In this blessed Spring of 2019, my thoughts turn to gardening. Like so many before me, the garden represents my relationship to creation and to my Creator. Planting seeds, tending plants, watching them grow and mature are deeply satisfying activities. Nurturing the soil and the plants feels as if I am giving thanks to God who has given me so much.
At Friendship House, we have actual and symbolic gardens. Through our “Mother’s Day Garden” fundraiser and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, we have created a small paradise behind each site in Women’s Transitional Housing. As we weed, plant, and prune the actual garden, I am reminded of the living “flowers” whom we also tend: the women and children living in our houses. The creation of beauty in the garden is symbolic of the re-creation of the lives of our residents.
Gardening also reminds me that God’s seeds, whether in my garden or in my women, always bear fruit.
Back in the 1990’s, when the Wilmington Empowerment Center was known as the Women’s Center, I had just started working for Friendship House. In the basement of St. Andrews’ Church (as it was then known), there was a drop-in center for women. Some of them were “hard core” street women. Some were seeking emergency shelter. Some came for the coffee and community. And then some to use the phone, receive mail or, sometimes, all of the above.
On a bookshelf running through the middle of the Center, was a plant (a philodendron), housed in an old plastic food container which was filled with the hardest, driest dirt one could imagine. It was a miracle the poor thing was alive, being in a dark basement, in hard crusty soil, mostly ignored, quietly living its life waiting for someone to give it a bit of water.
It occurred to me how much that little plant was like our clients. They, too, had been abandoned, ignored, waiting for just a bit of attention so they could try to make it one more day on the streets. The tenacity of the philodendron was symbolic of the tenacity of our women who refused to give up or give in. Some were quietly persistent; others were loud and, frankly, obnoxious at times. Mentally ill, drug/alcohol addicted, rambunctious, in need of a shower or quietly hoping for help, our clients came in day after day, year after year. Some of them, over 20 years later, still come in to share their woes and their joys.
Fast forward to 1999 and the purchase of our Lincoln Street property which would become Palmer House, in memory of our friend Rev. Mark Palmer. One day, starting up the front steps, I saw a small petunia growing in a crack in the cement. It had obviously been seeded by a passing bird or a gentle breeze. It seemed to me that this small flower, so vulnerable yet so pretty, was symbolic of the women who lived in those houses: growing up starved, but still growing. Awaiting their chance to blossom.
Since that day, I have noticed more flowers growing in crevices around our properties. Indeed, we even have a thorny old rose bush growing in the wall at the front of Palmer House. It has the most beautiful roses!
As Jesus told the disciples, “Feed my sheep,” I can hear a similar call: “Tend my garden. Be gentle with those who have been mistreated. Give them space to grow and to blossom.”
In response to this call, Friendship House offers beautiful houses, beautiful gardens and a structured program to help women blossom into their truest selves. Some residents take root immediately and thrive, while for others, this is not yet their season. The seeds are planted but not yet ready to bloom. Faith teaches us that the plants will emerge when the time is right, perhaps in a way that we cannot anticipate.
The miracle of Divine Love is that the Creator keeps the garden ready for all of us, waiting for us to find our way home.
– Marcy Perkins