Growing roses when you have a brown thumb

I have rifled through albums and boxes of pictures from my growing up years and made an impressive discovery. Photography in the 1970’s and 80’s was not a thing like it is now. I was searching for a picture of the lovely roses my mom grew in our backyard when I was a child. But there was not one picture of just those roses. No one snapped photos of a backyard back then. Those roses served only as a backdrop for all of our special events; including my own christening in 1975 (so you get a little 70’s style with the image this week!). In my early childhood memories, however, those rose bushes were a much bigger deal.

I’ve had these roses on my mind lately because as we stumble into the beginnings of this new year, God and I are having a debate about what the landscape is going to look like.

Grow. That’s the word he keeps placing on my heart. Grow.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18).

And the more I come across that word and that verse, the more I think about those roses.

You see, the growing of those roses was no small thing. My mom inherited that garden and all of its instructions when she and my Dad bought their house over four decades ago.  And for years she faithfully tended to it.

But it was no easy task. Every season required something different. I can still see my dad out there sporting his plaid bell bottoms with this green can full of “poison” spray trying to keep the bugs from eating the beautiful blooms. And my mom, a bandana tied around her hairdo bent over the rows of bushes with pruning shears and a bottle of Elmer’s glue.

This was a process I could never understand. 

As we got older, my sisters and I were included in the rose tending. And my job usually involved putting glue on the open stem of the freshly pruned bushes. “To help protect them so they can grow their blooms back,” my mom would explain each year.

But here’s how my brain worked … For years of my life, I thought that my mom came behind me and stuck all of the stems into my glue dots to put the bushes back together.

I seriously believed that Elmer’s glue was the only thing holding up all those rose bushes.

As the weather warmed and the sun shone down on our little yard, it never occurred to me that the growth and the beauty of those roses came from inside the old wood of the chopped off bushes.

In my mind, growing involved sticking things back together so they would look good; not waiting on old gnarley cut off sticks to produce beauty. Growing and pruning seemed completely unrelated.

You’ve probably gathered by now that gardening is not my gift. I love beautiful things, but the work of growing them often seems beyond me.  The weeding, the pruning and the tending irritate me with their lack of immediate results. And honestly, I would be good with a little Elmer’s glue to just hold everything together.

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Grow.

This sounds like a perfect resolution for the year. Grow. Grow something beautiful this year. Who doesn’t want to do that?

But I keep picturing those roses and it leaves me anxious and aware that if the growth is going to be real, there will be some serious work involved. Old blooms, even ones that once looked lovely, will have to be cut off. And for a while, growing may not feel like much of anything. I can still see those old thorny rose bush sticks; all bare and missing parts; no beauty anywhere.But you’re going to have to hold on, God whispers to my wayward heart. You’re going to have to resist the urge to glue the cut off parts back together. You’re going to have to just be. Let me bring the new growth out of the old wood. 

I don’t know where this first week of January finds you. Reaping a harvest of beautiful things? Feeling a little exposed and cut off from what you thought God was doing? Or maybe you are just plain confused about what’s next. Yeah. Me, too.

But, here’s what God keeps reminding me. It isn’t my green thumb or expert knowledge that is going to grow the things of my soul this year.  It’s my ability to hand it over; to be still in the pruning process and to remain certain that from it he is going to bring new growth. 

Those roses were a lot of work. But here’s the other thing I will always remember about them; the way we shared them. They were beautiful gifts we took to our teachers, bus drivers, and neighbors.  Those roses brought smiles to many faces as we handed over their delicate blooms; loveliness that had grown right out of cut off old sticks covered in glue.

And I smile as I remember all the faces of our rose receivers. I am so slow to learn this. God grows us in his grace and in the knowledge of him so that he can share us. But in order for it to work? We have to sink into that growing process. 

So maybe, if you, like me, are standing in these early January days resisting the pruning, the changing, the work of growing, maybe we can just remember how the rose does it.

It stands still. It buries its roots deep and doesn’t hide its cut off parts. It faces the sun and the rain and the turning of seasons because it knows that from its old wood God will indeed grow the beauty it was made to produce. And then it reflects that beauty to the world around it.

You see, we don’t have to be the Master Gardner to grow. We just have to be the rose bush. There’s hope for those of us with brown thumbs after all. 

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen!”

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