Kathy took a long drag on her cigarette as she watched her neighbor’s approach. She let out a muttered curse along with a stream of smoke. Taking a swig of coffee, she sauntered to the door.
"Good afternoon," the smiling neighbor greeted her. "I'm Becky. I moved in a while ago but never introduced myself. I brought you something." Becky offered a plate of warm cookies.
"I don't eat sweets."
Kathy's cold response was ignored as Becky continued. "Well, I really wanted to talk about your garden. It's pure artistry. Tell me what all these flowers are."
An astonished Kathy followed Becky down the front steps. No neighbor had ever consulted her on gardening before. This was new. Becky asked questions and listened attentively to the answers.
“If you have time, could you give me some pointers? I need to do some landscaping and have no idea where to start.” The two women crossed the street together.
“Look at this mess,” Becky exclaimed, “but I think there’s something salvageable beneath it.”
Kathy’s strong hands started pulling weeds. Becky joined in. Soon it was evident what lay beneath the choke-hold of weeds: a beautiful rock garden.
“What do you suggest?” Becky inquired.
“Let me think about it. I’ll come back later.” Kathy abruptly returned to her house. As she crossed the street, she wondered to herself why this pesky new neighbor intrigued her.
Kathy returned with a rough sketch of Becky’s garden. Names of plants were neatly printed at specific locations on the drawing. She laid it out on the picnic table and began to explain. “This side faces south, so you need flowers that can tolerate direct sunlight. These plants will work best in the shady area over there. If you want to get the flowers, I’ll help you plant them.” Kathy’s offer was a surprise even to herself.
Becky beamed. “I’ll run to the greenhouse right now...wanna go with?”
Later, the women unloaded flats of flowers from Becky’s van. There was camaraderie in this adventure. As they continued to clear the weeds from the rocks, the women chatted.
“I rarely see you around the neighborhood, Kathy. Do you have a job?”
“I work nights.”
“What do you do?” Silence caused Becky to look up.
“I manage a bar downtown.” Kathy answered flatly. She stiffened-- waiting for the judgmental response she was accustomed to.
“Well...” Becky chuckled, sitting back on her heels, “you probably meet lots of interesting folks.”
“Mostly the unhappy ones.”
“That must be hard. How do you handle that?”
“I’ve been in the business long enough to read people’s lives–lots of desperate stories with sad endings. I steer clear of the ones who want to drown their sorrows without trying to fix their problems and I talk to the ones who do.”
“You’re a wise woman.”
Noticing the cross dangling from Becky’s neck, Kathy remarked “You’re not like all the other Christians around here.”
“I don’t know...you haven’t told me I’m going to hell if I don’t go to church.”
“Yeah, well, going to church doesn’t guarantee a free ticket to heaven. It has to do with a relationship with Jesus.” Suddenly, Becky gasped. At the base of one large boulder stood an exquisite flower. “Kathy, look at this–it’s gorgeous. What is it?”
“It’s some sort of orchid–rare in this climate.” They were both awed by its beauty hidden by the thistles.
Becky was quiet for a moment. “I wasn’t always a Christian. My life was like this garden–full of thorns, run over with problems. I found myself divorced, jobless, and trying to raise two kids who were hurting as much as I was. But I had a neighbor who mowed my lawn and another one who brought me groceries. One day, one of them invited me to church. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. It was the best decision I ever made.
“Being a Christian is like this flower...” Becky continued “it blooms because it sunk its roots deep into good soil next to this rock. The rock sheltered it. Even all these weeds couldn’t choke it out. We are like that orchid when we root ourselves in Jesus Christ. He is our rock. And He clears our thistles away.”
Weeks later, Becky turned to Kathy as they were leaving Sunday morning worship. “What was it that brought you to church with me today?” Becky asked.
Kathy smiled at her new friend. “I read your life.”
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