Cut it Out

Our family has a statement about our father that tells much about his character.

“He would rather cut off his arm than cut down a tree.”

Dad loved trees and spent hours taking folks on hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains identifying trees and describing their qualities and interactions with the environment. He planted various varieties of trees and loved the unique aspects of each. Big old trees were held in special esteem by Dad and he valued the size and leaf canopy of old growth trees. In his 80’s our father took up a new hobby for him – turning wooden bowls. He found special joy in using a variety of wood – admiring the grain, color, and texture of each different type of wood. He NEVER cut a live tree to get wood to turn into one of his bowls. He collected dead trees and cut them up carefully treating the ends of each cut so the wood dried slowly and didn’t split.

There was one exception to Dad’s self imposed “no cutting trees” rule. He would thin out small trees to encourage maximum growth of a more desirable tree. One example was his suggestion that we cut a tulip poplar that was growing near a gingko tree. His reasoning was that we had LOTS of tulip poplar trees, some being very large. This little tulip poplar would eventually become large and overshadow our one lone gingko tree. Phil cut the poplar down and several years later our gingko tree has grown to a large tree with a beautiful shape. Cutting down one tree definitely enhanced the life of the other tree.

There are times in our lives when we need to “cut something out”. It can be an activity, a habit that is unproductive, media use, a commitment that is no longer required, or an activity that someone else could do. Often those activities are good. Yet they may be occupying space (time) in our day that crowds out other better things. Just as I made a judgement on which is the more desirable tree, I make judgements on how I spend my 24 hours a day.

Have you found yourself saying “I am overwhelmed by what I have to do”?

Something needs to be cut out.

That is easier said than done. There have been times in my life when I was overwhelmed by the needs of my children, aging parents, job responsibilities, etc. – NONE of which I could (or wanted) to cut out.

Yet more often I am my own worst enemy. I pile things on because I think I “should”, I can’t say “no”, or I don’t realize I am doing too much until I am overwhelmed!

In Matthew 13:22-23 Jesus explains the parable of planting seeds he has just used in teaching his followers.

22 The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. 23 The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

No fruit is produced from seeds that are “crowded out by the worries of this life”. Notice Jesus does not say “if there are worries” or “you might feel worried”. No, when Jesus says the worries of this life it says to me that life has worries. Yet Jesus wants his followers to know that he has given them NEW LIFE which produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal.5:22)

So if I cut out the things in my life that crowd out the fruit of the Holy Spirit, I am able to experience peace and joy in the midst of my circumstances.

Refuse Pile

I have spent a lot of time in the past three weeks cutting off dead parts of plants so that the new growth is not obstructed. I put all these clippings in my wheelbarrow and haul it to the edge of the yard where I throw it over the bank – out of sight. (we have 5 acres and much of it is very steep)

As I was ready to toss my latest pruning efforts, I noticed something green poking up from the refuse pile. I looked closer.

It was a peony!

Somehow I had dug up a peony tuber and thrown it over the bank. Phil and I had transplanted several plants lately but I don’t recall moving a plant near a peony – yet there it was! There were three fresh green stalks with peony leaves pushing up through the refuse pile. I carefully inched my way down to it – VERY carefully because I have a history of falling down banks that is NOT pretty. (ask my family for the gruesome details) It was easy to remove the plant from the pile because it was growing in loosely thrown leaves, stalks, etc. Apparently the tuber had all the nourishment it needed to send out those new leaves even though it was not planted in soil. Peonies are my all time second favorite flower and I treasure the peony plants I have, some given me by friends.

Here was a plant overcoming all odds and growing in a refuse pile!

I moved it to a prime location near my other peonies in good, well drained soil and watered it well. Peonies do not like to be moved, so it probably won’t bloom this year, but the leaves are looking healthy and are growing well. I had almost buried it by emptying my wheelbarrow on it.

This “peony in a refuse pile” has made me think about the times I have given up on a situation – or a person – maybe myself – and in a sense thrown it away. I have become disappointed or discouraged by someone or something and given up.

How thankful I am that God never gives up on us!

peonies from 2019

We have been studying Acts in our Community Women’s Bible study and I think about Paul who persecuted Christians even facilitating Stephen’s death by stoning. Paul was committed to destroying the TRUTH that Jesus and his followers were spreading. Yet God chose Paul to be his apostle and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all nations.

1 Timothy 1:15-17New Living Translation

15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

Paul should have been “thrown on the refuse pile” of truth deniers. Instead God saw in him the potential of new life in Jesus. Paul chose to follow Jesus and each of us is given that same invitation. We must never give up the hope of the new life that Jesus offers.

Only God knows what will “grow” out of the refuse of our lives.

Isaiah 61:2-3

He has sent me to tell those who mourn
    that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
    and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Holding Onto Hope

I usually post pictures of beautiful flowers in my yard. This picture is not beautiful, but it is real. This is how my once beautiful camellia bush looks. It is an “evergreen” – although now it is not. It is brown and dead looking.

So I face the decision of whether to cut it way back, wait to see if any new growth emerges, or just cut it down.

I am holding on to hope. I am waiting until May 15th and then I will decide how much to cut back. ANY glimmer of green will be a sign that the bush is not dead.

  • Hope means I don’t give up too soon.
  • Hope means waiting since there may be life lurking in the roots that will spread upward into the stems.
  • Hope means trust in what is not seen. I don’t see life – but it may still be there.’

Isn’t that how I often respond when disappointments occur in life? My first reaction when things don’t go my way is to give up. “It looks dead – what’s the use?” Then, because I tend toward an optimistic outlook of life, I look closer. Yet I still may not “see” a positive outcome. Do I hold on to hope?

Many of my disappointments in life come because a person or group has failed me or let me down. (or I think they have) My thoughts go toward blaming others instead of taking responsibility for what I can personally do. That is more difficult, isn’t it? It is SO much easier to blame others!

Sometimes my greatest hopes aren’t fulfilled. I begin to question my faith and God’s love for me. I must always remember I live in a broken, fallen world and that trials, disappointments, and suffering are part of living on this earth. Yet Jesus came to save this world! My HOPE is in Jesus. I hold on to him.

In Romans 5:3-5 Paul says

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

Hope in Jesus never fails.

I must hold onto hope and not give up. The outcome may be very different than what I expected or even hoped for. Yet God’s love for me never ends and God is faithful.

I will watch carefully for any sign of life in my camellia bushes. I don’t see any sign of life yet…..but I hold on to hope.