A Garden to Keep

A Garden to Keep

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by Jamie Langston Turner

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Elizabeth's story is like that of a garden left untended for too long, with weeds as bounteous as blossoms
and stone walkways buried beneath tangled vines and daffodils. Beauty to be found, though amidst much neglect. When betrayal strikes at the heart of her very existence, Elizabeth Landis retraces the path of her life and her marriage, discovering along the way


Elizabeth's story is like that of a garden left untended for too long, with weeds as bounteous as blossoms
and stone walkways buried beneath tangled vines and daffodils. Beauty to be found, though amidst much neglect. When betrayal strikes at the heart of her very existence, Elizabeth Landis retraces the path of her life and her marriage, discovering along the way memories both painful to the touch and a joy to embrace. Pruning the garden of her life requires an honesty new to Elizabeth, but offers the promise of mercy...and perhaps even a grace to bestow.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Turner's fans will be pleased with this offering, another pastel-covered trip to smalltown South Carolina, to the Church of the Open Door and to the trials and tribulations of family life. The novel is narrated by Elizabeth Landis, a polite but plain substitute teacher in her late 40s. On February 18, Elizabeth's life takes two dramatic turns. With the help of Margaret Tuttle (whom readers will remember from Turner's Some Wildflower in My Heart), Elizabeth becomes a born-again Christian. A few hours later, she discovers that her husband is having an affair. Readers follow along over the next few months as Elizabeth's faith deepens and she and her husband gradually repair their marriage. The novel has many of the strengths and weaknesses of Turner's earlier books. Like Margaret in Wildflower, Elizabeth is impressively and a bit implausibly well-educated, quoting poetry at the drop of a hat and frequently drawing parallels between her own life and those of the characters in middle-brow novels of the 1990s. (Readers can assume that Garden is, in this respect, a roman ? clef - Turner teaches creative writing and poetry at Bob Jones University.) And this book, like her others, is too long by about 100 pages. For all its flaws, Garden contributes much to the booming subgenre of Christian literary fiction: the characters are well-developed, and their struggles are real, not saccharine. This is proof that a faithful Christian witness can come packaged in a quality novel. (Aug.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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I left Margaret Tuttle’s house in Filbert, South Carolina, shortly after four o’clock on the eighteenth of February and drove slowly to my own house in Berea. I was coming home a different person than when I had left. Looking at what I had gained in the last hour, I couldn’t shake the idea that I had wasted a great many years. I felt as if I had spent my whole life nibbling a piece of stale white bread in a closet and had missed the banquet table on the other side of the door. And, what’s worse, I had kept Jennifer and Travis in the closet with me. I saw plainly how the gospel, as Margaret had presented it to me so clearly today, could be the most powerful, enriching force in a person’s life, and I couldn’t help regretting the fact that I had not equipped my children with it.

The only gospel I had taught was the gospel of good manners. I had pounded the Golden Rule into my children’s heads. True, there are worse gospels to preach, but it fell so short of the real one. Over the years people had commented on how polite my kids were, and I had always taken this as a badge of success. I had stressed good morals, but morality was part of my general creed of courtesy, nothing more. As I glanced down now at the Bible on the seat beside me, which Margaret had given me before I left her house, my heart ached to realize what I had withheld from my children. This was a major omission. And I had wanted to be such a good mother.

So I was on my way home after having my whole view of God revised, and I was thinking about how miserably I’d failed as a mother in spite of all the things I did to get my kids shaped up into my idea of model kids. I pulled into our driveway on Windsor Drive and just sat in the car for a while. It was almost four-thirty, and Ken wasn’t home yet from golf. I looked at my house and thought about Margaret’s duplex, or her half of it, which would probably fit into our house three times.

But unlike me, Margaret seemed so content and so busy in her duplex. She had a job, but not at all the kind I expected a woman like her to have. She was not a teacher or an editor or a librarian or a journalist. No, she worked in the lunchroom of an elementary school! I felt as if my whole diagram of life had been scrambled up by Margaret. Here was this supremely Aware woman who, first of all, was a born-again Christian and, second, had a pretty menial job according to my way of looking at things and, third, came home to a two-bedroom duplex every day to cook meals for her husband and, fourth, seemed perfectly happy to live this kind of life.

As I sat in the driveway, I felt exhausted, even though it was a good six or seven hours before bedtime. I couldn’t even muster the energy to get out of the car. Margaret had invited me back to church that night, but I told her I needed to go home and spend the evening thinking. I promised to come back the next Sunday, though.

I picked up the Bible she had given me and opened it. It fell open to the ribbon marker, and the first verse my eyes lighted on was in Psalm 116. "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord." This was what I was going to do tonight for a long time. I had already taken the cup of salvation, and now I was going to call upon the name of the Lord. I had a great deal to learn, and there were a number of things I needed to face squarely, but I didn’t know if I was ready to. Sitting there in the car I was taking note of a couple of unimportant things like how the wrought-iron railing beside the front steps needed to be repainted and how a brass door knocker would look nice on the front door while at the same time I let my mind inch toward some important things like how my new relationship with God was going to affect my old relationships with people.

I thought of Ken. I knew our marriage had been blown off course—no, that implies a single ship. It would be closer to say that we were separate ships going in opposite directions. We were in dark arctic waters with ice floes all around. In Margaret Atwood’s poem "Habitation," she calls marriage "the edge of the receding glacier." But at the end of the poem the couple learns "to make fire," so you have to take heart from that.

I was thinking of other lines of the poem when I heard the trill of my cell phone. It had been my Christmas present from Jennifer, and I had developed the habit of turning it on whenever I was in the car, even though I rarely used it. I’d given my cell phone number to only four or five people, and this thought made me scramble a little faster to get to it. Maybe Travis or Jennifer needed me. It surprised me to realize how much I was hoping one of my children needed me.

As well as I can remember, here’s how the telephone call went. But first, remember what I said earlier about the timing of the events of this day. The thought came to me later that I must be following in the steps of my father, who got a phone call from his doctor on the morning of my wedding day telling him that the lab tests didn’t look good and he needed to come in for a biopsy right away. In his case, though, the bad phone call came before the happy event. In mine, it came after. Keep in mind that I’d just undergone a wonderful, life-changing spiritual awakening, and now I was sitting in my driveway saying "Hello?" into my cell phone.

I recognized Ken’s voice at once. "I’m on my way," he said. He didn’t quite sound like himself, but I knew it was Ken. There was a tone of something very close to eagerness.

I couldn’t figure out why he’d be telling me this, but I said, "Okay."

"Where are you?" he said.

"Home," I said. "In the car."

He laughed a little, and then there was a pause. "What are you doing? Sitting in the driveway waiting for me to call?" he said.

"Sitting in the driveway, yes. Waiting for you to call, no."

He sounded puzzled now. "Hey, you asked me to call you as soon as—" He broke off, and when he spoke next, his voice had changed. I can’t think of the right word for it—panicky is too strong. There was a definite change, though. Some awful revelation had clicked in his brain. "Elizabeth?" he said quietly.

"That’s my name," I said.

"Well, I thought you were"—he broke off to laugh as he tried to recover—"you were going to...be out at the tennis courts all day." He sounded relieved to find his way to the end of that sentence. It was actually a pretty good way out, since earlier in the week I had mentioned signing up for the YMCA spring league, which would be starting up again in March. I had even gotten my racket out of the closet after a six-month layoff from tennis and had checked the strings and grip.

If he had spoken less haltingly, if his voice hadn’t crept into its upper register, I might have fallen for it, but suddenly my mind was flooded with unthinkable thoughts.

"No," I said, "I went to church instead." I tried to speak lightly, but my heart was pounding in my ears. I wondered if I was talking too loud.

"Church?" he said. "You went to church? Well, I’m sure that was interesting." I knew by this point that my suspicions weren’t just in my head. Something about the cautious way he was proceeding told me.

"It was," I said. "Very much so." Then, though I knew this whole conversation was a charade, I added, "Then someone invited me over for dinner."

"Oh," he said in a brighter tone, "well, speaking of dinner, that’s why I was calling." He was grasping at straws now. "I was wondering if you wanted me to pick up something to eat on my way home." Neither one of us spoke for a few seconds. As far back as I could remember, he had never once called me after a Sunday golf game to ask if I wanted him to pick up something for dinner. We always fended for ourselves on Sunday nights. "You might not be hungry, though, if you ate dinner," he said. He was trying so hard to sound cheerfully offhanded.

"No, I’m not."

"Well, then, I’ll just grab something for myself and...well, I’ll be on home in a few minutes."

I hung up without replying and saw that my hands were shaking. I sat in shock for several long moments, during which for some reason I started counting, and when I reached forty-three, I thought of something to do. I didn’t know Ken’s cell phone number from memory, since I rarely called him on it, but I had it written down on a slip of paper I kept in my billfold. I found it and slowly dialed the number. It was busy, as I had known it would be.

It wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened. In spite of his organized mind and generally tidy habits, Ken often wrote down phone numbers with no names beside them. Somewhere he had my cell phone number written down, and somewhere else he had another cell phone number written down. Evidently, he had checked his records and dialed the wrong one.

So if someone were to ask me what happened on February 18, I’d say, "Well, first God claimed me for all eternity, and then an hour later I drove home and found out my husband had a girlfriend. That’s what happened to me on February 18."

I have a continent of sorrow to explore now. But as I do so, I know what else I must do. I must call upon the name of the Lord. And I must go on living somehow.

Excerpted from:
A Garden to Keep by Jamie Langston Turner
Copyright © 2001, Jamie Langston Turner
isbn: 076422154X
Published by Bethany House Publishers

Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

Meet the Author

Jamie Langston Turner, author of the acclaimed novels Some Wildflower in My Heart and A Garden to Keep(a Christy Award winner), has been a teacher for more than twenty-five years at both the elementary and college level. She has written textbook materials as well as stories, articles, plays, and poems for a variety of periodicals including Faith for the Family, Kids, Moody, Plays, The Christian Reader, and Living With Children.

Born in Mississippi, Jamie has lived in the South all her life, currently residing with her husband and son in South Carolina, where she teaches Creative Writing and Poetry Writing at Bob Jones University. Jamie is an active member of Heritage Bible Church. Her hobbies include reading, tennis, and needlework.
Jamie Langston Turner, author of seven novels and winner of two Christy Awards, has been a teacher for more than forty years. Currently a professor of creative writing and poetry at Bob Jones University, she lives with her husband in Greenville, South Carolina. Visit www.jamielangstonturner.net

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Garden to Keep 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I want the author to know that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! It was just excellent: very thought-provoking - the author's viewpoint very vulnerable. I've NOT been in a similar situation, but it made me so much appreciate what I have. Too often, we take our many blessings for granted. The book was just so very well-written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one that stirs the heart of Christian women to see our own sinful heart and the wonderful grace that abounds when we trust in our Savior. A wonderful book that is intriguing and close to heart and home.
BarbaraAnn55 More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book!  You will be blessed!