By Rev. Lawrence M. Ventline, D.Min.
A Dump, A Garden, And One's Worth: Growing An Interior Life by Lawrence M. Ventline
Life's story begins in a garden of paradise, Genesis notes. Another garden in John's Gospel across the Kidron Valley that Jesus and his disciples used is mentioned there also. So does one's trek of twists and turns take one on her or his trail through a garden, or, a dump.
After all, every pilgrim has a story to tell. It is a tale of joy and sorrow, of desolation and consolation, spiritual ups and downs.
My own trek takes me through a dump-like plot of land where I once lived in Harrison Township, Michigan that builders once began and did not finish as the Good Book notes. Debris filled the area around boulders of rocks and more. Bottles were strewn there with other garbage from passers-by. I pulled weeds and re-made the dump with colorful flowers and evergreen trees. Less debris was left by others then. After all, it was a garden now. And, gardens grow greens and more, beyond rubbish. Like life. A poor self image begets more of the same until I decide otherwise and make a garden like paradise of life.
Dumps attract debris the same way humans attracts more of the same when their self esteems lacks dignity and worth.
This tale is told of my own family of nine with parents who hailed from farming towns of Port Austin and Cheboygan ,Michigan. It takes me through Detroit's east side where we were educated at Saint Thomas the Apostle Parish and its grade and high school after attending kindergarten at Lynch Elementary on Palmetto near Van Dyke where I couldn't tie my gym shoes with two loops and was shamed by the teacher who made me face the wall until I learned.
My own demeaned self-image and worth needed shoring up from a boyhood pastor, the late Father Edward Popielarz who taught me to accept myself, others and God in his weekly class in acceptance that I attended in Pontiac where he led the self-help session weekly while I was at St. Mary's College, Orchard Lake.
Later in life, others dumps were explored in Kingston, Jamaica, and, San Salvador in a chapel where the blessed Oscar Romero was murdered at Mass. Dumps began to turn into fresh gardens over time and turns in life's travails.
I came to accept my story of desolation and consolation from Father Popielarz' quoting of theologian Paul Tillich's, The Shaking of the Foundations: "Simply accept the fact that you are accepted." Accepted by whom? By God, by golly! For sure. When that happened, I experienced grace, favor and blessing. Everything is transformed and morphs when I accept. Grace, after all, conquers sin and estrangement, and the abandonment I felt early on in life as my own father seemed estranged from his stepmother who abused him and his siblings. Alcohol consumed my dear dad's tale. And, I needed to learn to trust, talk and feel again - classic traits of children of alcoholic parents.
Like the sermon on the mount address of Jesus in Matthew 5:1-12, acceptance principles are analogous, I realized...finally. Accepting my self and my story completes the threads, brings life's trek together, and, helped me appreciate the need for the gym shoe laces tied with two loops. Like laps of life, my tale's threads connect in helping others to ask: How does your garden grow?