Sometime decades ago—so long ago that I don’t remember when—I knew my purpose in life was to tend to my little piece of the Garden.
Watching my mother, it’s no wonder I felt like this. When she left a campsite, Mom would ensure it was meticulously clean. She wanted us to always leave things better than we found them.
Hours before leaving for Christmas dinner at her parents’ home, Mom would find out that our cousins were bringing a stranger. She always had general gifts ready. Mom’s way of wrapping family warmth and love around a stranger was to make sure there were presents under the tree with that person’s name. She included a stranger in our family for the evening. How could I have a different approach to life?
“I am the Light of the world…the Holy Spirit who lives in you can shine from your face, making Me visible to people around you.”
–Jesus Calling, July 23
The Garden is everyone around us
To me, the Garden included not just my family, but grew to everyone around me. I always had a special love of nature and all the residents of the great outdoors. I loved all animals—especially dogs.
In 2004 my husband, my best friend and the biggest part of my Garden, died. He had been in ill health most of our time together. Because of his health, he was the stay-at-home partner, and one of the things he did was to plan all our vacations. Our interests were so similar, he knew I would love wherever he took us. We always had a great time together, usually enjoying nature. Now that he was gone, how was I going to have a vacation without him?
I had no intention of staying home and doing chores. It didn’t seem like a good idea to go someplace and return home quickly because I didn’t know what to do without him. I needed a “do something” vacation. If I went alone on a cruise or bus tour, I was afraid it would be all couples and me. That would have been crushing. A “women only” trip might work.
I googled “women travel” and found a company that offered outdoor adventure trips for women. That sounded like what I needed. I selected a long weekend hiking trip in the Shenandoah Mountains. I thought if it turned out terrible, I hadn’t invested much time or money. I started walking on a treadmill to prepare.
The first day we climbed Old Rag Mountain. I thought I was ready for it. Wrong! I huffed and puffed. I had had a stress test before leaving and was glad to know that I wasn’t likely to drop with a heart attack. That knowledge wasn’t making the hike any easier. I was struggling.
When you are in someone else’s Garden
Our guide gently encouraged me to keep going, no matter how slowly I went. We had plenty of time—no pressure. She said if I stopped, starting again would take even more effort. Slow, steady steps were best.
When we got to a really rough spot along the trail, we took off our day packs to form a pack line. The more experienced and more athletic hikers went ahead and placed themselves along the difficult trail. Then we passed our day packs up the hill bucket-brigade style. Next, we passed our trekking poles. Finally, we passed our inexperienced hikers, including me, up the hill. Each woman along the path told me where to place my hands and feet. If necessary, she would reach out and give me a tug or get behind me and give me a shove.
With their help, I made it. When we reached the top of the mountain and stopped for lunch, I told everyone, “If I knew how lousy I would feel, I would have wanted to come anyway.” Everyone cheered for me and said I deserved the Attitude of the Day award.
That day, I was in their gardens and they tended to me. I am still grateful. The company running the trip and the other ladies were not there to help a widow learn to move on and rebuild her life. They probably had no idea that they helped me with more than a rough piece of trail.
“Hold My Hand in joyful trust, for I never leave your side…brighten up the world by reflecting who I Am.”
When your Garden expands
A few years later, a woman posted on a group site, “I’ve been a widow for a month. How do I deal with the loneliness? Don’t tell me to go out. I’m already doing that.” I responded and began a long private email conversation. Encouraged by our conversation, she rekindled her career, did major work in her home, and started a dance club with a non-romantic partner. I was thrilled how she had rebuilt her life. With her encouragement, our conversation was turned into a book called Hiking the Pack Line. We had tended to each other.
When you are at a rough spot, look around for a helping hand. As you move along your trail in life, look to extend a helping hand to the person behind you.
About the author
Bonnie Shapbell was raised in a small town in southern New Jersey and got to see most of the USA by car camping with her family. She received a BS in mathematics from Juniata College. At 50, Bonnie received an MS in Computer Science from Mississippi College. And after retiring from a 43-year career as a software engineer, she now volunteers at Walden Puddle Wildlife Rehab Center, hikes, knits, and plays chess. You can find Bonnie’s book,