MELISSA OSTERLOO | GUEST
Relationships are powerfully influential; we begin our lives completely reliant on the love and care given to us by our parents. Secure attachment— trust built over time through consistent encounters of dependent needs being fulfilled— informed us that we were seen, safe, and valuable. Children naturally feel at home in their parents’ arms, no matter what circumstances surround them. They grow and thrive, confident that their longings will not go unnoticed.
We can learn a lot from children.
In John 15:1-2, Jesus describes himself as the true vine, and his Father as the vinedresser. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Over the past four years, I have been living through a tough season of pruning. My husband, Adam, and I moved to northern Alabama in March 2018 for what seemed to be a great opportunity. He had built a solid reputation in the commercial truck industry and was recruited to open a new sales territory that had great potential. However, within just 8 months, instead of reaping the rewards of hard-earned commissions, we found ourselves endorsing the back of a severance check. Just enough to get by for a couple of months, and mere weeks before Christmas.
Our harvest had not been fruitful.
Despite the uncertainty, we felt confident that God was calling us to stay in Alabama. We prayed for open doors, but often struggled to find even a cracked window. Our security had been rooted in our income, and that branch had just been severed. We were terrified.
Though personal and defining, my story is not unique. We have all experienced seasons of loss or transition— when branches holding us back from producing the highest yield and ultimate glory for the meticulous Vinedresser are cut away. Like a sculptor with marble or a potter with clay, the Vinedresser is capable of gazing upon a vine’s current form and seeing the future beauty to be unlocked by careful, but necessary pruning. He does so not to harm, but to train it to grow fruitful and thrive.
With compassion, knowing first-hand the suffering that often coincides with pruning, Jesus points us to the only source of enduring strength and true comfort from the inevitable vulnerability and pain: his love. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9).
It sounds simple. Yet, as life so often teaches, simple does not mean easy.
To abide in his love is to remain, as peaceful as a child at rest in her father’s arms: seen, safe, and valuable. Wholly dependent, yet secure.
To abide in his love is to find joy in surrender, living as beautifully complicated creations, incomplete on our own yet bearing the image of a holy and complete God.
To abide in his love is to possess an identity rooted in Christ, transformed by grace and unshaken by the loss of branches that we deem too costly to shed. We stay close, even when circumstances drive us to flee in pursuit of self-preservation and autonomy. We come to accept the tension of change, trusting that we are being renewed by the power of gospel love.
I admit, I did not know how to abide in his love.
I knew how to abide in worry. I knew how to abide in fear. I even knew how to abide in my own abilities. Despite making the decision decades before to follow Christ, I had not learned how to abide in his love.
And yet, pruning changed that. It changed me.
The Lord showed me that I did not believe his love was safe. I thought it was my job to figure out what he wanted me to do and then do it. It was his job to reward my good behavior with a comfortable life. When trials came, I reasoned that either he didn’t love me, or I was being punished for not meeting his unobtainable expectations. I lived not as his child, but as his victim. Christ’s love was not safe because from my skewed perspective, God was not good.
So, the Vinedresser began his work. This season of hardship gave me an unexpected gift: it revealed my heart. I was both convicted of my sins and amazed by his miraculous grace. Finally, I was no longer bound by the lies of victimization. The Holy Spirit spoke truth into my heart, allowing me to trust in God’s goodness and view Christ’s love as a radical, disruptive, and glorious undoing kind of love, capable of transforming even the greatest slave to sin into a beloved child of the King, one who is protected and free.
Each moment I abide in his love brings me one step further on this journey home. Though life is far from perfect, I no longer need it to be. His fatherly embrace is where I feel safe and at rest— wholly dependent, yet secure.
About the Author:
After devoting most of her professional life to non-profit leadership, Melissa now serves as the Women’s Ministry Assistant at Valley Presbyterian Church in Madison, Alabama. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Management and Human Relations from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. She and her husband, Adam, are about to celebrate sixteen years of marriage and have one son, Sam, who is six years old. They live and own a small business in Athens, Alabama.
Melissa has a strong desire to journey with others as they overcome painful life circumstances and find their hope in Christ. She loves writing poetry and blog posts, reading, serving in ministry, and of course, coffee. Her work can be found on her blog, at www.sisterstronger.com.