THEN, KELLER, TEXAS, 2010:
I realized it as I spoke the words aloud. "I'm tired of being pruned. I just want to grow." Life, God, all of it, has wrecked me and I'm tired. Is this how it feels when the shears cut deep?
Mom had a lilac tree out by the swing. The swing that creaked, that swayed when we shared tears, dreams and stories. The Lilac Tree was a gift. Lilacs bring my mother to life. She can smell them a mile away. So it was only fitting she had one of her own in the yard.
She tended it with care. I remember watching her in the evenings, fingers gently lifting the young branches, tucking soil around the new roots.
New roots take a while to find their homes. Especially on that slanted hillside.
One day we almost lost it entirely. An overeager landscaper sliced across the young sapling with a weed wacker. My mother cried, searching for the roots.
But they remained. Tiny thriving arms were still there, and they slowly began their work of growing back to the sky.
Not to be wounded again, the tiny tree was marked. We were sternly directed. The tree was not to go anywhere.
It grew. Slow. Tall. I started to learn how the whole process worked. At the right time, my mother would stand proudly in front of the bush, its branches strong, suggesting at what's to come. She would pull out the large clippers, and start snipping.
Pruning it with the greatest ease and affection.
"But why?! It's so tall!" I would shout from the porch steps.
"It won't grow flowers without pruning!" She shouted back over her shoulder.
Cut. Cut. Cut.
What's a lilac bush without lilacs? Just a bush, I guess. Just something with lots of potential, but nothing actually worth admiring.
I find great comfort in the pruning. As painful as it is, it means he is standing near, breathing very close to my tired arms.
And very precisely and intentionally, the Master Gardener starts to prune.
So I can bear fruit someday. So there's something worth all the pain.
The pruning is always with love.
So yes, I'm tired of being pruned. I want it, but I'm tired of it too. I just want to grow. But I see now that the two go hand-in-hand.
Unless I just want to be another random plant among the brush.
I don't always desire self-discipline. It's one of those want to want to want. I'm thankful for grace in that my lack of desire for self-discipline only drives me to Jesus. After all, it's a fruit of the spirit, not of the flesh. It's not something I can produce out of choice, or even do well out of habit. It's something I have to allow and submit to the Spirit working in me.
That being said, when I ask, there's an answer. I beg for some fruit. I'm asking for my roots and the threads of life in me to go back to the Tree of Life, and not the one of good and evil. I don't need humanism or moralism. I need grace.
NOW, UPSTATE NEW YORK, 2018:
This is our first spring in our new house. We bought this house in July, when the land had already yielded half of its floral fruit. Peonies only green in their stems. Tulip leaves standing alone. But when we first looked at the property, it was mid-spring. What stood out most to us was the lilac bushes — three of them. Two around the house, one by the barn. Massive trees that would return again in their purple hues next spring.
That next spring is now this spring. Lilacs seem to return again and again in my story. A mother who nurtured them. Trees that need pruning. Friends who bring their branches across thousand of miles. Old barns and century-old farmhouses.
A reminder that in its season, things bloom. In the right time, the hopes that were once a far off dream and only served as analogies and quiet hopes in glass mason jars in the dead of Texas heat, now grow outside of my bedroom window. The prayers I begged of God from an empty heart eight years ago now echo around my head and heart when I remember how faithful He's been.
I have had seasons of stretching my limbs from one direction to another, and watched as God pruned me from stem to trunk. With a sharp blade, I felt Him near. I’ve felt the stark cold hit my bare soul when all that I thought was alive fell off dead into a trash heap. And I’ve felt the fresh growth push against my skin, forcing the miracle of life against my own grief. I’ve seen something bloom bigger, brighter, better than if I had held onto spindly, branches that produced nothing but instead only sucked life from my core.
So as the lilac climbs the side of our house and I can reach out my bedroom window to pick its branches, I give thanks. For the pruning. For the sharp amputations of heart and soul branches. For the miracle of how he turns light and living water into real stuff, and how He kept me alive through all of it.
This year I hope to open our windows, lift the screen and take a deep breath of those floral blooms.
And when the season ends, we will prune.