Spring Will Prove

I went out this evening and sat for a few minutes in the quiet of the van, stuffing the shopping bags back into their little pouches and folding the ones that didn't stuff so they'd all fit into one bag. It was warm, and the quiet felt velvety in my ears.

Looking out over the yard, I watched the white pines sway in the breeze, gratefully soaked in the residual heat collected by the dark green metal during the brief sunshine today, and yet felt overwhelmed. There's so much to do, so much to do to finish the house in time to finalize the mortgage on schedule, in addition to the heavy load I carry as a wife, mother, homemaker and homeschooler, and the tears came back. I thought of the house, upstairs, of the clutter partying on every flat surface and the dust and dog hair that collects in the corners faster than I've ever seen, anywhere, in my entire life.  My gaze fell on my little Japanese maple, and I remembered planting iris rhizomes from my mother-in-law last spring. 

And God whispered to me, "Go look at it."

I left the soft warmth of the van and walked through the crisp breeze toward my tree. When I drew close, I could see them . . . the tiny beginnings of this year's iris that might (just might) bloom this year. Not all of them survived the transplanting, but there are quite a few new shoots coming up around the base of the tree.

While I stood, looking, I found a few roots that had been pulled up by deer, or cats, or frost heave. Most were mushy and empty, but one felt heavy when I touched it. Picking it up, I found it wasn't completely soft--one end was firm and smooth, with two tiny sprouts starting from it: one root-colored, and one leaf-colored.

I began pulling at the soil with my fingers, and made a shallow trench. Setting it in place, I thought to myself that while the odds weren't all that great, it now had a chance. Irises are tough critters.

I stood and looked at the ground under the tree, and saw the brambles and weeds that were beginning to take over the area we'd carefully cleared, and felt the immensity of the work before me begin to descend once again. I turned away, back towards the house, the discouragement pulling at every step.

Once again, my eyes fell on another gift: a hydrangea that Vern & the children gave me last Mother's Day. It has looked pretty sad all winter, and we wondered if it had made it. God said, "Go look at it."

I walked up to the wire enclosure we put around it to keep the chickens off, and looked down at the uninspiring rags of last year's growth, wondering what I'd see. 

And then, I saw.

Just barely, as they weren't that visible from the top. Little buds, pushing up from the base of the hydrangea amongst the old branches.

And then, looking closer, I saw that those old branches weren't all dead after all . . . some of them were showing green underneath the papery bark, for as the branches swelled and grew inside of it, the dried and brittle covering split. God whispered, "I will make it grow." And I knew it would be beautiful again . . . gloriously so.

As I looked at the rest of the plant, wondering how much had survived, God whispered again, this time in a complete thought without words, that we would need to let the plant grow and bud and leaf out a little, to see what was yet quick, and what was dead. We needed to let that new life prove itself by its growth.

And then would come the pruning.

I stood there, seeing the ravages of winter, and the damage the new growth had done to the protective but unyielding sheathing on what had survived. I saw the upper branches, gnarled and straw-like that would most likely fall under the shears in a few weeks, and God whispered that I was seeing myself.

I've been through a hard wintry season in  my life. A season of trying, and testing. A season that has threatened everything I have ever believed, ever trusted, everything I thought I knew. And now that Spring is returning, one lovely moment and one Spring rainstorm at a time, I'm seeing new growth budding from the parts of me proven through my circumstances . . . the very innermost heart where God lives.

Through that wintry season, He was the Master Gardener. And now, as Spring returns and His plans are coming to life in me, the pruning will come . . . once the dead and dying wreckage can clearly be distinguished from the vital, new, living creature in Christ that He has made me.

It's alternately nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Sometimes I'm pretty sure I know what is good, and what has survived . . . but I'm not always right.

When I came back with my camera, to better share this with you, He showed me the branches of my little Japanese maple, showing the same symbolic pattern as the hydrangea.

Sometimes it's proving to be the larger, more impressive branches that have died back, while the smaller, more tender branches survived.

It's kind of a tangle, really. But this I know: my God isn't just the Good Shepherd, He is the Master Gardener, and He knows a true branch when He sees one. I can trust Him, for even though He will ask for things I have long loved, or in which I have found temporary comfort, He will not ask me to relinquish anything that I truly need to make it back to Him. 

And in that, I rejoice. 

The Parable of the Thieves and Treasure

Last night, I dreamed a dream.

After enduring a great deal of strangeness at a professional conference of some kind and difficulty with platform stiletto heels that could change from purple to gold (the gold looked so much better with my outfit--the strength of relief over that strange detail is so funny to me), I found myself walking up a short hill onto a lawn, coming upon a group of people witnessing a house break-in.  Mostly women and a couple of men, one of which I remember clearly as the homeowner, they seemed excited and curious to see the thieves come out of the house and escape; the feeling was of being in a movie theater on opening night.  There was a little fear in the group, kind of like faint background noise.  And then, the thieves appeared. They had gone through the semi-rural home, gathering every weapon they could find (which were many). When the group I was in realized how well-armed the thieves were, and their clear intent to kill every one of us brutally before leaving the house they now were stripping of everything they saw valuable to their work, we all looked at one another, desperately checking our pockets and searching our minds for something we could use as a weapon.  Anything.  Several of the group had concealed carry permits, but not a single one of them was actually armed.  Lambs to the slaughter, indeed.

The thieves went in and out of the house (not sure why we didn't/couldn't run away--we were absolutely trapped, even though we stood in the front yard, nearly as close to the paved street as we were to the house), and I watched one of them fill a magazine in a smiling, leisurely way, knowing full well he planned the ammunition he lovingly pressed into place for each of us on the lawn. The thieves even had some of us helping them, although I don't remember how.  They kept coming and going, sometimes out of the house, sometimes all inside, so confident were they in our captivity.

Suddenly a pickup appeared, driven by a slender blue-eyed teen, a person unknown to me in my waking hours who, in the dream, I recognized as a relative of some friends of my daughters, the sunlight streaming hazily through the dusty rear window around and over her shortish, wispy blonde hair. She had one of my daughters' friends with her, and they got out and headed our way, excited to catch up with me and my girls (whom I hadn't yet seen in the dream, but they had been right there with me). The thieves were all inside; I didn't know for how long.  I rushed up to her and grabbed her upper arms, speaking low and urgent through gritted teeth: "Annie, you've got to get them out of here! RIGHT. NOW. Take the girls, and get the hell out of here!" Shocked and terrified by the knowledge of the thieves' promise in my eyes, she instantly rushed her cousin, my girls, and the few other children who were there into the pickup as relief washed over me at her unquestioning, instant action. The door slammed heavily with that particular, metallic sound of mid-70's steel construction, sheltering the children's fragility. Then bluewhite smoke rose from beneath her tires as the baby blue Chevy squealed away.

The innocent were safe.

The smoke rose and wisped away on the Chevy's backdraft. And I turned back to the house, the cedar siding and green shingles sheltering such menace.

I stood there, wondering what on earth we were going to do to save our lives. Those thieves wanted their treasure. They were going to take it. And they were absolutely going to kill all of us to do it. And smile.

Then it hit me. We could give it to them.

Turn their thievery inside out, releasing them from the horrific path to get what they wanted. What they were loading up to take away were things all of us in that group treasured in our hearts as necessary for safety and provision. Things. Stuff. Mostly firearms and ammunition, but other things, too. The idea of giving them up, even for our lives, would be a hard sell to the fiercely independent group of northern folk.  But I knew, knew, that giving--letting go completely--was the answer.

I called out to everyone where we milled slowly about on the lawn, and gathered them around me. I knew we all had to agree--for, despite the horror of it, the thieves were going to kill all of us. We all witnessed their crime. And to set us free it would take agreement from all of us that what they took was freely given by the homeowner.  Their theft had to be turned into a gift. A gift without reservation, without grudge, without holding anything back.  A carte blanche to take whatever they wanted from the house, and depart in peace.

I stood there, the others gathered and watching, and I opened my mouth to speak . . .

The Parable of the Bread

She entered the classroom that day, weary and hungry. She didn't look any different than any of the others, nicely dressed and sitting quietly waiting for the class to start. But what they couldn't see was that she hadn't had enough to eat for days. She did her best to put a good face on it, to smile and chat politely. But every so often, she knew her hunger was visible to those not wholly lost in their own lives.  It confused them, and she could see their discomfort, so she picked up the Bible and began to read.

The instructor walked to the front, and the most tantalizing aroma wafted by as he passed . . . that of freshly-baked, homemade bread. He placed the box he'd carried on the table up front, and began placing one fabric-wrapped bundle after another on it, filling the entire tabletop. He unwrapped the fabric on the first to reveal the biggest, most lovely, most aromatic loaf of bread he had ever seen. It had just been sliced, and a few pieces tipped over, letting out yet more steam and filling the room with its fragrance. Then the instructor did the same for the other bundles, and there was bounty--enticing, delicious, and nourishing--more than enough for everyone there to eat their fill with plenty left over.

"Today, class, we're going to talk about bread," the instructor began, excited for his topic. The entire class paid rapt attention, feeling the delicious pull of the bread's promise.

"First, let's talk about the history of bread making." He explained some of history of bread, a little of the science behind fermentation and sourdough culture, and why it was such a perfect food for mankind. She grew hungrier and hungrier, trying her best to listen. A wonderful teacher, his presentation was engaging and interesting. But it couldn't compete with the demands of her stomach, which had begun to cramp in earnest.

"Now, class, I want you to imagine how wonderful bread tastes, and think carefully about the best bread you've ever eaten." A few moments passed, and he continued, "Now, we're going to break out into small groups, and talk about our favorite experiences with bread." She managed a pathetic smile as she turned her chair and joined the circle of class members that had been assigned to her. She listened to their stories, many of them heart-warming and wonderful. She spoke about her own memories of deep nourishment, but felt like her intense hunger separated her from them somehow. They'd glimpsed it again as she spoke, and she saw their discomfort plainly. They didn't connect with her the way they connected with one another.  She was talking about something completely different, something vital to her existence, while they shared anecdotes and asides.  They had spoken about all of the great varieties of bread they'd gotten at various stores in town. Bread with fewer calories than usual, or made with ingredients they couldn't pronounce (they mentioned it, chuckling), but that tasted so good they didn't care what was in it, and how much they craved it, even after eating their fill. They didn't know the kind of bread she tried to speak of--the very kind of bread still sitting up at the front of the classroom. Bread she had discovered with my own hands, that she knew well, and had nourished and filled her many times before. She even reminded them of the aroma of the bread up front, but they could no longer smell it.  While they agreed it smelled divine, it didn't seem to mean anything to them.

"Okay, class, let's hear what you learned in your groups," the instructor called out. Each group chose a spokesman, and for nearly the rest of the period she listened to recaps of each group's discussion. There were more good stories, some spiritual, some warm-fuzzy, some interesting, others intellectual. And still, the bread waited on the table. Her mouth had gone dry from all its watering, and the cramping in her stomach had finally eased, replaced with a dull nausea.

"Thank you so much, everyone, for your participation today," the instructor said as the last spokesman sat down. "I'd like to take this opportunity to bear my testimony of bread, and its importance in our lives; to give thanks to the man who drives the delivery truck bringing bread to our store every week, to the miracle of the truck itself, that we can have so much bread delivered so often, so those new to bread making could still enjoy bread every day, to the advertisers who go out and devotedly find new people hungering for bread, and most of all to the dispatcher who directs every driver in every truck worldwide, ensuring everyone gets the same bread each week . . . "

The instructor closed with a heartfelt, tearful testimony of the bread sitting on the table. Of its delicious flavor, the perfect composition of the ancient wheat that wouldn't make anyone sick, even celiacs. Of how much it had blessed his life, and how much he hoped we would search it out, taste it, and know for ourselves the goodness of it.

And as he spoke, she realized she would not be offered even a tiny taste the bread. While it was there, begging them all to take, eat, and be filled, it never crossed the instructor's mind that feasting would be the only way for his class to understand everything he said, to fill them with a powerful desire to feast again and again, and to share it with any and everyone who would accept it.  Instead, he had used up the precious class time in discussion, distracting the class with issues peripheral to the bread . . . and she began to wonder if he had ever really tasted it, himself.

He sat down, the closing prayer was said, and the students were ushered out. She walked slowly away, her arms a poor comfort, wrapped around her still-queasy middle.

(Please note: This is a parable.  I used female pronouns for the student in order to more easily differentiate the student from the instructor. I am not, nor have I ever been, personally short of food.  Thank you.)