All gardeners will tell you that keeping up those “Yards of the Year” are a LOT of work. There is constant work to be done, especially if you have rose bushes. You must prune them, care for them and monitor them constantly for them to thrive. My grandmother Omi is a world-class landscaper and gardener, and her yard looks pristine 365 days of the year. She even grows her own tomatoes and cucumbers in her vegetable garden, her own mint and parsley in her herb garden, etc. However, she puts in hours and hours and still more hours of work on that yard. When planning a summer visit, she must be cautious because her plants will die if they are left alone to wilt in the heat; she often waters them by hand 2-3 times per DAY.
But, because she is conscientious and careful about caring for her plants, pruning them back as needed and not allowing weeds to take over or take root in her beautiful flower beds, her plants are lush and green, her tomatoes perfectly round and succulent, and her roses bloom in the brightest shades of red and pink.
In our lives, God is the Great Gardener, the One pruning back the weeds in our hearts, guiding us carefully through trials and troubles of many kinds so that we may gain wisdom and reliance upon Him. He doesn’t promise that we will have carefree lives and that the weeds will never threaten to take over; in fact, the opposite. “In this life, you will have tribulation. But, take heart; for I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
The cliched phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle” is not based in Biblical truth. Many times, we will find ourselves with more than we can handle ALONE. That is just the point though. All things are possible through God, and in those times, He wants us to draw closer to Himself as He can conquer all.
My Great Aunt Helen used to have a painting in her home that looked a lot like this:
What a poignant reminder of God’s grace and love for us! He is there with us every step of the way even when all seems lost, we are despondent and aimlessly searching through the things of this world for answers. His words are found in the Bible, the one true Map that will guide us through the Deep Waters and onto High Ground once again.
As I think of mine and Luke’s journey to Oklahoma, I think of all the past experiences that prepared us for this exact chapter. And, in that 20/20 hindsight, I see all of the ways we were forged through the fire back in GA, all the ways that we were growing as Children of Christ, as spouses, as leaders, as professionals, as friends, as siblings when we didn’t even realize it…What wasn’t clear to me then as I questioned why a day was particularly tough, why a friendship came to a clear end, why a new “quirky” coworker was there for what seemed to be the sole purpose of irritating me…it is so much more transparent now. I see that through those tough days, I gained perseverance, through that friendship ending, I learned how to be a better friend in the future, and through that difficult relationship with a coworker, I learned how to discern when someone is lashing out because they are in pain and how to respond in grace and love. Most of the irritating things that he/she did could all be tied back to their own personal experiences and trials and had nothing to do with me. This is an overly simplistic explanation of course, but I cannot wait to get to Heaven one day to meet Jesus and find out why some things have occurred in my life the way that they have!
I recently re-read this book just last week– a great story about how all of our stories are intertwined with purpose. No spoiler alerts here, but when a elderly man dies, an amusement park maintenance worker, someone who doesn’t feel that he lived any kind of remarkable life at all, he finds out just how much impact he actually had on a variety of others. When he gets to Heaven, he has the opportunity to interact with five different people who explain different lessons to him. He was in each of their lives for a clear purpose–some of whom he never even met face to face, and some of whom played major roles in the cast of his life.
This past week we received the very sweetest card in the mail from a woman whom I have never met in person, and whom Luke has met only once before. And, I will treasure this card for the rest of our lives. You see one of our good friends passed away a couple of months ago, very unexpectedly at a very young age. We were heartbroken of course, and several of Luke’s West Point class shared things on his Facebook page, including us, and others sent something to the Memorial Service. Because we found out about the Service with very late notice, I found myself in a restaurant, on a Sunday of all days, trying to find a florist in his home state who could help us contribute to the service as well. As you may have guessed, most flower shops are closed on Sundays. I struck out twice before finding a kind customer service representative who just happened to be at work cleaning the store and seemed interested in our story. He had heard about our friend’s death on the news, but still, he couldn’t help us. He said their stock was very diminished from a recent wedding; their delivery truck didn’t arrive until Tuesday, there was nothing he could do. He suggested several places for me to call instead. In a leap of faith, I begged him to help me. I said “Do you have anything at all we could use? This is so important to our family.” He hesitated and said, “Well I have one pot. You could come pick it up today and buy something at Lowe’s to put into it.”
We live several hundred miles away. I told him that just wasn’t possible, could they please put it together and deliver it for us? The funeral was less than 20 hours away. He told me he would call the owner and call me back. Disheartened, I assumed we would hear again that there was nothing he could do, if he even bothered to call me back. It truly seemed hopeless; there would be no way we could contribute to the Service at this point. To my great surprise, he called back 15 minutes later, and in excitement told me he had found something that just might work! It was nothing like a funeral spray though. It was a simple pot, but they could deliver it, and work some red, white and blue into it to display the patriotism of Luke’s comrade and friend. The funeral service was just 5 minutes from that shop, so a delivery was no problem! We were beyond grateful and gave him our credit card information, but to this day, we don’t exactly know what that kind Angel chose to deliver on our behalf.
A couple months went by, and we heard from a mutual friend that the Mother of our friend who passed away wanted to get in touch with us. We were a little surprised because the outpouring of support she received after her son’s death was immense. He was so well loved and the Long Gray Line had really stepped forward to honor him properly with far more important people than us. A few days ago, we received a hand written thank you note with her name monogrammed on the front, and I opened it, grateful that she thought enough of us to write, but mostly expecting a form letter-type of thank you in light of this unthinkably difficult time. Instead, we received a true outpouring from her heart of her thoughts, feelings and emotions covering the front and back of the card; an expression of true gratitude for our particular social media post, which had a video of her son that I had saved leading up to our wedding. Through that video, she was able to see and hear him one last time. Also, the simple pot we sent has graced her patio all summer as a reminder of her son. I was floored with this heartfelt thank you, and I learned once again the importance of small kindnesses. What if that shop assistant hadn’t been willing to help me? What if that florist just said “No” which was well within her rights on a Sunday with no stock at all? I am so grateful that they went the extra mile for us that day, in a way that meant so much to his family. This is such a classic example of the goodness that can be found in people’s hearts, that I couldn’t help but share. You never know how your words or actions can indelibly impact another’s life.
In our lives, I firmly believe that God loves us and wants the very best for us as His children. But often, just like in the garden, pruning is necessary for us to become the best versions of ourselves, for us to be the people God intends for us to be. If everything was easy, if no weeds threatened to grow over the rose bushes, if no winter storms loomed to destroy the flowers with frost bite, if no droughts threatened to starve them of nourishment, the plants would not need the Gardener.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2.