Kings go to war in the spring, so the Bible says, and these rose bushes and I have battled in this garden for nearly two decades, and it’s spring again. I pull thick gloves over my hands because skin isn't glove enough. I dig through the stack of shovels, rakes, a utility broom, a fence post hole digger, and "Where are the pruning shears?"
"You ask that every spring, hon." The Master Gardener leans all comfortable against the garage wall, crosses His strong arms and laced work boots and I hear that lazy smile of His. He's just fine watching me. I'm His girl and, yeah, He knows where the shears are but He's content to watch me look for them.
"Ha!" I find them and hold them up victorious.
"Let's go get 'em," He draws the words out like this is no big deal. But then, He's been pruning the likes of me for nearly half a century.
I scamper ahead of Him. Uhuh, scamper. Pink toenails, blue flip-flops with sparkly gems on the straps, and I march to war waving the shears. He saunters behind me. He offered to carry them for me, but I am woman.
The garden gate sticks a little rusty. I lift the latch, kick it open and I'm feeling it, "Oorah!"
"Okaaay, Ms. Marine," the Gardener-Warrior lifts an eye brow and just shakes His head.
I lift the shears toward the nearest rose bush. "Uh," I falter. It's a different war this spring. I'll still get thorned. The thorns will rip this old t-shirt and draw blood. It happens every spring like this and for nearly twenty years these roses have flourished brilliant with a beauty King Solomon would have bled for.
But this spring I'm not pruning. I'm cutting down. They've gone rogue. I watched it happen. Just right here, and from the kitchen window over the sink, I watched. And I've pruned the wild growth over springs and falls till first freezes. Pruned like this for years, but wild can be relentless. Wild can take over. And it did, The shiny dark green leaves turned crinkly dull crimson, and the full open blooms turned shriveled and small.
Wild can ignore the fervent, "Repent! Oh, repent!" plea from gardener heart. And unrepentant wild is too proud unruly to fear the gardener.
"Why?" I ask the One whose words plowed and planted the first garden. I turn to face Him and His eyes ask again to carry the shears. I nod silent. They’re too heavy and He understands the weight. I release the shears, and turn to the rose bushes.
"You were so beautiful," I say it to myself. "I rejoiced over your beauty. I walked to you just to breathe in your fragrance and your beauty captivated me when the storms swallowed the very breath from the air itself till it turned green in the face; but you were radiant red translucent.”
I remember their iridescence. I remember my own breath intake when they took it away for a moment. I ask again, “Why? Why did they trade their beauty for ashes?”
The Master Gardener hands me the shears.
“I don’t understand, Lord.” The shears hang heavy and so does my question.
“If the root is holy, so are the branches.” I recognize the words He speaks, and would find them later.
I lift the shears, plunge them into the soil, and they support my weight as I sink slow to bare knees on rough dirt and it bites a little, but I don’t regret the shorts and t-shirt. I want to feel what’s happening.
I press my knee into a stray thorn and it draws blood. I go lower, place shears at root, pry the blades wide open mouthed, and they bite clean through the cane. They fall one by one like this; cane by cane in a tangle of canes, and bush by bush in a row of bushes.
The Master Gardener is silent. I feel His presence. I concentrate; “Separate the rogue from the root,” and He consecrates me like this, as I do the work of it.
My arms are getting shaky tired. I steady the shears, pry them open and, “Is this what this is about?” I ask Him. “Is this about doing consecration? So I know what it feels like?”
I pause before making another cut. “It hurts, Lord. It hurts to do this.”
He knows the pain of pruning and cutting.
Slowly and rumpled I stand up and brush dirt off my knees. Rogue canes sheet the garden bed. They are dying, and at my hand. They sipped from the wild root and became wild and I must ask this Gardener, “How does that happen?”
He’s quiet. I get the feeling He’s already told me how, I just haven’t stopped to follow His words. I do now.
“If the root is holy,” my iPhone is on the garden bench and I google the words.
Romans chapter eleven visits the screen. “If the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches.”
I get it. I’m grafted. At the union I’m the wild bud grafted into the holy root. I read about this, and learn that roses go wild when the graft fails. “But holy never fails, Lord,” I ponder out loud.
“Remember that you do not support the root.” He speaks Romans 11:18 in response and it takes some thinking to get what He’s saying. “The root supports you,” He completes the thought.
“But branches break off. People fall like rogue canes. And holy never fails. It just never fails,” I’m stuck. My brain is stiff.
“Really?” What did I say, again?
He reminds me; “Branches break off.”
“Oh, yeah. Annnd?” I hint.
“Because of unbelief they were broken off.” He picks up on my hint for more help and the air in my lungs leaves. Just up and leaves. I've never understood what He’s said as I think I’m understanding it now.
“Uh, Lord?” I venture. Canes lay fallen all around me.
He follows my eyes and sees what I’m nervous to ask because the question is stickery.
“They stopped drawing life from the holy root.” He fearlessly answers the question I’m too afraid to ask. He continues without apology, “Do not be haughty, but fear. For if I did not spare the natural branches, I may not spare you either. Consider My goodness and severity; on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in My goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for I am able to graft them in again.” It’s a fearsome explanation, but I get it. For once, I get it.
“I get it! I really think I do!” And strangely I’m excited to understand something I’d otherwise not want to have to understand. But I do have to. I have to because I've just cut branches down. Cut whole bushes down. And I’m going to be burning the roots because they’re just all wild now, through and through. The grafts have failed and entire bushes are now rogue and there is nothing cultivated left.
“Lord!” I look at the tangled mass and pick up the Romans conversation we've been having, “If I was cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and was grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”
“Many will say to Me ‘Lord, Lord.’ And I will say to them, ‘I never knew you.’” His word hangs heavy. And didn't the Word hang heavy and didn't darkness hang heavy at mid-day when the Word breathed His last breath on the cross and souls just gasped as the Life died for the breathing crowd whose souls might die though some of them would be among those pleading, “Didn't we prophesy, and cast out demons, and do many wonders in Your name?” He did hang like that.
I’m silent. He’s silent. And the air between us is breathless
I go to my knees because I’m being pruned right here and I’d rather fall broken than be broken off. “Lord, Lord,” I begin, “many think You know them. I, too. I, too, think You know me.”
I sit back on me heels, and pause all still amid the stillness. It’s so still. The canes aren't rubbing; the tiny insects aren't walking their tiny steps along them, and there’s a nest from last year still clinging to canes now on the ground.
“I fear You,” I whisper. And something happens inside me. Freedom happens. It’s unexpected. It doesn't make sense.
“How is this so, Lord?” I wonder at the freedom, yet I feel so free that I can’t think of why anyone wouldn't fear Him raw and real. “Why would anyone be afraid to fear You? Truly, You are fearsome. Why do so many refuse to feel the truth? Why have I, until now?”
I look around me, and I know why I feel free. It’s not because I've memorized the verse, “The truth will set you free,” but it’s because of something deeper and kind of rough-hewn. It’s because I've been pricked by thorns and the truth itself is grafted into fallen creation. It’s because broken canes are slated and the roots are smoldering beneath white hot coals and gasp smoky, “Fear Him, the Holy God. Fear the One who is able to kill both soul and body.”
I wince, and the words pierce my soul as thorns prick skin.
The Master Gardener waits by the gate and I’m certain He’s praying for me. I pick up a cane and turn it over in my gloved hand. “You were just so beautiful,” I whisper as it dies. I count the eyes on the sleeping cane and then close my own eyes, “I see. It’s right here in my garden.”
I remember when I was grafted into the holy root. “If a cultivated rose bush can backslide till it bears fruit from the wild root, then so can I,” I confess. “You grafted me in, but the wild root is still there. You grafted me in, but I can go rogue.”
I tug my glove off, touch an eye on the cane I hold, as if to close it. I return the cane to the soil. “I consecrate my life to the graft. I will work out my salvation with fear and trembling today.” I say it out loud, and something else. I surrender the notion that I can sip occasionally from the wild root, bear fruit for God, and never hear Him say, “I never knew you.” Sip like this and bear deceptive fruit. Only God can’t be deceived. I can.
I fear God because His nature is not without a truth that pricks my soul and rips away the notions I wear. But the thing is that I have nothing to fear when I fear Him like this.
I reach for the shears and pick a path through thorns. “The way is truly narrow,” a thorn snags my ankle. I feel it as if my Spirit has ankles just as surely as it has feet. It must, because I’m walking, my spirit by His Spirit. And I’m finding the narrow way. And surrendering to it.
I want to be known by the Master who is waiting at the gate.
My muscles are tired, my ankle stings, and I drag the shears. “I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, You know.” I talk as He opens the garden gate and leads me to the patio, “And somehow it’s the happiest way I've found to live.” I lean the shears against a rake and we talk shop in the garage.
I’m no theologian; but I know my cultivated roses turned out wild and I know I could, too.
Here is my simple surrender.
I don’t fear a failed graft. I fear the One who makes the graft.
I’m not confused by the debates about salvation and security. I’m confined to work out my salvation with trembling and I can find no other way.
And may I flower iridescent in storms that shake me to the roots on this earthen soil.
“Lord, Lord, know me. Lead me to Your courts one day.” I say it because maybe the most miraculous wonder I’ll ever do in His name is to bloom brightest when storms suck air from air and from my lungs; and when I pause in a holy selah moment long enough to say, “I fear You real with no apologies come what may; and I love You all the more for it.”
I say this right now, right here in the garage; and the Master Gardener pulls His gloves off, smiles slow, and His eyes shine, “Enter My gates with thanksgiving.” He leads me to the patio, “Enter My courts with praise.”
“May I be a happy rose blooming for You,” I look up at Him simply happy. His words are like a holy kiss.
written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig