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Text by: Christine Pethel

Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.
-Lao Tzu quotes
(Chinese Taoist Philosopher, founder of Taoism, 600 BC-531 BC)
As a young girl, my family had one of the coolest houses on the block in our tiny town of Rexburg, Idaho. Ever heard of it? Probably not. It's a small Northwest American city, but to my miniature mind, it was the center of the world. Walking into our backyard was like entering an extraordinary world of adventure. The large, dark-wood porch served as a landmark for rousing games of jacks or checkers, a superhero's jump-off point (or a villain's lair), dance rehearsals (and performances), birthday parties, a perfect dry-off location after a day of summer swimming (or running through sprinklers), and an entrance to the best hiding place ever… under the house! I was never afraid to crawl under the porch to rescue a ball or play "house." I was also never afraid to climb the railing of the porch, grab hold of the floppy flowering branches of our massive weeping willow tree and swing all the way across to the tall, six-foot white picket fence on the other side, do a kick-off and swing back around again. Our backyard had lilac trees, a carpet of plush green grass, a makeshift, miniscule version of a baseball field, and even a graveyard around the corner for the sad but frequent occasion when a beloved pet passed on.

On the other side of our house, however, there was another, not-so-adventurous part of our yard. It held the title, "The Schultz Family Vegetable Garden," but it was mostly just my mom's own pride and joy, a sentiment not shared by the rest of our family.

© Brittany Knotts

Though we weren't exactly excited about cultivating the garden, we did enjoy reaping the fruit of the garden. My mom's vegetables were some of the most delicious treats we had ever eaten. I remember many instances when she asked me to help her prepare for dinner. "Run outside, and dig up 8 potatoes and 6 carrots for the stew I'm making tonight." I loved it! It was a marvel to pull one of those green leafy stalks poking out of that big dirt patch and watch as a beautiful orange carrot emerged from beneath.

On occasion, though, I felt a bit guilty enjoying what turned out to be the fruit of all of my mom's hard work. She has always had a love for gardening, something we, as children, didn't understand, or share, until after we were out of the house, not long after kicking ourselves for not utilizing the opportunity for free advice. Many times she served as "The Little Red Hen," working out there all by herself— pulling weeds, planting seeds, and picking the harvest. We did help her occasionally, but mostly did so only when our lives were threatened or when we had nothing better to do (which wasn't often). Come on! Who really wanted to sit out in the hot sun, on hands and knees, digging, shoveling, watering and picking out rocks? And for what? We had to wait for what seemed like forever to enjoy the benefits of all that hard work. We wanted instant gratification. Who ever wanted to do something and not reap the benefits for right away?

My mom, for one. She took pride in her garden, and every time she was on her hands and knees, digging in the soil, you could see her beaming. She truly believed that by cultivating nature, you were "at one" with God. She was so nurturing to that garden, as if it was one of her own children— going out there on a frequent, if not daily basis, to check on it, pull weeds and make sure the crops were reliably being cared for.

To this day, she still gardens, even through the bad health and the busy years. She knows that after the hard and grueling work comes a beautiful and joyous return. It delights her to find grandchildren eating the cherry tomatoes straight from the crawling vine in her backyard, juice flowing down their chins, while their arms and elbows are covered in seeds— wide grins plastered across their faces. On a beautiful spring day, I have seen her give baskets to my own children to fill with strawberries and raspberries off the vine. She would then sit on the grass with them and let them eat the entire basket in one sitting, or teach us all how to make raspberry jam.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

In our childhood basement, we also had rooms that were lined with shelves of canned peaches, pears, green beans, and pickles, just to name a few, all of which were products of my mom's own making. My mom taught us how easy it was to can and bottle fresh produce without the need of a bunch of special canning equipment or entire days set aside for the process. I have a memory when I was around eleven-years-old, she ordered a whole pallet of in-season peaches from a local farm to be delivered to our house. Because they were fresh, they needed to be canned the same day. But much to her surprise, she found out that the entire water pipe on our side of the street had been turned off just when we were about to begin the boiling process. I still laugh at the memory of how she sent my two sisters, two brothers and me across the street to the neighbor's house with our little hands gripping buckets to fill up with fresh water from the hose. She was NOT about to let those beautiful, fresh peaches go to waste… not only because it was all "perfectly good food," but because she knew the value of the hard work it had taken to grow those peaches. Someone had to cultivate the land, care for the trees, pick the fruit one by one, and then load it onto a truck to be delivered to our house.

We must cultivate our own garden. When man was put in the Garden of Eden, he was put there so that he should work, which proves that man was not born to rest.

The greatest lesson my mom taught me was that rewards do not often come without hard work. The level of work we put into something is relative to how big the reward will be. When we are following our dreams, or making positive changes in our lives, we cannot expect to put in 10% and get a 100% return. If my mother had put in the same amount of work her kids did when cultivating the garden, nothing would have flourished. Nothing would have bloomed… except, perhaps, for tasteless produce riddled with disease, overgrown weeds and an infestation of worms and bugs. The garden would have withered and gone rotten without daily care. It wasn't always perfect. There were setbacks, like the occasional "freeze" or a real infestation of plant disease. But she just started over and replanted the next season, learning lessons on how to make sure those things didn't happen again. She never gave up.

Gardening is a metaphor for life. We must cultivate our own lives and our own gardens, taking proper care of them if we want them to flourish. We must tend to ourselves every day, starting over fresh every day, so that we can be healthy to live our lives, as well as take care of others. We must feed our bodies with the proper nutrients and cultivate our spirits with the proper knowledge. We must always arm ourselves with the proper tools, and be open, and forgiving, to setbacks.

We must also be open to learning from others and taking advantage of every opportunity we have to grow. I regret not appreciating the love and desire my mother had for cultivating things— not just her garden, but life in general. I can ask questions now, but how much further along would my life be now if, when I was a child, I had listened more to my mother's advice on manners, fine china, learning the piano, the importance of caring for myself, and the art of making friends? Instead, I had to stumble along the way, trying to teach myself lessons that which I could have learned from someone much wiser than me. My own personal garden would have been flourishing and growing more by now had I been open to learning.

© Kevin Parker Photography

With everything, there will be a harvest. Your daily actions will soon prove the quality of crop you have planted and what its state will be in once it emerges. Take the time, right now, to look at your life, or your own personal garden, if you will. Are you adding the right nutrients to make the soil rich, or is the soil being neglected and slowly rotting away? Do you enrich yourself on a daily basis, or are there days, or weeks, that go by, when you haven't even had the time or the desire to look at the state of your own garden? What quality of fruit will be the result of your labor? Will it be rich and colorful red peppers, or like a withering squash on a vine? Will you have blooming bluebells or a field of vibrant flowers? Or plants that refuse to grow out of the ground and have simply given up?

Dream that your life can be beautiful and rich, and try to enjoy the daily rewards that you will discover. You may not see the complete garden emerge immediately, but you can find joy in noticing a tiny seedling creeping out of the ground after weeks of waiting and wondering. Find joy in the smaller rewards that come during the process. Begin now to plant your garden and cultivate your own harvest, knowing that in only a short time, you will grow the richest and most succulent fruit your life has ever yielded.

Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow.