Gerta struggled painfully to her feet, brushing the rich brown soil from her once blue apron. This apron had been a gift from her Kurt, who’d returned to God some twenty-three years before. There had been a message on the front. Colorfully scripted letters had faded to mere shadows and shapes, but in her heart the words were as clear as the azure sky above.
“Gardening, like life, requires faith and is best done from your knees.”
She had faith, she had started each day on her knees for more than eighty years, so why was this happening? Her great joy - her mission - was this little garden in the back of the churchyard. Right now the deacons were meeting with Brother James, hoping to turn her garden into a parking lot.
She walked to the corner of the fragrant plot where two rows of white pickets met in perfect harmony. A jogger bounced past on the nearby path, the athlete and ancient exchanged smiles and nods. Occasionally a jogger would stop to chat, and Gerta could try to be the missionary her Pastor had promised she would be.
She believed Bro. James, he was such a good minister. Everyone loved him, which was why the new parking lot was needed. The congregation had grown as the fire in his heart had spread amongst his flock. One year ago he had called them all to be missionaries, even Gerta – especially Gerta he had insisted.
“Yours is a special call, young lady,” She had blushed. “There is a corner of our stewardship that is covered by weeds, your mission is to make it beautiful.”
The octogenarian had smiled indulgently. “That’s gardening Bro. James, how is that a mission?”
His look was so serious, so sincere. “I don’t know how, I just know it is. And the sooner you start, the sooner we’ll find out how.”
She started the next day. Her mission field had become a place of beauty, but she still didn’t feel like a missionary in it. It was so hard for her, she was old and her speech was slow. She tried to talk to those who stopped but no, she was a gardener, just a gardener.
A tear fell, moistening a leaf on her favorite rose. She watched it slide gently away, watering the soil below. They were all inside, trying to convince Bro. James to take this away from her.
Another tear fell near the first; Gerta wiped her cheek but couldn’t help but smile as she looked over her verdant flock. Her roses had bloomed, smiling back at her in pink and white. Transplanted from her own garden they had flourished and she hoped they would bring joy to all who passed her church.
Until they were paved over in stern concrete grey.
As the aged gardener turned back to her labors she saw a woman bound closer. She recognized the jogger at once, a beautiful lady who glared harshly at the church each time she passed; not just disbelief, rejection. This time however, the runner slowed, turned, then hesitantly moved closer. She was staring wistfully at the blooms.
“Those are centa … centi, Napoleon something, aren’t they?”
The gardener smiled. “Centifolia cristata, chapeau de Napoleon, you know your roses.”
The runner shook her head longingly. “Just that one.”
The older woman spoke without thinking, shocked at her own bluntness. “Why do you resent God?”
Sweat running down her face, the runner understood the question without offense. “My mother was a very religious woman. We would pray and read the Bible every night. She believed in God with all her heart, but faith and prayer didn’t stop the cancer that took her when I was eight.”
“You loved your mother.”
“Yes, and she loved her roses. She tended them to the very end.” The younger woman tenderly touched a blossom. “These were her favorites. I haven’t seen any like them until today.”
Gerta smiled and snipped the blossom. “Here, to remember your mother.”
Tears joined the sweat glistening on the woman’s cheeks.
The missionary continued. “Welcome home, we planted these here just for you.” The younger woman looked confused and Gerta continued. “Please, take this inside and show Bro. James, he can explain. He’s been expecting you.”
Hesitantly, the woman entered the church.
Greta understood her mission now, and examined the field she’d been called to tend. Apricots, they needed an apricot tree right there by the path.
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