Revue: Pruning Isn’t Pleasant

“The Potter’s Bench,” © 2015, Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with permission.

©2018 Lynn Abbott

At four, I sat down at Mrs. Brown’s piano bench, and tapped out notes which taken together resembled Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Later that afternoon, when my mother arrived home from her part-time position at The Times, I repeated my performance. I was duly pronounced a child prodigy.

Mrs. Brown recommended lessons forthwith. Mr. Williams, poor man, was delegated the daunting task of drawing forth genius from a four-year-old who preferred producing mud pies to practicing piano.

Nevertheless, it was all satisfactorily arranged, and thus began the week-by-week tug-of-war. That’s right. Trying to teach me to play that beautiful instrument would require a miracle proportionate to Moses striking water from a rock.

Instead of practicing, I applied all my abilities to avoiding the application of any real effort, a talent I would cultivate to perfection throughout my musical career.

Each week, Mr. Williams arrived, prepared to take my musical education in hand. And when the dearly bought $8.00 per half hour concluded, I was no closer to genius than I had been previously.

But my scales and arpeggio book showed signs of the gradual onset of insanity wrought by myself upon that poor innocent man. Large, bold, #2-pencilled words–“READ THE NOTES”–punctuated each musical score in my piano books.

Despite my teacher’s veiled attempts to motivate and inspire, I couldn’t be bothered.  Instead, I smiled and flattered my music instructor.

Instead of practicing, I applied all my abilities to avoiding the application of any real effort, a talent I would cultivate to perfection throughout my musical career.

I asked him to preview the week’s piece for me so that I might know to what level of excellence I should strive. And each week, I practiced what I committed to memory, the sound of the melody. Precocious, perhaps. Prodigy–obviously not.

In this way, four years of music lessons passed in ongoing struggle between teacher and tot. And I emerged unscathed . . . no more master of notes and 3/4 timing than I had been at the outset.

Mr. Williams, however, was a much reduced man. He had begun with several hundred students.

When our family moved, he could claim only seven students including myself, and had added to his resume the somewhat dubious claim of seeing a psychiatrist.

Clearly, I had made my mark.

My parents, on the other hand, were not so easily beaten.  They committed to cultivating some semblance of perseverance in me. After all, they recognized that success in this world depended upon so much more than natural talent.

I would have to work for success.  And I would need to persevere when I faced difficulties.

But for a child with tendencies to be a “jack of all trades, yet master of none,” their training often felt more like punishment.

After all, I didn’t want to work that hard. Mud pies were infinitely more exciting than metronomes.

Yup. Pruning isn’t fun.

It is as the author of Hebrews wrote, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness,” (Hebrews 12:11).

My parents hoped, of course, that they might rewrite the old proverb and say of me, “Jack of all trades, and master of some.”

Yet, to fully cultivate any gift or talent requires steadfast commitment.  Abba fully understands this, and as the master gardener, He patiently works in our life gardens to create masterpieces.

He knows it will take time.  He recognizes that pruning is necessary for a garden to reach its full potential.

Yup. Pruning isn’t fun.

To be honest, I hate the pruning shears. Yet, I have to admit that training sure beats the alternative.

I know this because in the Old Testament I read about a saint who never fully yielded to discipline.   He did not allow Abba, the Master Gardener, to train or shape beauty from his life. He possessed incredible potential.  But he failed miserably.

His gift is legendary.  His name?  Samson.

Certainly, most of us know his story well.  Abba chose Samson from before birth to become one of the long line of Israel’s judges. As a judge, Samson was called to lead and deliver his people from their enemies.

In fact, Samson was set apart as a Nazarite, and that meant several things:  no razor was to touch his head, no wine was to pass his lips and nothing unclean was to be consumed by him.

Abba would equip Samson with extraordinary gifts, but Samson’s gifts must be cultivated by a disciplined life.  Such training would enable Samson to use his gifts as God had ordained.

If Samson submitted himself to God and to the Holy Spirit’s leading,  Samson would wield supernatural power and strength. His God-given gift would be fully realized.

Problem is that Samson did not persevere in his walk of faith.  He began well and then, fizzled.

Over and over again, Sampson used his gift to promote his own agenda rather than God’s. And so, despite his tremendous promise, Samson ultimately failed.

Had Samson allowed God to work in his life, nothing would have encumbered or held Samson back.  However, he did not submit to God’s training. When it was time to prune, Samson balked.

Samson began well and then, fizzled.

Thus, rather than persevering in faith, Samson lived for himself.  He dabbled rather than delved.  Like a young child, Samson lacked the stamina to see a task through. Samson lacked perseverance in that which mattered most.

Judges 13:5 records God’s promise to Samson’s mother regarding her son, “…he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

Samson began the race.  But he barely crossed the finish line.

Scripture specifically outlines a number of Samson’s failures.  All demonstrate Samson’s lack of commitment to God and the gift given.  Samson would not put aside the things that held him back, (Hebrews 12:1,2 and 2 Timothy 2:3-5).

First, Samson determined to marry a Philistine girl.  His parents immediately saw the problem with such a plan.  Old Testament law forbade an Israeli to marry a non-Jew.

But not only was she a Philistine, but she was also the daughter of a vintner.  Nazarite were not to drink wine, and yet, Samson wished to marry the daughter of the local wine producer.

And on the way to his wedding party, Samson stopped to eat honey from a hive inside an animal carcass. Thus, Samson violated his vow to eat nothing unclean.

What a mess!

And while God permitted Samson to choose freely and even used Samson’s misdirected choices at times to accomplish some good,  Samson’s foolishness still compromised his role as Israel’s judge and deliverer.

In fact, the most infamous of Samson’s  failures resulted in personal tragedy.

Even many, with little knowledge of the Old Testament, can recall the Delilah scandal.   Perhaps, Samson genuinely fell in love.  I dunno.

But I do know that he didn’t marry Delilah. And an unmarried Old Testament woman either depended upon family or upon her wits to survive.

In fact, the most infamous of Samson’s  failures resulted in personal tragedy.

In Judges 16, it becomes clear that Delilah knew how to take care of herself.  When the Philistines offered her eleven hundred pieces of silver in exchange for information regarding the source of Samson’s strength, she readily agreed to act as their double agent.

And the rest is history.  Again and again, pride and self-gratification distracted Samson.  He lost his God-given focus.  And ultimately, he lost his physical sight as well.

Indeed, Samson’s life is a tale of scattered pieces–disparate and loosely connected demonstrations of potential.

He truly embodies uncontrolled and undisciplined power.

Without a doubt, Samson’s story begins well, but it ends tragically.

God allowed Samson to go his own way, and Samson paid the price. And while his story ends with a heroic stand for God and Israel, his overall life fell short of its early promise. For the most part, his was a life of lost potential.

For this reason, when I am tempted to resent God’s paring process, I have only to think of Samson, and suddenly, I am thankful for the Master Gardener’s merciful and gracious shears.  I don’t always like pruning, but I am truly grateful for the end result.

As Abba pulls weeds, as He trims back all that would choke His grace, as He pushes me to persevere in faith when I would prefer to make mud pies, I willingly acknowledge Abba’s omniscient wisdom.

Yes, He shapes His masterpiece from my mess.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” ~James 1:2-4

84 thoughts on “Revue: Pruning Isn’t Pleasant

  1. I’m thinking you have mastered painting well and pushed words into some very proper places masterfully Lynn. Thank you for the reminder. we have one bush of many in our yard that was not pruned this spring. It’s like one unshorn sheep in a freshly shorn flock. I wonder how I look to God sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the beautiful things about walking with God long enough to trust in His character and the surety of His faithfulness… we can actually look forward to pruning because we know from experience that the outcome is worth the temporary discomfort. 🙂 Bring on my potential, God! I want you to “make a masterpiece out of my mess!”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Phew …!!! What a fabulous journey you took us all on this day! Pruning, pianos and psychiatry – and all wrapped up in a message of Grace and Hope!

    I would write more, but I’m due a prune and I don’t want to be late 🤪

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  4. Beautifully written Lynn and I loved the musical interlude aspect, including all of the examples of your determination to offset the objective. There’s more than a little of Sampson in all of us with the accompanying hard reality of we reap what we sow. And, as always, the only difference between us achieving what could have been (pro or con) and what is, is grace, where God brings us back to the reality of the basics. Hard life lessons. You made me think on this one Lynn, thank you. Grace and blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you with all my heart, Bruce! Your encouragement means the world to me especially since your posts always make me think! 🙂 🙂

      And yes, I totally agree;we all resist discipline to some extent, don’t we? But I’m thankful that God in His grace continues to bring about His purpose in our lives… pruning us so that we grow into all that He desires for us. God bless you big time, my wise and wonderful friend!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Excellent post and wonderful analogy. It spurred a memory of sitting at a piano as a child and refusing to take lessons my parents couldn’t afford. Instead I learned to play on my own by ear. I loved playing but lacked the skill to play complex pieces. Someday I’ll write a post about my husband and his strict German violin teacher. You’ve opened a flood of memories.

    Pruning is tough but so necessary for our survival. lovely art too. God knew where your true talent lies.

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    • Oh, Kathy! I can’t wait to hear your stories and memories! I’m sure they will be wonderful. When you get back from your break, perhaps, you will write about those memories as well as about the violin teacher. 🙂 And thank you for your wise words and your encouragement, always! You are such a gem! Love and hugs!! ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am back, But not in full force. It feels good to do some things outside of my comfort zone. I will be sure to share the violin story.

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      • Oh… I figured you were simply doing re-posts. I didn’t realize you were doing more… oh dear me, please don’t rush back on our account. We all completely understand the need for a break. Just come back on your terms, dear friend! You deserve that… you are such a faithful blogger! Of course, I can’t wait to hear your violin story… but only when you are ready! Love you much!! ❤ ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s coming. Paul tells the story much better because he’s so animated when he tells it. I’ll try to pair it with some of
        my musical endeavors.

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  6. Yes pruning is painful and we never out grow that process.
    As soon as we think we are good to go. God shines His light on a area that needs pruning.
    My mother always told me that once a task has begun, don’t quit until done.
    We have to persevere just like you said.
    Thanks for the reminder.

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    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful and wise words, Vernon! I love what your mother told you! And I love what you say about our never outgrowing God’s pruning process! I’m grateful that He is transforming us. God bless you greatly!

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  7. Great post, Lynn and a great message hidden within. I like when you said, “I would have to work for success.  And I would need to persevere when I faced difficulties.”

    What I like about this quote is that it should apply to all of us as Christians today. We should all work for success of the Kingdom of God and not of this world. We also have to learn to persevere through trials and difficulties.

    Some of the quotes I like in your post include:

    1). “…to fully cultivate any gift or talent requires steadfast commitment.  Abba fully understands this, and as the master gardener, He patiently works in our life gardens to create masterpieces.”

    2). “He knows it will take time.  He recognizes that pruning is necessary for a garden to reach its full potential.”

    I also like when you said, “He did not allow Abba, the Master Gardener, to train or shape beauty from his life. He possessed incredible potential.  But he failed miserably.

    His gift is legendary.  His name?  Samson.”

    What I find very fascinating about the story of Samson is that Samson’s story reveals the flaws within all human beings; whether Christian or not. Samson’s pride and eventual desire for Delilah caused him to turn away from the Nazarene values he grew up with in order to have Delilah.

    Also, his actions caused unintended consequences for the people of Israel down the road.

    Some of the quotes from your analysis of Samson that I really loved included:

    1). “Abba would equip Samson with extraordinary gifts, but Samson’s gifts must be cultivated by a disciplined life.  Such training would enable Samson to use his gifts as God had ordained.”

    – “If Samson submitted himself to God and to the Holy Spirit’s leading,  Samson would wield supernatural power and strength. His God-given gift would be fully realized.”

    2). “Problem is that Samson did not persevere in his walk of faith.  He began well and then, fizzled.”

    3). “Over and over again, Sampson used his gift to promote his own agenda rather than God’s. And so, despite his tremendous promise, Samson ultimately failed.”

    – “Had Samson allowed God to work in his life, nothing would have encumbered or held Samson back. However, he did not submit to God’s training. When it was time to prune, Samson balked.”

    4). “… He dabbled rather than delved.  Like a young child, Samson lacked the stamina to see a task through. Samson lacked perseverance in that which mattered most.”

    The story of Samson and Delilah is not only a tragic story for the people of Israel but also shows the flaws of humanity. What I liked was when you said, “Again and again, pride and self-gratification distracted Samson.  He lost his God-given focus.  And ultimately, he lost his physical sight as well.”

    We can allow our pride and our own desire for self-gratification to turn our God-given talents into a desire for our own self promotion.

    One of the quotes that I liked from your post was when you said:

    “As Abba pulls weeds, as He trims back all that would choke His grace, as He pushes me to persevere in faith when I would prefer to make mud pies, I willingly acknowledge Abba’s omniscient wisdom.

    Yes, He shapes His masterpiece from my mess.”

    Despite our mess, our Father continues to prune and trim the things that are not only holding us back from our God-given potential and purpose but also He is trimming away at the areas in our lives that are holding us back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Josh! This is a really indepth and insightful response to my post! I’m tremendously honored and blessed by your thoughtful analysis. And you are so right… as we work toward seeking the things that are above; laying up treasure in heaven… we will need to persevere through many difficulties. But it is so worth it, isn’t it, Josh? Thank you so much for your wonderful encouragement! I truly value your friendship! God bless you! 🙂

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  8. And there I was thinking you were Mary Poppins ~ practically perfect in every way. Should have studied the Ukulele . . . lol. Bet you could have mastered the piano if you had wanted to.

    As for me, I am afraid I am rather like Sampson, but without the strength.

    Seriously God does enrich our lives if only we would let Him in . . . 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are too funny, Ed. No, I’m not practically perfect in every way… I’m simply redeemed by Christ. And extremely grateful for His grace. Thank you for your kind words! And no, my friend… I do not think you resemble Samson as far as lost potential or anything like that. You serve others with a willing heart in whatever way you can. And that, my friend, definitely pleases our Savior! 🙂

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  9. Alas, even when we grow older and (hopefully) wiser, we still have much to learn. As we lean more upon Abba, the lessons are not so painful because we realize He prunes us in love, and our only hope is to abide in Him.

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  10. Dear Lynn, I see that you are very observant. Your words are like beads on a string. They connect and ‘point’ to something. There is a lesson at the end of your letters. You are right to say that ‘Samson started’ the deliverance of his people. It was Samuel who ‘finished’ the work of destroying the Philistines (1Sam 7:13). The judge (the law) starts and the Prophet (the Spirit) ends! This reminded me that in the Kingdom of God there is ‘division of labor’ and ‘division of reward’. But the glory is one, and it belongs to the Lord Jesus! It is my experience that some works are easier to accomplish than others. The secret some ministry is easier, for example, is that others have done the difficult work of fasting and prayer before we arrive. We enter their ‘offices’ and ‘reap the benefits of their labor’ (Jn 4:36-38). But there are other times when we have to work a lot and receive no sweet benefit of harvest. Only God knows what is the beginning and what is the end of each work on earth. I am not ambitious to reap a very big harvest. As the Holy Spirit leads, I follow. I am satisfied with God’s portion for me. It is already much more than I could ever imagine. See where your letter lead me too? I am happy today! Praise the Lord!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Lia! I am grateful if anything I write can encourage you! You are such a godly and spirit-filled lady, and an example to me and so many! Thank you for your encouragement here today! Yes… what a blessing to know that we are all part of God’s plan… and all that we do for Him has tremendous value even if I can’t see the end results. Thank you! God bless you greatly!! ❤ and huge hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Wow! What an amazing post on perseverance and the value of a disciplined life. Love the recounting of your story and Samson’s. God’s discipline is truly to our benefit. It’s not easy to go through, but if we do persevere we see the fruit, and that fruit causes us to worship our Lord for the pruning process. Thank you for a timely word! 🙂 Love you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, dearest Marcie! Thank you; thank you with all my heart for your encouragement! Coming from such an outstanding Bible teacher as yourself, it means the world to me! We must have lunch before the summer runs out! Love you, too!! ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m a day late and a dollar short—but first let me say…I always wanted, wished and yearned that I could play an instrument. My parents paid for guitar lessons, Eukalali lessons…
    I picked the clarinet in the 5th grade, after schoolwide recorder lessons, as my instrument of choice— then reluctantly but wisely put it back and walked away…as I knew really deep down…playing an instrument was not for me.
    When I was in college, I was an early childhood major for a time. I was required to take music for the teacher—a course that would help future teachers to be able to introduce music in the classroom.
    We had to learn to play the piano.
    Hard as I could, I tried but could never make my fingers do what they needed to do.
    I so badly wanted to learn…but I walked away with a C minus.

    I hope they no longer make Early Ed majors take such a course.
    But of course, I aced Art for the teacher…which, in turn, lead me to the change in major to that of Art Ed
    So in a big way, it was a pruning moment…one that had been growing to a crescendo over the years.
    Pruning is hard, but in the end…oh so necessary allowing us to truly bloom!
    Thank you, Lynn, as always for your wonderful analogies and teachings…

    Like

    • I love your story, dearest Julie! It’s amazing how God uses all kinds of things in our lives to direct us. I am allergic to formaldehyde and since it was heavily used for dissection, I ultimately didn’t major in nursing as I had pragmatically considered. Looking back, I can see that God’s plan was MUCH BETTER. But at the time, I was disappointed. Thank you for your always kind and thoughtful encouragement, dear Julie! You are such a fabulous friend! I’m soo glad we met here. What a blessing you are! Love and hugest of hugs!! 🙂 ❤ ❤

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  13. This is a perfect reason why I believe God uses the analogy of gardening. There are SO many ways to talk about and in such detail! Samson really shows us just how much God will bear with us, and even in the end, He will hear our cry for help, when He shouldn’t. You’re so right! Pruning takes time, and our Maker certainly knows what He is doing 🙂 May we pray for His eyes to see the end and purpose of His plan.

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  14. Another funny detail we have in common…….I took piano lessons and yes didn’t practice and did a recital where yes, I forgot what I had to play. Hated it all and gave it up for figure skating where I found my passion for practice, practice, practice. GOD knew my gift. Piano wasn’t one of them. Thank GOD that HE gives us all different gifts yes? Let us all though, continue to persevere, but it takes discipline and obedience so we finish strong for the LORD!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is excellent, Lynn! I’ve struggled often with perseverance, too – especially when God’s timing doesn’t fit my own. You are so right, though. When we fail to stick to it and obey, the Lord still accomplishes His purposes but we miss out on the joy of obedience. I’m glad He prunes me, even when I don’t enjoy it at the time.
    It’s also a good exposition on Samson’s story. I love how the “superheros” of the Old Covenant always fall short of perfection. Over and over, we see fallen humanity in need of a Savior to intervene. <3<3

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  16. I’m yet there meet someone who hasn’t resented pruning at some point in life. Pruning is a necessary process, can be painful and very uncomfortable but our Gardener is skilled at chopping off the dead weight off our branches. This post makes me look within and want the useless and lifeless leaves in my life to be pruned. Unused power is useless and yields nothing. Discipline is key to activating what God has put in us…sometimes though, it’s easy to kick and scream than surrender to pruning. Thankfully we have a Father who is a master at waiting, His patience is unmatchable!! Lynn, this post is such a huge encouragement!!! Prune away Papa!!! Prune away!! 😃 💕 💗

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    • So very true, dear Eunice!! I’m so thankful for Abba’s great patience and grace! You are always such an encouragement and inspiration! I’ve truly missed reading your posts, but I completely understand how busy life is! Praying Abba blesses you greatly and truly carries you through this extremely busy season in your life! ❤ and huge hugs!!

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  17. Lynn, thank you for writing this. I needed to be reminded about Samson. My life resembles his because I’m so unfaithful, but thank God for Jesus! I didn’t realize you were the one who painted these beautiful images! I’m in awe. You have both writing skill and painting skill. Many Blessings to you!

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    • Oh, Trish… I think we all have a bit of Samson in us. Isn’t it wonderful the way God gave us stories about imperfect people in His Word so that we might learn and be encouraged? I’m truly grateful. I have so much growing to do, and yet, He is so gracious. And speaking of grace and encouragement, thank you with all my heart for your kindness and friendship! It means the world to me! I truly appreciate you, your authenticity, humility and godly example. You are an absolute blessing to all of us who read your blog! ❤ ❤ and hugs!!

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  18. Somehow I knew you’d end with James 1:2-4, Lynn (what else?). I often pray those words at bedtime as a way of making sense of the current trials. Yes, I hate pruning, but to avoid a Samson life of failed potential and unchecked pride–bring on the pruning shears, Lord.

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  19. One more way in which you and I are alike. When I began to take piano lessons, I too would have my teacher play through the songs and exercises for me so I could see how they sounded, then I played them by ear. But it only took her a few months to wise up to my scheme. She stopped previewing the music for me and made me figure it out on my own. That was the best thing she could have ever done for me, as I became “the” church pianist after taking lessons for only 6 months. (I started when I was 11.) We went to a very small church at the time, and it got even smaller after a major split, which left me as the only person in the church who knew anything about playing the piano. I practiced four hours a day back then. Unlike you, I LOVE playing the piano, and still play, nearly 40 years later. 🙂 I really enjoyed the read. Thank you! God is pruning me too, and it hurts.

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    • Love that we are so alike, dear Angela! And by the way,as an adult, I do love the piano despite my early and childish protests. Sigh… I regret having failed to practice. I think the primary difference may be that you started later… I was only 4 years old, and so, too young and immature to appreciate the gift my parents tried to instill. Sigh. I love music, and especially the piano. I so wish I had practiced and truly mastered the piano… but I haven’t let the dream die. I plan to take lessons one day…once my son is out of college, I think. 🙂 I bet you play beautifully! You do everything so well!! ❤ and huge hugs!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do the best I can with what the Lord has given me, but there are many people who can play better than me. I learned early on to cover my mistakes, since I could not learn to play perfectly. 😉 I’m glad you still play.

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      • Oh, you are a true artist… Without a doubt, I know that you are being waaaay too hard on yourself! I’m sure you play beautifully! Part of being an exceptional musician is having the ability to cover one’s mistakes. An amateur certainly doesn’t have the skill to do that! And that’s how I know you are a pro!! 😀 Love and hugs!!

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  20. Lynn,
    I have been thinking about pruning for the last 24 hours. My hands are full of scratches, cuts and several rose bush thorn tips still in. As I pruned 15 or so rose bushes yesterday, several huge ones, I kept thinking of God’s pruning and how the pain of pruning produces more roses, but also, more thorns. I’m not sure how I missed this post of yours, but it definitely spoke to me just now and is spot on! Thank you my sister in Jesus!!

    Liked by 1 person

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