Roses. I started writing about roses in the car because I would speak at her funeral and I wanted to speak about roses. My earliest memories of Mom were of her tending tea roses with those flowered white cotton gloves and pruning shears. She’d cut the dead away each spring giving the bush room to breathe and grow. She dusted for pests and set traps for Japanese beetles, those hard-crusted, iridescent-winged rose leaf ravagers. Tropicana was her favorite tea rose, with its rich coral color and strong spicy scent. And then there were the presidents and some of their wives—the crimson Mr. Lincoln, the pink Barbara Bush, the yellow Ronald Reagan, and the pure white John F. Kennedy, the lone Democrat. Being a staunch Republican, she laughed about including a Democrat in her rose garden but she couldn’t resist because of its beauty.
Mom was a rose who taught me how to love roses—those delicate flowers considered so precious—the symbol of love. Buds tightly closed, on stems sharply thorned. How could such a beautiful flower be surrounded by so much prickly? But if I were to see a picture of just a stem, with just a thorn, without the bud or the bloom, I would know it was a rose. There is no mistaking.
Why is it so hard to get past the prickly—past the thorns of people—to see the tightly closed buds of beauty, just waiting and wanting opportunity to be warmed by the sun until they slowly begin to unfold their delicate, their fragile, their precious? I need eyes—God’s eyes—to see beyond the thorns. I need God’s eyes to tenderly, carefully, cautiously draw close to the bud with my hands—to get past the thorns without being pierced.
And sometimes I just do. Sometimes I just get pierced by the thorns, as careful as I try to be. But is that alright? Is it alright to get pierced by thorns sometimes for the sake of trying to love another? Someone did that for me long ago. Someone got pierced by thorns on His head. And it wasn’t just thorns. It was nails.
As I look back on my years—my 42 years with my mother—there was piercing. But the piercing didn’t bleed me out, after all. The piercing strengthened me and brought me closer to beauty than I ever dreamed. The piercing caused me to draw close to my God who was pierced for me. And the drawing close to God gave me eyes to see beauty amidst thorns. The drawing close to beauty amidst thorns taught me how to love wisely, how to keep approaching despite danger, how to rely on a love greater than any I could muster on my own, to love one wounded. And in love—and truth—over time—my wish, my prayer, my hope was realized here in the land of the living. I came to love my mother, not just in deed, but with a full heart. I really loved my mother.
And all the wounds inflicted? They didn’t matter anymore. Because when the sun rises, it warms and it clears away fog. And when the Son rises in the human heart, He warms and clears away the fog. So we can see straight. So we can feel deep. So we can love true. And in the giving, we receive tenfold. Always. It’s God’s way. Narrow? Yes. Because too few choose. Costly? Yes. Because sometimes true love—to truly love—means we suffer some. Worth it? I guess that’s for each soul to determine. As for me?
Oh yes. Love—true love—is worth dying for—worth dying to self so that I can rise with the Son and love and be loved true.
I walked into her bedroom, the day after she died, and saw a printed flyer, lying on her dresser. It said not to grieve much because the departed was in a better place. The flyer was probably there from her husband’s funeral, six weeks prior. But the words comforted me and I prayed, “Lord, would you please let me know she’s in a better place?” And I crawled into bed, her bed, where she rested her head, for the last time on this earth, and I fell asleep.
That night, I saw my mother in a dream, more like a vision. I saw her. There were no pain lines on her face anymore. There was no frown. There was no feeling of heaviness. And she was radiant, smiling big with eyes wide and clear, sparkling. And her hands were up and waving joy. And she said to me, standing straight in front of her, “I am free, Heather! I am free! Pain-free!” And I knew she was in a much better place. She was with Jesus. Finally free. Pain-free. And I smiled back and said, “I’m so glad for you Mom.”
So glad. Beyond words, glad.
Some say there is no greater love than a mother’s love. Though I don’t often think of God as a mother, I do believe He’s far more than our Father. He loves like a mother, nurturing and soothing and applying salve to our sores and holding us tight when we’re scared and we’re hurt and we just—need—to—cry. God has mothered me. Still does. And in mothering me, so perfectly, God gave me the privilege to love with Him—in mothering Mother. Isn’t in just like God to heal us as we offer ourselves to heal? To love us as we offer ourselves to love?
Oh Lord, help me love others the way you helped me love Mom. And in so doing, I know you will set me free. For it is for freedom You came. To set free from ourselves, bound in a loveless state floundering. You set us free to love, as You loved first. Rose of Sharon, Rose above all roses, with sweetest aroma and pain-relieving power, from humblest of plain, thank You. Forever grateful for Your true love, I will be.
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens. Song of Solomon 2:1-2
Note on the rose of Sharon: Sharon was the name of a vast plain north of Palestine in the days of Solomon. It was fertile and known for its beautiful wildflowers, two of which were the cistus, or rock-rose, and the lily. The rock-rose was known for its pleasing aroma and its pain-relieving qualities. Though it is not known exactly why Jesus has been referred to as the Rose of Sharon, the symbolism is clear. Roses are considered the most perfect flower—the symbol of love. The particular qualities of the cistus are found in Jesus—found in a lowly places, pleasing in aroma, with pain-relieving qualities. The white lily, surrounded by thorns, symbolizes purity and suffering. Our perfect Jesus, came into a lowly place, smelling sweet with pure love, to relieve the suffering of humanity, once and for all time, through his own suffering, His own crown of thorns and blood shed through nail-pierced hands and feet. He came to pay the ransom price of imprisoned souls so that our eternal suffering—our chains—might come off, so that we can go free, because of Him—because of God’s true love for us—to go free to love—to love God, to love others, to love ourselves.
Today is July 4, 2013—Independence Day—the day for celebrating independence from tyrannical rule—the day for celebrating freedom. There is no freedom like the freedom found in Christ, who sets us free from the tyrannical rule of self so we can drink deep of love and joy and peace—right here on Earth—and pour out, right here on Earth, all the goodness of God.