“F-876”, Jeffrey D. Nichols © 2009, All rights reserved.

The plant sitting in the display at the garden shop beckons. I don’t yet have one of those in my garden, and besides it is the only one of its kind left to purchase. Other gardeners wiser and earlier than me must have snapped up its siblings. I have to have it, and if I hesitate I will lose out. Besides, I know just the perfect spot for it. So I part with my cash and add another botanical specimen to the collection.

What started as a positive experience ripe with hope quickly becomes a negative as that plant fails to deliver the joy I expected. Perhaps it was root-bound, coaxed into bloom just long enough to sell. Maybe it needs more sun than I have or less sun than the spot where I placed it. Perhaps it is the favorite food of the marauding rabbits that terrorize my gardens. Or just maybe it actually needs another gardening zone miles north or south. And then there are those plants that thrive in the greenhouse environment with little chance to survive in the hostile world outside.

This is the point (well one of the points) where my wife’s gardening style and mine differ. I say, “Compost that rascal. Get it out of our limited garden space. It’s too much trouble and offers such little payback. Next time we’ll do our homework before we buy.” Shawn’s lilting voice offers another option, “Dig it up and let’s move it to another spot. Perhaps if we pot it and move it to the plant triage center next to the pond for a season it will make it?  We can save it. Please give it another chance.”

What is a gardener to do? We’ve negotiated a rule (more like a guideline) at Paths of Hope. Any plant gets three tries. I will plant it then move it up to two additional times if needed. If the performance is still wimpy then out it goes. That’s tough love but so necessary to utilize the garden space.

As we streamed the guest pastor into our living room church Sunday morning he opened by tagging 2020 as a horrible year and reminding us of the major disasters that have transpired in the previous seven months. Then he read from Luke 13:1-9, and I had no idea how his sermon might challenge my heart.

The passage tells the parable of the vineyard owner who grew tired of a fruitless fig tree. He instructed the gardener to pull it up and reclaim the land for other specimens that might bear fruit. I smiled at Shawn and whispered, “That’s me in the garden!”

The gardener has another plan. He asks for one more year with a plan to dig around the tree, to add fertilizer, and to see what might happen. One more chance. I pointed to Shawn, “And that’s you in the garden!”

The sermon struck a resonant chord and we paid close attention to grasp what God might teach. The application can be summarized in two words—amazing grace. The gardener pictures God who gave us 2020 because of His grace. The year gives us another chance to repent, another opportunity to consider His expectations in our workings, and another occasion to bear fruit for His kingdom. I wrote those two words in the margin of my Bible as a reminder.

Sure 2020 disrupted everything. Ever read the book of Revelation? Is our present distress a harbinger of things to come? Is God warning us time is short?

I turned over to the book of John and read the first six verses of chapter 15. Jesus describes Himself as the vine, the source of what we need to thrive and bear fruit. How many times have I disconnected myself and attempted to grow fruit in my own strength? How often have I realized that I’ve lost my focus on bearing fruit at all?

And yet God allows me to remain. Because of His amazing grace.

“Thank you, God, for second and third chances. Thank you for the effort and the resources You expend cultivating me. Thank you for Your Son, the source of all I need to thrive and bear fruit. Somehow I always seem to find a way to become entangled in this world’s mess to the point of missing out on the crop all together. Thank You for your grace in pruning me and tending me, in shaping me to grow in another direction. Help me to make the most of the time you’ve allotted.”

Photo credit: “F-876”, Jeffrey D. Nichols © 2009, All rights reserved.