Why myrtles? It was a few years ago when one day I was reading in the Bible Isaiah 55. It’s a beautiful statement of God’s invitation to his people, the Israelites to trust in him and a beautiful metaphor of his promise for restoration both on the earth and ultimately in heaven.
“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress tress will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.” (Isaiah 55:10-13, NLT)
When I read these verses I smiled when I came across “myrtles.” I had always loved this as a girl’s name (my husband has never shared my enthusiasm for the name!). Curious now about what myrtles meant in this Bible passage, I looked up the word myrtle. I discovered that myrtles grow wild in the Mediterranean (I love everything about the Mediterranean!) and the plant produces beautiful, fragrant flowers, usually star-shaped white petals with dark green leaves. Both the flowers and the leaves produce an aroma that is often used in perfumes. Dating back to ancient times myrtle has been used for medicinal purposes. The leaves were ground together and used to treat a wide array of ailments as well as the plant’s essential oil. The myrtle also produces a dark-colored berry. This plant has it all; fragrance, beauty, oil, berries, and medicinal value. Beautiful and functional, the myrtle was treasured in ancient times for its many uses of perfumes and medicines.
After researching the myrtle, I was curious then what nettles were. What a contrast to myrtles! Nettles are covered with little stinging hairs that cause a stinging pain followed by skin irritation and redness when touched. The plant produces no flowers or fragrance, and beautiful is not a word that describes nettles. There are, however some medicinal values to nettles.
After reading the descriptions for both myrtles and nettles, I read the passage again in Isaiah. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. The words now created a mental image, an amazing picture of ugly and pain-producing nettles being replaced by beautiful, fragrant myrtles with healing potential. I was stunned at this imagery. Imagine something so ugly, painful, and annoying being taken away and in its place something beautiful, un-harming, fragrant, with medicinal value growing in its place. I thought of the season of life I was sitting in and it felt like nettles. Years of trying to conceive, discovering from doctors that conception was not possible for us, waiting to adopt, and losing babies when birthmothers later decided against adoption. We had just lost precious twin babies whom we prepared and waited for almost 6 months when, on the day of their birth, their birthmother changed her mind about giving them for adoption. I grieved over an empty womb for years and now I grieved over empty arms. Was this desire for children, to be a mom ever to be fulfilled?
My eyes filled with tears as I thought about this picture of nettles to myrtles. In the context of the story in Isaiah, the Israelites were suffering intensely and asking God when relief would come. God promised them restoration. He promised to restore them as his people and it is a foreshadow, I believe of the ultimate restoration of our brokenness through the redemption of the cross that brings eternal life with God. God echoes this promise throughout the Bible, to restore that which is broken. Some healing he gives on this earth but the day will come when, in heaven complete and final healing will be given to those who know his grace. This is what God does; he takes pain and heals it, he makes beautiful what was once ugly, and he takes what is annoying and makes it a blessing. I felt hope that God would take my nettles and replace them with myrtles.
As if these words were not encouraging enough, I read on. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love. Another wave of emotion passed over me. Not only does God promise to heal and restore, he gives a reason for it! His work of restoration will bring glory and honor to him and his healing work will be a visible sign of his power to all. When God heals and replaces nettles with myrtles, it is a testament, a tangible sign of his love. I felt relief because I believed I had found purpose. I love purpose. Experiencing the pain of nettles and waiting for myrtles builds character in a person, it can bring husband and wife closer together, but above all it ultimately has a purpose in God. Only God can completely change and heal, only he can transform nettles to myrtles. And when he does, it brings glory to him. He uses this process so that others may see him, may see his glory.
How? I don’t fully know, but I trust him. If I don’t see these painful experiences through God’s glory, then it is senseless. My pain would be for nothing. But I love purpose and I know my seasons of pain have purpose. Knowing that God can use my pain to point others toward him (and point me to him!!), to show his glory of what beautiful myrtles he can plant after seasons of nettles, gives me purpose. I had no idea when I started to read that day how God would speak to my heart in such a way as he did. But his words changed me.
Today I look at my adorable son and know that God has indeed restored my empty arms. My son is my “myrtle,” my sign of God’s healing, restoration, and glory.
I have many types of nettles in my life. My journey to becoming a mom is just one. Have all of my seasons of nettles been fully replaced with myrtles? No, but I know that day will come in heaven. I still, when I see a pregnant mother or newborn baby, often feel a twinge in my heart for the baby I will never feel grow inside of me and the babies we held in our hearts but never got to hold in our arms. Some pain just never fully goes away, but like I said, I know that day will come in heaven. But as I wait for that day of complete healing, I know that God, through his grace is restoring the broken every day. And living in his grace is why I can say I’m living where myrtles grow . . .