The entire sky hung heavy and low, descending over the treetops like some plush, gray comforter. A similar dull, heavy anxiety dampened my soul. In February, it seems spring fever often accentuates longings and heightens impatience.
And yet something else within me refused to accept this blanket of despair.
I walked my usual walk along our lake's shoreline and prayed: “Lord, show me something that will reaffirm my hope in You.”
I turned my gaze to the other side of the road, away from the frozen lake, as if to expect an immediate response.
There it was! An old, jagged tree stump, rotten and bald and much too tall for being so thoroughly dead, showed up out of nowhere. My jaw fell open; I found myself gawking. I’d walked this same segment of roadway many times before, but had never noticed THIS.
The image? Death. Peeling bark. Decay. Infestation. Rotten wood like this had to be a termite paradise, for sure.
But wait…. A new sapling of several years oh so miraculously snuggled up against this stump, sharing the same earth, entwining its living, growing roots with others that were long dead. It reached toward that gray sky as if empowered by the example of its noble predecessor, standing maybe 25 feet tall - skinny, twiggy, and barren of leaves on this February day. It certainly did not match the majesty or maturity of the “glory days” experienced by its now deceased parent tree. But it was on its way.
Fully alive and growing, this young tree flourished not because of its own innate strength, but because of its dependence on the God-given forces of nature – and perhaps initially the support and protection of the stump. I imagined something moving inside that young trunk and on up into those branches, excitement perhaps, as well as the energy bestowed by God. Summer is coming! Get ready! The next season of sunshine and rain and NEW LIFE is coming! It seemed to speak to me of the most basic promises of the Christian life: ongoing change, possibility, and the reality of renewal.
Hope in Christ is so much like this. It is like perpetual motion that constantly recycles God’s fingerprints all over the place, even when physical organs and bodies and even dreams falter or die. Hope means living resurrected lives right now with a mind free to learn, a will free to choose what is True, and emotions free to soar beyond loss.
This is true because hope means believing that His purposes exceed my own. It includes studying what has gone before in other believers’ lives and knowing that a similar passage lies within my own heart. Earthly humanity leads all of us on a journey that is defined by either despair or hope as we face the big questions of life, and the finality of death. Ultimately, either testimony speaks for itself.
The Christian life forces us to face both degeneration and death (the stump) AND the resurrection of pain in the form new life (the young tree). Together, they paint a promise of hope on every level – physical, emotional, spiritual. Together, they speak what is True.
The old tree stump and the new sapling had much to say about the cycle of life, about the definition of healing, and the fact that life on earth is so very temporary. Their last word to me, as I passed on by and headed toward home? LIFE. Life ultimately prevails. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ. We can LIVE, even in the midst of change, especially in the midst of restoration. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Praise God that such victory belongs to me!
copyright 2005 Beth Muehlhausen
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