At times, the most extravagant beauty is found in simplicity. The brilliance radiated by a single firefly. The intricate, colorful design adorning one tropical fish. A single rose. “Simple” allows one to hone in and marvel at the craftsmanship.

My thoughts of simple beauty and nature naturally gravitate to memories of my husband’s grandfather Elmer. No middle name. Just Elmer. He was a quiet man with an unassuming presence. His favorite attire consisted of a t-shirt and jeans. Inside resided a large heart and a giant faith. He found blessing in his Creator, whose hand shaped his purposes as well as the bounty of fruitful things that dot our surrounding landscape. Gardening was his passion. Summers brought a harvest from a large garden and the surrounding rose bushes that framed it.

He and his wife found themselves planted on the corner of a busy intersection in a small quaint suburb of Chicago. The blooms in their backyard waived to others as they passed by. During the day, the view was captured by people strolling by for a variety of reasons: Parents and kids anticipating a few moments of escape at the nearby park. Joggers running a familiar “track” around the block of old homes. Lucky dogs on leashes getting a chance to let out pent up energy and breathe in fresh air. Others making their way to the train station located up ahead for a quick trip to the city for the day.  However, during the rush hour, footsteps moved quickly past this corner lot—people anxious to get home from their workday and long commute. It would have been easy to dismiss God’s presence as manifested in the living beauty on this land. Often, our agendas determine the direction of our glance.

But that’s when Elmer’s own beauty stood among his various plants. Although naturally quiet, he held a passion just to make life more beautiful in general. Often, he stood near the sidewalk just to say “hi” as passersby trekked home—a simple act with a profound message. A small sacrifice of time spoke of value to strangers’ eyes and hearts. As an added gift, he held a stash of dog cookies in his pocket for any furry friends that accompanied their owners. Was it any wonder that dogs found companionship in his presence?

As someone who lacks a green thumb, I envied Elmer’s intention in caring for the potential harvest bestowed to him. I can plant seeds, but the investment in the daily care demands commitment. Granted he was retired, but he still made it his passion to be a steward of his fruit and share the blessing. Neighbors frequently received impromptu gifts of fresh vegetables. Sometimes, it was an actual meal prepared with them. I was fortunate to have benefited from the fresh broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces, and peppers that he produced from the carefully tilled soil.

During the summer of our engagement, I lived with his grandparents. “Good Morning Sunshine,” he would greet me as I descended the stairs to the kitchen every morning—a simple greeting of validation as he exhorted me to embrace the gift of a new day. With our wedding approaching in August, Elmer offered up his precious roses to adorn my bouquet. Vibrant, multi-colored blooms bore witness to the Creator of all and to the care of the most disposable of things.

My hands did, in fact, clutch those roses as I walked down the aisle. But Elmer wasn’t able to see them. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack six weeks prior to our wedding. Through our grief following his death, we found comfort in the living beauty that endured. They bore witness to his investment in caring for even the most simple forms of life. He was adding beauty to the world; even if spotted for only a few moments a day. It’s a beauty that ultimately is rooted in God; who considers even the most perishable “lilies” worthy of his handiwork (Luke 12:28).

Posted in a small area of flowers visible from the sidewalk, was a sign designating “Elmer’s patch.” It was a small hand-painted sign made years earlier by my mother-in-law, who also shares his passion for planting. In an unexpected act of redemption, someone wrote a tribute to the local paper summarizing the way Elmer impacted his little patch of the world. Her words affirmed that others witnessed the view to which we, his family, had been so blessed.  “He would return a honk or a ‘hello’ with a friendly smile and wave as he worked. It made life seem brighter, just looking at those beautiful flowers as you passed by…. We have learned a great deal from his very visible example of brightening his own special corner with his flowers. Yes, a little bit of ‘Elmer’s Patch’ will remain in all of us who were fortunate to pass his way.”

Stephanie Thompson
Stephanie is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She writes about sensing the voice of God and encountering the Holy Spirit in the midst of our everyday routines. Her pieces have appeared on Mudroomblog, The Mighty, Altarwork, Amnity Coalition, and Covenant Quarterly Forum. In addition, her passion for those affected by mental illness finds itself woven into some of her writing. Originally hailing from southwest Michigan, Stephanie lives in Mokena, Illinois with her husband and three teens. A speaker at various venues, she can be followed on her blog, Twitter @s2thomp and facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StephanieThompsonspeakerAndBlogger/ .

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  1. A double gratitude today on the theme ‘Gardens” – this beautiful piece and my husband’s beautiful garden of flowers (which he made for me outside our condo to replace the beautiful garden we left when we sold our home of 25 years). You were so fortunate to have had this experience!

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