My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Letting the Chips Fall

Against my garage wall, is a little contained garden, set like a semicircle against the siding. How it got there is amusing. A decade or so back, we needed a tree taken down in our back yard, and we asked the yard men to go ahead and leave the chips for us in the driveway. We liked the idea of free wood chips for our landscaping.

I will never forget watching the truck as it started to release its wood chip load. The three kids and I stood to watch, noses to the window in anticipation, as the chips started to form a mound, a hill, and then...our jaws dropped as the truck dumped its entire load of wood chips into a sizable mountain that measured a good twelve feet in diameter and at least five feet tall!

The driver waved cheerily and went on his way, leaving us to run outside and examine this new geographical feature. It didn’t take long for the kids to discover that a plastic winter toboggan slides well down a wood chip mountain. 

My husband took one look when he got home from work, and laughed at the ridiculous sight of enough wood chips to open a garden center. All summer we shoveled. Every tree on the property, flower bed, hidden nook and cranny -- all received a nice, thick decorative blanket of wood chips. We offered wood chips to neighbors. But still, that pile grew smaller only infinitesimally.
Every imaginable spot in our yard received
a blanket of wood chips!

One day, we drove into the yard to see smoke emanating from the middle of the pile! It was in the process of internally combusting under that summer sun. We grabbed the rakes, spread the chips some more, and sprayed them down with water, so that no real fire could incubate.

We reached the end of ideas, as to what to do with all that mulch. When the pile had finally shrunk to a somewhat manageable size, we shoved it against the exterior wall of the garage into a shallow flower bed, contained by bricks. I found a damaged statue of St. Francis that needed rescuing at Hobby Lobby. Three feet tall, the resin statue had a hole in the top of his head and another in his knee. But arranged strategically, St. Francis filled the space beautifully. 

Hostas took up residence and flaming orange day lilies. A garden trellace backed St. Francis, and then a decorative black iron grillwork of grapes and leaves. A sundial came to perch on the bricks, a good reminder of time’s passing and of keeping perspective and priorities in order.

Later, a local lady needed a new home for her lovely concrete grotto of Mary. It was so heavy, it took four of us to put the shrine in our car. Back home, we placed it next to the St. Francis garden. Her corner was unattractive, so this summer, I got to work. Sept the area clean and positioned a nice garden stepping stone in front, creating a lovely surface for candles. 

I replanted some of flourishing, fragrant mint into pots to flank the shrine, and found a waist-high trellace of cast iron, drastically reduced at a neighborhood store. A bell hangs from the trellace. It makes a nice, mellow clang, like a call to prayer. The top of the trellace is shaped like a crown. I placed the trellace in just such a way, that this little outdoor area for Our Lady is now an enclosed little nook that looks like it was designed carefully. I placed a chair there, and have started praying Rosaries in that peaceful spot.

I just sat out there a moment ago, and this thought came to me: this corner of the garage, was once one of the least attractive and  most abandoned spots in the yard. But now I love it. It all started with that surprising wood chip pile. Whoever had the idea of creating a planting bed from those remaining chips, set up a situation that evolved into a lovely prayer spot years down the road. Every day this summer, I’ve been raking that spot, tending it, placing plants and candles there. And now the spot is loving me back! It beckons to me daily.

This sort of intentional care, nurtures friendships and family ties, too, as well as our intimacy with God. If we long for eternity and love Our Creator intentionally, each day, through prayer, Mass, and seeking God’s Will in everything, than our relationship to Him will begin to bloom in all sorts of creative, surprising and wonderful ways.

When I visited remote missionaries across our nation for Catholic home mission EXTENSION Magazine, I saw priests, religious and lay people acting just like earnest gardeners, in tending their mission outposts, and their personal friendship with God and their people. In impoverished spots, I saw literal gardens, that, in their blooming, seemed emblematic of all the great things happening in the spiritual and material realm through God's promptings. I saw grottoes tended and humble, yet lovely churches. I also saw practical outreaches blooming, in the form of clean and efficient soup kitchens and resale shops, so the poor could buy what they needed.

We have our own missionary outreach in our daily lives, right within the four walls of our home, and outside, too, in our neighborhoods. And if things get tough, we can be inspired by our missionaries and their people. They encounter some of the toughest situations amidst poor and often desolate locations. They go toward areas others flee, and then mindfully and prayerfully allow God to work, causing wonderful things to manifest  -- and souls and personalities -- to bloom. May we, too, be open to the ideas and promptings given to us through the Holy Spirit, so we can be agents of beauty and change in our suffering world.