ripplespeakYears ago, when we started our gardening business, I struggled with anger that would pop up with surprising ferocity when I felt treated “like a servant”. I was glad to get down on my knees and dig, weed, trim, plant and prune when I felt everyone involved understood who I was. I took care to sort out my image first…made sure my choices were obvious. I didn’t mind looking like a sweaty migrant worker in grungy clothes and worn sneakers as long as I felt seen as I wanted to be seen. If someone treated me with disrespect, I was offended enough to “fire” them as customers….explaining I didn’t feel our company was a good fit for them. A few times I really overreacted, behaving unprofessionally (in a sweet, southern way, of course). I made sure I “put them in their place” as I wiped the dust from my feet. My boundaries were improving but my methods needed tweaking.

With time and experience (and a tad more humility), I became too focused to allocate time and energy towards image control. Most of the time I’ve served without a care about appearances, content to be the “hired help” without the slightest sting. Sometimes I’d chuckle; other times I’d experience genuine compassion.

Until yesterday. Gardening for an elderly woman in an upscale retirement community, I was blindsided by a look. Just a condescending look…a new neighbor walking from her car to her front door next to the yard where I was hunkered down over pansies, covered in mushroom compost. I lifted my head to introduce myself and met her distain like a slap in the face. I was a little girl the last time I wanted to hurl a clod of dirt that badly. I restrained myself. But I was taken aback by the loathing that flooded my peace. I immediately began working out what to say, editing and patching together a scathing string of words to knock the wind from her before she realized she was being attacked. That’s exactly what I did…planned an attack, and then fine-tuned and fantasized about it. When she didn’t come back outside, I was disappointed. I’d become enraged by an older woman’s gaze. My desire to belittle her alarmed me.

I’m thankful I had such a physical outlet to help drain off the adrenaline bath I unwittingly took. A day later, I’m still shaking my head at the intensity of my reaction and grateful the poor woman stayed inside her house. Even as I write this now, I can sense the contempt aching to well up in me again. I remember feeling it as a child. I was listening to a neighbor talk about her hired help. She frequently used a hideous word to describe the man who faithfully served her family for years, doing home repairs and yard work. I’d sensed honor in this man. My confusion at her words and attitude grew to dislike and then disrespect. She was the ignorant one, I came to believe. Hers was the smaller life.

I close my eyes and revisit the cheerful man with walnut brown skin who skillfully cared for my neighbors home, gently removing burdens from her every week and leaving her world better, safer and more beautiful each time he left. I remember watching him standing on a ladder, whistling while he worked….like a bird he seemed to see and know things we couldn’t taste below. His bending and kneeling to serve seemed heroic in my young heart. It stirred something inside me that’s grown into much of who I am today. I love the heart of a servant. I want more of that…..and to be one that doesn’t wince and rage and roll my eyes when others don’t share the beauty I see when I watch those hearts in action.


  1. sharon leaf on March 26, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Your story caused me to relect on my sometimes prideful, selfish—let me stop here– ways! Thank you for sharing yet another saga in the life of Jennifer Gardner (my nickname for you).

  2. maribeth on March 28, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    The high calling of servant hood…saved only for the most secure of heart.

  3. Laura on November 10, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Very valuable lesson. Thank you.

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