A story inspired by Dr. Rowena Strickland, my professor of Christian studies.
Encounter in the Garden
It was simply a gorgeous day. The end of spring was near; and the days outside were comfortable all the day long. That Saturday morning in 1939 was the result of a mild winter and a very wet spring. Because of that fact, it seemed that every plant with the potential to flower did so, weeds and cultivated gardens alike.
In all her twenty-two years, Rowena could not remember such a fine day. Her studies at the Baptist seminary were about completed. Soon she would be leaving for Christian service at a location still unknown to her. However, at that moment the glory of that perfect morning captivated her attention and her mood. She knew that the oppressive heat of the Texas summer would terminate all this flowering glory in just a few short weeks. The grass would turn to a neutral shade of yellow and only the hardiest flower would cling tenaciously to stems and vines.
When she woke to this perfect day she knew that she had to be out and in it. She decided at breakfast that she would visit the Botanic Gardens. Fort Worth was not known for many things. In fact, it existed subserviently in the shadow of its larger sister-city, Dallas. However, everyone knew of the beauty of the Botanic Gardens in Fort Worth and that they were well worth the time spent there. Consequently, Rowena purposed that morning to spend her afternoon walking through the beautiful gardens made even more lush and bountiful by the nurturing rains of spring.
She caught the bus that ran by the edge of the seminary campus. Her dorm was an easy walk from there. Even that short walk to the bus stop was enjoyable. She met several other student-friends along the way, with whom she enjoyed a pleasant conversation. However, she purposefully made each conversation short for she had a purpose for that day, and she wanted to get on with it. To her delight, she did so without the rush and frantic pace that commanded the rest of the days, which were filled with school, study and other responsibilities. It was just a short and pleasant ride to the entrance of the Botanic Gardens. The bus pulled to the stop, and although it was occupied with numerous other people, only Rowena exited.
Hearing the bus depart behind her, she thought, "What a lost opportunity. They will spend this beautiful morning without the rewards of this beautiful garden."
Rowena, on the other hand, came to spend the day. This was not to be a quick sightseeing trip. No, she brought a light lunch consisting of several pieces of fruit and a book--a romance novel. Her intent was to spend a liesurely day walking through the garden and reading her book while surrounded by the colors and smells that existed only there.
She proceded through the massive entrance gate of the botanic garden. A lengthy driveway extended a considerable distance to the parking lot, where visitors having their own transportation parked. Both sides of the driveway were lined with massive oak trees. They existed long before this garden was planted. They fit well within the scheme of the garden, as if they had been designed from the beginning to line this driveway.
Adjacent to the parking lot sat the conservatory. Within its glassed walls and ceilings were housed the exotic plants that could not otherwise survive the harsh heat and dryness of a Texas summer. Rowena decided to forego a visit there. She would save the conservatory for later in the summer; at a time when the vibrant flowers and plants protected within its walls could be more fully appreciated.
Rowena turned her attention to several trails that led in diverse directions away from the conservatory into the heart of the garden. It really did not matter which one she took. Eventually she would walk them all. Each trail was about four feet wide and made of chipped bark with a wooden edge on both sides. Located along the trails were small modest signs that read "Please, Do Not Leave the Trail." Seeking for the immediate gratification of color, she selected the trail leading to the flowers. Rowena believed that trees, shrubs, and groundcovers were beautiful in their own right. However, nothing was more glorious to her than the flowering plants. With that as her first destination, she walked along the trail that delivered her into the midst of the flower gardens.
She noticed that, indeed, she was not alone. It wasn’t crowded; there were several others who had wisely grasped the same opportunity as had Rowena. They were walking and sharing the gardens with her. Some of the people were alone, such as Rowena. Most of them were couples or groups. She saw pairs of sweethearts, both old and young. There was a young couple holding hands and stealing secret glances at each other as they walked from flowering plant to flowering plant. She observed an aged couple walking near each other, who were not holding hands that were observed, but nevertheless were folded in the unseen arms of enduring love which spanned a generation of experiences. Both couples were rewarded equally by the presence of the flowers.
Rowena wandered leisurely down the trail towards the roses, remaining obediently within the limits of the trail. She was thrilled by the variety of the plants. There she found the aristocrats of the rose world, the Hybrid Tea roses with their long and graceful buds. The smaller Floribunda roses with their masses of bloom were on her left. Off to her right were varieties of Miniature roses with buds the size of popcorn kernels that opened into flowers the size of quarters. The wonder of such beauty moved her. In the midst of her wonderment, she heard a noise behind her. A family of four strolled up behind her and were observing the roses. There was what appeared to be a father, mother, teenaged daughter, and child of about five-years old. The five-year old was held tightly in check by his mother's hand. Rowena watched the family subtly as they inspected the Hybrid Tea Rose.
She heard the mother admonishing the five-year old to behave himself. "Jeffrey, stay with me. Jeffrey, don’t touch that. Jeffrey, stay on the trail."
Young Jeffrey pulled and strained at his mother’s grasp. Apparently his desire was to escape his mother's constraint and work his own special havoc in the midst of the roses. The family walked by Rowena with young Jeffrey in check. Then it happened. With a concentrated effort, Jeffrey surged off of the trail into the garden with the Grandiflora roses, pulling his mother, still clinging to his hand, with him.
"Jeffrey, NO!" was the mother’s futile and tardy cry. However, it was too late. The delicate petals of the Grandiflora rose were brutally crushed within Jeffrey’s little hand.
Rowena stared at the mangled petals of the injured flower, as they lay scattered on the trail. Jeffrey was quickly shuttled off with his irritated mother pulling him even closer to her side. The suddenness and unforgiving altered state of the damaged rose struck Rowena as being particularly sad. The rose could never be put back the way it was. It was forever destroyed. Her day had been diminished by this one momentary and isolated act. She returned her attention to the other flowers around her, seeking to regain the joy that she had held at the beginning of her day. She passed beneath a trellis archway which had Chinese Jasmine, as white as snow, entwined through the archway. The snow-white flowers were tinged with red on the outside and their fragrance succeeded in stealing Rowena’s mind from the encounter with Jeffrey.
She heard a rustling noise behind her. She turned and looked. There running down the trail, directly towards her, was what looked to be a seven-year old boy, completely alone and unattended.
"Uh oh!" she thought. "Here comes trouble. This one has totally broken the restraints and escaped."
She watched him approach her. And then suddenly, when he was approximately ten feet from her, he stopped. He was standing next to the wounded Grandiflora roses.
"Oh no, not again," thought Rowena. Then she witnessed a marvelous thing.
The little boy turned to directly face the roses. He placed both of his hands behind his back. He carefully inched his feet close to the wooden edge of the trail, getting as close as he could without leaving the trail. When he had coaxed all the room he could out of the trail, he began to lean over towards the roses. He leaned low, bringing his nose to within a fraction of touching the flower; but he did not touch it. He closed his eyes and smelled the rose. Then in a singular motion that was graceful, as well as sudden, he raised, turned, and rushed off past her down the trail.
Completely astonished by what she just witnessed, Rowena turned her attention down the trail. She could see him pulling up to stop in front of a grouping of Heartleaf Bergenia that was planted as groundcover along the trail. She saw him kneel on the trail. Wishing to witness this at a closer distance, Rowena hurried down the path, half running and trying not to attract too much attention. As she neared the boy, she slowed to watch. He crept on hands and knees over to the very edge of the trail. Then he repeated the act which she witnessed at the roses. He leaned down low; with his nose a fraction of an inch from the flower, he closed his eyes and smelled the flower.
"Amazing," Rowena thought.
Again, suddenly, he was to his feet and running off down the trail. This time Rowena made no pretense to conceal her pursuit; rather she ran briskly down the path after him. She had to see if he would again repeat this ceremony at a new location. Her wait would not be long for he halted abruptly in the trail next to the Helleborus, which was also known as the Christmas rose. He stared momentarily at the deep evergreen leaves dotted with purple and its pink and white flowers. Then he did it again. He placed his hands behind his back, inched ever so closely to the edge of the trail, and leaned out over the flower as he brought his nose close to the flower. He closed his eyes and smelled the flower.
He rose and turned to continue his journey down the trail. "Wait!" cried Rowena.
The boy looked at Rowena with innocent eyes. "Yes ma’am," he replied, looking at her expectantly as she approached.
"I’ve been watching you," explained Rowena. "I’ve watched you as you carefully smelled the flowers. I saw how you stayed on the trail and were very careful not to disturb the flowers. Why did you do that?"
The boy looked deeply into her eyes. Then he smiled and said, "This is my father’s garden."
With that he turned and was off down the trail to his next destination. Rowena did not follow. She was struck by his answer.
"What did he mean?" she thought. "Did he mean that his father was a caretaker of this garden and these were his flowers?"
The boy appeared to be only seven years old. Surely he was not old enough to understand the awesome spiritual truth that he just uttered. She knew she would never know; she knew she would remember this garden encounter for all of her life. She realized that the friends that she talked to on campus while she was on the way to the garden were flowers in God’s greater garden. The folks on the bus who missed all this beauty and glory were flowers in God’s garden. The couples she observed and even little Jeffrey were all roses in God’s garden. Just as the little boy learned to respect the limits of the trail and care for the delicate flowers, she knew that she must respect the limits that her heavenly father placed in her world. She realized that when she learned to do that, she could have the freedom of running down the path of God’s garden unrestricted and at liberty to enjoy the abundance of that garden. She looked around her.
She closed her eyes; she smiled and thought, "Surely this IS my Father’s garden."