It may seem strange to capitalize that, but I live in Houston (where winter usually consists of a few weeks of temperatures in the 40s with the occasional dip into the 30s overnight). So, a week of temperatures in the 20s, with ice and snow that stayed on the ground longer than a few hours, deserves capital letters at the least, and there should probably be a petition out there to name it like we do hurricanes. Winter Storm Augustine, or something like that.
Not long after Winter Storm Augustine, when temperatures rose to a much more manageable 70 degrees, I ventured outside to take a look at my garden.
Instead of the winter green that I was used to, everything was brown. Dead. Brittle. Or worse, some of it was mushy.
I considered ripping the whole mess out and starting over, but decided to do some research on what plants would come back and what I should do to help them do that.
To my surprise (I’m far from a master gardener) many of my plants would survive – if not thrive – if I took the time to prune them.
To cut away the dead to make room for life.
The last year or so has felt like one giant Winter Storm. Unexpected if not unprecedented. Uncomfortable and sometimes deadly. Killing off things that were once lovely and leaving behind a brittle mess in its place.
But as I was out in the yard with my shears, trimming brittle branches and pulling off brown leaves, I noticed that the closer I got to the root, to the heart of each plant, the stronger and firmer the plant became.
The outsides were ruined, but the core was still there. The source of life hadn’t been destroyed.
Joy can be a bit like that.
Circumstances can chip away at it – a horrible job, broken relationships, financial worries, illness. Winter Storms. They can freeze us and dry us out, make us feel brittle and dead on the outside.
And while I’m a huge proponent of choosing joy, I don’t think it’s always something you have to search for that’s outside of you. Sometimes it’s already in you.
In John 15:11, after Jesus explains to His disciples that He is the true vine, that He is the one they should remain in to bear fruit, He says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
When I think about joy on the surface of things – the happy feelings, the parties, the celebrations – it’s easy to see how those can be snatched away.
But when I think about joy as a gift, as something given to me and residing in me and at the heart of me – complete, whole and immovable – it gives me hope.
It may take some pruning to get down to it. I may need to cut away some pieces that are damaged, and clear out the parts of my life that I once thought would give me joy and now realize are doing more to drain it.
I might even need to take off pieces that seem ok, that seem to be just a little broken, because I need to get down to where the life is.
A week after I pruned my front garden, I walked outside to take my daughter to the bus stop. I looked over at a plant I had been working on. It had been limp and lifeless, lying flat on the ground and pushed into the mud. After cutting it down almost to the root, I wasn’t sure if it would be able to come back. But there it was, its fragile stalks standing straight up. Soaking up every bit of sunlight.
Sometimes I suppose we do need to choose joy. But other times, it may be that we need to prune it.
Sandra Samoska is a writer with a love for Jesus and a love for family. When she's not chasing around her four kids and doing all the things, you can find her writing about the ways God shows up in our every day lives.