As she seated herself on a tall stool in front of our fourth grade class, Miss Teasley's honey-blonde hair brushed the delicate gold circle pin on her blue angora sweater. She adjusted the matching scarf at her neck, anchored her black flats on the bottom rung, and smoothed her skirt over bountiful crinoline petticoats.
"Class," she beamed, "I have a surprise for you!"
Until then, all my teachers had been old and stern. This one was young and pretty, and she smiled. Betty Teasley was everything this shy, sensitive young girl wanted to be, and I hung on her every word. She taught me many things that year, but I'll always remember what happened next.
"Beginning today," she announced with a hushed sense of wonder and awe, "we will read a chapter every day until we have finished a very special book. Come with me now and let's enter Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden."
We leaned forward in our seats, eager to be transported on a field trip without wheels. In a moment we were no longer just back from lunch in Davidson County, Tennessee, but waking up half a world away with nine year-old Mary Lennox-alone, afraid, and angry-in the stifling Indian heat.
Safe to say, none of us could relate to the customs and culture of India, but I could easily understand her loneliness, fear, and insecurity. I hadn't lost both of my parents like Mary, but my Dad was gone whenever I was awake, working two jobs to help pay for the mounting bills from my sister's illness. Even though Mom always smiled, I knew she worried sometimes. Like the heroine in the book, I was experiencing a dawning awareness of a larger world and how truly small I was within it.
Every day after lunch, in my heart I searched for a secret garden right along with Mary...a place of safety, beauty, and possibility...where just believing was enough to overcome any obstacle...and children could show adults the way.
How exciting the day Mary told her invalid cousin Colin about the healing magic of the garden, and he joined in the adventure! His words could have been my own: "Oh, Mary! If I could get into it (the garden), I think I should live to grow up!"
Like Colin and Mary, I did live to grow up, but I never forgot the power of this classic children's story to give me hope when I needed it most. Maybe that's why I made it a point to read this story, a chapter a day, to my own daughter when she was nine. In a world of growing things and growing seasons, it's important to recall the secrets of the garden for a generation that needs to know really good things take time to ripen and bloom. I wanted her to know that often, much is going on unseen, underground--even when it seems nothing is happening at all.
And there are days when I need to be reminded that a garden gone to seed, can be brought back to life with consistent effort and that the effort is worth it--for the garden, but especially for the gardener. In digging, I discover the small daily miracles that grow my faith and enable me to bloom by God's grace--even in difficult circumstances.
Mrs. Burnett and Miss Teasley never knew the impact of the words they planted in my heart so long ago. But because they cultivated, I reaped--fresh cut inspiration. Today, I'm scattering some of those seeds.
Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.
Gen. 2:15 (NKJ)