An important task in our annual yard work responsibilities is covering our beds and borders with a layer of pine-straw mulch. Working like a blanket, mulch suppresses weed growth and reduces water evaporation by protecting the soil from extreme temperatures. Safeguarding our investment is worth the annual work to rake and clean all the planted areas and then to haul and spread the mulch.

It is abundantly clear that no secret garden blooms with without steady, attentive work. But unlike rebuilding the physical walls of a garden, which can be reconstructed in one season — gardening in a marriage requires a longer view, a vision of what can be, in time. Often my husband and I felt the truth of “one step forward, two steps back,” for it is, as Mike Mason says in The Mystery of Marriage, “the special work of sin to destroy trust and intimacy, to bring about enmity and alienation between people.” Our culture is saturated with sex, but it’s a skewed, warped saturation” via=”no”], which makes building a healthy sexual relationship — as God created and intended to be — all the more difficult.

Another necessary task for growth in gardening is amending the soil. It must be dug up and turned to loosen the hard places, with soil conditioners added for enriching. Interestingly, some of the best fertilizers are manures, the refuse of the animal world; this parallels the breaking down of sin in our lives, which ultimately produces the sweet fruits of compassion, greater love, more patience, and gentle kindness. Gardening and marriage require attention to remain healthy.

Regular Maintenance

During the first year of our marriage, my husband, Dennis, led a Bible study for men, which met at our house. In the presence of one of the men, I began to feel uncomfortable. He seemed too friendly. But was I just imagining things? Perhaps I was paranoid. He was married and so was I. But after a few of these sessions, I decided to share how I felt with my husband. It wasn’t easy. I feared Dennis would think I was inviting this man’s attention. Or might he assume I had a suspicious mind? Was I believed the worst?

I took the risk, we talked, and Dennis moved the Bible study to a restaurant. Problems solved. But we both learned a very valuable lesson: the importance of facing things together and not becoming isolated. This is accountability at its best, where it matters most, in our marriages. If we keep our temptations or our fears secretly within — thinking I can handle this, he/she doesn’t need to know — we become vulnerable to lots of weed growth. Woody weeds can grow strong enough to crack concrete, so beware of minimizing these threats to your garden. In hindsight, Dennis and I both believe this situation was the enemy trying to derail our young marriage.

Your most important accountability partner is your husband, not someone else. And being accountable in marriage is not for accusations. Cultivate a freedom to risk being transparent, knowing your spouse will respond well, with time, and with love. There will never be freedom to share struggles and temptations if there is fear or ridicule or judgment. Invite each other to the safety of a marital relationship that never fears exposure outside your walls. Like a soft, deep layer of mulch, transparency in your marriage will keep most weed seeds dormant and unable to sprout.

The bottom line is, don’t let pride or fear keep you from sharing your thoughts with each other. Many men feel they must always be strong, but a wise women knows her husband has fears and insecurities that she can nurse and strengthen privately in their own garden sanctuary. Pull those weeds regularly.

The Rest of the Story

There are landscape features in our marriage garden that are known only to us and to the Father. Places that together with him we have rebuilt, replanted, and nurtured into bloom again.

In the last years of our parenting journey, when our youngest was finishing highs school, my husband, Dennis, and I talked often about the future. What would our relationship be like? What would sex be like? I was a very weary woman in those years, and my interest in my husband was primarily one of responsibility and not eager engagement. But I had hope that when the burden of daily mothering was over that the real me would emerge again, almost like a rebirth. Neither of us knew if we could recapture our once-upon-anime first love, but we hoped. We hoped for spring.

And now it has come again. Not the same kind of spring, of course, but a richer, deeper blooming, full of appreciate and wonder for the Creator of it all. We would never trade today’s garden for yesterday’s. Numberless lessons have been learned over the decades of our union. Countless books have been read. Forgiveness has been asked for granted seventy times seventy. And counseling sessions have added to our growth as gardeners of our secret place, like worships and continuing education do in any other filed. Yes, it is work. Don’t be deceived into thinking otherwise. But it has been a worthy investment, a worthy effort with beautiful satisfying results.

We would never trade today’s garden for yesterday’s


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*You have to be willing to get dirty, to see and touch the mud, to coax new life to grow.

*Weeding is ongoing. It will never be finished.

*Remember in the winters of your marriage that spring can come again if you don’t give up.

Growing Roses

After reading The Secret Garden and watching the movie several times, I began to imagine creating our own secret garden here on our sunset ridge lane. I envisioned pathways and blooming plants . . . but especially roses. Roses are the most popular because of their beauty and their fragrance. But there are two significant detractions — roses are susceptible to black spot, a disease that will eventually kill them, and they have thorns.

Several months ago, Dennis and I had another thorny conversation about sex. But instead of getting stuck by the same things we’d said dozens of times before, he asked if I would explain what I meant when I said, “I sometimes feel confused about our sex life.” I hadn’t really thought about what I meant in depth, and since we were driving to visit a friend in another town, we had time for an uninterrupted conversation. And the result was greater understand than we’d had before. We heard each other at a deeper level. The Lord stripped away those particular thorns.

It is easier to mask our fears publicly than privately. We want to appear to have it all together, to be on top if life, to come across as if we need nothing. But the truth is we are desperately needy, and in marriage we can hopefully find the safety to be vulnerable about those needs. Dare to go there with your man.

The most beautiful long-stemmed roses also have the largest thorns. We just don’t see them very often, because some florist created a genius little tool that strips them off the stems. The roses in your garden can be de-thorned, too — through years of tender, devoted love and attention.

From Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife by Barbara Rainey. Copyright © 2016 Barbara Rainey. Used with permission of Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group,

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