It can be challenging when an activity you’re passionate about is outside. Such is the case with gardening. My plants are exposed to the elements, frequently nibbled on or dug up by passing critters and sometimes plucked or stepped on by curious children, including my own grandchildren. Yet as I tend the small plot of ground the Lord has entrusted to me, I strive to make it beautiful, not only as an offering to Him, but as something lovely for others to gaze upon. Admittedly, my neighbors may question the latter statement since the woodland garden is still very much a work in progress and one of my front beds is being overtaken by the incessant march of Bermuda grass and wild violets. Nonetheless, I have a vision of what it might become . . . someday.
Several days ago a number of woodland plants took an unexpected hit. I wasn’t home at the time so I can’t be certain what transpired. As best I can tell, the tree service working in my neighbor’s yard dropped a very large branch and proceeded to drag it some 20’ back to my neighbor’s property to be disposed of. I’m sure it was an accident and the crew didn’t realize the damage they were doing when they retrieved the branch. But I was saddened to see the carnage: a clump of flattened jack-in-the-pulpit, broken ferns, shredded Black Hills cohosh, trampled mayapples, and a recently-planted trillium which is now nowhere to be found.
My neighbor gave me the name and phone number of his contact person at the tree company. I tallied up my losses and gave him a call, hoping to have a reasonable conversation and possibly receive compensation so I could replace the damaged and missing plants. When he answered, I identified myself and explained the reason for my call. I was totally unprepared for his response. The anger from the other side was palpable as the man demanded to know why I hadn’t called sooner or said something when it happened. When I told him I wasn’t home at the time he essentially called me a liar, stating adamantly he knew I was home because he saw me. That part was true – they had to rearrange some of their trucks so I could get out of my driveway and go to my daughter’s house for the day.
His harsh words felt like heavy blows, pummeling me with their force. I finally ended his tirade when I said, quite calmly, “Never mind. I’ll replace my plants. I’m sorry I bothered you.” And was I ever sorry! I wouldn’t have subjected myself to the vitriol had I known what awaited me. It took me several minutes to stop shaking; much longer for my mind to refrain from replaying his unkind words.
Whoever came up with the ditty, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, was seriously deluded. I was reminded, yet again, by the unpleasant phone exchange how critically significant our words are. They can build up and encourage or tear down and destroy. Give life or take it.
As was the case in the contrasting scenarios I described when I first wrote about the importance of being a life giver (See “Give life, remix”, November 2015), the life-giving counterbalance came from my daughter Mary’s household. Less than an hour after extricating myself from the ill-fated phone call, I received a video featuring 2-year old Lyla. With a bit of coaching from her mom, my sweet-natured granddaughter proceeded to tell her great-grandmother they were praying for her, hoped she’d feel better and loved her. As my mom, who was recovering from eye surgery, and I watched and re-watched the message through tear-moistened eyes, we were warmed by the affection it embodied. Even at her tender age, Lyla is an encourager, often enthusiastically telling one family member or the other “Good job!” or happily announcing, “I love being with you guys” as she gazes adoringly at us around the dinner table.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” 
Let us remember the impact our words and actions can have. And in all things, may we seek to follow the example of the ultimate Giver of Life.
 Ephesians 4:29-32