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A Message From a Tree Stump

Freshly cut tree stumps abound across the northern post-winter landscape and they’re delivering an unexpected message of hope.

Every year there are trees that don’t survive the winter weather. Some come crashing down under the weight of snow and ice. Others succumb to the pressure of fierce winds. Then there are trees that, although still standing at the end of the winter season, are in such a bent or cracked condition that they’re a hazard. Since it is better to be safe rather than sorry, those trees must be leveled, too.

The result of all this tree damage and destruction is a very busy season for stump grinders.

In early spring, before the surviving trees have sprouted the buds of fresh foliage, the stump-filled landscape looks desolate and depressing. The gapping holes in the ground where tree trunks once stood stand out like sore thumbs. Without new leaves to cover the bare spots, the absence of the demolished trees is too obvious to be ignored.

But, every year, I am reminded that this barren early spring scene will not last forever. The landscape never stays bleak for long. Life always returns to the earth and, when it does, the stumps aren’t so glaring. In time, the demolished trees will become a distant memory.

In the freshly cut tree stumps there is a message of hope for the brokenhearted:

God is faithful and full of grace. He never has and never will abandon His own.

Even if the landscape of your life appears barren today, look to the Tree of Life that is standing eternally victorious. Fix your eyes on the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and rejoice in God’s power to restore, redeem and renew even the most desolate of conditions.

Though stumps may abound for a season, God is always at work beneath the surface, cultivating fresh root systems and bringing forth new blessings upon the landscape. Remember that through the door of death, God ushers in new life. In the perfect timing of His providential seasons, God will transform the landscape of your life with the lush leaves of His goodness and a bounty of foliage that testifies to His redemptive power.

Trust Father God as He develops the buds of His Spirit upon the branches of your soul. Submit to His pruning. Wait on Him with hopeful anticipation and full assurance. Rest in the promise that God has wonderful plans for you and a future of abundance that will bring restoration to the landscape of your post-winter life.

 

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelations 21:5

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Spring will Spring Again

 I’m mad at winter.

And when I say “winter,” I don’t mean the earth’s meteorological season. Although I’m not particularly loving late winter’s lingering chill, it’s not nearly as infuriating as my body’s persistent season of sickness. That’s the winter that really has me hot (sweating) and bothered.

It was almost two years ago to the day that I received a Lyme disease diagnosis and began treatments to reclaim my health and life. The healing process has been incredibly intense, exhausting and, seemingly, never ending. Regaining my health has been more of a long slog than an early spring. Frigid, gray days have, by far, outnumbered the warm and sunny. This season of fighting Lyme has felt like a perpetual winter.

By now in my Lyme journey I had expected my illness to have thawed. Two years in I knew it might not look like summer quite yet but I at least expected it to feel like late spring. I never imagined I’d still be waking up in the midst of winter’s dark and dreary gloom.

It’s been so long since my body has experienced a true spring that sticks around for more than a day or two that I’ve been tempted to question whether or not my physical condition will ever change. Will I be stuck in this season of sickness for the rest of my days on earth? Am I destined to a lifetime trapped in winter? 

As He so often and so graciously does, God answered my doubts and questions by showing me the wonder of the earth’s spring. He pointed to a twig on a tree and said,

“Spring has always been your favorite season and with good reason. You love it so because spring always comes right after winter, on the heels of brutal cold, snow and ice. That’s when I step in and bring the dead earth back to life!

Spring is such an incredible miracle and it thrills you each and every year when I make it happen! As soon as I command the seasons to change, I hear you oh and awe as if you’ve never seen a budding flower before. You gaze at them with admiration and wonder – just like you’re doing to the one I’ve formed right here on this delicate twig set before you.

In your twenty-eight years of life I have never failed to deliver spring. Not once. I have always put an end to winter. I have always renewed and redeemed the earth. Remember my faithfulness. Rest in my righteousness. I am trust worthy and my promises are true. I will end your winter and bless you with the most beautiful spring you’ve ever seen!

Do not lose hope, little one. Just have faith and believe.”

While fixated on how faithfully God cares for the foundation of the earth and every flower that grows upon it, the Holy Spirit   descended into my wintry soul to strengthen my faith and renew my hope.

Even though my season of sickness has been brutal and long, God has not abandoned me in body, mind or soul. All along He has been orchestrating His plan to renew and restore me. While trapped under the snow and ice of symptoms and illness, Jesus has been protecting the root of my spirit so that, when the time is right, I will bloom like a beautiful flower.

To my Father God all I can say is, “Forgive me for hating on winter and lamenting the length of this sickness. Teach me to live with the joy of salvation in each and every season. Restore me with the hope of heaven that renews my spirit with the promise of eternal spring. Not my winterless will, Lord, but yours be done – no matter what the seasons may bring.”

“Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.
Though I am lowly and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is everlasting
and your law is true.”

Psalm 119:140-141

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Sea Gulls & God’s Provision

I love when the birds return in spring, especially after a long, brutal winter like the one we just had in northern Pennsylvanian. The blessed sound of birds chirping and singing their joyful song reminds me that even the coldest winter will come to an end. Warmth will return to the earth. Spring will always spring again.

But some birds don’t suddenly reappear in late winter because they never left in late fall.

While most birds – robins, blue jays, geese and many others – are “snow” birds, meaning that they head south before winter hits, sea gulls stay put. They are weather warriors, enduring the elements of all four northern seasons – polar vortexes included.

During a northern winter it isn’t unusual to see dozens of sea gulls gathering in snow covered parking lots, causing me to question their habits. Why do sea gulls stay here all winter while other birds go south? How do sea gulls obtain food when the ground is frozen solid and snow is piled high?

While walking along the bay on a late winter’s morning, my questions were answered by a flock of sea gulls perched on a mound of ice. There were at least thirty of these silly birds huddled together in one clump looking, as usual, cold and out of place. But, as I got closer, I realized that the sea gulls were congregating around a break in the ice so they could go fishing.

From my vantage point, the area of broken ice didn’t look like a prime fishing location since the opening was in shallow water. I couldn’t imagine many fish would be swimming that close to land. Not to mention that the icy opening appeared too small to provide fishing space for such a large gathering of birds. Yet, in just a few short minutes, I saw sea gull after sea gull dip into the frigid waters and return to the ice mounds with breakfast in their beaks.

The sea gulls fishing on the ice provided a powerful picture of God’s provision and reminded me of Jesus’ words. “Look at the birds of the air;” He said. “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:26-27)

Watching the sea gulls taught me two important lessons about trusting God.

First, the scene taught me to never assume my way is the best way.

Take, for instance, sea gull migration. If it were up to me, sea gulls would fly south for the winter to escape the snow, sleet and ice. But God has a better way. He specifically designed the sea gulls to endure winter’s storms. Because God is in control, I don’t need to understand the “how’ of the sea gulls’ survival. I just need to trust the “Who” of their survival. And the “who” is God. He who creates the birds, sustains the birds.

The same is true of humans, like you and me. Although with my limited understanding I often think life would be better if I could simply “migrate” away from troubles. I’d be so much happier, healthier and content if only I didn’t have to endure the storms of life – or so I think.

But God has a better way. God knows that it is by way of suffering that perseverance, character and hope are cultivated in His children’s heart (Romans 5:3-4). The fruits of Christ’s spirit grow most hardily when the conditions compel us to cling to the cross in the midst of the most harrowing storms. When we stay faithful through the trials and lean into Jesus, His Spirit transforms us into faith-filled warriors in the Lord’s Army.

Secondly, from the sea gulls, I learned to never underestimate the sufficiency of God’s supply. Although the hole on the icy bay was small, God supplied it with plenty of fish to meet the sea gulls’ needs. He made much out of not much.

In my own life I’m prone to believing I need more to be satisfied. More funds. More strength. More resources. But God says that His grace is sufficient for me because His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s strength and might is best displayed in weak and needy vessels. The more dependent we are on God’s provision, the more miraculous it is when our only hope is for Jesus to show up with His resurrection power (and He always does).

As God’s beloved children, you and I can confidently follow Jesus wherever He goes without fear of provision or concern for the conditions because where God guides, He always provides.