Spring of 2014 I bought a young and happy cherry tree from the nursery. Her green leaves show the amount of care she received at the nursery. From day one, I intended maintaining that same level of care in her new home in my garden.
I planted my tree and gave her so much water. She maintained her green foliage through the summer. October fall arrived, and her leaves started to turn yellow. Her radiant aspect eroded until it was altogether replaced by this weird gloomy look. I thought she needed more water, so I poured gallons on her.
The sting of winter
Finally, winter came 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. Her fallen leaves, are the part of the cherry tree that dances and tosses in harmony with the rest of the forest in response to the rhythm orchestrated by the movement of the warm spring breeze as it navigates its way through the forest. That warm spring breeze is now replaced with the harsh and numbing winter blizzard.
The rabbits also nibbled at her already frozen bark.
Direction of Hope
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.
Troubled on every side
In the winter months, every time I look through my patio door from the comfort of my house, I see my cherry tree beaten and battered but still standing in solitude across the new ground-line marked out in snow.
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 seem dead
From outside, my cherry tree looks dead; all hope seems lost. What used to stand in awe now looms like doom certain to drop. What used to stand in grace, clothed in bright flowers and green leaves now loiters at one corner of my garden with all touch of elegance gone.
Her entire foliage including the bark of her trunk seems to have succumbed to frost bites. At sub-zero temperatures, ice crystals formed within her, and pierce through cells that would otherwise be alive. That is the sting of winter
The Hope of spring
But inside the tree, it is another story. Beyond those dying cells lays the heart (phloem) of the tree. This is the little part of the tree that refuses to freeze because of the build-up of sugar sweet memories in it. Memories that are a by-product of the tree’s last spring experience; my tree’s natural antifreeze. It is the guard against the cruel cold tearing her apart.
Armed with the hope of spring to come and memories of her last spring, my cherry tree survived winter. Even the harshest of winter cannot freeze those sweet memories.
Hope makes a man ‘un-killable’. Lack of hope makes a man a victim. The secret of my tree is hope. Hope sweet hope. Hope for the seeds, and hope for the flowers. Hope is powerful. Hope puts no one to shame. Hope resides within all God’s creation. If channeled, hope burns in a ring of fire as a guard against the present reality. Hope runs against all odds. Hope believes and hope endures.
Stories of Hope
For a moment, picture an oak’s seed as it goes from the farmer’s hand into the soil. It transits from a season of light into thick darkness as it sinks 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. The light under which it once thrived. It counters the gravity exerted by the soil with an upward thrust driven by its desire to see the light. But then the rain comes; torrential and crushing. It joins forces with gravity to sink our lonely seed deeper still. All ground gained lost. The soil begins to eat into its fabrics, gradually exposing the life in the acorn, the little plant that will grow to become the great oak. One part going deep down into the ground for an 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 the warm embrace of the sun again, it stands upright with its tiny leaf widespread – the great oak has come to thrive! That my friend is hope.
Hope seeks life in the grave. Hope seeks rest in troubled waters. Hope trusts and believes against hope. Hope desires. Hope remembers the good times and endures the seasons; be it spring or winter. Sometimes hope is all we need. The hope of spring in the dead of winter. The hope of life in death. The hope of a calm while the storm of life tears us apart. Hope in the seasons we do not understand.
The only remedy for evil is good. The one cure for darkness is light, and the medicine for the bad times we dread are the good times we crave. If to overcome darkness one must seek the light. Then we must not allow the sting of our winter to freeze those memories, hopes, and dreams that define us.
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 will come and I will blossom again.