Last weekend I did something I don’t normally do. I trimmed bushes and picked up old sweet gum tree balls in the yard. And I actually enjoyed it. Sunshine was spilling out from the clouds onto my skin and my head was clear. I wasn’t thinking about how my Father’s illness keeps taking more or him. I wasn’t thinking about a caregiver’s never-ending to do list. I wasn’t even thinking about how tired I was. I was just clipping away, trying to find the right shape under all that overgrowth.
Maybe I enjoyed working in the yard because my creative juices started to flow. I’m used to creativity pouring out of me onto paper as I write or onto fabric as I sew. But my view of gardening has been pretty one-dimensional. You plant a petunia, you get a petunia. You plant lavender, you get lavender. Where’s the creativity in that?
But when you bring splashes of blues and yellows mixed in with whites and pinks, when you bring in different hues and textures, you’re no longer looking at just plants. You’re seeing the beginnings of an oasis.
I’ve always loved planting flowers but have confined my gardening to the front porch or the back deck. Recently though, I’ve been eyeing a shady spot in the back yard I think would be perfect for hostas. I’ve been browsing plant catalogs, looking at clematis, hydrangeas and even roses. An oasis is wonderful but what I really want is a sanctuary.
Webster defines sanctuary as a consecrated place, a place of refuge and protection. We look for sanctuaries in our lives. A place where we can steal away simply to catch our breath and revive our souls.
What I never stopped to realize as a caregiver was that I could create a sanctuary. I know it sounds simple enough. Fill a space with all the things you love and there you have your sanctuary. But life as a caregiver is like always driving your car with the gas light on, dangerously close to ‘empty’. Creating a beautiful garden is a lot of work. When I look at the extraordinary gardens featured in Southern Living, I immediately wonder how many hours it took to create that work of art. And asking a caregiver for more hours of work is like trying to get blood out of a turnip. It’s not going to happen.
But there’s something deeper going on than just digging in the dirt and pruning plants. Maybe it’s the same feeling God got when He dug around in the dirt and created man. Maybe the act of creating something can be a sanctuary in and of itself. And maybe the reason I enjoyed trimming bushes was because I had stepped into the creative process.
I never realized that I could create a sanctuary in the middle of a difficult situation. In my experience, difficult times have generally led to more stress, frustration and angst, not beauty. I had a boss once who overcame cancer only to have it return. He was never vocal about his health, but I always knew when the news wasn’t good. He would try to clamp down and micromanage me to the point of being unbearable. He had no control over the cancer growing in his body, so he tried to compensate by turning his attention to those things he could control. Unfortunately, I was on that list.
I imagine it’s like giving me a canvas and a plethora of paint. I’m trying my best to create something lovely, but because of my Father’s illness, all that’s coming out are blacks and grays. I want to paint something beautiful, but all that I see on the canvas is turmoil. Then God comes along and turns my ashes into beauty. He’s quite magnificent at that.
I don’t have a blueprint for all the things I want to plant. And I don’t imagine our yard will rival those in Better Homes and Gardens. I don’t even know if it will ever look like a sanctuary. But I’m content to keep digging around in the dirt and let the creating of a sanctuary be a sanctuary in and of itself.