Nearly a month ago, I picked up a gorgeous bouquet and placed it on the top of the piano, my favourite spot for a vase full of bright blooms. Its longevity was surprising! Beautiful purple and white flowers brightened the room day after day. Slowly, as they are prone to do, they began to wilt and drop their petals. I thinned out the bunch and placed it back in its spot, hoping for a few more days of spring beauty indoors while I await its arrival outside.
The few remaining flowers began to dry out a little, but instead of turning fully brown, new shades of purple and pink were revealed as sepia tones lined their edges. Their beauty did not diminish, it simply changed. Young, bright and full of life at first, and then, although rearranged, new shades of gorgeous colour revealed themselves over time.
What a gift!
As I hand down the dewy-cheeks and bright eyes of youth to my own daughters and watch as my face gradually begins to reflect a growing collection of years and life experiences, I am grateful for this simple reminder that growing in beauty looks different than we think.
Last year we had only a handful in total, but after thinning out the oldest branches early in the season, our single bush seems to have survived the relentless heat and is bursting forth with berries. We’ve been checking back morning and evening to see which ones have ripened enough for picking and eating. I’ve taught the kids which to take and which to leave a little longer as we work together to fill a small container, give it a rinse and enjoy.
Each year without fail, whether a little or a lot, this bush bears fruit. Mid-July comes along and we get to see how much will actually be harvested, and how much will be enjoyed by the birds that call our neighbourhood home. Some years we end up with enough to make a little jam, but most years it’s just enough for a taste.
Our little apple tree, on the other hand, hasn’t been so faithful a fruit-bearer but we haven’t quite been ready to give up on it. It came to us second-hand, wind-whipped, then heavy-laden with an unexpected snowfall just three days after being planted in the yard. I pruned that one a little too much one year and it has taken nearly four years of patient watering and feeding but, with great joy, we have counted a dozen or more little apples on its branches ripening in the sunshine. I’ve marvelled more than once this year at its resilience, carefully watching to be sure the birds haven’t helped themselves to the precious few that cling to its branches.
One had a great start, planted young in good soil and watched over all along. The other was a transplant, overcoming imperfect conditions and care to bring forth fruit in its season.
I can’t imagine a greater picture of God’s loving care for each one of us as we remain in Him. And I’m amazed that it’s right in my own back yard!
Makes me think of Jesus’ words in John 15:1-8 (NIV) —
“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, as I also 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 you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Regardless of how you got your start, stay faithful to Jesus and let Him bear His fruit in your life!
Nearly everything I planted this year got eaten by insects, birds and critters, drowned by torrential rain and hail or wilted by weeks and weeks of extreme heat, despite repeated waterings.
A few weeks ago I noticed a business meeting taking place in the backyard between three robins and two magpies. So strange, I wonder what they’re doing, I thought. The next morning I opened the curtains and scanned the fence. This year I planted a beautiful giant sunflower, even tenderly nursing it back to health after the wicked wind broke it in half as a young shoot. Toothpicks and packing tape, a stake and some twine and she found the strength to grow five feet tall.
My eyes searched for the large flower, ready to bloom as it followed the sun from dawn til dusk. Except, it wasn’t there. The stalk stood tall and strong, but the entire flower head was gone.
Maybe it was the Gang of Five. Maybe it was that grey squirrel I caught digging in my peas on my deck. Either way, the sunflower will not bloom.
Rabbit and squirrel food. That is what I grew this year.
My beloved rose bushes, the ones that grow heavy with roses from June to October, were the victim of some sort of insect that ate the leaves into lace. I tried watering and feeding, and in a last-ditch effort to bring them back to life, I pruned them down to the ground a few weeks ago. I knew they might not make it, but it was worth the risk.
This morning I stepped outside to soak in the freshness. It’s a chilly fall-ish morning with the promise of a warm, golden, late summer afternoon. The growing season is slowly winding down, but these little rose bushes never give up. One, two, three new shoots.
They even have buds.
I don’t garden because I am any good at it; I garden because it reminds me of things my heart knows are true, in nature and in life.
Even when I don’t see it, I know He is working.
The sunflower stalk still stands, three smaller flowers popping out from the leaves. The rose bushes are steadily filling out with smooth shiny leaves and precious little buds. Pansies I planted two or three years ago have re-seeded themselves and are spreading through one corner of my flower bed, thriving with yellow and white and purple joy.
It makes me think of that passage in Isaiah 35 (NIV) —
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Thank You Jesus that You do not abandon us in the darkest and most difficult seasons of life. You are the Life-Giver! We live in the now and not-yet, where glimpses of resurrection fill our hearts wth hope. You breathe life into what was dead. Wilderness and deserts won’t last forever. Burning sand and thirsty ground will pass away. Desolate jackal-haunts will be transformed into lush, fertile land.
This world and our life in it is incredibly beautiful, and at the same time, filled with imperfection and evil. I can’t pretend it’s not the case. I’ve just learned that some of the most faithful missionaries from my childhood church are enduring one of the deepest griefs imaginable. Please pray for them as they mourn.
Following Jesus does not guarantee a pain-free life.
But it does guarantee that pain will come to a permanent end. Gladness and joy will overtake us. Sorrow and sighing will flee away.
I chose a sky blue shirt and a bright yellow coffee mug this morning in defiance of the grey, windy day out my window. When I first set foot outside I could smell the ice releasing its grip on the world, but I know it can’t last. It is only February after all. The temperatures are mild for the moment, and in just a few hours the clouds will roll in and bring a fresh layer of clean, white snow to play in. It will be at least a month before we really start to see the melt last longer than a moment or two, but I love the little reminders that you can’t hold back spring.
A few weeks ago I picked up a potted mixed-bulb mini garden. I was desperate for a burst of fresh, bright colour and these shy irises, long daffodils and fragrant hyacinths were ready for their big show! I shelled out the few bucks required and covered them carefully as I carried them to the car in the freezing cold air, hoping they would survive the ride home.
Thankfully, they did. I placed them at centre stage on top of the piano and left them alone to shine. The very next day, the daffodils had grown another few centimetres. Wow I thought. This plant is really bringing its A game! Not to be outdone, the hyacinth pushed itself out so far that it began to lean to the side. I had visions of an old science fiction movie where the unsuspecting lead character buys a lovely plant from a strange old lady and then brings it home only to find it has taken over her house the next morning! The next day I walked past the mini-garden, which was becoming less than mini every day. I stopped and turned around. What in the world?! Two bright yellow and orange tulips were shooting up past the covering of their green leaves.
I had no idea there were tulips in the garden at all!
How was this thing growing so fast? I watched it for a moment, at once realizing it was silly to expect to actually see the plants lengthen before my very eyes. But every time I looked back at it, it was taller, fuller, longer and brighter.
Amazing how things grow when we’re not paying attention. Suddenly, flowers burst into bloom that you didn’t even know were there.
What a truly wonderful surprise.
In John 15, Jesus says that He is the Vine and that we are the branches, and that if we truly want to live, we need to stay connected to Him.
“Remain in me, as I also 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 you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5 NIV)
All the good things we see flowing through our lives are because of Jesus. Any bit of sacrificial love, greater joy, deeper peace, wider patience, extravagant kindness and goodness, steadfast faithfulness, incredible gentleness and self-control are all because of Christ. When we stay connected to the Vine, drawing our source of life from Him, we will experience His beauty overflowing in the most unexpected ways and most surprising places.
Isn’t that just the most incredible thing you’ve heard today?
It’s the strangest, most wonderful, yet most ordinary thing.
A couple of weeks ago, all the trees in our neighbourhood were bare twigs reaching up to the bright blue sky, sunlight streaming through, casting their thin shadows on the ground.
Then, one day last week we were going about our daily routine when suddenly one of the kids noticed a hint of green on some of those very same trees.
“Mama! Look! The leaves are coming!” she shouted with glee.
So they were. And then I remembered that after winter comes spring, every single year, no matter how long and cold it is. This year’s winter felt like it would never end, but here we are – bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming, trees are bursting with leaves. The sun has warmed the earth, waking what was asleep and breathing new life into what was dead.
There’s just so much in that, isn’t there? We all have places in our lives that appear to be long gone, where the cold rushed in and left an icy stillness in its wake. Sometimes those areas sit in frigid silence for what feels like forever.
But then, the air shifts, the season changes and we begin to feel the gradual, steady warmth of the Holy Spirit stirring in us, breathing new life into our hearts, astounding us with the beauty of growth and newfound strength.
Isn’t the love of Jesus something wonderful? We’re resting in Him as He does something new in our hearts today.