I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Ambleside, England

“I beg your pardon
I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine
There’s gotta be a little rain sometime . . .”

Written by Joe South, singer Lynn Anderson


I was still in high school in the early 1970s when I was sent to help out a great-uncle who was dying of cancer.   It was a very sad time  –  his young son had already lost his mother, who had been killed in a car accident.   I have vivid memories of hearing Lynn Anderson’s song being played over and over in the boy’s room, and it’s remained with me ever since, a recognition that, as much as we’d like to,  we can’t  protect those we dearly love from life’s losses and suffering.

There’s been both sunshine and rain, and I have been blessed with rose gardens that themselves have brought both beauty and thorns.  Roses are a picture of love.  They are joy to see, their scent luxuriant, their petals soft, mysterious in their depths.  In our travels, we saw roses sheltered against the  stone fences of English gardens in the Lake District.  When I worked at McMaster University many years ago, it was a heart’s delight when early summer brought the bright roses that would reach up along a sunny wall of an old edifice.

McMaster University, 1968 Orientation Video Screenshot

Roses have thorns, and love has its heartbreak.  Many lessons have had to be learned in loving and letting be, many tears shed in saying good-bye.  It’s part of being human – learning to love is lifelong, through sunshine and rain.

“Love is a rose
But you better not pick it 
Only grows when it’s on the vine
Handful of thorns, and you’ll know you’ve missed it
Lose a love when you say the word ‘mine’.”
Written by Neil Young, singer Linda Ronstadt




Hidden Treasure

Todayby Ethel Romig Fuller

Swansea, Wales

I have spread wet linen
On lavender bushes
I have swept rose petals
From a garden walk
I have labeled jars of raspberry jam,
I have baked a sunshine cake;
I have embroidered a yellow duck
On a small blue frock.
I have polished andirons,
Dusted the highboy,
Cut sweet peas for a black bowl
Wound the tall clock,
Pleated a lace ruffle . . .
I have lived a poem.

We had driven through Cardiff, Wales and continued on up the coast to Swansea when we came across this gigantic billboard, and on sighting it, I felt as if the treasure I’d been looking for had been found.  It named the essence of my desire to journey to Ireland and England last fall.  Wales has a Celtic charm, so that even the road signs felt like cryptic clues, and  Swansea had a waterfront museum that held us spellbound  with its tales of rugged coves, swashbuckling pirates and hidden gold.    But I believe the Welsh had it right –  poetry itself contains all kinds of hidden maps and meanings,  narrows our attention down to the very essence of things so that we really see their great value.  Hidden truths, like jewels, are cached in the least likely places.  Ethel Romig Fuller, in her poem,  opens our eyes to those riches in Today, an ordinary day.

Our life can be expressed as a joyful poem, beautifully crafted, rhythm in the footsteps of our days.   I’ve been struck by the names of people and places, coincidence, reoccurrence, metaphor, harmony and rhyme as patterns in my life, as if I myself was created for this purpose of joy.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are of God’s making,  “For we are God’s handiwork (poema), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

We are God’s poetry.  We are the “treasures hidden in jars of clay.”  (2 Cor 4:7)

On to the Fields of Praise

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

From Fern Hill, by Dylan Thomas

“But to you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.  And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”  Malachi 4:2

We had the opportunity this past week to spend a couple of days in farm country, and by lucky coincidence, we were there to watch the cattle being unloaded from a trailer  into new pastures.   The calves skipped through the spring-green grass, so alive and exultant that their joy was contagious.  Winter has been long.

A farm, for the young, is an expansive place, and I remember my childhood exploring of fields and ponds with surrounding bulrushes, of haylofts in old barns, of picking berries from the bushes along the fence rows.    In the country, nature is right next to the skin, and there’s a sense that we are in a sacred place.

Through God’s grace, we are set free from our fears and limitations, free to explore and experience all the wonders He’s made in creation.  We are ” in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”  (Romans 5:2, The Message)    Not only standing but running, like the young calves,  with joyous abandonment “on to the fields of praise,” exuberant and elated, dancing our life.

When He Came to His Senses . . .

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
. . .

In his poem The Stolen Child, William Butler Yeats’ haunting lyrics  draw us in, as the faeries tempt us into coming away with them into a fantasy world, away from our pain and sorrow.   But at the end, Yeats poetry shows us the cost of this enticement, when we’ve forgotten how beautiful the commonplace things are.

Away with us he’s going
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.

The desires in our heart draw us into the fantasy world; it promises fulfillment and a way to escape pain.   Like the son in the Biblical parable, we long for excitement away from home.

But the prodigal son is saved when he comes back to his senses among the pigs.  The Father runs to meet him with joy, though he is ragged and bereft of all his human inheritance, to clothe him with fine clothes and to prepare a banquet for him.    Because he was lost and now was found, there is celebration, a feast of abundance.

Grandma’s Tales and Wonderings

Before I am daft, and in my dotage

First let me through my memories forage

I don’t want to nag, nor will I scold

But share with all, to my great pleasure

These tales, which are my greatest treasure.

 My grandchildren love to hear stories, particularly about their mother’s childhood escapades.   The time she didn’t heed parental admonition and got her boots stuck in a muddy farmer’s field on the way to school.  The time when, while delivering papers, she noticed that a dog had fallen in a backyard pool and was able to alert its grateful owner.  One of the great joys of keeping a record, that noted some of the most commonplace activities of our days, is coming back to those pages years later.  To be able to read it vividly evokes the senses and memories of things long forgotten.   I’ve kept a journal for over thirty years, and wish I had done it from an earlier age.

Another opportunity for collecting stories is in the sharing of anecdotes between extended family members.  After the death of our grandfather, my sister badgered as many people as she could into writing a page of their recollections.  She then put them together into a book that we still have more than twenty years later – “remember when Opa would send us to the Dairy Queen to get an ice cream cone for him and Grandma, then saying ‘well, you better eat it yourself because it will melt!'”   It’s only in reading this years later that it occurred to me that this also would have been a convenient way to get the kids out of their hair for a while.

It’s also very important to glean stories in long ago family history.  Time is precious and  I now listen with rapt attention as my 93-year-old mother shares about her life.   “When an old person dies”, the proverb says, ” it’s like a library burning down,” a loss of irretrievable information and wisdom.  There are stories in treasured possessions.   These tales yield greater insights as we ourselves mature.

Storytelling is our way of discovering ourselves, our world, the multi-generational  connections that helped form the people we became. Stories convey the colour, humour, and pathos of the patterns traced in our everyday lives.