Lesson in the Gutter

It finally happened.  I have a running injury.  I think the problem is my piriformis muscle (bet you didn’t know you had one of those), but I have a weekend appointment to find out.  It’s hard to slow down, but it’s in the slowing and the contemplating, and even in the pain, that lessons are best learned.  You’d think I’d have learned that before this.

The other evening, because of my injury, I took a long walk instead of a run.  I’ve written before about how much fun it has been to get to know my neighborhood throughout the seasons.  One of my favorite parts of regular exercise is getting outside.  I’ve learned to crave it.  I didn’t take any music along this time.  I wanted to think, to soak in the evening, to watch the sun sink and the clouds turn pink and orange.  I was looking at all of the flowering trees and thinking how lovely they are when I noticed leaves crunching under my feet.  I began to notice as I walked along that there were black, and crunchy leaves all along the side of the road and piled in the gutter.  It felt strange.  Crunchy leaves are for fallish walks.

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I looked up into the tree branches and began to understand.  We had a very early and prolonged spring thaw.  In February we had enough days in the 70s to allow the pear trees to bloom and leaf out.  It was so surprising, so pleasant, so joyful to find spring in the middle of winter!  It seemed like an unexpected gift.  Then, when March came on, it got cold again.  A few nights saw temps drop into the teens.  The fresh green leaves on the pear trees didn’t make it.  The night before my walk we’d had some rain.  The storm blew and beat many of the dead leaves from the branches and piled them up in the gutter.  They never even had a chance to turn red–just black–and dead, and now they were crunching beneath my feet.

I gasped a little as I stared up into the branches and the light began to dawn.  I am, currently, just like the pear trees.  I’m tired.  I hurt.  I’m a teacher and it’s still too long until spring break.  I’m a mother and a grandmother and my children and grandchildren are grieving, so I grieve, too.  Places I thought were safe and homey feel dangerous and hostile.  I’m sad.  I’m stressed. I feel frozen, dead, and crunchy.

I began this year with such joy, such hope, such amazement at all God had done.  I was living in Ephesians 3:20,  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…”  God had blessed until my cup was over-flowing.  Like the spring weather we had in February, it was all a total surprise.  I hadn’t planned it; I didn’t do anything to make it happen, God just put it all in place.  I would never have even thought to ask for it.  God’s gifts are often like that–out of the blue complete surprises, as sweet as 70 degrees in February.  Then, it all fell apart.  The dream turned into a nightmare.  My freshly borne leaves turned black, fell, and are now crunching beneath the feet of passers-by.

As I continued to look up into every pear tree I walked under, I noticed something else.  It was only the outside leaves that were gone.

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On the inside branches of the trees were fresh green leaves, and they were gently blowing in the breeze.  Then I remembered II Corinthians 4:16-18,   “So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light  momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things which are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are not seen are eternal.”

As I continued my walk, the breeze picked up and caught the now blooming cherry blossoms.  It looked like pink snow was falling.  I rounded a corner and came upon another pile of dead, black, crunchy leaves, but on top of this pile pink blossoms were accumulating.  Fresh, pink beauty mixing with old, black pain. I gasped again.

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There’s a song we sang often when our children were all at home.  George and I would harmonize and the five of them would sing along, most of the time when we on a road trip.  Its message explains the lesson I learned from the leaves and the cherry blossom petals.  God knows just how to get my attention.  I’m thankful.

Day by day, and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Gives unto each day what He deems best,

Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,

With a special mercy for each hour;

All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,

He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.

The protection of His child and treasure

is a charge that on Himself he laid;

“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure.”

This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,

So to trust thy promises, O Lord,

That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,

Offered me within Thy Holy Word.

Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,

E’er to take, as from a Father’s hand,

One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,

Till we reach the promised land.

–Lina Sandell

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