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Years ago, working with people in transition, I put together a program called “Turn Your Gravel Pit into a Beautiful Garden.” Many of the people in the class came from difficult backgrounds and felt discouraged. The wounds experienced over a lifetime dug deep into their spirits, leaving long-lasting doubts and fears.
I used the internationally renowned Butchart Gardens as an example of how we can turn tragic events – whether an abusive childhood, broken marriages or relationships or simply struggling to make ends meet – into something beautiful and welcoming. It was an architectural concept that could be applied to the creation of our own plan for life that provided beauty, peace, and purpose.
Here is a short version of that program.
Turn Your Gravel Pit into a Beautiful Garden
A gravel pit is a piece of land where bulldozers and huge earth-scooping machinery have removed the land to extract gravel and other ingredients needed to build roads, make cement, gather building rocks, etc.
What remains is a huge scarred and pitted hole in the ground with unstable and crumbling sides, water seepage from underground springs, stagnant pools of rainwater, huge, discarded pieces of rock and other unsteady mounds of earth.
We almost always find debris scattered everywhere, discarded by individuals who consider this a worthless piece of land; a place to throw away pop cans, beer bottles and candy wrappers.
What do you do with old gravel pits that have outlived their use?
Well, one woman, who had the skeleton remains of a large gravel pit in her backyard, decided she would find a way to turn it into something beautiful.
In the late 1800s, Robert Butchart began excavating limestone from a quarry behind the home where he and his wife, Jennie, lived. He used it to manufacture Portland cement in a factory he built at Todd Inlet on Vancouver Island. When all the limestone was extracted, all that remained was a huge, ugly, expansive hole in the ground.
But Jennie was not willing to let it lay there discarded, unsightly and debased. With the help of architects and landscapers, topsoil from neighboring farmland was brought in and a beautiful design created. Paths were constructed, ponds dug, trees and shrubs and hundreds of blooming plants planted. Leftover rocks were strategically placed in new locations, enhancing the gardens.
And so began the stunning reversal of desecrated land that today is known for its spectacular beauty. What was once an ugly and desolate pit in the ground is now a beautiful sunken garden whose paths wind around serene ponds of water where ducks and swans float between lily pads and tree branches gently caress the water’s edge. Flowers, shrubs, and trees artfully placed draw you into a world of beauty and a panoply of color. At night the thousands of strategically placed lights turn it into a fairyland.
And so was born the world famous Butchart Gardens, visited by thousands of tourists from around the world every year. What was once an uninviting and inhospitable place has been turned into a showcase. In fact, it’s so spectacular that people come to see the exquisite beauty and splendor throughout the year and in every season.
While this is a nice success story, how can we apply it to ourselves?
Many people feel their lives have been torn up and left violated and sullied. What remains are giant holes, unstable lifestyles, underground seepage of toxic messages, and huge boulders of doubt and shame that keep us blocked, unable to move forward because we perceive that our life holds little worth or value.
Everyone has elements of a gravel pit in their lives.
There may have been violence or abuse in our homes, tragic and lonely childhoods, or just careless living. Within our gravel pits we find old losses that have not been grieved, messages from the past that continue to poison our self-esteem and worth.
The walls of our heart resemble the scars from claws of the digger that scooped out our core values. Pools of disasters, calamity and catastrophe continue to leach into our hearts and rob us of joy. We build sturdy walls or fences around our pits so nobody can see our feelings of shame.
And we are left feeling desolate, abandoned, lost and lonely. In our attempts to reconstruct the pieces of our lives, we get overwhelmed, give up and accept that for us, life will forever be an ugly gravel pit. We don’t talk about our pits because we don’t want people to see our unattractive side and be rejected yet again. We run away or deny our past because it makes us feel repulsive and flawed. But even while we try to distance ourselves from our past, it continues to sneak up on us and impact everything we do.
But just as Mrs. Butchart took the gravel pit in her back yard and created a world-renowned garden, so we can take our lives full of pain, disillusionment and broken dreams and turn them into something meaningful.
We can turn unattractive and hopeless situations into satisfying, productive and pleasing futures. We don’t scrap it – we use it. It becomes the backbone – the template for our beautiful garden – positive gardens of hope, light, joy, energy, and strength.
Where do you begin such a daunting project?
The same place Mrs. Butchart did. She didn’t cover up the hole; she used it as a springboard. If she had just filled the hole with dirt, it would not be the beautiful place it is today.
It takes a vision and a desire and a willingness to examine our pits and remove rubble and contaminated waste. It takes insight to see that what was once an unwanted rock or obstacle we can now turn into a piece of art, something for good. It just takes a vision, a blueprint, and a willingness to take that first baby step.
Let’s turn our gravel pits into beautiful gardens.
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