Bearing all things

One of my favorite things about living in the South is the relatively mild winters. We generally have a handful of bitterly cold days each year, but we’re just as likely to get days with above-average temperatures and early glimpses of spring. This year is no different. We were iced-in the first weekend of the New Year, but have been blessed with many warm, sunny days since. The moderate weather has coaxed a number of plants from their slumber, including daffodils, quince, spirea and my tiny trout lily. I’ve passed pleasant moments strolling around various neighborhoods, my little property and Smith-Gilbert Gardens relishing the re-awakening.

Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when I’m confronted with the results of crape murder, the practice of severely pruning lovely crape myrtles, sometimes back to their main trunks. Oh the carnage! Observing these maimed specimens makes me cringe.

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One of this year’s victims.

I watched the abused tree whose photograph I featured in the February 2015 post, “Prudent Pruning”, as I passed by it almost daily last summer. Sure enough, it put out new growth, though sadly out of scale with the remaining base, and even bloomed. Such is the case with most crape myrtles. In spite of being mercilessly whacked-back, they persevere and bring forth flowers.

 

As I observed and pondered, I reflected on how some people are much like the crape myrtles. Frequently wounded and taken for granted even by those they love, they nevertheless bear the fruit of the Spirit[1] and the sweet fragrance of life.[2] They faithfully serve, knowing Whom it is they ultimately seek to please.[3]

1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the “Love Chapter” and is frequently read at weddings. Verses 4 through 8a describe love as follows:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”[4]

Many years ago a Bible study leader suggested to our group that we try reading through these verses using our name, e.g. Patsy is patient and kind, and so forth. We laughed uncomfortably knowing we couldn’t meet those high standards, at least not consistently. Then our leader suggested we substitute “Jesus”. We were quiet as we contemplated the beauty and perfection of our Savior, God’s gift of love incarnate.

He was rejected, misunderstood and beaten. He was betrayed by a kiss from one disciple[5] while another denied ever being with him.[6] Yet he bore all things, most importantly our sins[7], that we might become like him, beloved children of the King, co-heirs with the Son.[8]

Jesus made it clear that the current world order will be turned upside down when he returns – the first shall be last, the least shall be greatest, the meek shall inherit the earth.[9] As we await his promised return, we can be confident we’re not alone.[10] Even now he is seated at the right hand of God[11] interceding for us.[12] Therefore, may we not grow weary in doing good, regardless of the response we receive now, knowing that in due season we will reap if we do not give up.[13]

[1] Galatians 5:22-23a

[2] 2 Corinthians 2:14-15

[3] Colossians 3:23-24

[4] ESV translation

[5] Judas’ betrayal is recounted in Matthew 26:48-50, Mark 14:44-45 and Luke 22:47-48

[6] Peter’s denial is recorded in Mark 14:66-72 and John 18:15-18, 25-27

[7] Isaiah 53:4-6

[8] Romans 8:14-17

[9] See Matthew 20:16, Matthew 23:11-12 and Matthew 5:5 respectively

[10] Joshua 1:5b, Hebrews 13:5b-6

[11] There are numerous references to Jesus’ place at the right hand of God including Luke 22:69, Colossians 3:1 and Hebrews 8:1.

[12] Hebrews 7:25

[13] Galatians 6:9-10

Prudent pruning

In my October post, “Ode to a Crape Myrtle”, I denounced the practice of severely pruning those lovely trees. The dreadful act is sometimes referred to as “crape murder”. Early to mid-winter each year I see far too many pitiful victims of this particular crime. But this year, on a street I traverse almost every day, stands one of the most pathetic examples I’ve ever beheld. Crape murder victimNot only has the beautiful tree been stripped of its majestic branches, but the perpetrator used a sealant of some sort to paint over several of the wounds. When pruning cuts are made correctly, the tree’s natural defenses will allow it to heal without the application of such products, which in some cases even cause harm to the plant.

As I also mentioned in my previous post, I committed the crime once, in ignorance, before being enlightened. I have since done only minor, clean-up type pruning to the gorgeous ‘Natchez’ Ray planted over 20 years ago.  As the tree has outgrown me, I’ve relied on professional assistance to remove crossed or crowded branches. Most recently, my tree was expertly “limbed up” to provide more light to the plants beneath its canopy and to lighten the load it carries when completely leafed-out and covered with blossoms.Lagerstroemia 'Natchez'

So, you see, I’m not against all pruning, just pruning done recklessly or unnecessarily.  Correct pruning is often an essential part of maintaining a plant’s health, enhancing its aesthetic value or increasing its fruitfulness. Likewise, there are times when we need to be pruned. Fortunately, we belong to a discerning Master Gardener. He determines exactly where and how to make the required cuts to enable us to bear more fruit for Him. Sometimes the pruning is severe and the process is painful, but we can always trust Him. He knows us by name and loves us far more than we can imagine . . . and He’s tenderly transforming us into who He created us to be.

Ode to a crape myrtle

There are a number of special plants in my yard, dear to me because Ray selected and installed them. They are lasting gifts from him as I’ve had the pleasure of watching them grow for many years. One of the most cherished is my crape myrtle.

When we moved to Georgia, I was a colorist for a large fiber-producer. In my role, I followed color trends and chose colors for fibers the company produced as well as for carpet samples we showed our customers. I was delighted to have the opportunity to put my expertise to use choosing colors for the interior and exterior finishes of the home being built for us.

Likewise, Ray was looking forward to having a nearly-blank slate to work with outside since the builder-installed landscaping left a lot to be desired. Little did I know the exterior colors I picked (cream accented with various shades of rust and cinnamon) would present a challenge for Ray when it came to selecting a crape myrtle to reside in the main bed in front of the house. Varieties with pink or purple or magenta blossoms would clash with the brick and shutter colors and clashing just wasn’t an option! Never one to shrink from a challenge, especially one involving horticulture, Ray came up with the perfect solution, a cultivar called ‘Natchez’, with creamy white flowers and cinnamon-colored bark.

I don’t recall how tall the small tree was when Ray planted it over 20 years ago, but it’s reached a height which surpasses its age, with a canopy almost as wide. When in full bloom, its size and splendor prompt visitors to ask, somewhat in awe, “What is that?” I reply, “It’s a crape myrtle. That’s what they can look like if you don’t commit ‘crape murder’.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “crape murder” refers to the severe and unnecessary pruning of these lovely trees, usually in late winter. Although some early cultivars supposedly produced more blooms after such treatment, most of those used today flower just as well without being subjected to such torture. I cringe when the annual amputations begin, envisioning the tiny new branches which will sprout from the large remaining limbs, much like fingers emerging from a shoulder. I’m thankful I only committed this crime once, the winter after Ray died, when I was still trying to figure out how to take care of the garden treasures I’d inherited. Fortunately, I quickly learned making my crape myrtle look like everyone else’s was not the thing to do!

(Ok, I’m stepping down from that soap box so I can return to the story at hand . . .)

My hort mentor sometimes speaks of plants as having single-season or multiple-season interest, not that one kind is better than the other, just different in its appeal. The first category includes plants such as spring-flowering specimens or those with vibrant fall color which take center stage for a few weeks each year and then play more of a supporting role in the landscape until time for them to burst forth and captivate us once again. I would put my crape myrtle in the latter category, as it has something to offer year-round. Some might question the beauty of the leafless branches, but the leftover seed pods contribute textural interest throughout the winter. Sometimes I even get to see the limbs decorated with a layer of snow. Beginning in the spring, the massive canopy provides shelter for numerous birds and shade for the southeast side of my house. In the summer, its flowers attract a variety of pollinators that dart in and out of the blossoms, creating a low humming as they go about their task. Then there’s its aesthetic value. My tree was so floriferous this year, its flower-filled branches resembled a cascade of blossoms. In late summer, the bark starts to exfoliate, peeling off to reveal the new layer underneath. The process can be a bit alarming to the uninitiated since it almost looks like the tree is falling apart, but exfoliation is one of the characteristics I most like about my crape myrtle.

002And, in case you’re wondering, it’s the feature that inspired the spiritual tie-in for this post. As I’ve watched the bark begin to peel away this season, exposing the beautiful surface beneath, I’ve been reminded of the mandates in Scripture to “put off the old and put on the new”, a concept so important I’ll dedicate a separate essay to it. Today, I’m grateful for a thoughtful husband who chose just the right plant and for a loving Father who’s sustained it and me across all the years since He called him Home.