Dying to live

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been spending quality time with our three crepe myrtles in the back yard.  I think of them as the three little sugars, the youngest of our four grandkids.  And I rejoice at the sight of each new leaf and dainty bloom!

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Promising outcome

Spring of last year we picked our three crepes at Turner’s Gardenland.  We were so happy that Steven planted them right after we got home.  We envisioned tall, beautiful, healthy trees.

Sadly for the crepes, the heavy rains, followed by the cold, made them twiglike waifs.  Steven wondered if they’d make it, but I knew they would.  They had to.

Spring came along again, and Steven, while weeding the wedelia from the back garden, noticed the crepes weren’t thriving.

“They’re all but dead,” he said from the back door.  “Come take a look.”

I hurried out feeling guilty for not having checked on the crepes regularly.

“Oh, my, gosh!”  I wanted to make up for neglecting them.  “I should come out here and water them daily.”

Steven said the sprinkler system had been doing its job, so something else was affecting the crepes.

We talked about trimming back the spindly branches, but Steven doesn’t believe as I do that the dying parts need clipping to help the plant regenerate itself.

Surprisingly though, he did heed my suggestion to cut the dead gray parts off the bougainvillea adjacent to the crepes.  And later, as he busied himself away from where I stood, I trimmed more off the bougainvillea and grinned.  It’ll be my secret experiment.

Resolved dilemma

A few weeks passed.

Then one morning on getting the paper from the front yard, Steven noticed that a section of plants hadn’t been watered.  He checked the sprinkler system and discovered that some of the sprinkler heads were clogged.

The mystery of the ailing crepes was solved.  They hadn’t been watered at all.  It was a wonder they hadn’t died altogether.  Steven asked that I spray the crepes with Miracle-Gro early the following morning, so I got things ready.

As I watered the crepes the next day, the words dying to live went round and round in my head.  I recalled bits and pieces— “raising the dead,” “rising from the dead”— from homilies over the years.

Jesus told [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11: 25-26).

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life (John 12:24-25).

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).

I thought about the amputees whose lives have been saved because they lost part of themselves.  I also thought about my younger brother who, at the young age of six, learned to prune mom’s prized roses as part of his yard duties.

Standing in the middle of the flower bed out back, I looked at the bougainvillea and smiled.  Its new branches populated with hot-pink clusters are a gold-orange-red healthy, so full of life.  Then I looked at the smallest of the three crepes and decided to wait a week before cutting off its crackly-dry parts.

Continuous tending

Two weeks ago Monday I went in with trowel, shovel, and clippers.  If the crepe myrtles’ delicate branches flexed when gently bent, I left them as they were.  Otherwise, I simply snapped the brittle ones.  I cleared the entire area around the three crepes with my bare hands.  I yanked the wedelia, carefully dug around to aerate the soil, and pulled enemy roots.  I built up the soil around each crepe as I dug a moat system allowing water to circulate among them.  Then I watered the crepes, dialogued with them, prayed over them, sang to them, and poured my bottle of holy water on them.  I wasn’t taking any chances!

When Steven got home late in the afternoon, he sprinkled a dose of Osmocote on each of the three crepes before covering the ground all around with hay to keep the moisture in.  And, with just a little tender loving care, they’ve begun to live after having been so close to death.

Now I visit the crepes daily, preferably early in the morning after Steven leaves for work, before my day gets so busy that I lose myself.

Throughout the day I wonder how many leaves will have sprouted on the smallest of the three crepes by four-thirty or so when I step out to fill the bird feeders, and I smile at the countless lessons I have yet to learn from the three little sugars.

July 14, 2010 

The crepes are doing so much better now after having gone through another lean period.  With a dose of Miracle Gro in June, the rains from Alex, and Steven’s Osmocote treatment after weeding the garden, the three little sugars are doing stunningly well.  It really is amazing how nature-nurture and a little tender loving care go a long way toward a healthy life.  Only now I need to get out there to do some serious weeding again.



It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.  The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is even beyond our vision.  We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession brings perfection.  No pastoral visit brings wholeness.  No program accomplishes the church’s mission.  No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.  We plant the seeds that one day will grow.  We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.  We lay foundations that will need further development.  We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.  We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something and to do it very well.  It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.  We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.  We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.  We are prophets of a future not our own.

This prayer was composed by +Ken Untener (bishop of Saginaw), drafted for a homily by +John Dearden (cardinal archbishop of Detroit) in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests.  As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of +Oscar Romero (assassinated archbishop of San Salvador), Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.”  The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him (Friars of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, 2018: 1121, p. 1).

March 20, 2014

Father, thank you for planting me in the soil of your grace and presence!  Lord, may I find all the nourishment I need at the table of your word and the table of the Eucharist (the Word among us, Lent 2014, p. 42).

May 18, 2014

“By how much the more a man dies to himself, by so much more he lives to God”
(St. Catherine of Siena).

June 15, 2014

“Think of the Father as a root, and of the Son as a branch, and of the Spirit as a fruit; for the substance in these three is one” (St. John Damascus).

July 9, 2014

Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying.  Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day.  Do it! I say.  Whatever you want to do, do it now!  There are only so many tomorrows (Venerable Pope Paul VI).

April 5, 2015

On the third day, the friends of Christ, coming at daybreak to the place, found the grave empty, and the stone rolled away.  In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night.  What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool, not of the evening, but of the dawn (G. K. Chesterton in The Everlasting Man).

April 9, 2015

Love, in addition to being a giving or an outpouring, must also be a recovery….  In other words, love must increase and multiply; it must recover itself in a harvest; it must, like the love of earth and tree, be fruitful unto a new love (Venerable Fulton Sheen in God’s World and Our Place in It).

April 10, 2015

“We must often remember what Christ said, that not he who begins, but he [who] perseveres to the end, shall be saved” (St. Philip Neri).

April 29, 2015

“Ponder the fact that God has made you a gardener to root out vice and plant virtue” (St. Catherine of Siena).

May 11, 2015

“I’m planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots” (Andrea Koehle Jones).

November 22, 2015

We must live in this world as if our spirits were in heaven and our bodies in the tomb.  We must live a dying life and die a living and life-giving death in the life of our king and sweetest savior (St. Francis of Sales).

December 11, 2016

Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains (James 5:7).

December 19, 2016

“It is in vain that we cut off the branches of evil if we leave intact the root, which continually produces new ones” (St. Gregory the Great).

December 27, 2016

“Through St. John we know how we are to participate as our destiny in the life of Christ— as a branch of the divine vine— and in the life of the triune God” (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross: Edith Stein).

February 26, 2017

You must compare your heart to a garden.  If we cultivate it well, it will yield good fruit.  If we don’t keep an eye on it and tend it a little every day, our garden will be overrun with weeds, true?  Therefore, take courage (St. Maria Domenica Mazzarello in Sisterhood of Saints).

March 18, 2017

We need the cleansing water of life and of forgiveness.  We need to clear the clutter from our hearts and minds.  We need to accept pruning and nourishment to grow in God’s grace and perhaps make a fresh start on the journey (Phyllis Zagano in Sacred Silence).

April 3, 2017

Love, in addition to being a giving or an outpouring, must also be a recovery….  In other words, love must increase and multiply; it must recover itself in a harvest; it must, like the love of earth and tree, be fruitful unto a new love (Venerable Fulton Sheen in God’s World and Our Place in It).

April 22, 2017

In the beginning, God made a garden, rich with compost and humus, a black loam that smelled of dawn.  Seeds began sprouting in this soil; trees’ roots wound deep within it as their branches reached toward the sun; grass, clover, and forbs of every kind spread over the earth in a green and golden carpet.  God took some of this dirt, made muddy with dew, and formed a creature from it— a body of soil.  Bending down, God breathed spirit, animus, into the earth so that it became an animal a living thing.  And God gave this animal something different from the others— a purpose, a call, an invitation to join God in moving the creation toward its flourishing.  God put this humus-man, this human, in the garden and gave it a call— a vocation.  God put the human in a place cultivated toward its fullness— a garden— and called the human to “cultivate it and keep it” to bring it to life and yet to respect its integrity (Genesis 2:15; Wendell Berry and the Given Life).

April 26, 2017

“But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance” (Luke 8:15).

July 20, 2017

Life is given that we may learn to die well, [but] we never think of it!  To die well, we must live well (St. John Vianney).

August 14, 2017

Anything that does not lead you to God is a hindrance.  Root it out and throw it far from you (Josemaria Escrivá).

October 19, 2017

“Where there is love there is life” (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi).

February 15, 2018

“He who plants kindness gathers love” (St. Basil).

July 15, 2018

Today we may visit or plant a garden to appreciate beauty; to harvest herbs, fruits or vegetables for a healthy meal or to simply connect with the deep part of ourselves that wants to be in harmony with the rhythms of the sun, moon, rain and seasons.  The manual labor we do in the garden can be bone wearying, yet richly satisfying. When we experience visible results from the earth, we find solace and peace in an otherwise fragmented world.  Gardens teach us disappointment when bugs or four-legged critters destroy hard effort and beauty.  Growing something, anything, is a lesson in patience and love.  Gardens fill us with gratitude (Pegge Bernecker in Your Spiritual Garden: Tending to the Presence of God).

July 17, 2018

In a visit to a garden shop or when leisurely reading through a seed catalog or favorite gardening book, we face a myriad of choices.  Our interest in a seed is to develop the potential enclosed within its small interior.  Countless seeds have already been planted in our lives!  We become spiritual gardeners as soon as we begin to cultivate and appreciate the ways that our life can bear fruit and bring love into the world.  Every single seed contains potential for development and growth, as do our life choices (Pegge Bernecker).

July 27, 2018

In a garden, tending to the soil and light ultimately provides the nourishment and ability for plants to take root.  Like plants, we have places that we dig our life roots into deeply and that nourish us.  At different times in our lives, we may take the opportunity to determine if we need additional nutrients, look more closely at the ground of what our life is “growing” in, and pay attention to light sources and the life-giving water available to us (Pegge Bernecker).

February 22, 2019

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone.  The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes.  To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction (Cynthia Occelli).

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Links of interest…  Compost happens (poem)…  Dying to a lower life (book)…  Earth is a sacred text…  Easter & Shakespeare…  Everyday happiness tips…  Forest man: Inspiration for those who wish to change…  Garden news & nursery…  Gardening & self sufficiency / as medicine for millennials & the rest of us…  God’s favorite garden…  Gardens planted with prayers…  Going home…  Grain of wheat…  Hold fast to hope, the fragile flowers shout…  How dung helps our faith to bloom with abundant flowers / the parable of the sower can change your life…  Joyce Kilmer & the “Fighting 69th”…  Key to approaching the mystery of Jesus…  Moving forward to life…  Pruning leads to proliferation…  Search engine that plants a tree every time your click & what is Ecosia…  Six ways to cultivate roses for a more beautiful yard…  We are all farmers…  What is wisdom…  Why I’m giving the gift of boredom to my kids this summer / nature should be your children’s playgroundsome Catholics cause so much trouble

WP posts…  Concrete abstraction…  Forever grateful…  Making meaning…  Mourning joy…  October novena…  One prayer…  Prayer power…  Revisiting St. Simon…  St. Anthony Claret…  St. Jude novena…  St. Jude Shrine (Chicago)…  St. Jude Shrine (Corpus Christi, TX)

2 Responses

  1. Yes, the blooms are absolutely gorgeous!!! And, now that I’ve weeded around them, they should do much better. Thanks!

  2. Wow. Arise and live! They are looking wonderful.

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