Last week my husband and I dragged the Yucca plant into the greenhouse to be wrapped up cosy for the winter. As a result the front corner of the house looked a little bare. And there's a grubby circular mark on the paving that needed to be scrubbed or covered up - so covered up it was. I pulled Norman the Nordmann Fir Christmas tree over to fill the gap even though it was only early November.
Norman has a special place in my heart, because we rescued him a year ago. Typically late to the game, we went shopping for a smallish (cheapish) Christmas tree in December last year for the Yucca-spot near the front door because Bruce the Spruce, the previous incumbent, had gone brown and crispy by May. Alas, the locusts had visited the garden centre before us and the enormous space where the flock of Christmas trees had been was a wasteland of broken branches, discarded labels and lots of pine needles. Huddled in a corner, askew in his tiny pot and looking ashamed of himself was Norman. Of course we had to bring him home. (Mostly because there weren't any more).
So Norman joined the family. He held up his spindly arms to hold aloft the Christmas lights and only fell over a few times when someone tripped over the cable. He did his best. He gained in confidence as the festive season progressed and by early January he was reluctant to surrender the lights. When the Yucca reclaimed his spot in April when the frosts passed Norman retreated into a corner again but this time with his head held high. He had purpose in life. He was biding his time.
And now Norman reigns once again. And do you know, this year he's impressive. He's a good looking tree. He stands a bit taller, reaches out a bit further. He is bushy and lush-looking. And the thing that struck me powerfully is that the season's new growth is a vivid bright green and contrasts beautifully with the old Norman. You can see clearly where he's grown.
I know that it's not the end of the year yet when we all get a bit maudlin and start reflecting on the past year and making resolutions for the new one. It's only November and not the traditional time for taking stock, but I'll be busy and flapping about Christmas in a few weeks and then I'll be moaning about how depressing January is after that so now seems a good a time as any, doesn't it?
Father God, I really think that I'm a bit like Norman. When I think about the 'me' of twelve months ago in comparison with today's 'me', I definitely have fresh new growth that contrasts dramatically with the dark foliage that I'm used to. Norman's new bits are bushy and vibrant and beautiful, but they're also softer and less prickly than his dark, last year's branches. As the new bright green bits were developing over the summer and autumn they were very fragile indeed and when I forgot to water him they'd droop, only to perk up quickly when I gave him a drink. Now they're firming up ready for the winter when it'll get icy cold and windy. He needs to hold those Christmas lights safely in the middle of whatever December throws at him, and his delicate new fronds will soon toughen up.
I too have delicate bits. Little hopes and dreams that a year ago hadn't been born. They're vulnerable and I'm protective and a bit nervous about people seeing them, but they're part of me and they only grew because you caused them to grow. They emerged and drooped in dry weather and then lifted their heads again when they were nourished. They're meant to be there. They are alive and they're growing. Thankyou, Father.
I have spent the last year alternately huddling close to you and then wandering off, distracted, only to come running back when the gale started. I have learned an awful lot about faithfulness in prayer and about finding time to sit quietly with you and you have taken my pathetic little offerings and you have given me back riches that I couldn't have imagined. Why do I ever wander away, when being here with you is so wonderful?
I've learned that I need to read more of your Word, even if it means reading less of other people's. I have a stack of books this high - yes, that high - to read; on a myriad of worthy subjects: prayer, prophecy, ministry to women, theology... but the small red book with the Cross on the front holds more wisdom than all of the others.
My bright green bits are firmly attached to their older, darker, pricklier parts but the eye is drawn to the new bits. They're beautiful and they make me stand a little taller. They show that I've grown; that I've been there through the sun and the rain and I've soaked you up and let you feed me and shine on me. My branches reach out further for you. Norman has a little pot inside a bigger one and the bigger one is heavy and stable and keeps him upright when he rocks. That's exactly what you do for me. As long as my little pot is hidden inside you offer me your stability, your safety, your protection. I still have to stick my head above the parapet and I still sway in the wind and bend under the weight of heavy snow, but I can remain upright.
I am in you.
You make me grow. I can see that I am different. I am stronger.
Norman has his scars, too. At some point in the year he developed some infection or other and now his top spike sort of has a bite out of it. As if someone gnawed at it for a while until I sprayed him with something and it got better. I don't think he'll ever be quite straight; near enough still to be gorgeous, but he's not perfectly perpendicular, thanks to his midsummer problem. I quite like his imperfections - they make him unique.
|Bushy and beautiful|
The same holds true for me. I am scarred by knocks that have wounded me. I've been injured, but you have healed me. I am changed by these incidents, but not destroyed. I stand as straight as I can, but I am far from perfect. Only a broken jar lets the perfume run out.
I've learned that I don't have to be the sum of my experiences; I have been wounded but I don't have to nurse those open hurts and accept that I will always limp because of them. You can heal. You want to heal, but I have to stop huddling over the injury and lift my head so that you can place your healing hand on it. I may always bear the scar but it no longer need hurt. I am not crippled by the deep wounds from long ago. I have learned this recently and I'm still processing what it means, but every day I am more and more sure that you are in the business of restoration.
You want me to hold my head high, not to curl up in pain.
I've learned about the value of friendship and I've realised how far short we fall in our relationships with each other. How often we ask, 'How are you?' and accept a bright, 'Fine!' when we know that it isn't true. How we offer each other 'I'm great, thanks!' when our lives are in tatters. I've seen the beauty of real love and companionship and accountability in a friendship.
I'm taking baby steps in controlling my temper, especially at bedtime when the children are full of energy and mischief and I have run out of energy, of patience and tolerance. I'm learning how to flex the self-control muscle when I want to scream and shout and throw things in a tantrum of my own. Father, whatever else you have in store for me in the next twelve months, help me get on top of this one, will you?
Lord I have so far to go. When I learn a little I get an inkling of what there still is out there to learn. One day I find this discouraging, but there are times when I am skipping happily alongside my Shepherd and I just can't wait to see what he'll show me next. Will next year's new growth see me getting beyond my need to have everything perfect? My problems with anxiety? My critical nature? You know how long the list is.
But I have done some growing. It shows - I'm sure it does.
If Norman were back in the garden centre he wouldn't be cowering in a corner any more, the last rejected tree in the shop. No, someone organised and keen would snaffle him up in late November. We took him in when he was a bit bedraggled and sorry for himself and look at him now!
You must be proud.
I've bought new lights to celebrate his newfound growth. A transformed tree needs new lights, and more of them.
They're going to be brighter this year than ever before.