When I asked what he wanted for our anniversary, I already knew his answer. "The best gift you can give me is to not buy me anything."
I had to come up with a gift that wouldn't cost me a cent. What's more, I wanted it to be something meaningful.
But I was distracted. I couldn't stop thinking about a discussion we'd had with friends about Jesus' parable of the vine and the branches. The neat and tidy visual I had carried with me was being challenged by various thoughts and perspectives.
My mind kept wandering to the theme that had struck the biggest chord with me ~ the importance of pruning. Just like the plants that grace our gardens, we have seasons where we are in need of some extra pruning. Even things that look good on the outside can actually stifle our growth and productivity if they aren't snipped away.
Midweek, the two meditations of a gift for my husband and the pruning principle intersected.
I got out my heavy-duty pruning shears, gardening gloves, and every vacant trash can I could find. I took one last gaze at the bushes bordering our driveway. This was going to hurt. Camelias that have proudly stood along our home for decades, perhaps older than me, have been a source of contention in our marriage since the day we moved here.
I love their heighth and depth, the privacy and shade they provide, and the abundance of pink blossoms during the months when much of the landscape is barren. My husband, on the other hand, despises the way their leafy branches stretch over the driveway, infringing on his space when he loads and unloads his work truck.
We have argued about the bushes more than any other subject. We've tried to find a middle ground. But my attempts at trimming are never satisfactory in his eyes. And his attempts have left me breathless with frustration.
As I stood in our driveway with shears in hand, I knew this was the gift I could give that he'd love. Better yet, it wouldn't cost me anything monetarily.
I pruned away, cutting deeply into the thickest inner branches. While I worked, it struck me ~ pruning is painful! It's messy. And exhausting. But there's a higher purpose. As I snipped and clipped away at the camelias I love, I saw new dimensions to this chore I'd been resisting for fifteen years. The more I cut back, the freer I felt. I couldn't wait for my husband to see his gift.
The following day was our anniversary. We spent the afternoon giving much needed attention to other parts of our garden. Once again, I found clippers in my hand and more overgrown bushes to tackle. "It's going to look so bare," I thought to myself as I snipped and clipped.
The day was hot and muggy. I headed for the kitchen to get a cold drink. I glanced out the window, hoping I wouldn't be disappointed by my efforts. To my surprise, a heart had taken shape. I had no idea I'd clipped the bushes to create a heart-shaped pattern.
Yes, pruning is painful. But the truth is, it empowers us to grow in healthy ways that produce more fruit. Our hearts become more pliable, softened, and usable. At the hands of our Gardener, we begin to thrive and produce a new harvest. With the old clipped away, we are freed up to be who we're created to be. My heart-shaped bushes serve as a sweet reminder.
"I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more."
~John 15:1-2, The Message