This morning I was scheduled to be in the city near where our church meets. For me, that is about a thirty minute drive. As I opened the curtains upon getting out of bed, I saw a few snow flurries fluttering here and there outside our window. As I started into my morning routine, the dog let me know that she needed to go outside. I hooked the leash, which was inside the hallway under the door that leads to the garage, to her collar and opened the door. I reached around to press the button that would raise the garage door. She stumbled down the stairs (she has been having increasing difficulties with her back legs) and went out to the patio. I decided it would be a good time to feed the outdoor critters as well. I slipped on some shoes that were in the hallway, grabbed the container of bird food, squirrel food, and an ear of corn for the squirrel feeder and headed outside. The snow had started to fall more heavily as I walked from station to station to feed the various outdoor creatures that I have grown to love taking care of. I have always been an animal lover and have always been sensitive to their care. The Bible says that God sees and takes care of the every sparrow; I like to think I am being one of God’s helpers as I provide food for them, especially in the cold months when the ground is frozen and food is hard to find. I checked the road conditions online to make sure my drive would be manageable–ever since my car accident, I have had difficulties driving when there is snow on the roads. Conditions were still good so I prepared to leave.
There are several ways that I can get to where I was scheduled to be. As I turned out of the alley and onto the road, I decided to take the back roads. The roads around our house were fine, so I figured the back roads would be as well. Besides, the back roads would be much less congested with other drivers, and since I have a tendency to get frustrated easily with those driving too slowly, I felt it would be much more relaxing. I made the turn that would take me back to the county road that would wind its way through farm country before emerging into the city of Maple Grove. As suspected, there wasn’t another vehicle anywhere around me throughout the country part of the drive. I was listening to worship music and enjoying the scenery as I drove. I passed farms fields where cows stood at a hay feeder, munching on the nourishment the farmer had provided for them. In other fields I saw horses, standing in the falling snow, not seeming to mind one bit the precipitation falling on them. At one point, a pheasant ran across the road in front of me. I slowed down to assure its safe arrival on the other side. I drove past miles of farmland. If the fields did not hold animals, they sat barren of any life. Most were covered with some snow, although one could often see the remnants of what was previously harvested–pieces of corn stalks frozen into what appeared to be dead ground. Occasionally there would be a tree in the midst of a field. It too, would appear to be stripped of any life. Just six months previously, those trees, most likely, were adorned with leaves of green–leaves that would indicate life and growth. The beauty of the white snow that barely covered the miles of land could not completely conceal that what was meant to grow there, could not grow at this time. For some, there is no beauty to be found in winter. They look at the bare fields and bare trees and see only death–nothing that would indicate life or nourishment. The below zero temperatures just add to the body the chill that their hearts feel as the world lies silent and the fields lie empty.
I knew better, though. My dad grew up on a farm. He spent many hours in the backyard of our house in the suburbs tending to his gardens. Flower beds and vegetable plants bloomed year after year, providing our yard with beauty and our table with fresh produce. But, that wasn’t accomplished without effort. It took labor and time. My dad would spend hours in the spring, digging holes to carefully place the seeds or plants. In the summer, he would be found kneeling on the ground, patiently pulling weeds that threatened to choke his beloved plants. In the fall, he would harvest fruits and vegetables, and, after the first frost, he would pull the dead plants from the ground so they wouldn’t contaminate the soil. The snows of winter covered the dirt that once held the plants, but he used to tell me that the snow was very important to a farmer. The snow served two purposes. First, the snow served as added moisture to the soil, for in the spring, as the snow melted, the resulting water would soak the soil, allowing the extra moisture to be pulled deep into the dirt. For some plants, trees included, the snow that covered the soil in the winter allowed the plant to grow again in the spring. The roots of the trees would draw the water down to them so that, even though it may appear dead, the tree was actually being strengthened as the roots forged deeper into the earth. Second, the winter, and the resulting cold and snow, allowed the land to rest. If the sun always beat down on it and the rains battered it again and again, the farmland would be at risk of total erosion. New dirt would constantly need to be added in order to have enough depth for a plant, such as a corn stalk, to grow. Instead, winter provides a season of rest for the land. When the snow melts in the spring, and the sun shines to warm up the land, it will once again be ready for the farmer to cultivate it.
As I passed what appeared to be dead land on my ride this morning, I thought about what was happening underneath the snow-covered soil. What the human eye is unable to see is the rest that is taking place and the nourishment that will be garnered from the snow once it melts. I then thought how winter is like that in my own life as well. Living in the north means winters that are cold and outdoor activities are limited. Now, if you know me, you know that I am a lover of all things winter. For me, the colder the better. Beyond personal preference, though, it is the cold of the winter that allows for time spent indoors. It allows for time to feed my mind with good books that can deepen my faith and make me think. It allows for time spent with family, in front of a warm fire or cuddled up with a blanket and hot chocolate. It allows for more elaborate home cooked meals and the lingering around the table to just talk that the busyness of summer doesn’t seem to give. It allows for a season of rest from outdoor yard work–no grass to cut, no weeds to pull, no dirt to move. It allows for time to spend with God to strengthen my walk and draw me closer to Him. Underneath the exterior that may sometimes appear to be dead, God is working. He is working in my life and in my heart, giving me rest and showing me things that I may not see if I didn’t have this season to spend indoors away from barbecue’s and bonfires and the noises that accompany warmer weather. He continues to show me His care as the squirrels still scamper up and down the tree outside my kitchen window even when I forget to feed them or run out of food. The squirrels and birds are His creatures, and He sees and cares for every one.
The tree outside my window, the trees in the fields, and the fields themselves may appear to be dead, but I know better. Underneath it all, God is working, preparing for the day when the snow melts and the sun shines warm, and the life that is hidden underground now will once again appear.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)