Last night’s howling winds have abated, leaving a bleak urban skyline outside my window where only last week a magnificent canvas of fiery color took my breath away. Today, as I look in most directions, I see mainly outstretched limbs of naked trees.
But right next door, and at the end of the street, and on street corners throughout the neighborhood, are trees (mostly maples, I think) still round and full, bursting with glorious color. I don’t believe the tree next door has relinquished a single leaf. It gives me great joy to witness such life, even as parts of it are dying.
People are like that, aren’t we? We’ve all had our leaves change color and darken. We’ve lost loved ones, said good-bye to childhood friends, felt that gut-wrenching blow of bad news from which we’re not sure we can ever recover. Some of us lay down our leaves as soon as we see their loss as inevitable. Others shine forth, seeing each day as a gift and each step in the struggle as part of a worth-while journey.
My life has been blessed by full trees—people who shine regardless of their situations.I see it in my friends Michele and Sheryl, whose lives are being buffeted by headwinds of heartache and change. I picture them, leaning forward against the gusts, sliding one determined foot just barely ahead of the other as they inch their way across the wet, slippery road. Still, they stand. And if you stand near them, they will put an arm across your shoulders or fold you into a hug so personal that you feel refreshed and strengthened for another day.
I see it in Doug and Matt, whose roots went without water for many seasons, until their eyes became dull and listless and they despaired of becoming lost in the darkness. Then they found their way back to the well and drank deeply, and today they radiate so much joy that all those around them can’t help but smile with them and lean in to listen when they speak. They give me hope for the future of this nation.
I see it in my neighbor Bill and in my friend Craig, giant oaks whose roots (or those of the trees around them) are being blighted by cancerous invaders. They don’t know if treatments will drive out the disease, but they sing anyway, and find reasons every day to be grateful. Their faces shine, and they speak light into the darkness.
These full trees have much in common. They each bear scars from harsh weather and lightning burns, and some of their limbs have been pruned, yet they are taller and stronger than they have ever been, and we who watch can only be inspired by their color. Most importantly, they emit hope. They know that brown leaves do not signify the end, because they’ve seen this before. This season will give way to a new one that is lush and green, and there will be fruit again. They know that God has promised to bring them through this, even if they don’t know where “through” will lead. We’ve learned from Shadrach and company that even if God does not bring us where we want to go, we can trust that what He’s doing is for our good.
This does not mean we cannot grieve or feel sadness as the leaves are stripped away, but that, as the season ends, we remember a new season is coming. Being unsure of our future does not mean we must be afraid.
As we go through trial, each of us must choose whether to display despair or hope. I’ve peeked at the end of the story, and I know it’s full of hope. I want my tree to be full until every last leaf falls to the ground and they come haul me away to be used for firewood—and even then I’m gonna make sparks fly!
Job 19:25-27 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes…”