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TITLE: The Song of the Vine
By Sherry Wendling

This piece was just submitted to Reflections magazine May 31 Challenge. The topic was to write on John 15:1-8—whatever that passage inspired (no poetry accepted).
Jumping off from a Scripture passage is rather new to me, and I would greatly appreciate analysis and critique. (I used up nearly the whole 3,000 word limit, so if the only comment I get is “You kept my interest all the way to the end,” I’ll be elated!)
Tuesday, April 17

Dear God,

OK, here I am. I’m not sure you want to talk with me any more than I do with You. Especially considering our deal. Well, my deal, I guess, because I’m the one who bailed out of our relationship. I was expecting You’d return the favor, but now it looks like we’re stuck with each other, at least for the next seven days of this journaling assignment. After that we’ll just have to see what happens.

I think it’s pretty sneaky of You to use Bible Study Methods 201 to make me start writing to You again. I really don’t see what journaling has to do with study methods, but Prof Lund says it’s about making the Word personal, not just theological. I never expected to get graded on my daily thoughts!

At least I get to pick my own passage. Piece of cake! After writing and singing Song of the Vine for over a year, I know John 15 like the back of my hand. Well, at least the first eight verses. (Better give it a break; I’ve been humming “Come drink the wine of the one True Vine” all afternoon!)

Speaking of songs, I’d like a word with You about Dawn Newcombe. How could you put someone so gifted in my same class, my same dorm, my same floor?? Her songs make my lyrics sound like dead leaves soaking in a mud puddle. And that voice, smooth as fresh cornsilk. So alive, tender even. She says she learned ‘songing’ from her Uncle Seth, who plays by ear in a mountain bluegrass band. (Sigh!) All my years of piano lessons and vocal study, out the window!

Last night, when Sophie talked Dawn into doing a song for us, I turned so green I wanted to slither under the bed. But I was jammed between Sophie and Katie, so all I could do was lean back and hide. She began it with this cool picking style, then launched into something about her soul feeling like an abandoned child, huddled in a corner. When she got to the part where You tenderly call her out, we had to pass the Kleenex. (Big sigh!) A lot of musicians own sound systems, but Dawn has a built-in astound system. I wish I could hate her.

Come to think of it, sometimes I wish I could hate You, too. I’ve been going to church my whole life, and no matter where I go it feels like they’re praying to some cosmic Stuffed Shirt who hovers above the earth with a big megaphone, thundering, “DON’T”! I resent being sent to a Christian college, but on the other hand, I’d probably be miserable without good old rules, rules, rules. Stuck in the middle, and it’s all Your fault!

I probably won’t hear You very well in this frame of mind, but at least I’ve sat under enough sermons on John 15 to make Lund happy.

Wednesday, April 18. Day One: John 15:1 (HCSB) “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper.”

Dear God,

It’s a sunny spring day, so I’m writing this longhand while lying on a blanket beneath a budding rhododendron. Right now it’s not difficult to picture a woody stem with roots. That’s Jesus, the True Vine. I can see the smaller branches, spreading out from the stem. That’s us. And there’s the Father, watering the Vine and checking to see if there’s any fruit yet. I doubt He’ll find any on my branch.

That’s why I’m so blown away about the check in my mailbox. I nearly choked when I read the amount!! “Spend it any way you like,” Sissy wrote. She and Alan were expecting a tax refund, but it must’ve been more than they thought. With the baby coming in three months, I don’t know what would possess her to share it with me. Is this supposed to make up for wearing her hand-me-downs all these years?

But hey, I’m not complaining. You KNOW where I’ll be headed, right after Western Civilization lets out. Steltzer Piano & Keyboard, yeah!!!! That is, if I can hitch a ride with Joey Burke.

God, I suspect Your sneaky hand in this one, too. But if You’re the Vine, then this branch has You to thank for this kindness, even when I was giving You the cold shoulder. Maybe I won’t disconnect myself just yet.

Thursday, April 19. Day Two:

Dear God,

It’s bedtime. Sophie has turned out her light and rolled over, but I can’t sleep. I keep admiring my brand new Yamaha keyboard, gleaming silver in the corner. We overhauled the entire room to squeeze it in, but boy, does it sound gorgeous through those on-board speakers! The whole floor crowded in here tonight to have a listen, and their eyes popped!

Naturally, Dawn was here with the others. I know she meant it when she smiled and said she was real happy for me. There can’t be a competitive bone in that girl’s body! Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to hate her. Even so, it did feel good to be the center of attention for once.

Ooh…I just remembered. I’ll have my silver beauty with me for the grand opening of our new coffeehouse Friday night! (The Root Cellar—now, that’s a cool name!)

Your wayward little branch,

P.S. This is totally bizarre. Verse six in my Holman Study Bible says, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” Well, I just peeked in an old journal from over a year ago, and read myself asking You for a new keyboard synth! I’d forgotten all about that. Back then I was walking close to You. But You did absolutely nothing about it till now, when I’m being a complete jerk! Can I possibly be “remaining” in You with this attitude? Go figure.

Friday, April 20. Day Three: John 15:5 (HCSB)—“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.”

Dear God,

I can do nothing without You? It’s awful to think that all my singing, tithing, church attendance and worship could add up to “nothing”. How do I know if what I do is connected to You? It doesn’t always feel that way. But then, I suppose a branch doesn’t feel itself growing fruit, either.

In Galatians 5 there are nine kinds of fruit of the Spirit and I haven’t even gotten the hang of Number One, which is love! Love? Wait, I need to check 1 Corinthians 13. Wow…If you read Galatians 5:22 beside 1 Corinthians 13, you can see how love contains just about all the types of spiritual fruit within itself! I never saw that before.

This may be off the subject, but Lord, could You please help my nerves? It’s about the coffeehouse tonight. I’m totally desperate to make a big splash, but the basement of Deglin Hall is NOT my idea of great acoustics. And out of eight different acts, mine is the only one complicated by digital electronics! Anyway, I’d appreciate Your help. I guess we all get “up-front” jitters sometimes.

All except Dawn, that is. I can’t figure her out. It’s almost as though she lives above what people think; she’s just happy to sing for anyone, anywhere. It’s effortless. (Is that fruit? More to think about.)

Anyway, I’m sure glad to be slotted early in the program. I’d be a nervous wreck trying to follow her!

Saturday, April 21. Day Four

Dear God,
I can’t understand why Dawn looked so depressed this morning at breakfast. After last night’s gig, kids are swarming her. Oh, they complimented me too, the way I twinkled all over my fancy keyboard and made it sound like a band-in-a-box. And of course everyone always likes the folksy, unplugged sound of Joey Burke and Ramon Santero. But then she got up there with nothing but her battered old twanger and knocked their socks off! Two standing O’s—what has she got to complain about? I wish I knew what’s bothering her.

As for the John 15 passage, well, verse six scares me a little. If I don’t “remain” in You, it says I get thrown out like a dry branch, then wither up. After that I get thrown into the fire with all the other worthless branches. Pastor always said, “Once saved, always saved.” But it seems here that some choose not to remain in the Vine. No grapes, so out they go, and “they are burned.” Whatever that means. I’d hate to find out the hard way!
But then there’s that place in Romans, where Paul said even though the children of Israel were a “cut off” branch, through Christ they could be grafted in again. So if a branch gets thrown away, could it repent later, just in time to escape being burned up? And You could graft it back on the Vine and make it stay?
Oh, I hope so, I hope so! Yikes, I’ll be late for Western Civ!

Sunday, April 22. Day Five John 15:8 (HCSB) – “My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.”

Dear God,

Sorry to be skipping around the verses like this, but something is popping out at me here in verse eight. It’s the word ‘glorified’. Jesus’ whole life on earth was one big desire to magnify His Father, wasn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that passionate kind of life-focus. Sure, I want my music and my songs to be about You, to celebrate the goodness. But deep down I’ve coveted a good chunk of the glory for myself, and that disgusts me.

When I was growing up, everyone made a fuss over my smarts and my music. But outside of that, I felt no one really heard me. (I guess that’s what happens when you have a bubbly, lovable big sister and you’re the melancholy one!) Maybe I’m afraid no one will appreciate or love me just for me. If I had no music to offer…Ugh! I’d feel naked. Empty. Ashamed.

Back again. Sorry for the interruption. (Katie’s boyfriend is tossing her emotions like a salad, so Sophie and I prayed with her.)

Now let me get to the point. Only two days left to journal, and I still don’t have my answer about how the branch remains in the Vine. What, what, what are You trying to say here?

OK…If I was a branch, what would I think about all day? (Hmm, did I ask myself that, or did You?) I’d probably think about how horrid it is, stuck here on this plant when there’s a whole world to explore out there. But then, with an attitude like that, what sort of grapes would I grow? (Sour ones, ha ha!)

Funny thing; Sissy just flashed into my mind. With my little nephew growing in her belly, all she thinks about is food. “She’s eating for two,” Mom says. She mostly wants good things inside her, like steak, potatoes, bananas, and salad. Vitamins, too-- probably to offset her snacking on Breyers and Doritos!

So maybe the branch is like an umbilical cord. It clings to the vine for dear life, sucking the Vine’s juices, because that’s what it needs to grow grapes. No, wait. The branch isn’t trying to grow grapes, any more than a baby is trying grow fingers and toes. The branch is simply designed to be hungry. It’s natural for the branch to draw life from the vine. And the vine-juice is so good!

I think I’ve got it. Remaining in the Vine is simply wanting You, more than anything else, and doing everything out of that one need … If the branch is plugged into You, fruit’s going to happen, as surely as the sun rises and sets.

A further thought: If the Vine (Jesus) wants the farmer (the Father) to have all the glory, then the branch can’t keep any glory for itself, either.

Wow. I think I’ll take a walk on the bike path and let all this sink in.

Monday, April 23. Day Six: John 15:2 (HCSB)—“Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.”

Dear Father,

It’s so quiet here. Everyone’s gone to chapel. I’m sitting on the bed with the window wide open. A playful breeze is tickling my cheek. And I’m hearing You. I just heard You say You’d always be with me. I guess in Your mind there never was any “deal” about ending our relationship, was there?

I finally know, deep down, about remaining connected to my Vine. That’s what I want, more than anything. Just to be close to You like this, to drink Your love.

It’s been so long since I’ve heard You this clearly…What would You say to me, Lord? What else is on Your heart?…

Oh…NO! That can’t be You! But my heart is beating so hard I can barely hold this pen. The voice was so clear. Oh, dear God…

OK. Yes, Lord. I’ll do it. I’m sorry about wasting nearly a whole box of Kleenex just now, but You understand how hard it is.

Steltzer’s gave me thirty days; I’m sure they’ll take the keyboard back. Especially if I’m exchanging it for something else and not demanding any cash. Joey Burke works there part time; I bet he could pick out an absolutely fabulous guitar for Dawn.

Wow, I feel as light as a feather! (Is this an example of pruning?) Can’t wait to see the look on her face…

Tuesday, April 24. Day Seven

Dear Father,

You know, nothing went the way I imagined. I showed Dawn “my” new guitar and let her try it out. Then I said, “You like it?” She sure did. “Well,” I said, “it’s yours.”

I don’t think she believed me. No squealing, no throwing her arms around me, no quiz show drama queen. She just stared at me, like someone had doped her with morphine.

Finally I broke the silence and told her it was a gift, straight from You. I even confessed how envious I had been of her talent. I think that shocked her. She said, “Thank you,” in this tiny, soft voice. Then her roomie came in , so I left.

I leave it with You, Father. Whatever happens, this week is etched in my memory forever.

John 15:3 says I am clean because I have heard Your Word spoken to me. When my heart is an open channel, I can hear and know what You want from me. All the clutter disappears. No frustration about choosing a major. No sweaty little strivings to impress people. Those are all nothings. I do feel clean. It’s like my whole existence boils down to the one little pinpoint of obedience in front of me at the moment. Just You and me, and whatever glorifies Father.

Jesus—I just have to write this down—I love You more right now than I ever have in my whole life.


-----Original Message-----
From: Dawn Newcombe [dna120785@yahoo.com]
Sent: Wednesday, May 24, 2006 4:42 PM
To: cmilhaus@joy.grovelnd.edu
Subject: (no subject)


I feel like a pure coward sending you this as an email. But I had to get it in writing before I start bawling.

I guess you wonder why it’s been so hard for me to talk about your amazing gift. A professional Taylor folk guitar? I never dreamed of such an instrument. And knowing you traded in your new keyboard to buy it just knocked the wind out of me.

See, I grew up in the mountains, and we never had much. My scholarship wasn’t as big as I hoped, and it took five big brothers to pool together for my first year.

Then late on the night of the coffeehouse, I got a call from home. Daddy was in a logging accident. Oh, he’ll mend, but for now my brothers will have to support Ma and young Jelie for at least six months. I love it here at Groveland, but there’s no money in sight for me to come back next fall.

I’ve been journaling on John 15 for our BSM assignment. You know, where Jesus talks about the Vine and the branches? When you gave me that guitar, boy, did I get pruned! It really hurt. I could feel His shears, snipping off my pride and independence and self-pity. Doubt, too.

But here’s the amazing part. Yesterday Dean Lasland called me into her office. She has an uncle who’s a big boss with Sparrow Records out in Nashville. He told her if I can get a demo CD ready by the end of the semester, he’ll personally audition me. Well, I about fainted!

The past three weeks have been a roller coaster. A beautiful new guitar. Then no more money for school. A surprise invitation to Nashville. I don’t know how all this is going to come out, but your sacrifice is bearing a whole lot of fruit. I will never doubt Him again!

When you’re done reading this, come on by my room. I want to give you the biggest hug this side of the Mississippi! (smiley)

Love, your sister in Jesus,

P. S. Oh, Christy, your Song of the Vine is so beautiful!

My roots plunge deep
So My branches might keep on growing
I’m My Father’s Vine
So just stay where His life is flowing

I’ve been singing that part over and over on my new guitar. Would you teach me the whole thing? I’d love to include it on my audition CD.

©2006 Sherry Wendling
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