About the Author
Jennifer Wilder Morgan graduated from Kent State University and is a member of the Delta Gamma Fraternity. She resides in Houston, Texas, where she served in The Methodist Hospital’s lay ministry. She is a member of The Woodlands United Methodist Church.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Come to the Garden Tilling the Soil:
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Something mysterious is afoot in my garden—something I want to share.
As a young girl, I loved to listen to the nursery rhyme that contains the phrase “How does your garden grow?” All my life I have been fascinated by the simple beauty of the garden, a sacred space where life is planted, nurtured, harvested, and resurrected.
I have cultivated many gardens in my lifetime. Their roots grow deep and stretch for thousands of miles. My first garden was a tiny flowerpot in the kitchen window of a small apartment in a poverty-stricken neighborhood of Detroit, where I was born and where my father completed his medical residency. Then, in Cleveland, where I was raised, attended school, worked, and married, I took delight in harvesting armfuls of hydrangeas and fragrant lilacs from my spring and summer gardens. And finally, in Houston, where I live now, my backyard gardens are graced with spectacular displays of azalea and gardenia blooms.
All of these treasured gardens have been nurtured by the seasons of life—fertilized by trials and watered with the tears of joys and sorrows. It was here in Houston that I learned how to grow a new and very special kind of garden—a place of hope and healing. It began, of all places, in a hospital room.
In a chance encounter, I was given an opportunity to volunteer in a lay ministry at The Methodist (now Houston Methodist) Hospital in Houston’s renowned Medical Center area. This ministry would enable me to put to use hospital skills I had cultivated while living and working in Ohio, along with the compassion born of my faith.
As a lay minister, my responsibility was to visit critically ill patients—to pray with them, to visit with them, and, most important, to listen to them. Each time I walked into a patient’s room, I created a loving, compassionate, and nonjudgmental space—a safe place that allowed hurting people to share their hearts and stories with me. On the surface, listening appears to be a passive activity, but in reality I found the act of listening to be a powerful force that creates an active exchange. As hearts are unburdened, a space is created for healing and hope to flow back in.
I visited with patients of all faiths, and as they felt permitted to share intimate details of their lives without fear of judgment or ridicule, defenses came down and they talked with me about their encounters with the Divine—their most private, personal confirmations of God’s presence in their lives. These emotional testimonies included a full spectrum of encounters: experiencing the awe of God in nature, music, art, literature, and Scripture; angelic interventions and near-death experiences; and encounters with some of the most mysterious of the spiritual gifts, including prophetic visions and the gift of tongues. Week after week, I sat in rapt attention as people told me of angelic bedside visitors, visions of loved ones who had already passed into the heavenly realm, and messages of comfort spoken in dreams in the middle of the night.
This four-year ministry was drenched in redemptive tears, and I was witness to the profound healing that occurs when people are permitted to embrace what they have experienced and to courageously share their stories of encounters with the Divine. One such story moved me so deeply that it literally changed the course of my life.
As I sat next to his bed, “John” told me of his struggle with heart disease that led to an eventual heart transplant. Before his transplant, he experienced several heart attacks, and during his last one, he died. He described in detail how he was carried upward, away from his body in the emergency room, and could see everything occurring as the medical team tried to resuscitate him. He even described the pretty butterfly hair clip that one of the nurses was wearing around her ponytail (which she later confirmed to be true). Then John described being carried up through the ceiling and into a different realm, where he was completely embraced in a warm mist that radiated love in its purest form. As he leaned back to soak in this loving embrace, a voice began to speak. In a very personal conversation, John came to know the Creator, the lover of his soul, whom he had denied and pushed away his entire life. John accepted the love being offered to him and was told he would be sent back to his earthly life.
As he finished his story, John leaned over and looked deeply into my eyes. “Honey,” he said, “it is now my life’s work to tell others about the incredible love that God offers to each of us, and to encourage them not to wait until the hour of our deaths to accept and share it. We all have important jobs to do for the Kingdom while we live here on earth.”
John’s powerful testimony convicted me deeply. I, too, have experienced profound encounters with the Divine throughout my life, but I had been fearful of sharing them with others—fearful of being labeled as “one of those.” John’s courage to share his story finally freed my heart to fully embrace the truth of my own encounters. What a healing moment that was for me!
In a dramatic course-correction that could only have been conceived by God, this quiet little Texas homemaker is now an author. John’s story, along with many others, inspired me to offer this freedom and healing to countless others through the pages of this book, by opening the door to my own private garden.
As we near the beginning of my story, there is someone I want to introduce to you. She is as mysterious as the garden you are about to enter. While wrestling with how to write this story, I had a dream, and in my dream I heard the voice of my Lord say very succinctly, “Use an angel!”
I awakened with a start and thought, What a great idea! But how in the world do I do that . . . I don’t know any angels!
The next morning I snuggled up on the living room couch with my dogs and a steaming cup of coffee, and as I gazed out the tall windows facing the garden, I thought about this possibility of creating an angel to help me. What would he, or she, be like? Would this angel be fierce and warrior-like? A little bit intimidating? Or would it be soft, feminine, and gentle? Would it be a shimmery, invisible kind of figure, or would I be able to see it clearly? Would it talk, or would it just point at things as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come did in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol? Would I be the only one who could see it? Whatever its characteristics were to be, I hoped it would carry with it the wisdom of heaven . . . something I desperately needed in this new venture.
Soon, the character of an intriguing angel named Margaret began to take shape in the eyes of my heart. I would write a fictional story about her, one where she would help me share and make sense of some of the miraculous encounters with the Divine I have had. Some of her attributes admittedly come from my own personality, and the experiences she helps the character Jenn talk through are also my own, but her wisdom . . . well, that belongs exclusively to God.
Margaret brings the wisdom of heaven into my garden, creating a sacred space where I find the freedom to embrace and to share my encounters with God. My story, based in orthodox Christianity, is written for people of all faiths and sentiments, including the absence of faith. We are all spiritual beings on a human journey to find love, acceptance, mercy, mutual respect, and a connection to a Creator.
So, now I invite you to step into my garden, and into this story, with your heart and all of your senses fully engaged. There, among the roses, God’s loving presence is revealed to all who are willing to enter.
Truly, heaven is closer than you think.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”
—THE APOSTLE PAUL, EPHESIANS 1:18 (NIV)
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