This is an old story. About new life. About roots. About false appearances. About growth.
It’s almost Spring here in our part of the country. We haven’t really had Winter, so there is an eerie feeling of what’s to come. I am not sure if I should expect that we are going to have cold and snowy late-Winter, early-Spring storms or if this is “it”… all we’re going to see of this so-called Winter. I am not really complaining; I’ve loved our mild winter with its Spring-like days of sunshine and mild temperatures. But as I got up this morning and looked outside into my yard, I was reminded of how much moisture we need and are going to need when the hot, blistery days of summer arrive.
And that’s when I saw my trees. Small shrubs, is more like it, I guess. In my front yard are 4 trees. They were planted by my mother-in-law years and years ago. I am guessing close to 30 years for sure. I have been a part of this family for nearly 25 years and they were here when I got here! My husband and I moved back into this house where he was raised in 1995. I had a brown thumb then, haha! Or maybe no thumb!! Ok, that’s not possible… so yeah, brown. What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t have a gardening gene in my body, or so I thought. When I looked into what was then a field with 4 little bushes and a drive way, I didn’t care if things lived or died. (Plant things I mean, that sounded harsh!) I didn’t want flowers, I didn’t care about those little bushes; I figured the wild prairie-type grass that was growing on its own was good enough. And as far as the trees were concerned, I figured if they had the strength and willpower to live on their own, kudos to them. They were welcomed to it. As life continued on and I grew up a bit more, I realized that my love of gardening just hadn’t blossomed yet. (Pun intended, haha!) And if I gave it an honest thought, I knew better. My family could grow flowers and veggies out of a rock. As a child, some of my best memories were about my grandpa’s garden. Everyone I know in my family is some type of master gardener. I was doomed!! Haha! …
So, about five or six years ago, (maybe more… time flies!!) I decided to make my field and driveway into a proper yard… and I began with these little trees. They were in a sad, pitiful state. As if no one was caring for them. Oh yeah… no one was. That would have been me. They had a branch here and there that would get leaves each spring and grow. There were some branches that were dead but still attached to the tiny trunk. As a matter of fact, I thought these little guys were in fact some kind of shrub. Well, my first action taken in my early gardening adventure was to cut these little shrub-trees down. Yes. Down. As in they were once about two and a half to three feet tall, full of a mess of dead and alive branches and I cut them to pieces. When my first trimming session had ended, I had a smallish-twig type trunk with maybe one or two tiny branches left of each shrub. I have no idea where these ideas come from. I think it’s in fact those gardening genes I said I didn’t have coming to life. Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up around all these “master gardeners” and heard them talk about gardening all summer long every summer. But I just knew I had to cut the little shrub-trees down. My husband thought I had lost my mind. He was unhappy about this wild idea of mine, but I said that if he would just trust me, they would grow. Wow. I wasn’t even really trusting my hair-brained idea all that much, but I put on a brave front, haha!! So down the little guys came. Now I just had a field of prairie grass and a drive way.
Before that summer came to an end, my little shrub trees were showing signs of new life. As soon as I saw the first little branch pop out I began watering my new little babies. By the time of our first snow fall, I was sure that cutting them down was the right decision.
Fast forward about three years. I still have absolutely no idea what kind of trees my sweet mother-in-law planted. But they grow! They grew up into trees and they grew fast. I haven’t mentioned this, but along with the four trees in my front yard, there is also one outside my bedroom window on the opposite side of the house. These little shrub-trees were on their way to growing into mighty oaks. Kind of. Sort of. Except they aren’t oak trees. But you get my gist. As a matter of fact, they were getting big enough that my boys were upset that they were getting in the way on the basketball court. Yes, basketball court. Mind you, we live in the country and it’s a “country-court”, but yes, we now have a basketball court in our yard. And we do have a yard, complete with fences, rock gardens, flowers, and a bird feeder. We’ve come a long way, baby!! Now the prairie grass and drive way are on the OTHER side of the fence, haha! Thank you Lord for my gardening genes!
Ok… so… to the REAL story. February 16, 2009.
We had the heaviest frost you could imagine. I’ve never seen a frost like this. It was beautiful. (Oh, and that’s Hank, Hank the Cowdog. Head of Ranch security. He’s on the scene and checking for evidence… of what, I’m not sure. It’s always top secret with that dog!) Power lines were downed all over the county. This frost made some beautiful pictures. In this picture are my trees; haven’t they grown up lovely? We also had a bit of a breeze that morning and the trees were swaying in a way I’ve never seen. It was almost as if they were under water. It was amazing to look at. Beautiful. Mesmerizing. Ugly. Horrible. Deadly. What I didn’t realize as I was out on that frosty morning snapping pictures was that this frost killed my trees.
As we got deeper into that 2009 Spring, I didn’t see one bud form on my trees. I was sure I needed to water them more. Maybe a little fertilizer. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not one leaf. Fall of 2009 came and went. Winter. Spring 2010. I was sure my trees were going to bud and be full of little green signs of life in the form of leaves. (Denial often works best for me.) I refused to believe that that my trees were killed by the frost. I could not cut them down. I would take my fingernail and scrape the bark and see absolutely no signs of life. The branches snapped off the second they were bent under any pressure what-so-ever. My trees were dead. But by this time, my gardening genes were silenced by my sentimental genes. Seriously, WHERE on earth did I get THOSE? These trees were planted by my mother-in-law, whom I miss so, so, SO very much. These trees lived when no one cared for them. They pushed through and fought to stand tall! They were once beautiful. I would not cut them down – even though they were a skeleton of their former beauty…a picture of death among my almost beautiful yard each year.
Spring 2011. I’m so excited to start digging in the dirt. How could I ever have NOT loved gardening? My irises are beginning to bloom. My veggies are all planted and waiting for the long, hot days of summer. I put in a rock garden and am slowly filling it with beautiful plants. The grass I’ve fought so hard to grow is actually beginning to look like a lawn. And there in the midst of all these beautiful signs of life are my dead trees. Denial got me nowhere, once again. Awesome. Thanks, Denial, for nothing!
So, the decision was a no-brainer. I said my proverbial good-byes and cut the trees down. Actually, my honey cut them down… I’m really no good with a chain saw you know! Wink, wink! I kept myself busy with moving flower beds, nurturing my struggling tomato plants to actually live, and growing sunflowers! (I just had to throw in this picture of my giant sunflower!) The raspberry plants my sweet mama gave me survived the winter and were flourishing and my veggie garden was growing like a field of dreams!! My trees were gone but everywhere else was signs of life and beauty.
I am guessing it took about a month. Maybe even just three weeks. I was mowing, something I love to do. (What in the world is THAT about? I wonder if it’s early dementia? Haha! I jest!) But anyway, as I was mowing, I noticed what appeared to be a little tiny budding branch coming out of the side of the tree trunk of one of my trees!! I barely shut the mower off before I was anxiously running from stump to stump, carefully checking each for signs of life. And there it was, on each and every stump… little tiny green specks of life unfolding to show the promises of days to come! And you haven’t even heard the best part yet…within two weeks, in the middle of the yard between two of the trees, popped another little shrub-tree right out of the ground! Before the summer of 2011 came to an end, each and every stump was full of life. Each and every tree, including the new guy, was well on its way to becoming a mighty oak once again! In just one short summer, about three months, my little shrub-trees were nearing three and a half feet tall!!
I know, you’re probably thinking, “She got all of this from looking out her window this morning?” Yes, my mind tends to run full-speed-ahead at all times. But what it really was that stopped me from going back to bed and enjoying our one day a week in which there is nowhere to go or no appointments to keep by sleeping in was this one simple thing. Roots. Life. Cutting off the dead parts.
If we look to the Bible in the book of John, chapter 15, verses 1-6, Jesus is teaching. He says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown in to the fire and burned.” Looking at my trees this morning and remembering these powerful words of my Lord just about brought me to my knees. Amazing Grace, indeed. Where would I be without the grace and love of my God?
Throughout my life, there have been many times that I felt –and possibly looked- like those dead trees in my front yard. I appeared strong until the smallest bit of pressure was applied to my life and then I was sure to break. I look back and see no signs of life, not even small and tiny and waiting patiently to unfold. I remember times when I felt that nobody was caring for me and I struggled and strived to keep going, even if maybe only one proverbial branch had leaves. It felt as if I was in a dry field with nothing but barren prairie grass during those times, just as the little shrub-trees were before I began caring for them. These aren’t my favorite times to look back upon.
But right now, today, this story has even more meaning. You see, I have many dead branches. I am in need of a pruning. As a matter of fact, it seems that I am in need of CONSTANT pruning. Just yesterday, while at a basketball tournament watching my son play, I made the comment that I need a blindfold for my eyes and duct tape for my mouth. I recently saw some pink plaid duct tape… I wonder if it’s available to match each of my outfits? Wait, wait, wait… I’m getting off track. Frustration. Rushing. Busyness. Oh, how I hate you busyness! My attitude is attacked on every level lately, it seems, and I have not been as diligent as I am told to be about guarding my heart! Gossip. Dead branch. Unforgiveness. Dead branch. Anger. Dead branch. Judging others. Dead branch. This could go on longer than I care to admit “outloud”.
Jesus told me that in order to remain fruitful, I must “remain” in Him. Let’s pick up back in John 15 and hear what Jesus is teaching about this in verses 9-14. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” So how do I “remain”? Jesus says follow His instructions and the very next instructions He gives is to… drumroll please… LOVE!! “Love each other as I have loved you”, He says. Love… All you need is love, do do do doo do dooo. All you need is love. And what is Jesus’s promise? I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. Complete joy… ahhhhhh! Couldn’t we all use complete joy?
Okay, so let me apply this to me… all my stupid dead branches.
Frustration… when I am beginning to feel frustrated about a situation, I have to remember that at any one time in a person’s life, they are honestly doing the best they can at that moment. And there is always AT LEAST one thing going on in their lives that nobody knows anything about. I would appreciate someone giving me the benefit of the doubt in my many “moments”. Jesus is NOT hard on me, critical of me… He LOVES me!! (do do do doo do dooo… yep, that song will be in my head the rest of today.) Why would I think it’s okay to treat others in a judgemental, critical way?
Anger. That’s a dead branch that just needs cut off immediately! If I would handle a frustrating situation or person with love, then I would never get to the anger stage of it. God says that in our anger we have to be sure not to sin. Love. LOVE. If I stop and think about all of this -how much God loved me when I was nothing more than a pile of dead, dry branches… how much He put up with my nonstop list of frustrating characteristics… I have to ask myself who exactly I think I am to jump right to anger when I’m no better than the situation I’m angry with.
Do you see how this is working? How we have to apply the love we’ve received from Jesus to others and how life changing it will be- not only for us, but also potentially for others involved in this situation? How much different would our world be if we actually followed Jesus’s instructions? What did He promise? Complete joy, remember? I seriously need complete joy in my life!
There is one more area I would like to look at before this wraps up. The heavy frost that blanketed our county that cold February morning and killed my trees was in 2009. I did not cut those trees down until 2011, sometime around May or June I would guess. That is two full years that these trees sat lifeless, dormant, appearing dead. The branches were dead. But the roots were still alive, hanging on. When all of the “dead-ness” was removed, the roots were able to push forth new growth!! So much new growth, in fact, that a whole new little shrub-tree was born!
When our roots are in Jesus… when we are grafted into His “vine”, this is the new life growth we can expect. I thank God for His “pruning”. Each and every single time I’ve felt His hedge clippers on my life has been followed by a time of growth. I love the feeling of getting the “dead” cut off and watching as new life begins in its place. Now I’m not saying these times of pruning have always been easy. They have not!! I don’t look forward to the actual pruning. But God has caused my roots to grow deep in Him and I trust Him with any kind of gardening tool He chooses to use!