the work we all share as Christians.
None of us knows how long we will live in this place called mortal life. Now, this could be cause for despair if one viewed themselves as the center of the universe. If one believed that one’s own satisfaction and desires were all that mattered, what is all of this even for? But as Christians, we know that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. We know that we serve a God who is transforming the world in beauty to reconcile all creation to glorious, heavenly communion.
So, we all, day by day, ministry by ministry, plant seeds that we may never see the fruit of for ourselves. I think of all the saints from my home church who have passed onto the eternal communion of saints who have left a lasting impact on me and never even saw me begin the ordination process. Whether they knew it or not, the seeds of faith that they nurtured within me led me on this path, and I would not be here without each and every one of them.
As I ponder this theme, I am reminded of some examples from my own short time in ministry. I think of the church I served during my field education in seminary, where I helped lead a K-2 Sunday School class. I think of those children who were being nurtured in the faith by a community of love and care and think of how blessed I was to be invited into that place to tend briefly to their budding faith. I think of the fact that when I was reappointed last year, there were affirmations of faith and baptisms that I had hoped to perform, but that had to be put on hold due to the pandemic. And I think of how it was both disappointing not to celebrate that blossoming of faith but also reassuring to know that I did not have to because another faithful gardener of the fruits of the Spirit was coming to take my place.
So as I reflect on my garden, I am made aware of the ways that nurturing the fruits of the Spirit among God’s people require us to have an eye for beauty, to be careful and patient in rooting out those ideas and practices which are contrary to the love which is at the heart of the Gospel, to be attentive in nurturing faith as it probes in new directions seeking to take root in the hearts of the faithful and to trust in the work of the Spirit and the support of our siblings in Christ to see through to the end the work which God begins through us. May you cultivate these attitudes and disciplines within your own heart and those around you.
~ Shared by permission from Extraordinary Connection, Devotion of June 28, 2021. The Rev. Robert Blanchard is the pastor of Lansing First United Methodist Church.