He leads me to a large flat rock between the magnolia tree and the waterfall. Silently He extends His hand to me; I hand Him the vase. Still without words, He lays out the roses one by one upon the rock, then sets the vase down as well. Finally He speaks, “These have been guiding you for a long time.”
I hang my head in sorrow or shame, I’m not really sure which. “Yes, Papa, I know. Where do I start?” I have no idea what to do, what is expected of me here.
“Start here,” He directs, handing me one of the roses.
I am grateful to accept His direction. Taking the rose, I look at it closely, but see nothing that makes any sense.
“It is the expectation of rejection.” He says simply. The words hang heavy in the air.
“I thought we had dealt with this already,” I swallow hard, vividly remembering that time and that correction.
“We did,” He nods. “It is time for rebuilding now. You have repented, changed, but a new expectation must be built.”
“You cannot, but I can.” He pauses for a moment. “Will you give it to me? Will you do what I tell you to do?”
“Yes, Papa. I will” My heart is heavy though. “Why is this so difficult when I know what You have always given me, done for me, has always been good?” I am so frustrated in my own responses and confused by my own reactions.
“The flesh hates to leave behind what is familiar.” He explains, putting His hand on my shoulder. “Come with Me.” We walk toward the waterfall. Together we walk into the pool that flows from the waterfall into the garden. “It is time to let this go now, so that you can build a new expectation. Each petal of the rose is a person you have perceived rejection from. Take each petal and crumble it on the pool, release each of those people, forgive them and release it to Me.”
I have hope, this is something that I can do. “Yes Papa.” I begin the process. There are metal petals on the flower, many faces that come to mind, family, teachers, friends, many others. Soon the water is covered with crushed petals; only the stem is left.
“Break up the stem and release it as well lest the blossom grows back.” He instructs.
As I do so, the thorns on the stem cut my hands deeply. Somehow, I am embarrassed by my wounds and try to hide them though they bleed freely. Two thorns in particular are deeply imbedded in my palms and they cry out to me in bitter voices:
“It is all your own fault” cries one.
“You have deserved what you have received.” Shouts the other.
The voices cut through my heart, as though the thorns are embedded there as well.
I am stunned, frozen, not knowing what to do. Tears run down my cheeks, I keep trying to hide my wounded hands from sight. When I open my eyes for a moment, I find He is standing right beside me.
His voice is stern, “Do not hide your wounds from Me, child.” He takes my hands in His, opening them and revealing their wounds. I begin to sob softly, not understanding the strength of my own feelings. “I cannot heal what you hide from Me.”
His words sit heavily with me. I realize I am afraid to show Him my wounds.
“I will not condemn you for your wounds, daughter.” Even in His sternness, His tone is gentle.
His words reverberate through my soul. Always I have believed that I could not show Him my woundedness, that He would be angry at me for being wounded. Now He tells me this is not so. I cannot hold back the tears. The pain of the thorns and their call is too much to contain in the light of what He has just said. “Please, Papa!” I press my hands towards Him.
With incredible gentleness He removes the deep thorns from my hands, crushing them, silencing them. As He washes the wounds in the cool clear water of the pool, I hear the song of grace in my ears. It was always there, I realize, I just chose not to listen.
Finished tending my hands, He take them in His and presses them fondly. I find I feel so empty now. The constant presence of that assumption is gone now, but I have nothing to take its place. Is this how it is to be?
“I will not leave you empty, little one, I will not take from you without giving you better in return.” He takes my arm.” Come walk with Me.”
We walk through the grove and through the shade garden and beyond. I do not know what to say, so I say nothing. The silence between us is both comfortable and comforting, not strained nor tense. We are now in the sun again, in a large open field at the back part of the garden.
Finally, He speaks. “Do you trust Me?”
The question stops me in my tracks. My first instinct is to say yes, but I hesitate, knowing the inconsistency of my heart. “I want to, I think I do, but I’m afraid I do not know my own heart, that if I say yes, it won’t be entirely true. I am afraid that You will be angry…” I stammer, trying to answer.
“Then make it a statement of faith.” He replies.
I am struck by the simplicity of what He is telling me. I know faith is always pleasing to Him! “Yes, Papa! Yes, I do—I do trust you!” I cannot believe the joy and release that floods in as the words pour forth.
His reaction, though, stuns me! Laughing deeply and fully, He suddenly sweeps me into His arms and swings me around like a child. I laugh too, more fully than I remember laughing before. In His arms I feel like I am flying, soaring, more accepted that I have ever felt in my life.
When my feet finally touch the ground again, I have to cling to His arms for balance, still laughing heartily. The emptiness is gone now, replaces by the laughter and acceptance of my Papa. On the ground in front of me I see a large feather and realize it is from the eagle we had seen soaring above the garden.
“Pick it up.” He directs. As I move to obey, He continues, “Keep the feather to remember, as a memorial of your new expectation.”
“Papa, thank you!” I whisper, no other words seem available to me right now.
“I will not leave you empty.” He reminds me. “Come.” He takes my arm in His own and we walk.
I notice the fence, it has been painted! The iron bars are now white! “What does this mean, Papa?”
“That you have changed,” He replies, a smile in His voice.
Staring at the fence, at the beautiful garden before me, I sigh, “I am so sorry to have fought you so much through this.”
He pats my arm comfortingly, “The flesh does not like to change, the process is always hard.” We continue to walk, circling the whole of the garden. “Let’s return now.” So we walk back to the grove, stopping at the flat stone holding the remaining roses.
I lay the feather down, in place of the first flower. The contrast between the old and the new is striking. The feather seems to shimmer in the light, emphasizing the lifelessness of the roses.