Of all flowers, roses have the greatest potential to make me happy. Maybe it’s because my mother curated incredible roses in her garden and used them as gifts to bless others as gifts. Between their look and smell and classic elegance, to me they really represent an ideal for gifts, for flowers on my table, and for plants in my garden. But the problem is, unlike my mother with her well-groomed plants and my sister who decorates entire weddings with hand-selected blooms, I have no talent for gardening. I was so excited that things seemed to grow well in Malawi, and I even hired a gardener to help me when I first planted seven rose bushes at our first home here. My bushes bloomed for a season and then started to wither. The four bushes I planted at my neighbor’s house grew much more aggressively than ours right next door, yielding copious lovely blooms. I asked Suzi once why her roses, which I planted myself and had no gardener, were growing so well. She told me that she spoke encouraging words to the plant daily. I tried that to my bushes. I also tried fertilizer and all techniques handed to me from master-gardeners I knew. The plants continued to wither. Maybe it was a nearby tree or ant hill which was choking them out. When Greg and I left that first house, that first clinic in Malawi, I dug up half of my bushes and gave them to my friend who was better at gardening. I hoped it could bless her.
When we returned to Malawi, I found that those remaining bushes, which had been without gardener or water, were blooming just fine. It was almost enough to make me give up on roses in the future. But not quite, because I really love the flowers, I see them as the epitome of gardening. So I was thrilled when I realized that there were twelve bushes in my new backyard in Nkhoma. There was even a small red tea rose blooming on one of the bushes when I discovered it. I hired a gardener and together we weeded, watered, pruned and fertilized. The bushes didn’t grow a single bloom for the next eight months. I bought ten more bushes, all of them with beautiful and fragrant roses when they were planted. Not one of them bore roses since. My friend, a nurse who can grow roses from clippings from bushes, advised me how to care for the plants, and I did my best. But every time I watered and examined my plants, I was discouraged that there had not been a single bloom since I moved in or since the new bushes were planted. I saw roses at other houses in our village, at my fiend’s houses in town, and at lodges when we traveled. I couldn’t help asking myself what was wrong with my garden, and my rose growing ability. I knew there were plenty of other beautiful flowers in my garden, some growing like weeds in the lawn and others springing up unsolicited in pots just from a little water. Even the pea plants my gardener started growing were with flower. I was wondering whether it was time to give up on roses. I like them the most and I really tried hard, but maybe there was just something about me, or my new environment.
At the time, things had been hard in the hospital too. A lot of the things which had caused us to choose this place had not materialized. I was keeping busy and helping others and enjoying work and life outside of work, but in the back of my mind, I felt like my life reflected my garden. There was plenty of growth, but not the one thing my heart craved, nothing from what I was most invested in or working towards. I wondered if it was a sign, that more effort was not going to yield the results I wanted, and I either had to be happy with the results that I could get, or more on to somewhere where there was already the impact I craved.
And then last weekend I saw it, the beginning of a pink, fragrant bud on the climbing plant in the corner. There were two more on the way. I know it’s not much, especially when I have almost two dozen bushes and a gardener, but it really meant something. Maybe there is a chance that I can have roses in my own garden. Maybe this doesn’t have to be a symbol of bareness in my ministry here or compromise in my mission after all. Of course it sounds silly when I extrapolate it that directly. But I do really like roses. And perhaps I get discouraged a bit easily when I can’t reach a goal.