By: Sandra L. Churchill
Summer is abloom with bubblegum petunias, Shasta daisies, sweet roses, and wild lavender. Gardeners everywhere bend on soil-stained knees, patiently attending to blossoms and vegetables alike, nurturing their tender leaves and stems to vibrant, dewy verdure. But in recent weeks, I have been pondering the possibility that not all gardeners raise flowers, or fruit, or vegetables. Is there such a being as a gardener of hearts and souls?
My friend Terry is one such candidate for the role of “gardener of hearts and souls”. She nurtures without the look of intent or effort, coaxing out a fledgling idea, reading sadness or worry on a person’s face, naturally seeking connection and extending support. Her circle seems endless—friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, parishioners, acquaintances, and new-found companions on life’s challenging journey.
Her role seems even more influential and inspiring when witnessed by the teens, young adults, mid-lifers, and senior citizens around her. She recently invited a gamut of guests ranging from age five to early eighties to a recent barbecue potluck event. Picture a table brimming with burgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, cole slaw, Caesar salad, rolls, drinks, chips, shredded pulled-pork, and a rainbow of summer fruit. Add the splash of children in the pool, a nearby game of badminton, groups of adults chatting here and there, dusky skies darkening and the wave of solemnity that shifts the scene after dinner. Everyone—including the kindergarten and elementary school set—gathered with family and friends to offer intentions and pray the rosary for personal, national, and global causes. The message was compassion, caring, connection, and support.
Terry encourages the college missionary worker to share news about his outreach program in North Dakota. She thanks a couple of priests who stopped by to share the evening. She teaches the crowd about a historical event in Guadalupe, and shares prayer cards and other gifts to be passed around and taken home. But after the group prayer, guests linger in twos and threes to share struggles about health and jobs, finances and relationships. Nobody is truly alone in this setting. People of immense faith, varying faiths, and no faiths gather from varying cultures and backgrounds.
My teenage son and his friends witness a caring and attentive tending that rivals the best gardeners of summer. But the fruits aren’t literal, nor are the flowers. These blooms and fruits are encouragement and teamwork, a kind word and a listening ear. She brings out the best in others by really seeing each human soul as a fellow traveler on this planet, each with his or her own burdens, seeking most often to be heard, understood, and loved.