For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. [Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 (NLT)]
Recently, we took guests to both the Botanical Garden and the nearby bird sanctuary/swamp. Although both offer plenty of photo ops and pleasant walks in God’s creation, the Garden offers more color and variety than the swamp any day. Nevertheless, as much as I love the splendor and serenity of the Garden, I think I prefer the swamp.
The Botanical Garden certainly is more beautiful than the swamp and always has an abundance of showy colorful orchids. The swamp’s “super ghost orchid” has blossoms for only a few weeks each year and its delicate flowers really aren’t that impressive, especially when compared to the Garden’s dramatic orchids. At various times of the year, the swamp has flowers like blue flag iris, morning glories, swamp hibiscus, and string lilies but that’s nowhere near the variety of exotic flora found in the Garden all year long. If any of the swamp’s flowers were in a beauty contest with the Garden’s flamboyant blooms like the passion flower, showy dahlia, or flaming glory bower, they’d easily lose. Moreover, the captivating colors of the Hong Kong orchid, double buttercup and plumaria trees found in the Garden outdo the swamp’s cypress, oaks and pines any day.
While the Botanical Garden speaks of organization and perfection, the swamp is a hodgepodge with no apparent plan to its layout or vegetation. Carefully designed by world famous landscape architects, the Garden’s flora only grow where they’re planted and weeds have no place in the plan. The plants are beautifully pruned, fussed over and treated for disease and pests. It’s always the right season in the Garden; if it’s too hot, cold, dry or wet for one plant, another one is exchanged for it. If the lily pond gets too cold, the lilies get transferred to a warmer spot. If a plant dies, it’s removed and a lovely new plant replaces it. In contrast, the swamp’s plants are left to the whims of the weather and Mother Nature; the seasons take a toll on them and, when conditions aren’t favorable, plants wither, die, and drop.
Try as I might, my life will never have the exquisite perfection of a botanic garden. It resembles the swamp more than any garden and maybe that’s why I like it so much. Like life, the swamp is unpredictable and full of surprises. I never know what flowers will be in bloom, what birds will appear, or if I’ll see alligators, snakes, raccoons or deer but I know the swamp will never disappoint. It changes every day in its own unique, wild and wonderful way. Like life, the swamp is chaotic, disorganized, a little dangerous and absolutely magnificent! As much as we might prefer life to be as well planned, serene and beautifully designed as a botanic garden, it never will be. Like the swamp, we’ll have seasons of abundance and scarcity, downpours and drought, growth and dormancy, health and affliction, blessings and misfortune, beginnings and endings. Like it or not, there is a fair amount of muck, weeds, pests, and vulnerability to circumstances beyond our control.
It’s ironic that our local Botanical Garden was a swamp before it became such a splendid showplace. After two lakes were dug, the resulting 250,000 yards of fill sculpted the property into what it is today. Some day, we will trade in our swamp for God’s heavenly garden—a garden far more magnificent than the one I visit—a garden with no death, sorrow or pain. Until then, we have to be satisfied living in the crazy and wonderful swamp of life. We brush off the spider webs and try to avoid getting bitten by the bugs or stepping in the animal scat on the trail. Confident in the swamp’s creator, we find joy and contentment in the unique beauty of our somewhat confusing and chaotic journey. Thank you God, for this amazing holy mess we call life!