I was walking out of church that last Sunday in Ohio, dangerously full of 18-year-old-swagger with all the bravado of “The Boss” himself, sick of “living in a dump like this” and ready to find the something that was happening somewhere.
I heard a car pull through the parking lot and an elderly man in the church yelled to me, “Erica, remember your roots!”
I smiled and waved, asking my Mom what that was supposed to mean. She, relieved someone else was trying to pull me back to earth, said, “It’s a way of saying even though you’re leaving, never forget where you’ve come from.”
I resented his advice. Maybe even despised it. In many ways I wanted to get away precisely so I could forget where I’d come from. Leave it behind and start over. So much was a mess in my heart and I didn’t even know where to begin sorting it all out. So I figured it was easier just to start from scratch than deal with the junk.
But I’d soon learn that you can’t run from your own heart. As hard as I tried and as fast as I ran, the hardships of life in those Appalachian hills of southeastern Ohio kept their grip on me, pulling me back. The roots were deep and even though I desperately wanted to, I couldn’t forget them.
So in many ways, I tried to cut off the people from there, even my mom and the husband she married a few days after I left. But that only compounded the sin in my heart. Come to find out, you can’t remedy sin with more sinfulness.
I’d sneak in the closet under the stairwell of our college dorm where the cleaning products were stored and cry out to God. So many bitter angry tears flew from my bitter angry heart onto that unassuming floor. No cleaning product in that whole closet was powerful enough to remove those tear stains and clean up my mess.
But slowly I began to feel him pruning and untangling the vines and branches that were choking me from the inside out. I began to see the tender hand of the Vinedresser helping me bear fruit in keeping with repentance. I began to follow his hand, always careful and wise, but sometimes allowing me to feel the harsh and bloody prick of the thorns, tracing back to the people and places and faces I only wanted to leave behind.
“I planted the seeds,” he’d say, “that took root in the soil of your heart. Don’t let the trials of life choke them out. Instead, hear the Word and understand it so you can bear more fruit.” And by his grace, I did.
A few months ago as we traveled those same Appalachian hills I had associated with much pain and sorrow from my past, I thanked God for the joy going home now brought me. I couldn’t miss the metaphor as we reached the highs and lows of the mountain terrain that my life course had been similar. Those treacherous hills were responsible, in part, for the death of my dear grandma, but they were also the birthplace of my spiritual life. “Except one grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it will never bear fruit.”(John 12:24) I had experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in that place. No matter where I’ve gone since, God has graciously allowed me to remember my roots.
And I can remember them now, not with anger, or guilt, or shame or bitterness, but with thankfulness. Because there was One who grew up like a root out of drier ground than the coal mining ground of southeastern Ohio. He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And he bore my griefs and carried my sorrows, not just up the rolling hills in Cambridge, Ohio, but up a hill of death to Calvary where he was crushed for the iniquities I’ve committed and for the iniquities committed against me. And his wounds have brought me healing.
So, if there’s a way I would now tweak that wise, older man’s advice to my 18-year-old self, I’d say, “Erica, remember your roots by remembering his.”