The Rosebush by Jane Kuczek
Listen here to The Rosebush
Or on your favorite podcast app! Or read it below!
If a story began by introducing a nice family with three young children living in a small town surrounded by corn fields, one might expect that story to reflect the quiet lifestyle and traditional values typical of such a locale. Instead, we find the Davidsons. Ellie Davidson was a young single mother of three children. She worked as a nurse assistant at the local nursing home, which was hopelessly understaffed and paid what staff it did have very poorly.
On the rare occasion, she was not working, she could be found taking night classes in what she was fast beginning to suspect was a never-ending attempt to obtain a nursing degree. When work shifts had ended and classes finished, she crept home late at night, tidied the house, and struggled to complete as much studying as she could before passing out on the couch.
This left Ellie’s mother, bless her heart, to care for her grandchildren.
Amelia, age 2, Danielle, age 4, and Sam, age 8, spent most days with their grandmother. She arrived at their home at 7:00 am sharp every morning, just in time to wish her daughter Ellie good morning as she whisked off to another day of work. Within minutes, the kids would begin emerging from their rooms, sleepy eyed and ready for breakfast. Grandma cooked their meals, cleaned them up, read them stories, and chauffeured them to school. It wasn’t fair. Some might say Ellie was taking unfair advantage. But then those people wouldn’t know the whole story. Life hadn’t been fair to Ellie and her mother cherished her role in making it a little less unfair.
But life continued on as unfair anyway.
The disease struck suddenly- without warning- without time to prepare- without enough time to say goodbye. Ellie got the call when she was at work. Her employer reluctantly gave her a few days off. She hardly had time to grieve during the flurry of activity planning the funeral and settling the estate. As soon as the whirlwind ended, she was back to work, back to class, back to errands and cleaning and cooking. A neighbor graciously offered to watch the kids until Ellie could arrange childcare. Amelia and Danielle took Grandma’s loss in stride. After a little sadness, a little confusion, they were back to their routine. Ellie avoided feeling by focusing exclusively on functioning.
That left Sam.
Ellie came home one evening, wearily thanked the neighbor, and entered the house, dropping her keys and purse on the kitchen counter. Amelia and Danielle were curled on the couch asleep. She was about to join them when she noticed Sam through the sliding glass door streaked with sticky fingerprints. In the fading light and lengthening shadows covering the back yard, he was sitting cross-legged on the grass head down with his back toward her. Curious, Ellie gently slid the door open and walked out onto the rickety porch they called a deck. She was about to call Sam inside when she heard a faint noise, a whispering on the wind. Sam was speaking. Ellie tilted her head, listening. No, Sam was reading. She walked up quietly behind him. Lying open in his lap was his grandmother’s Bible. Not noticing his mother, Sam kept reading, “Then he brought me into the outer court. There I saw some rooms and a pavement that had been constructed all around the court; there were thirty rooms along the pavement.”
“Sam,” Ellie interrupted in surprise. “What on earth are you doing?”
Sam jerked his head up, startled to see his mother right beside him. “I’m reading.”
“I can see that,” Ellie replied, clearly amused. “What are you reading that for? And why out here? Aren’t you chilly?”
Sam shifted a little, embarrassed. He simply nodded in gesture toward a withered plant that leaned pathetically two feet from where he sat.
Ellie followed his stare. She remembered Sam planting the rosebush with his grandmother the previous spring. It had survived until a few weeks ago when they hit a hot spell. It now sagged wilted and lifeless in the dry ground. “I’m sorry about your plant.” Noticing a single tear track down his cheek, it hit Ellie how Sam must be feeling. He had nothing to distract him from the gaping loss left behind by his grandmother. She knelt with him in the grass, patted his head. “Is this Grandma’s Bible?”
Sam nodded again.
“What passage are you reading?”
Sam checked. “Ezekiel.”
He shrugged. “Just flipped it open.”
They sat staring at the crippled rosebush for a few minutes. “Does reading help you remember Grandma?”
Another shrug. “I want the rosebush to live.”
Ellie raised her eyebrows. “Do plants like being read to?” she asked lightly.
Sam paused for a long moment before responding seriously. “It’s the Word. Grandma said that the Word gives life.” He hung his head over the book again, running his fingers silently over the gold-tipped edges.
Ellie didn’t say anything for a long time. She had grown up going to church with her parents. She had accepted their beliefs and to this day, she checked “Protestant” or “Christian” on any form asking her to identify her faith. She supposed she accepted the Bible as probably true- or at least partially true – the nice bits at least – but she had not taken the time to sort her own beliefs and the world had filled in the gaps without reference to scripture. Finally, she stood, swatting the dirt from her knees. “Come on, Sam. It’s time for bed.”
Upon entering the house, she nudged the girls awake and herded them all to their beds before returning to the kitchen and pouring herself a cup of tea.
She stood before the sliding glass door, sipping her steaming tea and balancing pensively on one leg. She would have to dig out the rosebush that was now barely visible in the darkness. Maybe replace it with a nice flower bed. But when would she find the time or energy for that?
A familiar anger stirred. It was usually masked by exhaustion and buried by full schedules, but the anger was there, deep and consuming. A series of perceived promises broken. A constant stream of hardship. And endless, unimportant, boring things to do. These had culminated until the honest preoccupation with life had slowly turned into deliberate avoidance of what could have been her faith. And she didn’t care because life wasn’t fair and it could be and it wasn’t.
Her mother had been a calm woman – even in the end.
She was always content, acting as if nothing was wrong even when the world was spinning out of control. But, in the end, her faith hadn’t given her life. She had died an early, painful death. Ellie swallowed the lump swelling in her throat. Irritated, she shook herself out of her reverie, tossed the cold remnants of tea into the sink, and went to bed.
The next day was Sunday – Ellie’s one day off from classes and work. The kids were up before she was. Ellie was startled awake by two pairs of feet jumping violently on her bed, but the first thing she saw upon opening her eyes was a fistful of giant, fresh yellow roses thrust in her face by a beaming Sam. “Happy Mother’s Day!” All three shouted happily.
Mother’s Day? Ellie grasped for her phone and checked the date. With a pang of guilt, she realized they were right. The neighbor must have reminded them. Sam was still waving the flowers inches from her nose. She took them gingerly, holding the stems carefully between the thorns. Ellie wondered vaguely which neighbor she needed to apologize to for the pilfered roses.
Before she could ask where they came from, Sam suddenly stood back, straightened his back as if about to make a formal pronouncement, and launched into a recitation.
“Psalm chapter 23, verses one through four. ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ Psalm 23, verses one through four.”
Caught off guard, Ellie stared blankly for a moment. Finally, she stuttered, “Very good, Sam. Did you memorize that with Grandma?”
He nodded solemnly. “Grandma said I should recite it to you for Mother’s Day. She said it used to be your favorite verses and that you would need to hear it.” Sam jabbed his hand into his pocket and brought out a crumpled piece of paper. “She said to wait and give this to you today.”
Ellie couldn’t breathe. Sam’s words, stated so matter-of-factly, had robbed her of breath. Fingers shaking a little with emotion, Ellie took the paper from Sam, unfolded it gently, and read the short message silently.
Happy Mother’s Day, babe. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there with you. I know it will be a struggle on your own, but you can do it with the Lord’s help. The Word gives Life, Ellie. Never forget that.
Before she had time to fully process the words, the kids were tugging on her arms, urging her down the hall.
“Come see! The rosebush we planted for you came back to life!” Ellie allowed herself to be tugged and pushed until they reached the end of the hall where a window overlooked the back yard. There below, where a withered plant had stood lifeless hours earlier, was a giant, flourishing rosebush bursting with bright yellow blooms.
And from that day forwards, the Davidsons read the Word together. The struggles were just as hard, the busy days just as exhausting – but the Davidsons’ household was full of peace, and stillness, and Life.
Check out our new tool for helping parents navigate “the talk.” You can find it here!