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Chapter 1: The Garden

The day was every child’s dream of a perfect start of summer. A warm breeze that carried sweet floral and cut grass scents blew through lush trees and made their leaves wave and whisper. It stirred the hair of children at play, whose laughter and calls rang out with the joy of life. The same soft wind caressed the face of one girl who stared unseeing out of her car window, swallowing her tears. Crying would only make her mother scold.
Her mother’s voice echoed and faded in her mind as if she were already thousands of miles away. “Remember that I expect you to be on your best behavior, Rose, and I don’t want to be bothered. I’m going far away. … I’ll be very busy. … I need some time for myself.”
It was just after arriving home from boarding school when Rose learned that she would be spending the break with her grandmother on her father’s side, who had requested a visit from them. Her mother had decided to travel while leaving her daughter there. It was a long drive to her grandmother’s home in the country, and Rose could not recall ever visiting her before, even though she was the only relative that she knew about.
Still stunned at how quickly she was being sent away again, she kept hoping that her mother might change her mind. All during the school term, Rose had hoped that things would be different this summer now that she was older—almost thirteen. Maybe her mother would like her more now that she was not such a child.
She had worked hard to achieve top marks and had spent a great deal of time sewing a gift for her mother: a rose-colored, heart-shaped pincushion. She had carefully embroidered a rose on one side and a lily on the other side for her mother’s name, Lily. When she presented her handiwork at the end of the school term, her mother took one glance and thoughtlessly brushed it aside, saying that Rose was too old for making homemade gifts. It was as if she pushed away her daughter’s heart along with the sewn one.
Rose had been so upset that she pierced the center of the heart with her scissors, destroying the embroidery on both sides. Regretting her action, she brought the pincushion with her now, planning to repair it.
Her mother’s rejection kept her in a constant state of distress, and her deepest suffering was the terrible feeling of not being wanted. Her loneliness was heightened by not having a father. He had died of an illness when she was a baby. Her mother seldom spoke of him and grew upset if Rose asked questions about him. There were no pictures of him in their home—almost as though he had not existed. The only keepsake she had was his rosary. Her grandmother had sent it on the day of her First Communion, writing that her father had wanted her to have it and that it had been made by his father.
Carved from dark-red cedar wood, the prayer beads were roses, and the crucifix was Christ nailed to a tree. The work was highly detailed, with leaves cradling the wounded body of the Savior and dark stains flowing from His pierced hands, feet, and side. Rose wore it around her neck, hidden inside her clothes.
She took it out now to gaze at the crucified Lord. The sweet wood smell always comforted her. She prayed silently. “Dear Jesus, please open my mother’s heart to spending some time with me before the summer is over.”
She looked up at the clouds, which were moving swiftly across the sky. A white dove flew by overhead, passing in a flash of wings.
Her mother’s sharp voice broke into her thoughts. “We’re here. I’m running late, so we’ll have to hurry.”
They pulled up beside a massive stone wall with large metal gates adorned with a vine and grape design. Rose saw the words Pax Domini Vobiscum at the top. Having studied Latin at her school, she knew that they meant “Peace of the Lord Be with You.”
The car door opened suddenly, and her mother pulled her arm impatiently as she unloaded her bag. “I told you to hurry; there’s no time.”
A frail, elderly woman was slowly opening the gates, and Rose assumed that she was Grandmother Anne.
Her face was beaming as she stretched out her arms to her granddaughter. “Bless you, my child; how you look like your father!”
Rose went into her arms and lingered there, breathing in the violet fragrance that she wore as though breathing in her welcome.
Her grandmother held her closely. “My dear, I’m so glad that you’re here! God has answered my prayers and brought you back to me at last.”
“Thank you for letting me stay with you, Grandmother.”
“You’re always welcome to stay with me.” She released her granddaughter so that she could gaze at her, and tears of joy ran from her blue-gray eyes. She caught sight of the rosary around her neck. “Oh!” she exclaimed, reaching for the crucifix and kissing it reverently.
Rose glanced at her mother, who seemed distraught, and tucked her rosary back inside her blouse.
Grandmother Anne turned to her daughter-in-law. “I’m so glad to see you too, Lily. Of course, you’re both always welcome. You should think of this place as your home. I’ve been hoping for so long that you would come back.”
“I know we haven’t visited, but I’ve been feeling out of sorts. I thought that traveling might help my nerves—a change of scenery for distraction. I’m afraid I’ll have to leave right away if I’m to meet the tour group on time. We’ll have a chance to talk when I come back for Rose. I hope she won’t be any trouble; she should be able to help with chores.”
Lily turned to her daughter, and her voice grew stern. “Now, mind all that I said, and don’t be a nuisance to your grandmother. You’re old enough now to be responsible for yourself. I have to run now. I’ll be back for you at the end of the summer.” She called out her last words as she hurried into the car and sped away.
Rose stood staring for a few moments while her grandmother closed the gates. “I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. Now she’s gone for the whole summer.”
“Come, my dear.” Her grandmother’s gentle voice broke into her thoughts. “Let’s take your things to your room. It was my room when I was a child and your father’s while he was growing up. I do hope you’ll like it here.”
Rose picked up her bag and walked with her grandmother down a winding, tree-lined path, where leafy branches dipped down on both sides and met high overhead.
Sweet birdsong greeted her ears, and Grandmother’s voice sounded like soothing music as she chatted about their summer together. “I hope you’ll enjoy your time here; I know I’ll enjoy your visit! I’ve been waiting to see you for so long. I’m very old now, as you can plainly see, but I hope to be good company for you. And I know you’re going to love the garden. … The grounds are very grand. … There are all kinds of flowers, fruit trees, and varieties of grapes growing here.”
Rose tried to collect herself as she absorbed her new surroundings. Flowers seemed to be waving in welcome from all sides as she and her grandmother approached the stately stone house, which was covered in blooming vines. The tall walls at the front entrance extended to the land in back for as far as she could see.
“The grounds are completely enclosed, so you should feel safe. Your father loved to spend much of his time outdoors.”
In great contrast to her own home, the inside of the house was filled with holy works of art: statues, icons, paintings, and tapestries. There were even stained glass windows that filtered the sunlight into brilliant colors. “We’ve had many generations of devout artisans in our family,” Grandmother said.
Rose followed her to a bright room at the back, where sunshine streamed in through large windows that towered over a long window seat. Embroidered vines, leaves, and grape clusters covered the cushions, bed covers, and curtains. With the moss green walls and rug, it felt as if she were in a lush vineyard. Large bouquets of roses on the desk, the bureau, and a side table made her feel most welcome. “It’s lovely, Grandmother.”
Her eyes were drawn to a crucifix hanging over the bed. It was Christ on a great, branching tree, just like the one on her rosary. She walked over to look at it and became distracted by a picture on the bedside table. Picking it up, she saw that it was her mother with a baby in her arms and a man standing beside her. Rose could hardly believe that the radiant woman was her mother, and guessed that the smiling man was her father. He had the same wavy golden hair, wide forehead, and large blue-gray eyes that Rose had. She gazed at him for some time and wished that she could have known him.
“That picture was taken soon after you were born,” Grandmother commented.
“Mother looks so happy there.”
Replacing the picture, she again looked at the crucifix. She reached up to touch the wood, which was the same color and texture as her rosary. In this larger version, the eyes of the Lord were partially open. He seemed to be gazing quietly at her as He neared the moment of His Death.
“Your grandfather carved that crucifix. I thought that you might like it close by to where you sleep.”
“It’s beautiful.” Rose turned and walked over to the window seat. She sat down and peered out through the long, sheer curtains. A magnificent garden was spread out before her, grander than any she had ever seen. She was struck speechless as she gazed at the spacious grounds, filled with splendid plant life and bordered by tall trees growing alongside the outer walls.
Grandmother drew back the curtains, opened the windows, and sat down beside her. “It’s a beautiful garden, isn’t it? The land has been in our family for many generations, and each has added a share. When your father was about your age, he built a tree house in a great tree in the center of the garden, the oldest and largest tree on the grounds. It’s said that many people have been healed while praying there. It forms the crucifix of the Rosary Garden. You’ll see what I mean when you explore outside. Your father spent so much time there that I always thought of that tree as the heart of my garden. Having you here brings back so many memories of him.”
Her voice choked. “How I’ve longed to see you, my only grandchild! I can’t believe how the years have flown by. But I mustn’t overwhelm you with all of my talk. You are here now; blessed be the merciful Lord!” She held her granddaughter closely again as if she didn’t want to let her go.
After chatting for some time, Grandmother Anne grew breathless. “Well, my little flower, I’ll have to leave you alone while I rest a bit. I need to take naps to keep up my strength. I’m afraid you’ll have to find amusement on your own for much of the time. Look down here.” She pointed out some steps that led out of the window. “You can climb right out whenever you’d like. And feel free to do as you please. This is your garden now.” She showed her the kitchen so that Rose could help herself to refreshments, and then retired to her room to rest.
Rose returned to the window seat and gazed out at the beautiful grounds. Her grandmother’s kindness had soothed the ache in her heart, but she soon thought about her mother leaving her for the summer. “Why couldn’t I have gone with her? Why didn’t she spend a little time with me before leaving? Maybe she doesn’t want me anymore. … Maybe she isn’t planning to come back for me at all. … Maybe it’s my fault.” Her feelings sank lower, and she drooped over the windowsill, her tears falling to the ground below.
A gentle breeze cooled her wet face. The garden’s branches and flowers seemed to be beckoning and inviting her to leave her troubles behind and come out into the sunshine. She thought of her father’s tree house and longed to see it.
Suddenly, a small sparrow landed on the windowsill and sang a melodic trill. It almost seemed as if it had been waiting for her arrival to welcome her. She couldn’t help admiring its joyful song.
When it flew off, she decided to follow the bird outside. She wiped away her tears, climbed over the windowsill, and went down the steps into the garden. It truly was a golden summer day.

Chapter 2: The Tree

The soft wind stirred her hair, and sunlight warmed her skin. Rose walked along moss-covered stone pathways with steps curving in to the slopes of the grounds and leading to scenic areas enhanced with all sorts of graceful garden ornaments: benches, tables, gazebos, and swings. Colorful mosaic patterns of inlaid glass, stone, shell, and tile pieces decorated birdbaths, urns, archways, and pillars. The garden had many magnificent statues of saints, each placed in a grove of fruit trees of a different type for each saint.
Vine-covered trellises were scattered throughout the grounds, laden with plump grapes that she tasted. The flavors varied widely from sweet to tart. Other types of fruits, nuts, and berries hung in plentiful trees and bushes. “There must have been many generations of gardeners in our family,” she thought. She breathed in all sorts of floral scents as she walked past blooming bushes and flowerbeds. At times, petals twirled around her, carried on the breeze. The garden’s gentle music wafted in the air as well: birds singing, leaves rustling, water splashing in fountains, and the tinkling of metal chimes that hung in some of the trees.
She was amazed at the beauty of the trees in the garden. Some were wider than they were tall, shaped like grand domes, and others were so tall that she grew dizzy looking up at them, arching like cathedral spires into the sky. At times, their leaves separated the sunlight into beams or patterns of giant lacework on the grass. Some trees were draped in filmy mosses, while others were covered in pastel blossoms, like maidens in delicate gowns. She especially enjoyed parting the swaying curtains where the branches dipped to the ground, to step inside a perfumed chamber that was complete with a carpet of petals.
Colorful butterflies and birds of all sorts flew about; and squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits darted playfully among the bushes. “Grandmother didn’t exaggerate,” she thought. “The garden is enchanting. I only wish that I had someone to share it with.”
She walked towards the center of the grounds, came upon a thick wall of tall hedges, and slipped through an opening where they formed a corner. Here, she wandered amidst luxuriant rose bushes that were arrayed in a great oval loop. “This must be the Rosary Garden.” The towering hedges surrounding this inner garden created a peaceful enclosure, and the air was heavy with the scent of roses. Each rose bush seemed to be of a different sort with colors ranging from pale to vibrant hues. She spent some time breathing in their perfumes. Every set of ten rose bushes was divided by a large space with another rose bush, and she could see that the arrangement represented the beads of the rosary.
At the center of the floral loop lay a sparkling, round pool, with a mound covered in white lilies rising like an island inside. A life-sized statue of the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child stood at the top, sheltered under a stone grotto. A fountain bubbling at their feet spilled water down several stone steps to ripple in the pool below.
Rose crossed the footbridge to draw nearer to the statue. There were words carved into the pedestal base: Ad Jesum per Mariam, which she knew meant “To Jesus through Mary.” The Child Jesus was holding one of the beads of a rosary that was draped over His Mother’s arm, and His other hand was extended in blessing. To Rose’s wonder, she saw that the rosary looked exactly like her own with roses for beads and a crucifix tree. She lingered for some time, gazing at the lifelike statue, breathing in the intoxicating scent of the lilies, and watching the gold fish that swam in the luminous water.
Eventually, she noticed a small brook flowing from the pool to a passageway of vine-covered trellises at the opposite side of the Rosary Garden and could see a great tree towering beyond. She crossed the garden and followed the winding brook through the tunnel of arched vines, which were heavy with grapes.
It was cool and dark in the leafy passageway, and the sunlight streaming in at the end dazzled her eyes. Immediately after stepping through, she beheld the entire tree. The sight left her breathless and transfixed for some time.
The massive tree stood at some distance away at the top of a gentle hill. Its great boughs seemed to go on forever in circular layers into the sky, like a palatial tower that reached to heaven. Its outer branches dipped down into the rippling brook, which widened as it encircled the hill and reflected back the tree’s stunning beauty. She was awed by its sheer majesty, silhouetted against the earth and sky in a glorious expression of being. She could just make out the tree house through the leaves, way up high in the branches. Observing a line of rose bushes leading up to it, she saw that the great tree represented the crucifix of the Rosary Garden.
Stepping on some large stones to cross the brook, she climbed the slope and walked around the tree. It was so vast that it seemed to have been growing in the garden since the beginning of time. Sunlight filtering through the leaves splashed in moving shadows all over her, like soft kisses of greeting, and the wind blowing through the branches sounded like ocean waves. The babbling waters of the surrounding brook and the singing choirs of birds added to the soothing effect.
Climbing over the large, exposed roots, she touched the dark-red gnarled wood of the trunk. “Grandmother said that this tree was the heart of the garden.” She looked up into the swaying branches and felt a deep sense of timelessness. Something new and mysterious was awakening within her. It felt as if the soft wind were stirring inside her soul and hinting that life held beautiful possibilities that she had not yet imagined.
She could have gazed at it for hours, but she soon wondered what it would be like to climb the great tree. The wide branches grew in close rows, seeming to form a spiral ladder. “I wonder what Father’s tree house looks like,” she thought, peering through the thick leaves. “But it’s so high up. What if I’m too afraid to come back down? What if I slipped and fell? But Father used to climb all the time. I should try, at least.”
She stepped into the large folds in the trunk to reach the first level of branches and continued to climb upwards in the circular layers. The surrounding branches at each tier made her feel that she would be able to get back down safely.
Her breathing grew heavier. After some time, it seemed that she had been going up forever. Just when she was too afraid of climbing any higher, she spied the wooden plank base of the tree house a distance above. It looked large and securely built into the giant boughs surrounding the trunk. “I’ve come this far. I’ve got to see inside.”
Reaching the floor level, she carefully stepped in through the door opening, down into the tree house. A bench bordered the walls, and the ceiling was open on the side next to the trunk, which itself served as a wall. She could see the leaves and branches waving overhead. Large windows were cut into the other sides, and a cupboard was built into a sheltered corner. There were words carved on its door: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).
She walked across the sturdy floorboards and opened the cupboard door. The shelves were empty. She noticed the familiar, sweet scent of cedar and thought that her father must have used the same wood in making the tree house that her grandfather used for the rosary.
Sitting down on the bench, she leaned out of the window to gaze at the view. The leaves were not as thick at this great height. She was up higher than she had ever been in her life and could see very far into the distance. There was the brook, sparkling as it circled the tree and ran back along its course to the inner Rosary Garden, the surrounding garden, her grandmother’s house, and the outer stone walls that enclosed the spacious grounds. Far beyond lay rolling hills, covered in green forests, and high above stretched the vast sea blue sky with its ever-changing patterns of light and color. By moving along the seat, she could see the view in all directions, as though the whole world lay at her feet. The sensation of being so high up, yet in a safe place, was exhilarating.
After a while, she lay down on the bench next to the trunk. She was tired from all of her emotions. There was room enough to stretch out comfortably, and she gazed overhead into the moving patterns made by the dancing leaves.
She ran her fingers across the wood of the tree. “I’m inside the heart of the garden. Maybe Father lay in this very spot and looked up through these branches. I wonder if he can see me here. … I wonder if he can see Mother. … I wonder if she’ll think of me at all this summer.”
Tears filled her eyes and made the green colors shimmer against the bright sky. Eventually, she closed her eyes and lay listening to the soft creaking of the branches. With the rocking motion and the rustling sound of the leaves, she felt as if she were on a great ship. “I’m traveling into the endless sky. I’ll reach the shores of celestial clouds where I’ll see Father. And we’ll be together and never have to let each other go.”
A strong breeze blew and rocked the tree house even more. The noise of the leaves grew and sounded in her ears like a whispering voice swirling all around her. “Let not your heart be troubled … nor let it be afraid.”
She opened her eyes and sat up. “Was I dreaming?” she wondered. She went to the window and looked out but did not see anyone below. “I’m sure I heard those words. It wasn’t just a dream. Maybe it was God speaking to my heart.”
A sense of awe grew in her. The crushing isolation she usually felt had lifted. She also felt close to her father, breathing in the familiar cedar scent and knowing that he had spent much time in this place. After some time, she realized that her grandmother might be awake. She climbed down carefully and walked back to the house.
She found her grandmother preparing dinner in the kitchen. “Grandmother, the grounds are beautiful. I found the Rosary Garden, the great tree, and Father’s tree house. It’s wonderful! I could see so far from up there.”
Grandmother smiled. “I’m very glad you climbed up to your father’s tree house. After all these years, that great tree is still the heart of my garden.”
After dinner, Grandmother brought out some albums filled with pictures of Rose’s father. As a child, he did look a great deal like his daughter.
Looking through her parents’ wedding photos, Rose again saw that her mother seemed joyful—like a different person. She spoke softly. “I don’t think Mother is happy anymore; I think she’s unhappy with me.”
“My dear child, you mustn’t think she’s upset with you. Your mother had a hard time accepting your father’s death. Apparently, the years haven’t helped her much. Some people never seem to heal from their wounds. They never turn to God. You’re still young, and I know it’s hard for you to understand, but you should not lose heart.”
Grandmother sighed and closed the photo album. “Your father was so concerned about leaving you to grow up without him and about passing his faith on to you. He wanted you to have his rosary so that you would know that he entrusted you into the care of the Blessed Mother. Did you know that he named you in honor of her title of Our Lady of the Rosary?”
“No, Mother never told me. Thank you for sending the rosary, Grandmother. It means so much to me.”
“And I have some other things that he wanted you to have. I’ve been hoping to give them to you for quite some time.”
She walked over to the bookcase, pulled out a volume, and handed it to Rose. It was an elegant, hand-sewn notebook with a green cloth cover embroidered in gold thread with her father’s name, Anthony, surrounded by leaves. “I made this notebook for your father when he was about your age. He often sat in his tree house, reading the Scriptures and copying down passages. He made drawings and poems about his reflections.”
Rose held the book closely. “I can’t wait to look at it. Mother doesn’t seem to want to speak about him, especially about his death.”
Grandmother’s eyes grew misty. “You were just a baby at the time. Your parents were living here. I remember that there was a windstorm on the day your father died. He had gone out to the Rosary Garden to pray. When he didn’t return, your mother and I went out to look for him. We found him lying against the great tree, holding his rosary. He looked so peaceful. I always thought that the Blessed Mother led him home.”
She looked at Rose again. “I had lost your grandfather many years before, and it was very hard to lose my son as well. But I was certain that Anthony was close to God. And that knowledge gave me great comfort and hope of seeing him again in heaven. Your poor mother, though, seemed overcome by her grief. She couldn’t bear to stay here any longer. How I worried so for you, my little Rose!”
Reaching into the bookcase, Grandmother pulled out another volume. “Here is another book that he read all of his life.” She handed Rose a Bible, with pages edged in gold and a green leather cover that was tooled with an elaborate foliage design. “The leaves of this book will help you grow in love and trust of God. I hope that you too will read the Holy Scriptures.”
Rose gratefully kissed her goodnight and went to her room. Wearied with her thoughts, she turned off her light and prepared for bed. She was drawn to the window by the soothing sound of cricket choirs singing in the garden, and she gazed out at the dazzling display of stars and shimmering fireflies. It seemed as if the heavenly and earthly lights had come together to play awhile. The silver moonlight cast a gentle glow, and the garden looked like a mystical dreamland. The cool night air gently blew her hair back, and the curtains billowed into the room. “I once lived here,” she thought. “No wonder I feel as though I’ve come back home.”
She climbed into bed and lay back on the soft pillows, breathing in the sweet scent of the roses in the room. The moonlight shining through the sheer curtains cast dancing floral patterns all over. Outside, the nightingales began their hauntingly beautiful serenades. She caught the scent of cedar in the air and remembered the crucifix over her bed. And one girl slept more peacefully and with a quieter heart than she could ever remember in her life, as though she were resting in the shelter of the loving arms of God.


Chapter 3: Seeds

The next morning, Rose awoke to the sounds of birds warbling and whistling outside, and she was confused for a moment. In the city, she was not used to fresh morning air and sunshine streaming in through the windows. Then she saw the picture of her parents and remembered where she was.
She found her grandmother in the kitchen, which was filled with the aroma of the bread she was pulling out of the oven. They greeted each other with heartfelt smiles.
“How did you sleep, my dear?”
“I think the scent of the roses gave me sweet dreams.”
“I’m so glad! I’ve made your father’s favorite breakfast for you: bread and homemade jams. It means so much to me to have you here.”
“And I’m so thankful to you for letting me visit, truly.”
After breakfast, she did chores around the house, happy to help her grandmother. Most of all, she was just content to spend the time with her. The attention and encouragement were what Rose most needed, and Grandmother Anne was delighted in her company.
In the afternoon, when her grandmother took her nap, Rose was eager to look at her father’s notebook. She thought that his tree house would be a perfect place to learn more about him. The garden’s paths already seemed familiar, and she found the way quickly.
Reaching the tree, she tucked the notebook under her waistband and began climbing. Even the footholds in the tree’s branches seemed well known, and she climbed up more swiftly than before.
Once inside the tree house, she settled herself comfortably and opened the cover of her father’s notebook. The cream-colored pages were soft and thick, and her father’s handwriting was strong and neat. The first page held a quote from Scripture before a poem and drawing.

The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. Which is the least indeed of all seeds; but when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come, and dwell in the branches thereof.
(Matthew 13:31–32)

Thy Kingdom Grow in Me

Divine life-giving Seed, I plant my trust in Thee.
Till my inmost heart. Pull out my hidden weeds.
Engraft my spirit in Thy sacred mysteries.
I give Thee all my life; come sow Thy Life in me.

Rain down living water; quench and wash me clean.
Shine Thy light from heaven, Lord, that I may see.
Prune my will so Thine will take root and increase.
Make my hopes all bloom and ripen my belief.

Pour out Thy Blood like wine that I may drink fully.
Feed me with Thy Flesh, Thy Heart’s sweet offering.
Send forth Thy Holy Spirit within my soul to breathe.
May Thy Father’s kingdom extend eternally.

Let me grow as fruit upon Thy Saving Tree,
Dying to myself and bringing forth new seeds.
And when my season passes, my soul come reap and glean
To Thy celestial garden to never part from Thee.

“It’s hard to imagine this tree growing from a small seed, but of course it did,” she thought. In the drawing, she recognized the very tree in which she sat, on top of the gentle hill with the circling brook below. The tree held Christ with His arms outstretched, the branches overhead forming a crown of thorns. Blood and water poured out from His pierced Heart and flowed into the stream around the tree, like a living fountain. “Father drew the crucifix of the Rosary Garden. I am sitting in this tree, near to Jesus.”
A tuneful whistle grew louder from outside, and she peered out the window to see a sturdy boy, who looked about her own age, emerging from the passageway of the Rosary Garden. The sleeves of his white shirt billowed out in the breeze, and he carried a large sack over his shoulder.
He waved as he drew nearer and called out, “Hello, Rose. I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve brought you a gift.”
He climbed up to the tree house and placed his bundle on the floor. “I see you’ve found the heart of the garden.” He smiled widely. “I am Raphael.”
She looked at him in wonder. He had climbed up very quickly yet did not seem out of breath. He was fair, with golden hair much like hers and with eyes the color of a blue-green sea. His deep voice and way of speaking made him seem older than he appeared, and there was an air of kindness and sincerity about him.
“I’m happy to meet you,” she said, “but how do you know me? And where do you come from?”
“I come around to help take care of the grounds.” He sat down on the opposite bench. “Did you know that your father was inspired to build this tree house after the example of the saint he was named after? At one time, Saint Anthony used a tree house as his monastic cell.”
“Oh, did my grandmother tell you about my father? I was just reading a poem he wrote.”
Raphael looked over at the page, and she passed the notebook to him. “I think it’s about the kingdom of heaven growing in a soul,” she said.
He gazed at the page for a few moments. “Yes, Christ grew like a seed of Divine Life hidden in the earth. He was raised up on the tree of the cross as the least of all men, but He rose into a glory that He shares with souls.” Raphael looked at her. “As your father did, a soul must give attention to God for His Life to grow in them, like the birds of the air that dwell in the branches of the tree.”
She absorbed his words and then lowered her eyes. “I’m ashamed to say that I give more attention to my troubles than I do to God.”
Raphael responded gently. “Suffering came into the world when the first parents ate the fruit of the tree that was forbidden to them, but the Son of God came into the world and offered Himself on a new tree. He not only redeemed humanity but also gave them a way to partake of His Own Life. You see, God brings about a greater good even while allowing free will.”
She gazed at him thoughtfully. “You seem to know much about God. I don’t want to waste my whole life dwelling on my troubles. Still, it’s hard to understand why He allows suffering.”
“If God has allowed suffering in your life, maybe it was to open your heart to spending some time with Him before your life is over.” He carefully closed the notebook and handed it back to her.
She ran her fingers over the cover. “I should be more like my father was and spend time with God. My grandmother told me that reading the Bible would help me to know Him.”
Raphael nodded. “The more that you come to know God, the more that you will trust Him. Jesus looked beyond His suffering to give glory to His Father. Love makes all things possible, and the Heart of Jesus is a living fountain of Love.”
He picked up the sack and opened it to show her the contents: a large assortment of seeds and bulbs. “Maybe this work will help you to draw closer to God. These are the seeds of a Mary’s Garden. The flowers and plants are symbols from the lives of Jesus and Mary. I thought that you might enjoy planting them.”
Her face shone. “That sounds wonderful. I’ve always wanted to plant a garden and watch it grow, but I’ve never had the chance.”
“Then we’ll begin. The garden of the Blessed Mother would go well beneath this crucifix tree.”
Rose stored her father’s notebook in the cupboard and climbed down after Raphael.
He fetched the tools they needed, and they spent the rest of the afternoon planting the garden in beds on the hill beneath the tree, leaving pathways for viewing the plants.
She loved the smell of the earth and the feel of it in her hands as she worked. Contributing a share to the family estate gave her a sense of connection to her ancestors, and planting the Mary’s Garden beneath the tree served in some way as a remembrance of her father, who had been devoted to Mary.
While they worked, Raphael told her about the kinds of plants that would grow and their symbolism. The names alone were all lovely to her: Heart of Jesus, Rose of Sharon, Lily of the Valley, Birds of Paradise, Angel Eyes, Rosemary, Lady Fern, and Canterbury Mass Bells. Many plants were named for places and events in the lives of Jesus and Mary: Stars of Bethlehem, Golden Jerusalem, Crown of Thorns, and Mary’s Sword of Sorrow. Many would grow to look like items for use by the Blessed Mother: Mary’s Balm and Crown, and Our Lady’s Smock, Seal, Veil, Keys, Thimbles, and Candles.
“These seeds seem to be an image of the promise of faith and the unfolding of hope,” Rose said meditatively as they poured water from the brook on the ground over the newly planted garden. “I hope that the kingdom of heaven will grow in me so that my life is fruitful.”
Raphael smiled at her. “If you have faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible to you.”