I pulled into the driveway with a trunk full of shopping bags and a stomach demanding more than the non-fat vanilla latte that coursed through my veins. From the corner of my eye, I caught Raymond hunched over in the garden. I watched as he unfurled his 47-year-old back into an upright position, glancing in my direction without making eye contact.
"Hmm...what's he been up to?" I wondered out loud.
"Hey," said Raymond, letting out a groan and pulling off the stained gloves.
"What-cha doing?" I asked with a quick survey of the yard.
"Just getting some things cleared out around here," he offered.
Not spotting anything particularly concerning around the yard, I made my way up the front stairs. That's when I noticed the dark, moist pile of soil. My heart sank and my stomach took on a new sensation.
"You didn't..." I squealed with my eyes still fixed on the spot where my precious gardenia blossoms lived but a mere few hours before.
"I had to do it," he shrugged with the resolve of a cowboy who just shot an injured horse to put it out of its misery.
"You had to do what?" I questioned, still hoping that some big misunderstanding was at play here.
"It was diseased. Did you see that thing? The leaves were turning black and the white-fly had all but suffocated it. It was a goner, honey. It had to go before it infected the rest of the garden," he murmured. "We can get another one. It was just a plant!"
That was true. It was just a plant--not a child, not a human being. But he knew I LOVED that plant with all my heart. The fragrance of this special blossom made my heart dance. I had planted the seeds into the fertile earth five years ago and nurtured it into the glorious plant it had become. You could smell the beautiful white, delicate flowers from twenty feet away. They were irresistible--a favorite from childhood--and I was blessed to have them greet me each day.
"It was my plant and it could have been saved," I said, ready to unleash a verbal thrashing. But what would be the point of arguing now? The blossoms that had brightened my life were gone--its bush chopped into a dozen pieces to fit neatly into the refuse collection container now perched at the curb, quietly awaiting an early morning demise.
I gave up the fight and walked through the door, pondering the premature death of my gardenia plant that I knew could have been rescued. After all, when was the last time that we fertilized it? Had we lovingly wiped down the leaves to remove the intruding disease? Did we prune back the branches in hopes of new, healthy re-growth? Had we done everything we could to save my beloved gardenias? The answer was no. The bottom line was that a busy schedule had led to outright neglect.
Shortly before dinner the local news opened with breaking news. A dead body found in an alleyway had been identified. His name was Leonard and he was 32 years old. I was sad to learn that the victim had been born and raised in our very city. It was reported that Leonard had fallen on hard times after losing his job two years ago. He had turned to drugs and alcohol, eventually losing his family, his home and connection to friends. He had lived on the streets where he battled his disease and demons. Leonard had been beaten by thugs and left by the roadside to die alone.
I dropped my head and sent a prayer out for Leonard. That's when it hit me. God would be devastated by the loss of Leonard...the seed which he planted so long ago and nurtured over the years. Was God asking why his people had not rescued Leonard? Why didn't we fertilize him with love, wipe clean his diseased body and prune back the branches of his life in hopes of new, healthy re-growth. Had we done anything to save him? The neglect was impossible to deny.
Surely God once enjoyed the sweet aroma of Leonard's prayers and his very presence had made Him smile. And, just as surely as my heart ached for my beautiful gardenia flowers, God's heart broke a million times over for this loss. Raymond was right--I could plant another gardenia bush but God had only one Leonard.
Sherrie is a believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, a mother and a freelance writer. She resides with her family on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, where she was born and raised.