Editor’s Note: The following column first was published at and is reposted here with permission.


Early last May, I wrote about the abduction of one of our two frilly, raspberry-colored dianthus plants from just outside the picket fence. It was tiny but beautiful, and I mourned its kidnapping.

I wondered if the hole left in the ground and the hole left in my heart were omens in favor of retreat.


Doug Mendenhall

That we should (literally) plant only inside the safety of the fence?

That we should (figuratively) put ourselves out there with less abandon in such a heartless world?

Surely those weren’t the lessons Jesus would want us to take away, I concluded.

One year later, the hole is filled now with a frilly dianthus, more pink than raspberry and more than 2 feet across, with more than a hundred blooms.

No, the flower-napper didn’t read my newspaper column and repent. The missing dianthus was not returned, was not plugged into its hole to nestle next to its twin.

Instead, Jim Stuart, executive director of the Abilene Preservation League, read my newspaper column about this. With no fanfare, he left a little replacement dianthus on our front porch.

I’d met Stuart a year earlier, the same way he met many people: by asking them about themselves and listening. He liked the idea of my wife’s neighborhood-renewal efforts with Connecting Caring Communities. Liked that we lived in the neighborhood where she works, College Heights, in a small 1920s home.

We invited Jim to that home for dinner in April and enjoyed getting to know him and hear of his plans with Abilene Preservation League, especially his thoughts about focusing on small homes and neighborhoods as well as grand historic buildings.

Having met him, it seemed right in character when he left a flower on our porch a few weeks later.

From its 4-inch pot, I transplanted it into the gaping hole.

And it grew, grew and grew some more.

We are not skilled gardeners. Our motto is along the lines of “Some you win, some you lose.”

We didn’t have high expectations for the new dianthus.

Actually, it didn’t even match the other original plant in color or texture, but who says everything in a neighborhood needs to match?

Today those two plants are huge and vibrant and beautiful. They encouraged me to grab a few more tiny dianthus plants on one of the last days before coronavirus shut everything down. Those are growing too, in the shadow of the giants.

That little corner of the garden is special now.

In part it is special because Jim Stuart died suddenly last August.

One of the things we heard about him as the community mourned his passing was how many people remembered receiving handwritten notes from him.

Indeed, when Stuart left the plant for us, it came with a cutout copy of my column, on which he had highlighted several passages, then referred to them on a notecard in his full, round hand.

His Point C as highlighted in my column read: “We know that sharing a little beauty in an imperfect world sets up a gardener for heartbreak.”

To which Stuart wrote: “Isn’t beauty like love, meant to be shared, even lost, in the giving?”

Yes, I think that’s right.

If you agree, I’d like to ask for your help.

Janet and her colleagues at Connecting Caring Communities do some beautiful work in this North Abilene neighborhood. She’s been at it for almost 10 years and has seen, heard and experienced a lifetime of stories about love and sharing.

Between now and Tuesday, you can donate to CCC through the annual Abilene Gives campaign, which puts a spotlight on a variety of local nonprofits.

You can also donate to Abilene Preservation League as part of the same campaign.

Sharing love is a beautiful thing.

Doug Mendenhall is a professor of journalism at Abilene Christian University. His columns can be found at


One comment

  • Nancy Patrick

    As always, I benefit from your insights. I was happy to hear that Abilene gave generously this year in spite of the quarantine.


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