July 30, 2017 - Katie Harbage

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    SunJul302017 ByKatie HarbageTaggedNo tags
       A seed.  Why do we plant it?  Because of faith.  Faith that a miracle will happen and that this seed will explode with  new life.  My faith journey is a story of the power of the seed.  And how God comes to us in ways we can’t imagine.  

       I had just received an offer to work for the Science Museum in Rochester, NY.  I was ecstatic.  Life was good.
    Enter: reality.  

      I ran over our mail box.  “Are we moving?” our kids asked.  Finding a flattened mailbox had become a sign to my kids that we’re moving.  I say I’m ok, but evidentially I’m not really ok.  I ran over another one. “It’s a good thing our neighbors like us, Mom!” said my kids, trying to be helpful.    Yes, it is.

       I find that I do better with change if I’m moving towards something.  So, when the phone calls started.. I stopped and listened.  “Come train to be a Master Gardener”.   Research, science, growing new life.  Hey, that sounded good.  A new seed was planted in my life.

       A year later, the 2nd phone call came.  “Kate, come be a Horticultural Therapist.”  Wait, why me, and what the heck IS Horticultural Therapy anyway?  But Karen was patient.  And something told me to listen.  So I finally did.  Another seed planted.

       After 2 years of training, I walked out the door armed with new skill sets.  I was excited!  I have worked with people who are blind, people living at Menorah Park who have Alzheimer’s, people who are trying to create new lives for themselves after strokes, children with chronic health conditions at the Cleveland Clinic.  I have walked into multiple facilities thinking that I was going to help people, that I was going to make a difference.  But what I received back was so much more. 

       My first job as a Horticultural Therapist was at a day facility for older adults, those with compromised health and low income.  It was mostly an inner-city population, and I clearly stood out as a minority.  Many of these clients had grown up in the South, raising their own vegetables, an important part of feeding families.  Gardening was familiar and some were willing to try it again.  We planted seeds together.  We shared insights.  We were learning together. 
      I admit it.  I had some favorite people. One of the women loved to sing.  I loved to sing.  So, here we were, singing together, and creating new rex begonias.  To do that, you mutilate the leaves, take straight pins, and pin them to moist soil. “You know,” she said, looking at the mutilated plants, “when I grew up in Georgia, we used to walk to school.. barefoot.  Just a small group, walking down a dirt road.  The yellow school bus would drive by, throwing up dust.  The white kids got to take a bus.  They would stick their heads out the windows and spit on us.”  I froze.  She just sat there, this usually joyful woman, with her head hanging down.   Words tumbled out.  “I am so sorry that happened.  You never should have had to go through that.  That was awful.”  Not eloquent, but of the heart.  She nodded.   Maybe a seed had been planted… of understanding in me.  A seed of being heard perhaps,   by her.  

       Another woman told me about little white boys hitting her on the back of her legs with switches, trying to get the people to work faster.  The whole time she’s telling this story, she’s helping me with a project.  Huh. One morning a young aid came in to work, all shaken up.  She told me about leaving Aurora Farms, and having her car stopped and totally searched- without a warrant.  Then she was taken to the local police station and interrogated.  She had not been shoplifting; she had been racially profiled.  This was a joyful, well-spoken gal who was going to school at night to get her bachelor’s degree.  The joy of life was visibly gone.

    I have heard more stories, and each time have tried to apologize.  Someone needed to.  I’m apologizing for my own prejudice as well.  What do we really understand of another person’s life if we haven’t walked in their shoes?  Or at least walked next to them for part of their journey?

      I have been working with this particular health care institution with inner city populations for almost 16 years now. Despite living with little resources, health difficulties, and prejudice, I hear many participants say again and again: “God is great.  God is good!  God will get me through everything.”    

      Clients and staff have taken me under their wing, taken me into their homes, invited me into their churches, and worry about me when I look sad.  They entrust me with their broken stories. I consider many to be friends.  I hope they consider me to be one as well.  I believe we’ve planted seeds of faith together.

      I’m going to challenge myself, and all of you, to plant new seeds.  Talk to someone different today.  Find out what roads they are walking down.  Come to one of Spiritual Formation’s presentations this fall on handicapped individuals, on lifestyles different from yours.  Imagine walking in their shoes.  Come to Telling     Our Story’s presentation on people with Alzheimer’s this October and learn helpful ways to support their families. 
     Jesus walked with lots of people.  And God is still walking with all of us.  I know this.  Some of the best people in my life have told me that “God is great.  God is what gets me through this journey!”  Trees of faith have grown in me from those shared seeds.

    I’d like to end this story with prayer.
     “Lord, please help us to join together in our journeys, to hold each other gently and with care.  Help us to listen to each other and to you.  Open us up to planting new seeds, trusting that you will help us work with love.  God is Great.  God is Good!  Amen.”
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