Inscribed on a plaque hanging in Lucile Gaines MacLennan’s flower garden in Charleston, South Carolina, are the words à Dieu la gloire—“To God the glory” in French.
She tells people when they visit her garden: “Now look around, this garden is all to the glory of God. This is God’s glory. He’s created all this beauty.”
For more than nine decades, 99-year-old Lucile has been growing an array of flowers in her half-acre garden that’s divided into rooms. Among the wild plants, rose bushes and azaleas, you’ll find Lucile’s favorite flowers—gardenias and gloriosa lilies.
“I’ve been a gardener since I was 7,” says Lucile, just shy of her 100th birthday on July 30. “I planted my first seed when I was 7 years old.”
She frequently thanks God for the beauty of His handiwork. “Not only did He give the plants color and beauty, but He thought of putting fragrance in some of them,” she says. The beauty of God’s creation reminds her of her two favorite passages of Scripture: “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me? … Ah Lord God! Behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:27, 17).
A native of Anderson, South Carolina, Lucile grew up in a Christian home with her father, Dr. Thomas R. Gaines, a noted ophthalmologist who pioneered in his field; her mother, Lucile, for whom she is named; and her younger sister, Gloria.
“We had a wonderful Christian home,” she says. “We always went to church, Bible school, Sunday school, and frequently my father had prayer with us at night.” In 1932, at age 12, Lucile made a profession of faith, going forward during a tent revival with visiting evangelist George Truett—much like one of her greatest influencers as a young Christian—Billy Graham.
“We didn’t have a television until very late,” she says. “I think we were the last people to have a television, but we would always watch him. My gardener friend Arthur Nelson would always call to remind me when Billy Graham was on.
“I’ve followed Billy Graham as long as I can remember, and I pray for Franklin and Will every day, for God to give them the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to get across to people,” she says.
Growing in the faith meant everything to Lucile, but growing in her gardening was also important.
Inspired by three gardens—those of her parents and both sets of grandparents—Lucile’s knowledge and passion for gardening significantly shaped her. Her favorite part is preparing the soil for seeds.
“Tilling the soil has been my great joy,” she says. Scripture is rife with metaphors comparing the work that happens in a garden to the work God does in our hearts. From tilling the soil and planting seeds, to pulling out weeds that have taken root, the process Lucile goes through in her gardening reflects the way that God works in our lives.
“As people tour my garden, and many people have … it’s a great opportunity for me to share about God and the works that He has done.”
As a young woman, Lucile continued to grow in faith while attending Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. “I minored in Bible. I majored in French,” she says. “But I was grounded in Scriptures with my wonderful Bible teacher.”
God has done much for Lucile—she has two children, Tom and Margaret, six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and another great-grandchild due in June—and she longs for others to see His work in their lives. A donor for many years to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, her greatest desire is to see people come to know Jesus Christ.
“A wonderful prayer warrior. That would characterize her,” says a BGEA employee who has interacted with Lucile over the years. “A prayer warrior with an overwhelming desire to see God move through the BGEA.”
Lucile often wonders about the mission God has given her.
“I frequently wonder why He’s left me here this long, and for years my prayer has been for Him to get me ready to meet Him,” she says. “But then as I see people constantly who are not Christians, I think, Well, God, you’ve put me here for this—to witness to these people.”
A woman of the Word, Lucile spends much of her time reading her Bible, despite having macular degeneration. “I love to read,” she says. “I read every day. I pray that God allows me to be able to read until the day I die. … I use a magnifying glass and a light so far. And I thank God I can still do that.”
The importance of Scripture memorization in her life came after her husband passed away and her college roommate called and reminded her of a verse that says God will look after the widow. “It’s engraved in my heart that God was looking after me and close to me,” she says, recalling that time. “And then as I’ve gotten older, God has convicted me that I need to memorize Scripture more and more. Because it is the strength of my life.”
For those who have been walking with Christ, Lucile encourages them to memorize Scripture. And for those who are lost, she would remind them of what Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Lucile has lived through many significant moments in history and now is living through a time like never before with the global pandemic. But in seeing the world change through the decades, she says one thing has remained consistent—God’s Word.
“God’s Word is the same yesterday, today and forever,” she says, referencing Hebrews 13:8. For Lucile, she is intent on being fruitful until the Lord comes for her, scattering as much seed as she can and praying that the Gardener will grow it into something beautiful.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version.
Photo: Courtesy of the Garden Club of Charleston, S.C.