By: Colton Lott
Ever since I was old enough to run the mower, the dog days of summer always represented the advent of yard work. I like lawn and garden maintenance for the most part; living my days focused on education, working outdoors has a rhythmic quality that requires thoughts and actions of a different sort than a term paper.
My grandmother, Meme Jayne, will have lived in her little ranch style home forty years this fall. By a happy coincidence, she decided this would be the year of revitalization.[i] Taking advantage of two grandsons being in town, we're starting with a deep clean from the outside working in. A "detox" of sorts.
Since my grandfather died, things have been harder for my grandmother. She's gotten older and experienced some health set-backs. Although I don't think she would admit it, working around the house was not the same without my grandfather. He used to tease her about her swing at the top of lawn, saying they installed it just so she could "Survey her kingdom." Roses were her specialty, at one time having an incredible ninety bushes around their property. When I was young, I remembered the backyard felt like a secret garden. "Wild" strawberries, flowers, trumpet vines, and trees all made a beautiful oasis.
Day one of the revitalization process wasn't filled with strawberry munching in a rural paradise while stopping to smell the flowers. Due to the torrential rain that Oklahoma has received, the mosquitoes were thick and the air was muggy. Even working at dusk was uncomfortably hot.
Our task was to remove the ivy and the vine whose name we still are not sure of (Meme Jayne thinks it is called "Porcelain Lace"). They had grown so fervently in the side yard that the brick work was no longer exposed and the huge pink rose bush by the gate was engulfed and being choked out.
So my brother and I, supervised by my grandmother, niece, and nephew, went to hacking, sawing, and cutting. Everything was to go and the pink rose reduced from six feet to six inches. Forty years of dreams and labor were being destroyed before my grandmother's eyes in the time it takes to watch a movie.
"Behold! The kingdom of God is at hand!"
The gospel refrain kept ringing in my mind as I surveyed my grandmother’s tiny kingdom being destructed. In the midst of the chaos, I watched the ants move erratically with sweat stinging my eyes. The Kingdom of Jayne certainly wasn’t heavenly; it was overgrown and allergen producing. My brother and I asked repeatedly if she was sure the rose had to be pruned so heavily. She assured us this was the only way forward. The rose had been chocked for so long that major surgery had to take place. So my brother and I mercilessly hacked at her treasure.
That evening outside was difficult. We went through many "what ifs" and "If I'd only knowns." That rose bush stabbed me three times to make sure I wouldn’t forget it. My grandmother stood still and swallowed slowly more times than I can count.
In a very real way, my grandmother was doing exactly what the church has been doing: watching the collapse of treasures which took a lifetime to build. Her past labors and sacrifices were seemingly for naught, just like the big buildings, church camps, internal governance structures, and restricted funds. Memory and all were in free-fall as my brother and I ripped and teared.
And yet... and yet... The front porch is clean for the first time in twelve years. Meme Jayne can look out the window and see her neighbors, not the backside of vegetation. The rose bush, once majestic and unseen, is now puny and ugly for the world to see. But, and this is an important but, those six fat limbs sticking out of the ground represent a chance for new life.
What’s going on in the church is difficult to behold. I’ve been to far too many board meetings where I see folks I love swallow slowly in fear and recoil with pricks of pain. The church seems to be undergoing a pruning of its own, transforming from a majestic rose to nondescript sticks, from six feet proud to barely six inches exposed.
Just like the rosebush, the church is being cut down to size... the perfect size for a resurrection.
[i] My grandmother, when reading this article, made sure to remind me that it was actually my idea, not hers, to renovate and renew her home. Pesky details.