Scars Of My Stumblings

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“This is the great work of man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.”

+ St. Anthony the Great

I dared to shower, I dared to answer some work emails.  Meanwhile my five year-old and my three year-old dared to destroy.  A school library book and a fake plant.  I asked, exasperated by the thoughtlessness of it,”WHY?”.

They said, one tearfully and the other with a barely-suppressed grin, “I don’t know.”

I can relate.

Why did I snap at my husband over a minor offense?  I don’t know.

Why didn’t I pray instead of flinging myself at the to-do list, heedless of filling my cup before washing cups?  I don’t know.

Why didn’t I listen attentively to my preteen at bedtime when it seemed he was down, because I was ready to be done for the day?  I don’t know.

But I do know.

I know that I like to choose me over:  you, them, that (obligation, responsibility, good).  Sometimes it’s easier to choose the right way; sometimes it’s extremely difficult; sometimes I fail.  Daily I have reason to pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Daily I have the absolute obligation to forgive others their sins as well; if I do not I cannot expect mercy myself.  I am not a healthy person responsible for chastising the sick for their poor state; I am a sick person in need of a Physician, and I must help the other sick ones in my care to choose to follow the Physician’s instructions as well.  Am I letting the Doctor address my illness?  Am I following His treatment plan?  Am I getting better and better?  My children will see.  My spouse will see.  It is not enough for my words and beliefs to be correct; so also must my behavior, speech, and love reflect Christ, must honor Him, must spring from the healing He is doing in my heart and soul.

There is a beautiful hymn that I often have on repeat when I need a reset.  It is good medicine for me, especially this part:

You Who did fashion me of old out of nothingness, and with Your Image divine did honor me; but because of transgressions of Your commandments did return me again to the earth from whence I was taken; lead me back to be refashioned into that ancient beauty of Your Likeness.

Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes.
I am the image of Your unutterable glory, though I bear the scars of my stumblings. Have compassion upon me, the work of Your hands, O Sovereign Lord,
And cleanse me through Your loving kindness; and the homeland of my heart’s desire bestow on me
By making me a citizen of Paradise.

I certainly bear the scars of my stumblings.  God’s healing and forgiveness does not take away all the brokenness from our sins.  Some relationships never truly heal, some temptations will dog us to our deathbeds.  But we do know that God’s love is great, warm, merciful, and powerful.  He is meticulous and persevering in mending us, healing us.

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The book and the plant will never be as beautiful and perfect as they once were; they look a bit shabby and patched-up, but they are no longer bound for the trash; that’s something, right?  Mended things are a bit more humble, aren’t they?  Wouldn’t we all benefit from a strong dose of humility?

I have this hanging in my kitchen; a constant reminder to remember my own brokenness and sin as I raise these dear children, as I interact with my husband, as I try to be a good friend, daughter-in-law, neighbor, and parishioner.  May God enable us to heal, forgive, mend, be mended, persevere, and live holy lives “by humble love”.IMG_6223

 

 

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Affirm My Narrative, Please.

The priest said that he had only ever met the victims.  He wondered where all these crummy types were who were willfully hurting, using, and oppressing his parishioners.  It seems they were all elsewhere; he’d only met the people grievously injured by them, righteously bearing their crosses of undeserved suffering.

The most dangerous thing you can do in a relationship is to challenge someone’s narrative; to challenge their story about themselves, however gently you might do so.  Our narratives are tailor-made, and the tailor is too often deceived.  We remember with affection all the good we do (or intend to do, someday); we glance away from our errors, our sins, the ways we’ve pained others, besides, we remember how provoked we were, and really, it’s understandable.  If only people knew how much we constrained ourselves they’d appreciate our self-control.  Too often our friends nod comfortingly, they empathize, they echo back to us, and they soothe.  It’s seen as the good office of the friend, to be supportive no matter what.  Affirm my narrative, please.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

-Proverbs 27:6

As iron sharpens iron,  so a friend sharpens a friend.  

-Proverbs 27:17

 

What a good and painful gift it is to have a friend who lovingly dares to pierce our narrative; to say, “No, the plot did not twist in that way; you were at fault and you remain so.”  Then we have to play back the reel, removing our pride-tinted glasses and/or our blinders.  We, if we are brave and humble even for a moment, have to see our narrative ring false.  If we can bear that without shoveling excuses or justifications over our turned shoulders, we approach honesty, then guilt, then repentance.

But it could, and it often does happen, that instead we dig in our heels; we believe our narrative as infallible.  We regard the wounding friend as the enemy; we see their words as weapons and not instruments of healing.  We seek and find a soothing balm in understanding friends; ones on “our side”.

The friend who dared, who risked on our behalf to enlighten our darkness; they are left to watch us carry on in most-certain wrongheadedness and willful pride.  They have a double portion of hurt, for they offered in love to help us see that which was destroying us.  They tried to deliver the medicine for the sickness; unpleasant medicine, to be sure, but needful.  They were then wounded in turn, in anger, for daring to question our narrative.

Lord have mercy on us and make us humble; finding in the wounds of a friend Your own loving correction and faithful leading.  Make us brave to see clearly, and to love fully.408196_10151676557058352_643068089_n

Customary Love

cropped-img_2107.jpg“Arising from sleep, I thank You, O Most Holy Trinity, that, for the sake of Your great kindness and long-suffering, You have not had indignation against me, for I am slothful and sinful….”

My voice was near a whisper as it formed the words and the morning light filled the window over my prayer bench last week.  The children’s school had been delayed and they’d gotten off to a later start so no candle was needed to illumine the words.

Neither have You destroyed me in my transgressions.  But You have shown Your customary love toward mankind, and have raised me up as I lay in heedlessness, that I might sing my morning hymn and glorify Your sovereignty….”

Fast forward to today, in which I was furious.  I looked into my childrens’ rooms and saw there every possible form of chaos and lack of care.  This has been a recurring theme for as long as they’ve been mobile, and we’ve tried every methodology we could think of to train them into neater habits. Yes, even boxing up their toys and putting them in the attic, but their hearts weren’t changed.  My voice was eerily calm as I gave them a monotone speech at breakfast that I was seriously considering getting rid of all their toys, since clearly they didn’t care about them.  Tears and quivering chins and promises that they’ll never let things get to such a state again.  I dryly remarked that I’d heard that a thousand times and yet they hadn’t reformed their ways.  Time was up, I was done, they’d gone too far, too many times.

Do now enlighten the eyes of my understanding, open my ears to receive Your words, and teach me Your commandments.  Help me to do Your will, to sing to You, to confess to You from my heart, and to praise Your All-Holy Name:  of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.”

I had finished the prayer and let the warm light pour over my kneeling form, and even with my eyes closed it was bright.  I got up from the floor and for whatever reason I turned around to sit a moment on my bench, lifting my eyes to the other side of the room.  There was our icon of Christ, a gift at Pascha last year from our dear friend Leon Miller, where I had placed it near our Lent candle calendar just the day before.

It was absolutely, stunningly, glowing.

The face was so full of light that I was startled.  Like I’d caught someone staring at me boldly.  The morning light had come in at just the right angle, and just at that moment, leaving only the face illuminated and everything to the sides in darkness.  I sat there dumbfounded, and it seemed special, but in a way I don’t have words for.  Many of the things of God are like that; He seems to leave us margin to see or not to see the burning bushes in our lives.  To take them as holy or coincidental.

I sat and I thought.  I had just begun the practice of saying the morning and evening prayers from my Orthodox study Bible the day before.  If the weather had not been predicted to be bad, the children would not have had a delay, and my prayers would have been in the morning’s dark rather than the light.  I had just placed the icon there the day before, and uncharacteristically, I placed it oddly, off-center; not at all as I would normally arrange things.  I had turned around and sat down, I hadn’t just leapt up and started in on the day’s duties as I normally would.  The light had filled that one square foot of space and no other, almost like a spotlight.  But, still, it could be a happy coincidence.FullSizeRender-43Icons might be one of the most misunderstood things in Christianity.  In western eyes they are at the worst, idols, and at the best, unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

ICON:  A transliterated Greek word meaning “IMAGE”.  Icons of Christ and His saints depict the reality of the incarnation; because the Son of God became Man, He can be imaged.  Orthodox Christians honor or venerate icons, but never worship them, for worship is due the Holy Trinity alone.  The honor given to icons passes on to the one represented on the icon, as a means of thanksgiving for what God has done in that person’s life.  (The Orthodox Study Bible, p.1782)

This icon is known as Christ Pantocrator, “Ruler of All”.  In this year of church-homelessness I have been blessed by this visual, physical reminder that God has all things in His control and that he steadily cares for us.  As the prayer reads:  “You have shown Your customary love towards mankind...”  Customary, as in habitual, constant.  What grace.

So my day went on and the afternoon found me in study at my desk._MG_4776It’s a cherished spot in our home.  The children love the special occasions when I let them do work there, but most of the time it is a place set aside just for me.  Again, for whatever reason, I turned my chair around and looked across the room.  I have there hanging a print of Christ praying in Gethsemane.  It was an image clipped from a Ladies Home Journal in 1922 and carefully matted with strips of cardboard by a loving hand.  I’d purchased it at a thrift store, stunned by the care someone had given to preserve the cheap print.

Well, the face was glowing bright.

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My first thought was that I’d never noticed how drastically the painting was done; like a Rembrandt with his startling use of shadow and light that made the bright points of the painting near leap off the canvas.  I kept staring and was suddenly sure that something was different; the painting had never been so striking before.  I got up and walked toward it.  All of a sudden the light calmed flat as my presence interrupted a singular ray of light that had pierced the filigree on my front porch, sliced through the uppermost corner of one of the tall windows and hit solely upon the inch-wide face of Christ, leaving the rest of the painting in shadow.

I stepped back and the face filled with that singular light again.  In another moment the light had shifted and was gone.

Again, God leaves margin; there is nothing miraculous in sunlight striking where it pleases as the earth rotates and orbits the sun.  It is, however, highly unlikely that the face of Christ in two distinct works of art would be illuminated singularly twice in one day and that both times I would pause uncharacteristically in my work and witness it.

I was hesitant to tell my husband; afraid I’d be dismissed as the sort who saw the Virgin Mary in a tortilla or something of that sort.  But it felt so special, so astonishing, that at evening’s end I did share it with him.  He shared my wonder and my pleasure and the mystery of it.  We didn’t try to wrangle a meaning out of it.  I was left with two strong emotions:  joy and surprise.  It was the feeling when you know someone thought of you especially and sent you flowers or a note.  That “I am noticed and loved” sort of pleasure.

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I had sent the children up to their rooms to clean, my disapproval a palpable presence in the house.  There was a nudge in my spirit though, and I was drawn to the morning prayer.  God filled my heart with the words;

“Arising from sleep, I thank You, O Most Holy Trinity, that, for the sake of Your great kindness and long-suffering, You have not had indignation against me, for I am slothful and sinful.  Neither have You destroyed me in my transgressions. But You have shown Your customary love toward mankind, and have raised me up as I lay in heedlessness…”

Daily He extends mercy and grace.  Daily I fall into sin and repent of it bitterly.  I resolve in my heart to hold my tongue, to exercise more patience and grace, and daily I must repent of my failings to do so.  I was ashamed that I had offered my children less than I had received.  I called them downstairs.

I read them the prayer and tears filled my eyes.  I told them the story of the debtor who was forgiven his great debt and then had demanded unjustly the payment of a small debt from another in anger.  I told them that I had no grounds on which to withhold forgiveness and mercy from them when they failed, because forgiveness and mercy were not withheld from me when I did. Seventy times seventy times seventy.  I looked into their eyes that swam with emotion which matched my own.  I said, “You will screw up, just as I do.  But I will forgive you as I have been forgiven, and each of us will try again.  God promises to forgive our every failing and to help us to do what is right.”

The prayer writes of the “customary love” that God has for us, and that is just what I seek to grow in; customary, habitual, constant love, a reflex of sorts towards compassion and mercy and kindness.  The experience with the light last week has reminded me of God’s presence with us, His interest in us, and His lovingkindness towards us.  The prayer has reminded me to extend that great mercy and love to those who’d be most keenly effected by the absence of it in my words and actions, my children.

God whispers in His Word and in our hearts and through art and burning bushes, and let us pause so that we do not miss a word of it.

 

Visibly, and Invisibly, Human

It was the first time I didn’t even get the dust off of the furniture.

There are some baseline standards I like to reach before guests arrive at our home:  floors swept and mopped and vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, dishes washed, toys and paper clutter put away, furniture dusted, a candle lit, and something tasty baking in the oven.  It’s mostly about my pride and somewhat about my guests.  I want to create a welcoming space, yes, and I want approval.  Scads of it.  No, seriously, tell me everything you love about my home.  Sigh.

See, I want you to see me without my failures sprinkled about.  And since I can’t talk about my promotion at work or my new exhibition at a local gallery or show you pictures from my latest overseas jaunt, I dust.  I bake, I clean like mad the half hour before you arrive.  This home is my canvas and I want you to approve of the effect.

It’s childish.  And not in the cute way.

“She’s patiently waiting for you to notice her new dress”, whispered my friend to me, as her young daughter shifted her weight from foot to foot in the hush of the church lobby.  I smiled; how I know that feeling.

“Wow!  Your dress is so beautiful!  Is it new?”

She beamed, she smiled down at her frock with a look of sheer pleasure and nodded.

We all want that, don’t we?  Crave that approval, that admiration.

Well.  It’s probably a good place to be right now; with dusty furniture and other humbling markers of domestic failure all about.  The last few weeks have seen us adapting to our new little Tobi (and worrying through two health scares with him) and each of the children coming down with nasty colds.  It feels like I never stop moving; I’m like a pinball being ricocheted from the laundry room to fold a load, to the diaper changing table to change a poo, to the bathroom to wash it out of the diaper, back to the table to throw the sopping diaper into the diaper bin, which I see is now full, back to the laundry room to start a load of diapers, running back to the dining room to stop Henri from plummeting out of his highchair, back to the kitchen to get a dishrag to wipe up spilled milk, detained there by the overflowing soup pot, and on and on.  Dusting the furniture has been bumped WAY down the list of priorities.

untitled (20 of 28) untitled (21 of 28) untitled (23 of 28) untitled (24 of 28) And I realize anew that I can’t do it all.  I have no new frock to display, just a tired old dress smeared with spit-up.  I am oh so visibly human.

And I’ve got it all backwards.  Because you see, I was getting my house in order and beautiful so that I would be perceived as “in order” and “beautiful”, soul-deep.  Like my home was an inanimate extension of, and physical evidence of, a put-together me.  Why wasn’t I going straight to the source and working directly on beautifying my soul, rather than on the rooms that contain us, eternal us?  This is, after all, just a house, but the souls within it?  Eternal.

I am chronically short-sighted.  I focus on the don’t-matters and leave the truly-matters to flap in the wind as they will.  I see this in my parenting, and I shudder.  I’ve hustled the herd to bed so that I could mindlessly scroll through the news feed; reading about other people’s lives and “liking” cute pictures of their kids while my own went to bed without my attention to their end-of-the-day thoughts.

Oh.  So.  Human.

It’s tempting to end this with a rousing appeal to my dear readers to join me in some challenge to become more holy and less prideful and some such.  But God sometimes drops a heavy stone into our laps because He wants us to sit with it a while; not just figure out how to best roll it off without pinching our fingers.  Let the heavy thing sit; learn the lesson deep and true; let the weight sink right into you.  The weight for me?  Seeing how much of me is still governed by securing the good opinion of others, and relatedly, how little of me is governed by securing God’s approval, God’s smile.

How is the dust laying round about the soul?  Has anyone been mindful of the clutter in there?  Is it in fit condition at all?  Oh that I would care half as much for the daily maintenance of the eternal as I did for the temporal!  Lord, have mercy!

 

Not Unsinkable

Titanic“I thought her unsinkable, and I based my opinion on the best expert advice available. I do not understand it.”

-Philip A. S. Franklin, vice president of the International Mercantile Marine Company

I shied away from the dream that lingered on the fringe of consciousness.  In it the news had come out that two bodies had been found deteriorating in a major aquifer.  For some reason I was among the first to know that both bodies were infected with the Ebola virus and that the water for many cities was now contaminated and being consumed by millions.  It was the beginning of the end of life in the United States as we knew it.

I called a friend of mine that same day, Monday, and told her my disturbing dream.  We agreed that we hoped it wasn’t prophetic.  Tuesday morning, with coffee in hand, I sat down to read the news.  “Ebola Confirmed in U.S.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here.”

-Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Now, I’m not spending my day today painting a sandwich board with “The End Is Upon Us!” emblazoned across the front.  I don’t feel afraid.  But I feel aware, very aware of the fact that the CDC’s confident bravado is an unwise posture.  It feels like a big brother puffing out his chest, being the strong man of the hour, and attempting to quell the fears of his younger siblings with his cocksure confidence and swagger.

The Titanic was a pretty amazing ship; it had all the latest technologies.  Our hospitals are pretty amazing too; staffed by well-trained, competent staff.  But there are still icebergs.  There are still errors, which we’ve clearly seen in the communication break-down which led to the patient infected with Ebola to be sent home for two days with antibiotics when a staff member was made aware that he’d been in Liberia.

Pride makes us more vulnerable.  Pride says, “Not here!  Not on my watch!  That happens, over there, in those less-educated, more superstitious cultures where people act in ignorance.”  Oh, America, when will you learn that pride weakens us?  That humility and vigilance are the correct responses; that puffing our chests out just makes us full of hot air?

We are not unsinkable.  Let us pray that God would have mercy on us and forgive our arrogance.

 

 

 

Contentment Between The Fences

IMG_2528  It was as I read The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides, as he interviewed the Eastern Orthodox monks of Mount Athos in Greece, it was as I heard how they drew near to God.  Ceaseless prayer, certainly, but also a unique perspective on life’s twists and turns sets them apart.  They use the word “temptations” differently than we do; not as luring desires to sin (though they can be such) but any circumstance of life, whether on the surface quite good, quite benign, or altogether bad.  It could be a headache or a pay raise.  It could be a compliment or a slight.  It could be a disease or an unexpected inheritance.  Each circumstance cannot be judged as good or bad in itself, because we do not know how we’ll go through it, with God humbly or without God proudly.  They believe that any situation can be to our spiritual benefit if walked through humbly, prayerfully, and leaning into God for strength and direction.  Similarly any situation can be to our spiritual detriment, if it distracts us or distances us from intimacy with God.  A disaster loses it’s strength, a windfall loses it’s ecstasy.  All temptations are held at arm’s length, are not allowed to disturb the innermost peace that Christ gives to each of His children.  Because the point isn’t that life goes well for us, but that our relationship and intimacy with God deepens and grows.  I put the book down and I thought.IMG_2554 IMG_2572 IMG_2598  God knew.  He knew I’d marry a plumber with a plumber’s salary.  He knew we’d have a passel of children and that I’d care for them at home, not contributing to our income.  He knew he’d send us off to Chile for six years of mission work, incapable of laying aside money for savings.  He knew all this; He knew money would be tight and my fences would at times seem to be too narrow.  That bills would give me a choking feeling and that I’d be tempted to think that we weren’t good enough as people or as Christians because we didn’t have an account that could absorb the blows of life without scraping bottom.

I found the perfect farm for us.  A stone farm house built in 1740 with plenty of room and open hearths (I have a strong desire to cook over coals, see), and even one of those split dutch doors in the kitchen.  It has a library where all my books could take residence comfortably.  Deep window sills and wide plank floors.  Twenty acres of farmland and Swiss-style barns for animals.  A dream.  And a million dollars out of our price range.  It calls for fences wide and open, so wide you can’t see the end of them, that just disappear over the horizon.  Such is not what God gave to us.  We can see our fences in a glance; we know our present limit well.  We know it each month when the bills come in and we have to breathe deep.

What did it mean to trust God within our fences?  To walk as dearly beloved children rather than as disappointments?  To not be ashamed of what we cannot do, and to be grateful for what He has given us?  Because how do we know what He is up to through our narrow fences?  Is it character, is it humility, is it perseverance?  Whatever it is, can I not dare to believe that He knows best how wide our limits should be in order that we might seek Him hungrily?  So I took my eyes off of someone else’s fences, someone else’s possibilities and I looked within my own fences; what did they contain?

_MG_4991 _MG_5026 IMG_1030 IMG_1057 IMG_1092 IMG_1129 IMG_1146 IMG_1147 And I near wept.  Within my fences are things that are all out of proportion; too many blessings for such a small space.  Four darling children running about, one in Heaven, and one kicking in my belly.  The astounding miracle of being able to send three of them to a wonderful private Christian school.  A beautiful Victorian home with a massive yard that we should never have been able to buy at such a cheap price.  The best neighbors one could hope for.  Two beehives, a dream come true that each day makes me awe-filled and amazed.  The ways that God meets me in the grocery store; finding a pork roast for $5.00 that feeds us for six meals.  The friends he surrounds us with, the extended family who love us.  These fences are near to bulging with God’s mercy.

In all these blessings and in all our hardships, peace is not a maybe.  Not if we lean-in to God in all of it, come medical bills or vehicle break-downs or a plentiful honey harvest.  I can say along with the Athonite monks and my dear Orthodox friends, “God provides”.

Master Gardener

This isn’t how it’s done.  You brush before the dentist appointment and clean before the maid comes and certainly you pull the weeds before the Master Gardener arrives to look things over in your garden.

But the weeds, see, they grow as deep as they grow tall; they’ve sunk right down into the earth and are anchored tight.  If I’d caught them sooner…if…

But now the stems are thick and thorned and cut my hands to ribbons when I try to pull them out.  I thought I was smart, back before I called the Master Gardener in desperation on the tan phone in the kitchen, I thought I could just saw off the visible tops of the weeds-grown-feral.  At least give the impression that jungle wasn’t taking over.

But no.

The weeds took it as a pruning, not a severance.  With renewed vigor they thrust up more stems, stalks, and canes; startling hellish exuberance bursting out of the ground and choking out the flowers.  It was worse than before.  I called the Master Gardener, resignation and pleading and wouldn’t He just come and set it to rights again?

And there He is, looking through the garden gate.  He turns and looks at me, me looking at him through the kitchen window and so ashamed.  His intensity is hard to read.  I put down the dishrag and hear the screen door slam behind me and I twist my hands together while all sorts of excuses climb my throat and fill my mouth.  I clamp my lips over the words, He and I both know what happened here.

I gesture to the weeds and my shoulders sag.  My tongue pushes the other words aside and lets out “Help”.

He smiles.  He smiles and leaps over the garden gate and comically opens the gate for me from within.  I walk in and He shows me some baby weeds that I can pull.  He rolls up his sleeves and begins to work.

I hear Him in the weeds, grunting and pulling and felling those giants.  A dull ache begins in my chest and I struggle to get full breaths.  I see his torn hands and sweat and how the weeds come out one-by-one.  I see the tall one with the black flowers, Pride-of-Life.  Pain lances through me.  It is felled beside Vainglory with it’s profuse orange blooms.  Down comes Ambition and Envy and Discontent.  They lie in a pungent heap, their wild long roots twice the length and width of the weeds themselves.  I have the oddest impression that the roots look like fingers and they even seem to reach back towards the soil in animated longing.

He sees my look.  “Yes, we’ll have to burn them.  Left there they’d replant themselves by morning.”  I turn back to my little pile of baby weeds and examine the roots of one.  Tiny fingers, faintly moving back towards the dirt.  I scream and fling the weed down.  He laughs at me.

“Yes, sin is that way, even when so young.”

We work and work, hauling wheelbarrows full of weeds to the fire pit.  His hands-I can hardly bear to look at them, cut and bloody.  Whenever I think we’re done, He shows me a weed masquerading as a flower; these He is ruthless with, yanking them out with furor.  I hold my hand over my heart where the pains throb and throb.  “We must at all costs prevent these from going to seed.  The weeds that deceive and trick are the deadliest.”

I winced as he pulled a beautiful red one down; it had looked like a kind of rose.  He saw my saddened face and came near.  He held the roots before my eyes so I could see the eerie reaching tentacles and spoke forcefully, “False-Humility.  Give it no quarter.  None.”  I nodded.  Seeing the roots breaks the spell.

We stood beside the fire pit and watched the wretched weeds crackle in the flames.  The roots curled inwards and blackened into coiled claws.  He stood beside me, so vigilant.  It was as if he suspected one would leap out of the fire and make a run for the garden.

My garden…it looked like a war zone.  Craters and holes and just a smattering of flowers that survived the weeds’ onslaught.  He followed my gaze.  “Yes, it looks empty now, but we’ll do some planting to fill it in.  The more beneficial plants that we can cover it in, the more difficult it is for weeds to find a home.”  He poked the last reaching roots into the coals, his bloody hands gleaming in the firelight.  Oh how costly has been my negligence.

“Tomorrow we’ll plant.”

——————————–

Day broke and we stood together before flats of strange and wonderful plants.  One looked so cushy and dense that I was surprised to find it hard as rock and unyielding.  “What is this called?”

“That is True-Humility.  It is a ground cover that forms a thick and armor-like covering.  It’ll protect the other plants from invading weeds and keep the soil’s moisture in.”

“And this?” I asked, fingering a spectacular flowered bush with the most outlandish purple blooms.

“That is Kindness, and it blooms continuously.”

We planted Joy, Peace-in-all-Circumstances, Love-Bearing-All, Perseverance-in-Trial, and Sorrow-for-Sin which smelled sweetly in spite of it’s sad drooping leaves.  The garden was empty no longer, feral no longer, and the Master Gardener smiled widely, as did I.

“How can I thank You?  I love it.  I’ll keep after it better now, I promise.”

His smile left his face.  He dropped his eyes to the soil and stooped down.  There, right there at our bare feet, was a new weed pushing up through the soil.  It grew before our eyes, sending out leaves and flowers and fragrance all in fast-forward.

“Behold, Arrogance.”

He bent over and yanked it out and my heart felt a twist within of pain.

“Dear one, do not promise such.  Promise only that every morning you will call Me for help.  Every morning we must come in here and search for that which destroys and get it before it takes deep root.  This is a daily job, not one that should wait, no, not even a day past trouble begins.  As strong as the Virtues are, they are not immune to being destroyed by weeds.  You must call me every morning, you must or death will reign in this garden rather than life.”

I felt the pains leave my chest and warmth spreading from my heart, outward to my limbs. He embraced me and I leaned in to Him.

“Call Me in the morning, dear one, every morning.”

“Yes, Master, yes.”