Cattail Glory

IMG_7553.JPGIn this season between seasons, when it’s not really winter but doesn’t really seem like spring either, the changes occurring in the natural world are sometimes very subtle.  Yet, I have learned, they are there.  Nothing is really sitting still.  Everything is silently, gradually, almost imperceptibly, readying itself for when it’s time to burst forth into newness of life.  It does require my camera and I to look harder on these days when a walk still requires me to wear the old winter hat and mittens, but the discoveries we do make of coming spring are only that much more triumphant.

Today I take note: The last of the cattails that have been neat little brown cylindrical sausages on sticks all winter are finally, after months of wear by wind and snow, disintegrating into downy halos of seed.  They are dying, giving up of the very last of themselves.  Soon the bare stalks will turn soft as well, bowing to the swamp below them nevermore to rise again.

But we all know that somewhere, in other bare nooks in the swamp, baby cattails will spring forth from the downy fluff these tired old stalks are releasing to the wind.  There would be no continuance of life if they held onto the gift they possessed; it is only in the letting go that life will go on.  They release the old, looking forward unto the new and better things to come—and in the late afternoon sunshine, it’s as though they’re crowned with glory.

“But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. .”  (Philippians 3:13-14, KJV)

Bark: Birch

IMG_2524.JPGIMG_2417IMG_2425.JPGIMG_2384.JPGThere are certain elements of the forest that stand out more in the winter than they do in the summer—and the bare branches and trunks of the trees are certainly one of them.

So it was not surprising that this graceful stand of birch caught my attention for the first time yesterday, though I’ve been past it many times before without looking twice.  Suddenly I was seeing color where I never had before, now that there were no brilliant greens of summer to distract my eye.  Intrigued, I ventured off the trail into knee-deep snow just to get a closer look.

Every tree was so unique in it’s coloring, it was hard to stop with photographing just one.  Some were purest white, with soft watercolor-like washes of gray and blush pink.  Others were these magnificent sunset shades of vibrant rose and orange, darkening into the richest shades of sepia and burgundy.  And all of them detailed with the characteristic black eyes and white dashes, dramatic splits, curls and ringlets of their kind.

Is there anything quite so lovely as the bark of a birch tree as it splits and curls beautifully back to make room for the new growth beneath?IMG_2419I think this is such a magnificent picture of the transformation Christ works in our lives.  He gently, but steadily, peels back the layers of sin and selfishness wrapped around our hearts, time after time bringing to light something altogether new, each time a little better than the last, as we grow and stretch and become more and more like Him.

There is no hurry, no impatience, no frustration. Instead, it’s a continual, lifelong process, with the patient, persistent precision of a Master Artist in the midst of a masterpiece.  Taking us where we’re at, but always nudging us forward to what He knows we can be, what He intended us to be.

And just like the birch trees, there’s so much beauty in the process.  No, it doesn’t always feel like it.  Sometimes, all we’re really aware of in the moment is the pain of the breaking and splitting and peeling back of the old self we cling to.  Sometimes it may not be until we look back that we realize how we have been changed for the better.  But it is always  beautiful, if only to those looking on, because we are continually becoming more like Christ.

“…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  (Ephesians 4:22-24)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)