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.