Satan’s personal plant of choice


Pyracantha is undeniable proof there is a devil. I believe it to be his personal plant of choice. It grows into a thatched-sticker-hedge of death. I’m almost certain, as a boy, I witnessed a neighbor’s dauschund chasing a ball into a hedge of it…and never coming out. Just a tiny yelp and then eerie silence. Two hedges of it came with our family’s Phoenix home purchase back in 1967. Front and back. Picture green barbed wire, with tiny poisonous red berries.
Trimming it was part of my particular “chores”. Chores were at the center of the tension between my father and I during my adolescence. He thought I should do them. I felt strongly I should not. Especially during summer. I thought kids should not be asked to do anything during summer break but stay out after the street lights come on.

I was to pick up the dog poop, clean the pool, make my bed, wash the car, mow the lawn, and keep up with the ever-advancing pyracantha. Nearly every day it was the same:

Dad-“John, did you do your chores?”John-“(indistinguishable mumbling)”

Dad-“Well, you’re not leaving this house until they’re done.”

John-“(more indistinguishable mumbling)”

And so it went. My half-hearted keeping of chores, after enough nagging and threats.

Until one day, when it all changed.

It was a June morning, just before dad left for work. He was wearing grey dress slacks, a starched white shirt and a red tie, with a clip. He said something like these words:

“John, I don’t tell you enough how much I care about you. You bring a lot of life and laughter to our home. Your mom and I are so proud of you. Do you know that?” Then he headed to the door, turning back to say, “If you want, when I get home, we could play some catch.”

Then he was off. So were my plans for the rest of the day. I still don’t know what happened that day. Did he take a class on parenting the evening before? Did he have a lobotomy? Regardless, almost involuntarily, I went to our shed and pulled out our hedge trimmers. They were rusted and jammed. I had no gloves. I went in and poured a giant glass of water, then headed out into the Phoenix summer heat to tackle the hellish pyracantha…and maybe free trapped animals.

Previously, I would trim the edges and leave the clippings for days; eventually running over them with the mower. This day I dug deep into that spreading vine of death. I reshaped the mass of threatening pyracantha into something almost resembling a manicured hedge. It took me almost all day. I didn’t care. I don’t think I’d ever worked so hard. My hands were blistered from the antique hedge trimmer and my arms were bleeding from picking up thorn-covered vines formed during the Hoover administration. I took garbage can after garbage can to the alley and even mowed up the last scraps I couldn’t get by hand.

I was in my bedroom when I heard his 62 Chevy station wagon turn into the carport. I heard my mom greet him at the door: “Jim, you have to come with me and see what John did today!” I watched the following scene through the slit in my blinds as my dad walked out to inspect the pyracantha.

Then it happened. The whole reason I had found myself cancelling a summer day with buddies. His smile. I rarely got to see that smile. But there it was. He was beaming. He was proud of his son. I was getting to be the person he called me.

How crazy is that? A rebellious high school kid turns friend in one interchange. I’ve never forgotten that moment. Though my dad didn’t have Jesus as his motivation, something about being formed in the very image of God caused him to affirm and bless a son who less than deserved it. And that son finds himself wanting to bring great joy to that father. The motivation of grace will always bear greater fruit than the motivation of demand. For at least that day, my dad was the finest preacher in that neighborhood.
…Never did find any animals.