I didn’t see Philly Jones coming when he stole my heart. God was gracious not to fully allow me to know all that loving him would bring. But the last thirteen years have grown us, shaped us, and allowed us to discover so much about ourselves and each other. Marriage does that. Softens the rough edges. Provides a sometimes not so gracious mirror to see yourself through. Yet, gives us the gift of discovering the deep of someone else. I’ve unearthed much about him over the years, but this journey… this one has shown me such fascinating things. His deep desire to hear God specifically about our decisions. His desire to be deeply involved in some respects, and more indifferent about others. His discovery of antique shopping and that he actually likes it. (A little too much…) Watching his face as he sees a piece of art that makes his eyes sparkle, then being shocked he feels that way at all. But few aspects of this journey have been as noteworthy as his new appreciation for landscaping.
This guy who has had asthma since he was little, and never even helped me plant a flower unless I needed his strength to dig a hole, can now tell you the difference between a gardenia and a camellia. As if he wasn’t Packer’s favorite one of the two of us already, this discovery sealed the deal. Packer knows more about gardens and flowers than she knows about interior design. Philly’s mom is also an encyclopedia of horticulture. But this guy, before this experience, only knew the name of azaleas because they lined the fairways at The Masters until Packer’s car ride tutorials.
As we got closer to having to make final landscaping decisions, Packer began to “school” us on our drives in the neighborhood. “That is a redbud. It is a wonderful underplanting to your larger trees because it is lighter.”
“More airy,” I responded with my head buried in my phone. “I like that idea. Like a dogwood.” Though I never looked up. I knew something about trees.
“Yes, exactly.” She would say affirming me.
Philly was driving, asking multiple questions. He’d pull over to the side of the road, study a driveway, and they would begin a dialogue of “snowball viburnums and amorpha fruticosa.” The conversation made me check out. If it wasn’t about rugs or side tables or fabrics, I pretty much wasn’t interested. Apparently, my lack of interest didn’t bode well with “The Professor” as her sassy came out when she said, “Would you please get your head out of that phone and pay attention?”
Philly supported her sassy when he said, “Yes, this is really important.”
I was like a toddler offering her last ounce of resistance as I dramatically punched my phone off for both to see, accompanied by a very loud sigh. I did not tell them that I still wasn’t paying attention.
But, it was the detour that changed everything. The call had come from our builder at the last minute when we were headed back to Franklin. “Drive through Marietta and look at a driveway. I think it might be the look you are wanting. When we turned the corner on what we thought was another unassuming street, we quickly realized we had entered the enchanted garden of Georgia. Layered in years of living and stories and love of all things garden, it was like this little lone street of deliciousness. Carolina Jessamine twined its yellow blooms like kudzu in many yards, sweeping entire walls, while English ivy covered front yards in mounds of delight and ferns nestled under trees as if they had been there for ages. But, it was the fully-blossomed Jane Magnolia that had washed one front yard in a sea of what looked like a cross between vibrant pink tulip bulbs and cherry blossoms that finally had my full attention. It towered there like the most pleasing princess at the ball.
Our teacher was grateful that she now had both our full attention as she told us names of things I can’t pronounce. When they bloom. How they look in the fall. Where they might work best in our yard. By this time, we were all engaged in the wonder of creation and its Creator and His imagination and creativity, all while envisioning what would make its way to our home.
When the day finally came for us to work with our landscaper on placement, we debated with Packer for a week whether she should come. She had just taken a trip with us, and those trips could be hard, so she felt her pupils were ready to fly. I was uncertain. Philly was stoked. Our landscaper, another good ole Georgia boy who owns a small universe of all things green and blooming up the country road that we coined “Nolesland” (think Disneyland), came out with his flags and his blue spray paint can and said two words. “Let’s go.” With that, we began to paint the ground that is ours with the life that would live there, grow with us, know our stories, and share our memories and possibly hold a few secrets.
But, in that moment, it was Philly that I watched. His joy. His certainty. His awareness of what his heart wanted. We worked in tandem, but his strength and confidence filled in my doubts and questions. He pointed where the Confederate Jasmine for the stone wall on the cove side would cozy up to the Tea Olives that would separate them. He walked the front walk and driveway where we would slather the pink hydrangeas that we would work to turn blue. As we dotted the large back beds with azaleas of different hues of pink, and chose the oak tree that my pups would rest under, he stopped us to question and add and make final decisions. He swept his hand across the large steep bank by the cove telling where the English ivy would go. He stood beneath the towering pines and hardwoods, confident where the redbuds, cherry trees, and dogwoods would go. Having wonderful ideas of Sweetbay magnolias on each corner of the house, while sprinkling gardenias, camellias, honeysuckle and vinca in the remaining places and spaces. Our yard was a playground of spray-painted blue circles, and our hearts were fully alive. Philly, because this mattered to him. Me, because he mattered to me.
God has given so much in this journey. But, none quite as much a gift as learning this man of mine in a new way. Watching God unearth buried things in him, too. Seeing his heart gravitate to things he thought he didn’t care about. When I wrote Reclaiming Your Heart, the Lord made it clear to me that often we convince our hearts we don’t care about certain things, when really, we have believed the lie to protect ourselves from pain. So much pain was attached to both of our stories in regards to homes and antique stores and believe it or not… gardens. But God, the master Gardener, who started all of our stories in a garden and will allow those who love Him to come back to that garden, made it clear that it does matter… to both of us.
I will love watching what the Southern magnolia and the boxwoods and the canna lilies become over the next five years. But more than that, I am looking so forward to all God will show me in what Philly becomes over these years as well. That, to me, will be the most stunning piece in our garden.