Looking out the window here at The Faith Cafe, you see that the trees in the park display a stark beauty.
Stripped of their leaves in winter, they stand amid the snow looking rather barren and forlorn.
But a funny thing happens when a tree has lost its leaves: you can see things that you didn’t know were there before.
Going for a walk in your neighbourhood in winter, you might see that the bare trees are now revealing things that had been concealed by summer’s foliage. You might be surprised to see a bird’s nest the size of a teacup nestled in the bare branches; you’d passed beneath it dozens of times without knowing it was right above you.
Or you might see a larger nest, called a drey, which was built by squirrels. You’d had no idea that the squirrels had been raising a family there in their hidden home, perhaps in a tree just feet from your own house.
With the trees denuded of leaves, you might spot a kite or balloon that had been caught in the branches months before. Only winter could reveal this lost object. Maybe it belonged to your child: “So that’s where it went!” you think.
Or you realize that there are dead branches in some of the trees around your house that need removing. You can only see the problem now that the dense foliage has been stripped away.
So it is with us, too.
Sometimes there are things we can only see when we hit a barren season in our lives, brought on by a loss, a breakup, a setback, or a disappointment. Sometimes it’s only when something has been stripped away from us that other things are revealed.
Gardeners know that storms can wreak terrible havoc with their plant friends.
If the winds are strong enough, mature trees can be downed, leaving a gaping hole where they once stood.
In a garden, the loss of a large tree upsets the ecosystem of the area. It changes all manner of things, from the shade afforded plants in the understory, to the strength of the wind that buffets them, to the amount of rain reaching the ground. The entire microclimate is affected.
But the subtraction of a tree also presents new opportunities for a gardener.
Suddenly, more sunlight and rain can reach the area. There is space now for new plants or trees to grow that couldn’t before. Where once the gardener was limited to plants suitable only for shade, now he or she can consider roses, vegetables or other sun-loving plants.
So I suppose a storm’s effects aren’t always strictly negative for gardeners.
But what about the storms of life? Is there anything good that can come when some disaster leaves a gaping hole in our lives?
If you live in an region where the trees drop their leaves in the fall, you’ll have noticed something.
Some species of trees are quick to cast off their leaves once the weather turns colder. In my area, the mountain ash trees are always the first to be denuded of leaves in October.
Other trees seem more reluctant to give up their leafy attire, holding on stubbornly until the frost and the wind finally make them release their grip. In my backyard, an old sugar maple is usually the laggard.
The most notorious holdouts, however, are immature beech trees. They retain their dried leaves through the whole winter, only dropping them when the new growth of spring finally forces the old leaves off the branches.
We can be a bit like young beech trees, too, I think.
We may hold on too long to something that isn’t working, despite evidence that we should let it go.
Or we may cling to a dream that is clearly unrealistic, even though God is trying to nudge us in a different direction.
Sometimes God is telling us that it’s time to turn over a new leaf, so to speak. He wants us to cast off outmoded ways of thinking and let go of unproductive ways of doing things.