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Find New Life: Tending Hope

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I bought a half-dead tree several years ago during an End-of-Season-Clearance sale at the hardware store. I knew better. But, it seemed a reasonable risk for the price.

I dumped the short twiggy weeping crab apple tree out of a sad little plastic bucket and transplanted it near the rain downspout, in a hidden sheltered corner of our house, safe from high-altitude wind and dry extremity. I gave it fussy attention, hoping for a piece of my Midwest roots to bloom in the pine forest of the Rocky Mountains.

Four years later, early morning coffee pot burbling quietly in the kitchen, I leaned over the sink to peer out the window and admire the first batch of tiny red apples on the thriving tree. My loud gasp startled the dog at her bowl. She froze, water dribbling off her chin, and looked at me with a cocked-head question. “What? What’s the matter?” Heavy paws ran behind my sock feet as we both dashed out the back door.

Broken in Two

Fresh bear tracks in the soft garden pathway led to the tree. During the night, my ten foot tree had been snapped in half by a hungry black bear. Top limbs were sheared clean of apples and left in a wilted in a pile on the gravel. I imagined the portly bear sitting on his bottom, legs outstretched with heavy padded feet, gorging extra calories for the winter ahead, cleaning off branches the way a panda strips bamboo. The lower half of the broken tree remained like a stunned middle-school girl in the first minutes after a very bad haircut.

Sometimes the things we plant don’t bloom as planned.

Over the years, my husband and I have had our own hard sheering and pruning conversations about things other than trees. We have well-practiced angry dances about things like sex, intimacy, and weedy threats to our marriage. Depending on the issue, usually one of us threatens with the huge loppers, while the other stands with wringing hands.

Now and then we all need a healthy pruning. Certain old growth needs to be cut back, tossed out so fresh, better life can grow — which is why I decided to keep the bad-hair-day tree and help it recover.

A few weeks back, a small herd of deer, including some sweet spotted twin fawns took to wandering our forest neighborhood. When nobody was watching, the deer munched up any available leafy garden growth. Most of the new leaves on my barely-recovered crab apple disappeared. A lone twig still standing, the tree was forlorn and naked like a plucked chicken perched on a barnyard fence.

How long to the point of no return?

My husband and I have been in similar naked plucked-chicken stages of our marriage, barely surviving, pruned down to the last vestiges of all that we believed. We have laid in bed next to each other, together but lonely, insecure and apart, hearts left for dead. Over the course of many autumns, we have walked together through intimate crisis into healing. In the process, I’ve come to believe that only God can prune and tend the unseen places of our hearts in unexpected ways; ways that bring beauty beyond recognition. It’s a seasonal process which looks like my over-pruned crab, and includes feelings of point-of-no-return ugliness and death. But, in my limited experience, I can say this with confidence:

If Jesus is at the center of the tending, new life branches out, and Spirit-breathed fruit grows. It does.

Certain autumn nights, when my bedroom window is open and the breeze is just right I look up at the stars and wonder if the bears are hibernating yet. I slide my heat-seeking body under my husband’s heavy sleeping arm and remember when I used to be afraid of him, of being intimate, of the much needed pruning in our marriage. I feel his breath on my face and feel thankful for the pain that came before, and all the stolen fruit and broken days that preceded this blooming season.

And that’s why the apple tree will stay. Even if I knew that bears would come, and limbs would break, and tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

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Kelley J. Leigh is a mid-life writer and mom to four sons. Kelley’s home base is a quirky little mountain town in Colorado where she writes openly about intimacy issues and recovery in marriage and faith. You can find her at Twitter @KelleyJLeigh, Facebook, or at her blog, www.kelleyjleigh.com where this first appeared.

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Find New Life: Feeling lost? God invites you to inhabit new life. Wherever you find yourself on the journey, God is always calling us to something even more. The bible reassures us that God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19), and yet we sometimes pass over the new thing, in search of the next thing. But what if what God has for you is in the letting go of what you know and what you've already done? To find life, we must first lose it (Matthew 10:39). But what does that mean, really? Join us for this series, Find New Life. Together, let's find our footing. Let's embrace the new thing God has for each of us.

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