Nicholas pulled up the hood of his cloak. Fresh snow flakes fell and caught on his cheeks. The storm gathered, changed directions, and blew at his back. He was exhausted and grateful for the extra help. But, if he was not to perish, he had to find a place to shelter. The road before him, and the land around it, was obliterated by the blizzard.
What terrible things we do in your name. Lord, forgive me.
For the briefest moment the storm ceased. In the distance he saw a shepherd’s hut.
If I step off the road and the storm starts again….
He ran as fast as his emaciated body and crippled leg would allow; eyes fixed on the hut. Before he reached it the wind howled in renewed fury. Swirling fresh snow completely obscuring his vision.
I will go round in circles. I am a dead man.
He lowered his head and continued in what he thought was the direction of the hut.
Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit. If I must meet You today, then I can only rejoice.
How many times had he prayed that prayer? Before battle after battle against the Germans, who denied the One True church. While captured and under torture. After his debilitating wound at the hands of Swedish soldiers in the battle of Rambervillers.
Lord, take me now. I am a clumsy oaf, a vile man. I even failed as a religious hermit. I have nothing. I am nothing.
Against all expectations, the hut loomed in front of him. Nicholas staggered in, dropped into a sheltered corner, and slept.
He woke after dawn, hungry and immediately alert to the silence.
I may as well die here as anywhere, Lord. Die in this barren place. At least you are with me. My strength and my shield.
He staggered to the door.
His footprints had been completely eradicated.
To the left of the door, surrounded by freshly fallen snow, stood one majestic tree. Stripped of all its leaves, gnarled branches reached up to the sky.
Nicholas fell to his knees.
Oh, Lord, how could I forget? Show me the way.
It had been his eighteenth winter. Nicholas, a lad at life’s crossroads; destitute and without purpose.
I have nothing. I am nobody. Where is my place?
God revealed himself through a tree.
That tree, too, was stripped bare of its leaves. He had wished it was summer. Then there would be fruit to pick. Fruit to fill his empty stomach. Nicholas remembered his exact thoughts from that day.
Ah, tree, bound up in yourself, protected from the ravages of winter. Safe you are as the storms rage. You are more fortunate than a man who has to find his way alone in the world. God has made you so perfectly. Fashioned you so that every winter you preserve your strength. Each spring you put forth a glorious display of leaves and flowers. So you please the eye and refresh the spirit. In summer with unfailing generosity you provide a crop of delicious fruit. Year after year you go, uncomplaining through each season. Year after year God sustains you with rain and sun and soil. How fortunate you are that He shines such blessing on you. He provides for you everything that you need and you are but a tree!
He remained staring at the tree, torn between hope and despair, until God revealed himself.
Forgive me, Lord, for forgetting, however briefly, the lesson you taught me that day. You will never leave me nor forsake you. You number the hairs on my head. As you provide for this tree in each season so you will provide for me. Show me a sign.
He searched the horizon. Eventually a weary horse, pulling a hay cart, ambled along the road, not far to his right. Nicholas lumbered up to the road and stood in the middle.
‘Move out of my way or I’ll run you down.’
‘I mean you no harm, kind sir.’ He held his hands out. ‘I am a weary soldier, returned from the Holy War, wounded at the hand of the Swedes. A lift is all I need, to the nearest town.’
‘A lift and some breakfast more like it. Come.’
Nicholas clambered aboard and sat next to the driver.
‘Where are you heading?’
Paris. I have an uncle there who is a Carmelite monk. I will apply to them to work at some menial tasks.
Inspired by the conversion story of Nicholas Herman born c1611. He became the Carmelite Monk, Brother Lawrence, who, moment by practiced The Presence of God.
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