Blessings In Branches

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Cold and sunless and slushy and windy and colorless. Winter is here, and it seems inclined toward proving right all the disparaging remarks everyone's been making about it.

But we woke up on a recent Sunday morning to a blanket of snow, just enough to give everything the veneer of white but not enough to obscure the pointed blades of grass that poked up from underneath. But it kept coming. Karen and the kids and I sat at the kitchen table nestled in the corner of windows that looks out on the towering maple in the back yard. Our hands wrapped around cups of tea, cocoa, and coffee, respectively, as we willed their warmth to transfer to our chilled fingertips. We marveled as the snowflakes grew bigger and more beautiful, becoming the kind of snow that covers Christmas cards. My dad has always called those kinds of snowfalls "Hollywood snow," and it was enough to cause Karen to exclaim, "We're in a snow globe!"

Sunday is a day of rest around our house. A day for playing games, reading a book (if a quiet corner can be found in this boisterous house), taking naps, and sharing meals with one another and the occasional friend. That particular Sunday I also knew would need to be a day to run. Running and rest seem unlikely friends, but I knew that something about whisking through the woods near our home, the snowflakes falling and my breath coming out in puffs of ephemeral fog would be rest for my soul, the part of me that needed it most.

So as the rest of the house tucked in for a long winter's nap I donned running apparel and my warmest knit cap. (Rhyme intended)

Throughout the first quarter hour I was sure I had made a mistake. I hadn't run for almost a week because temperatures had plunged so low, and my lackluster pace through the woods was feeling like anything but rest.

Finally, I fell into a rhythm, and I was able to look up and enjoy the view. Not long after, I began noticing all the nests in the trees. Everywhere I looked the bare branches held birds' nests. All summer long they'd been hidden by thick canopies of green, but now they were unmistakeable. Nests are often symbols of safety, security, and warmth, but as I passed underneath them I realized that I was finding them menacing somehow. I wondered why.

They were these bundles of leaves and splayed twigs set on barren branches, silhouetted black against the grey sky. The winter chill had sent all the birds seeking warmer climes, and now the nests stood unprotected and abandoned, standing out like tumors in the trees, mere caricatures of the vitality they once held. And the trees were as bare as bare can be. They were themselves with no adornment. They had been stripped. And only then could be seen all that lay in their branches. Only then could one see without obscurity what belonged and what did not.

I paused for a moment and gazed up at the branches swaying in the cold, creaking and clacking against one another in the wind-whipped snowfall. Then I ran on.

Truth be told, I am still in summer. My life is good in so many ways right now. I feel fortunate and full. But we all have our winters. Mine will come. It's not pessimism. Just life. And I'm writing this down because I need to remember. I feel like that's what God whispered to me, the restfulness he gave me on my run. He told me to remember. When my leaves fall, and my branches are laid bare to creak in the winter winds, I need to remember that while there is obvious blessing in the golds and greens of summer, there are also blessings in branches that are barren. Only in winter can we see what has made its home in us. Only when we're stripped bare—seeing what we're really made of—can we decide what will stay and what must go.