Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Looking Back to Move Forward

“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God” Hebrews 6:7 (NIV).

“You should sue them for something like that, Raymond!”

My grandmother didn’t mince words, but I rarely saw that side of her. To me her home was like heaven on earth. But in this instance she meant business. The neighbors had ruined my grandparents' garden which often provided for them and their small community.

"The Event," as it is known in our family, happened sometime around 1970 about fifteen miles outside of Philadelphia in the close-knit blue collar town of Ridley Park. Mom Mom, Pop Pop, and their friends had survived world wars, cold wars, droughts and economic downturns; they pushed through all of it together. And this garden was a fundamental life-sustaining part of their neighborhood.

When times were tight they all banded together by sharing ingredients for meals. The butcher provided meat, grandma stirred in her vegetables, and this combination gave life to those in the neighborhood that were short on cash, jobless or sick. That's just how they did things back then.

The garden “event” itself was an accident, but the consequences were devastating. One neighbor's property, the Berkley's, butted up against my grandparents’ yard near the garden. Unfortunately, on the day in question, someone aimed the drainage hose from their pool toward the garden. It didn’t take long for hundreds of gallons of chlorinated water to do its destructive work. The once flourishing field of late-Spring hope quickly turned into a withering and then barren field of anger and despair.

But while Mom Mom was angry, Pop Pop had a different take on the situation. Where my grandmother saw death and destruction my grandfather saw a chance to preserve life and civility in this close knit community.

Pop Pop knew that his neighbors didn’t kill his garden on purpose. So, his immediate response was to forgive. He went straight to the Berkley home, told them what had happened and assured them that there were no hard feelings. Grace, not bitterness, reigned that day in a little corner of Pennsylvania.

My grandfather was a simple but wise man who lived by the truths that had sustained him, his family, and that little community for many years. He simply turned the soil and replanted the garden as he modeled the adage, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” Romans 12:18 (NIV). He learned long before that Spring day not to “be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good” Romans 12:21 (NIV). He learned to give back better than what he had received.(1)

Now some people thought he was crazy to replant. They were sure the chlorine was still in the soil and that it would burn up any seeds or saplings he put in it. But his attitude was profound, “It’s my job to plant the seeds and it’s God’s job to make them grow. I’ll do my part and let the Lord do His.” So Raymond Chatten replanted his garden, much too late in the season, on a chemical-soaked field, with no one believing that it had a chance. “Why is he wasting his time?” they said.

Shovels and spades came out of the shed. The dead plants were thrown away and the soil was turned over. Next, there was digging, planting, and watering. Lots and lots of watering. And as they waited to see the results Pop Pop said, with confidence, “It'll come back.”

And it did! That garden grew back just as bold and robust as ever. It was new life—real life that came from death—from an impossible situation. God honored my grandfather's acts of forgiveness and faith and he was rewarded with a plentiful harvest that year.

And for us this story becomes a harvest of wisdom. Family, failure, forgiveness, community, support, hard work, convictions, leadership, faith and flourishing. These are the values we need to live-out in the coming months and years to honor God, no matter what calamity might meet us as we walk out the door and into the garden of our lives.

How do you respond these days when someone ruins your “garden”? What response would honor God and better serve those around you? What is your next step to getting there?


Lord, please give us the grace, peace and faith to follow Your ways no matter what the circumstances. When we fall short, give us the wisdom to grow to be more like your son Jesus in every situation. Amen.

(1) Dr. Henry Cloud. 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life (Audio Book). Disc 4, Track 24. Carol Stream, IL: Oasis Audio.

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