Despite the dawn chill, Ben was eager to climb out of bed. Clothed with barely a sound, feet heavily booted and fingers gloved, he slid out the back door. Martha, still cocooned in the duvet, had not stirred.
His beloved black lab Magpie made the perfect companion. Quiet, exceedingly loyal, she knew her job and padded along in the frost covered grass beside him.
“Morning Maggie,” Ben grunted. A short, cheerful bark was her usual answer.
Fine for a canine, he thought, to be obedient and helpful. But a woman ought to be more spirited, ought to light a fire in her man once in awhile. He thought of young Martha, the girl whose passion and fire had pushed him to take a chance. It had been her idea to leave the city and buy this farm years ago, risking what little they had on the new venture.
He had balked, worried and reasoned. But she was full of enthusiasm, her reddish curls bouncing.
“Just pray about it Ben,” she had insisted. “You just go and ask the Lord. He’s with me on this one.”
And He had been. Their little had farm hadn’t made them rich, but it had brewed a healthy, hearty living for their four children. The kids worked alongside their father in the maple bush, tapping the trees each year, sweating with the kettles in the sugarshack. The girls had loved the school groups that came through, entertained and educated them well. His son had driven the wagons down the road and through the woods, learning to handle the horses.
Now their kids were grown and Ben had hired outside of the family. Young folk with degrees in marketing and high ideas of how to modernize the farm in order to keep up with the world. Although occasionally sensible, most of them had mouths bigger than their minds. But Ben’s joints swelled and complained - he needed their help, despite the unsolicited advice.
It was Martha’s advice he craved, missing how she used to hand it out generously with dinner. She’d ask about his day or about the local and national happenings. And after listening intently, her heart would burst forth onto her sleeve. He adored how her cheeks would flush hotly and her eyes spark. Ben drank deeply of Martha then, warmed and loving her passion for every day things.
But he’d been cold for a time now. Her fire had gone out, stoked - maybe by the waters of time or the quicksand of hormones. He feared it was burnt out, smothered by boredom or negligence. Had he treated her wrong somehow, not loved her as she needed? Lord help me show her how precious she is.
Still Martha lay like spent coals, growing dusty and white.
The morning sounds of the woods enveloped Ben and Magpie, the creatures within familiar with the pair. Birds were beginning to return from their southern winter homes, chirps and calls echoing through the leafless trees. Branches creaked in the wind and the ground’s song changed with each step, some crackled with frost, others sucked through moaning mud. The sap was running strong this year, temperatures at night staying low and the spring sunshine heating the maples nicely. Ben’s mind was content with production, his will satisfied with the work.
If only home would warm up a little.
Perhaps Martha was going through a winter of her own. Long and harsh as Ben knew that season to be, he never despaired of it. Winter thawed into spring and it was that cycle which produced the lifeblood of his business. Without it, his children would have grown up differently and he would likely be a man unfulfilled. Winter brought sap, and sap, when boiled down, produced the sweetest thing in God’s whole earth. The only thing that made Martha’s kisses sweeter was a dab of their own maple syrup on her eager lips.
Is that what I’m doing now Lord, waiting out the winter? Guess it hasn’t really been that long. But I’m older and the cold gets to me more than it used to. I need her warmth Lord.
As he opened the bucket under the tap, Ben saw the abundance of sap inside. Untapped and alone, this tree would have held its sweet treasure deep inside. But with a little work and a season of patience, the maple would generously yield.
I’ll be waiting on You Lord, my Martha’s worth every minute.
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