The Blessings Of Barren Seasons

Image by Henning Sørby from Pixabay

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.

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If We Could See Our Words

Photo of a lion on a cold day by Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr CC BY-ND-2.0

If you live in a warm climate, there are a few things you’re missing out on.

One of them is the ability to see your own breath.

(You’re also missing out on high heating bills in winter, backaches from shovelling snow, and frostbitten fingers, but I think you can do without those things!)

Why can we sometimes see our breath in cold climates?

With the combination of cold outdoor temperatures and the right humidity, your breath condenses as it is exhaled. It then appears as a misty cloud being emitted from your mouth.

It got me thinking: wouldn’t it be helpful if we could see our own words, too, and not just our breath?

By that I mean, if only we could see in physical form how our words affect others, we’d think twice about what we say.

If words came out of our mouth visibly shaped like the weapons they often are, we’d probably be horrified. If we saw what appeared to be daggers or fists hurtling toward the other person, we’d want to take back what we’d just said.

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Winter, the Great Leveller

Photo by Mark Evans on Flickr, CC BY-ND-2.0

If you live in a cold climate, as I do, you’ll have noticed that winter has a way levelling us out.

It shows us we’re all in the same boat.

Let me explain:

No matter how rich or poor you are, you’re going to have to deal with snow one way or another. If you live in a cold climate, there’s no escaping this fact.

Whether you drive a snazzy, expensive car or a modest runabout, winter has a way of making all vehicles look rather crappy. No matter how much you paid for your car, road salt and slush will cover it with an ugly grey-brown film.

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

And despite searching high and low for the most fashionable winter parka, you’ll still end up looking like an Arctic explorer, indistinguishable from everyone else.

Winter has a way of humbling us.

I think sin has the same sort of levelling effect.

Whatever walk of life we come from, we’re all going to have to deal with our sins somehow. There’s no escaping it.

No matter how wealthy or poor we are, when sin sticks to us, it makes all of us look rather stained. Whether a pauper or a prince, the muck of sin covers us all.

And even if we try to gussy up our image and paper over our sins, it simply doesn’t work. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re any better or different than anyone else.

When it comes to sin, we’re all in the same boat.

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How To Be The Best Dressed Person At Any Gathering

Image by Andrew Vargas on Flickr CC BY-2.0

If you live in a cold climate, you’ll know that getting dressed to go outside in winter can be quite an operation.

This is particularly true if you have children. Getting your little one bundled up warmly enough to brave the frigid temperatures outside can take a great deal of time.

First, you have to make sure they have warm underclothes and socks on. Then, you might dress them in layers of several tops, and select pants made of warm, thick material.

Once you’ve put their winter coat or snowsuit on them, you’re not done yet. There’s still their boots, hat, scarf, and mittens to don.

And then what inevitably happens when you’ve finally wrestled a recalcitrant child into all their winter gear, and are poised to leave the house?

Your little darling suddenly announces that they have to go to the bathroom!

Dressing in layers takes a lot more time and effort, but it’s essential to ensure that we’re kept warm and protected in winter.

Similarly, Scripture tells us to dress in spiritual “layers” as well.

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Fill Up Your Storehouse

This is a busy (and nutty) time of year for squirrels.

The little critters are hard at work storing up nuts and seeds for the hard winter ahead.

Depending on the species, they may either store their nuts in one spot (a stash), or hide them by burying them in multiple locations (known as “scatter-hoarding”). They’ve even been known to shamelessly steal nuts from the stashes of other squirrels.

The jury is out on whether squirrels actually remember where they’ve hidden all those nuts. Some studies suggest they can recall the location of thousands of buried nuts. Other research implies that squirrels fail to recover a good number of their treasures, which allows the nuts and acorns to grow into trees.

One thing is for certain: these little guys are single-minded about gathering up nuts before winter, often using unconventional places to store them.

Like cars.

Just ask Bill Fischer of Fargo, North Dakota. For the past eight years, a red squirrel has been using Bill’s pickup truck to store walnuts. Each year, the poor man has to remove thousands of walnuts from every crevice of his truck, including the engine compartment and bumpers.

This month, the critter set a new record, stashing 348 pounds of nuts in Bill’s vehicle. And this was all the work of one tiny squirrel.

These crafty little animals might exasperate us, but we can learn something from them:

They make sure they’ve “squirrelled away” provision for hard times to come.

I think we should do something similar:

Store up the Word of God in your heart, because you never know when you might need a certain verse to sustain you in a tough situation.

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Rumour Has It

Same tree in winter and summer. Photo by Coanri/Rita on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

It can be hard to believe we’ll ever be back to normal life, can’t it?

We’ve lived so long in this pandemic-induced limbo that sometimes it doesn’t seem plausible that our regular lives will ever resume. It can seem like this state of suspended animation will drag on and on and leave our usual way of life just out of reach.

We might hear of other countries where day-to-day life is approaching normalcy, but this almost seems like a rumour intended to taunt us.

It can feel the same way in the bitter depths of winter, too. We get so accustomed to the frigid temperatures, bare trees and snow-covered landscapes that it’s hard to believe there’s such a thing as summer.

This feeling of incredulity reminds me of a quotation from John Crowley’s fantasy novel, “Little, Big”:

“Love is a myth,” Grandfather Trout said. “Like summer.”

“What?”

“In winter,” Grandfather Trout said, “summer is a myth. A report, a rumour. Not to be believed in. Get it? Love is a myth. So is summer.”

This passage speaks of romantic love, but I think this quotation applies equally well to the way God sometimes works in our lives.

In “winter” seasons of our lives, when things aren’t going well for us, it seems like the status quo will drag on and on. We’re skeptical that anything could ever change. The idea that things will someday turn around for us seems like a cruel rumour, something it’s not safe to believe in.

But as we know, love, like summer, is not a myth or a rumour.

Neither is God’s goodness.

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The Seeds of Your Comeback Are Already Forming

Magnolia Buds in Winter. Photo by Pitsch on Pixabay

It can be hard to hold on to hope when winter is coming, can’t it?

The trees and shrubs seem barren of any evidence that life will ever reemerge. It can be rather depressing.

But if you look closely at certain plants during winter, you’ll see something exciting:

Flower buds!

Yes, some plants, such as magnolias, actually set their flower buds for next year during the previous growing season. You can see these buds on the branches all winter long.

In the case of magnolias, the buds are encased in a hairy protective scale to insulate them from the cold, almost like a silvery fur coat. When the time is right the next spring, the flowers are all ready to burst open into glorious bloom.

Isn’t it encouraging to know that the promise of next year’s flowers is already there during the bleak winter?

In the same way, the seeds of your comeback are forming deep within you.

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You’re Not As Alone As You Think

Photo by Lorie Shauli on Flickr CC BY-SA-2.0

Winter can be a lonely time, can’t it?

The joyful symphony of birdsong that graced the spring and summer months has diminished. In these parts, most birds have already flown south for the winter by now. The backyards and parks seem unnaturally quiet, with nary a chirp to be heard.

It can leave us feeling bereft, like we’re all alone.

But we’re never as alone as we might think, as we’ll see from some encouraging accounts in the Bible.

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The Key to Stronger Faith

Chickadee Photo by Larry Doucet on Pixabay

A chickadee may have a bird-brain, but it can actually be pretty smart.

Especially if it lives in a harsh climate.

What does climate have to do with bird intelligence? As it turns out, more than you’d expect.

Biologists have discovered that chickadees living in the mountains or in northern latitudes, where the weather is more severe, were smarter than their peers living more comfortably down below.

Chickadees from harsher habitats had superior spatial memories and problem-solving abilities than those living in gentler climes. They were better at finding stored caches of food and at figuring out how to access a worm treat that scientists had cleverly tucked into a glass tube.

The harsh environment makes their brains work a bit harder.

Is there a lesson for humans in the example of the chickadees?

Yes, but it isn’t to move to a more wintry climate (take it from a Canadian who’s done her share of shovelling snow—it hasn’t made me smarter!).

The takeaway here is that there can be unseen benefits to the challenges we face.

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A Special Kind of Faith

Tulip bulbs at a flower market
Photo from Pxhere, Public Domain

They say that planting seeds is an act of faith.

I think that’s true: you put seeds in the ground in spring, hoping most will germinate and grow into a plant. If you’re lucky, you might see hints of growth in a few days, but often it can be weeks before a little green head pokes its way out of the soil.

If planting seeds takes faith, then I think it takes a special kind of faith to plant bulbs in the fall.

In the fall, you know the days are getting shorter and colder. The leaves are dropping from the trees, and tender plants are beginning to die from early frosts. You know that snow will soon blanket the garden to the depth of a couple feet. You’re heading into a barren season.

The precious tulip, daffodil or hyacinth bulbs that you’ve just planted will disappear from your view for many months. You’ll have no indication that they’re all right, let alone any guarantee that they’ll eventually bloom. They may fall prey to rabbits, squirrels or deer. Who knows what will happen to them?

And yet you still go ahead and plant fall bulbs, trusting that they’ll survive the frigid winter and bloom later in spring.

Some things in our lives take special faith to trust for, too, don’t they?

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