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Spring of 2014 I bought a young happy cherry tree from the nursery. Her deep green leaves were a definite indication to the amount of care it had received at the nursery, and from day one I intended to maintain that same level of care in her new home in my garden! She will experience her first true winter in my backyard as she has been nursed all her life in a microclimate with elements artificially modified to her advantage! I planted my tree, gave it so much water, and consequently she maintained her deep green foliage through the summer! October, fall arrived and her leaves started to turn yellow, the radiant aspect she had started to disappear until it was altogether replaced by this weird gloomy look! I thought it needed more water, so I started to rain down gallons of water on her! Oh what an inexperienced and panicky gardener I was; no gardener can change the seasons!

The sting of winter

Winter came eventually and took away all her leaves! She could no longer feel the warmth of the sun; to her the sun was never up! It was 24 hours of darkness because the part of her that leaps at the sunlight was gone! The part of my tree that dances and tosses in harmony with the rest of the forest in response to the rhythm coordinated by the movement of the gentle breeze as it navigates its way through the forest, has fallen off! That gentle and warm spring breeze has now been replaced with the harsh and brutal numbing winter blizzard! The rabbits also nibbled at her already frozen bark. But in spite of her winter perils, my tree maintained her calm, her leafless branches leaned in the direction she last saw the sun. Like the eagle, though flightless, she knew the direction in which hope lies, and there she kept her gaze all winter in the hope that the spring of April will come, and she will feel the warm embrace of the sun again!

In the winter months, every time I look through my patio door from inside the comfort of my warm house, I see my cherry tree beaten and battered but still standing in solitude across the new ground-line marked out in white. This spectacle brings to mind the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 -12: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed”.

How can one be troubled on every side but yet not distressed? Or cast down but not destroyed? How can you lose everything but yet not be lost? Why is my cherry tree still standing even though it has lost everything to this battering ram (winter) from the arctic?

When all seems dead!

From the outside my cherry tree looks dead; all hope seems to have been lost as what used to stand in awe now looms like doom certain to drop! What used to stand in grace, clothed in colourful flowers and brightly green leaves now loiters at one corner of my garden with all touch of elegance gone from her! From the leaves on her crown to the bark of her trunk, everything seems to have succumbed to frost bites and ice crystals forming inside her cells at sub-zero temperatures- piercing and cutting through cells that would otherwise be alive! That is the sting of winter! But inside the tree it is another story, beyond those dying and wasting cells lays the heart (phloem) of the tree. This is the little part of the tree that is kept away from freezing because of the build-up of sugar sweet memories it carries! Memories that are by-product of my tree’s last spring experience: sweetness that cannot be frozen; the tree’s natural antifreeze. It is the guard against the cruel cold tearing my tree apart! The phloem is the part of my tree that refuses to freeze simply because of the sweet memories it carries, testimonies of better times it held unto, and it is the reason my cherry tree survived winter against all odds!

In the cold of winter, when the starless nights shield the day and the veiling of the sun turns drops of rain into balls of ice before they ever hit the ground, when all that is green is buried inside a mass of frozen water that outlines the new ground-line, armed with hope and memories of spring to come, my cherry tree survived winter! Memories and hope, the harshest of winter cannot freeze!

Hope of spring

What makes a man un-killable is hope, and what makes a man a victim is the lack of hope. The secret of my tree is hope, hope sweet hope, hope for the seed, and hope for the flowers! Hope is powerful, hope puts no one to shame, hope resides within all of God’s creation and channeled to the right cause, hope burns in a ring of fire; a guard against the present reality, a run against all odds!

For a moment, picture a planter’s seed as it goes from the farmer’s hand into the ground, transiting from a season of light into a season of thick darkness; buried under the weight of the soil, a glaring contrast to the time it was once soared on the oak’s branch! Yet in the face of this radical change in its season, the lonely seed seeks the light still. It meets every downward force exerted by the soil with an upward thrust that is driven by its desire to see the light under which it once thrived! But then the rain came; torrential and crushing, yet joining forces with gravity; sinking our lonely seed deeper still! All ground gained lost! Consequently, the soil begin to eat into its fabrics; gradually exposing the life in the acorn, the little plant that will grow to become the great oak! With one part going deep down the ground for anchor, the other shoots out of the ground as if to answer the timeless call of the light it sought so intensely in its darkest season! As it feels again the warmth embrace of the sun, it stands upright with its tiny leaf wide spread – the great oak has come to thrive! That, my friend, is called hope! Hope seeks life in the grave, hope seeks rest in troubled waters, hope trusts, and hope believes against all hope. Hope desires, hope remembers the good times and endures the seasons; be it spring or winter. Sometimes hope is all we need, hope of spring in the dead of winter, hope of life in death, hope of a calm while the storms of life tears us apart! Hope in the seasons we do not understand.

The only remedy to evil is good; the one cure for darkness is light, and the medicines for the bad times we dread are the good times we crave. If to overcome darkness one must seek the light, if to overcome death one must seek life, then we must not allow the sting of our winter to freeze those memories, hopes and dreams that defines us! This is the one medicine to those cold nights! Once hope freezes, winter stays forever! Like my cherry tree, like the lonely acorn, and like the Lord Jesus who endured the cross because of the joy that was set before him; I must endure my winter because my spring is just ahead!

In life our seasons will often change as winter thaws into spring, and spring makes way for summer, darkness into daylight, seed time into harvest time, little into abundance, sickness into health, and death into life – there is a time for everything! But no matter what fear or trouble our changing seasons bring along, they also bring the hope of a change; this is the expectation that winter will pass, spring will come, and I will blossom again!