He Grows Hope Slowly {The Heart of the Loving Vinegrower}

If you find me in the garden, you will find me in my sacred place.

In the garden I am reminded how hard the life of growing things can be. We plant, we water, we prune, and yet sometimes for no explainable reason, new life refuses to flourish. I know God understands the pain of planting a garden plagued by frustration and death. When my heart is hurting, it is in my garden that I best hear God’s voice.

Today I needed to hear the hope of the Master Gardener, so in the early hours of the morning I ventured out to walk with him wrapped in my cool blanket of grief and disappointment.

My Father is the Vinegrower” (John 15:1), Jesus tells us. I look at the overgrown rose vine welcoming visitors to my front door with its thorny branches positioned to strike anyone who ventures too closely. It had been planted to frame the archway with beauty and fragrance, but in my neglect I allowed it to grow attended. It branched without form and for months has dared me not to get too close. Overgrown and thorny. I will get hurt if I attempt to address it. Let it be, I tell myself.

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My Father is the Vinegrower,” I hear again. Then why is this thing so gangly and dangerous? As I survey it, I realize this moment isn’t about the rose anymore. It’s about other overgrown and thorny places in my life. It is about places in the Vine that overwhelm me. Abiding in Christ alongside the other branches isn’t alway fragrant, nor tender. There are topics, like this rose that rather than welcome others in, they wound and exclude.

Father, if you’re the Vinegrower then why is this vine such a mess? Why aren’t we what you envisioned for us to be? 

Enough of this, I sigh. Grabbing my ladder, twine, and pruners, I climb up to begin the work. At first I just try to force the vine onto the trellis, but the newer growth is too tender and it breaks off. My heart sighs, “That would have a been a beautiful bud someday!” So I go for the more mature branches, but they are inflexible and won’t be guided. From this perspective I can see where the vine itself wears scars from its own thorns. Some branches are discolored from the darkness of too much shade, being hidden like they are under the larger, more aggressive branches. It doesn’t take long to discover I will only be able to guide this vine to express its desired form with slow and gentle precision.

After an hour only the vine will know I’ve been there; to others it will look unchanged. But the training has begun with nudges, cuts, and tie-backs. Bearing the scratches and thorns of the work, I hear the words my heart set out to find, “My Father is the Vinegrower.” He grows it slowly and with his tender touches. He avoids the tugs that will break the tender; he knows the cuts that will give the vine the shape it needs. He know it will take time; but he will not neglect his work. He loves the Vine and delights in every last branch as they grow to reveal his beauty. We won’t alway see his work, but he is there–careful and attentive. Our Father is the Loving Vinegrower; his heart is good, his will is perfect, and his ways are tender.

Indeed, He is. My heart knows it full well.

If your heart is discouraged or despairing in a less-than-flourishing place today, take heart. Our Father loves us. He sees. He knows. He grows hope slowly, but always faithfully. He may take his time, but he is the Master Gardener. Wait for it–we will hear his voice in the garden declaring yet again,  “It is very good!” One day.

Are You Blessed? {James Howell Quotable}

The notion of a divine warehouse full of packages (for me!), just waiting for me to back my station wagon up to the door and load up by simply asking is laughably problematic. But the conclusive, eighth Beatitude might teach us that if there were boxes of blessedness to be collected, we might open them and find them to contain, not neat goodies we’d hate to miss out on, but harder realities we might prefer to leave in the bay. The saints who have lived most closely to God have opened their “boxes” and discovered that following Jesus can and does leave you marginalized, ostracized, wounded, in danger, and even dead. If we try to yank out the thread of the final Beatitudes, we unravel the fabric, and think God is boxing up a little kingdom, something comforting, even a grand inheritance–forgetting that promises are for the future, not this minute, forgetting the immense cost of discipleship (James C. Howell, The Beatitudes for Today).

No matter how trying our circumstances, we are blessed. For our poverty, we will be filled. In our mourning, comforted. In our powerlessness, established. Even our hunger for righteousness will be satisfied. Hold on to hope–the King and his kingdom are at hand.