Leafless not lifeless - JJ Landis
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Leafless not lifeless

Chad Harnish Photo

All through November, I hear of things which people are thankful. Some common selections are: parents, children, job, husband, house, food, friends. It’s a healthy exercise in gratitude.


Of course, we should acknowledge all the positives in our lives. The discipline of speaking and writing them trains our minds to see more of the good around us.


When I was first married, I kept a gratitude journal. Each morning, I wrote five things I considered blessings. In just a few days, I ran out of the big ticket items – health, husband, prosperity, etc. – and had to dig a mite deeper to see that I was thankful for the often overlooked joys. A cup of coffee. A sunny day. A good book.


But. Isn’t that too easy? We thank God for the obvious, for the comforts. For smiles. For pleasure. For good people, good health.


What happens when there is no coffee? When I get rained on? When I am sick?


Am I as full of gratitude when money is tight? When my car dies? When my feelings are hurt?


It is unsettling to thank God for my home when so many are homeless and for food when so many are hungry. With every natural disaster and every tragedy I hear of, I think, “Ohhhhh. I’m so glad that is not me. Thank you, thank you, thank you that I didn’t go through that.”


But is a storm-free life really all that productive for my spiritual growth?


A church song says: Count your blessings name them one by one. Count your blessings see what God has done…


And I agree we should count them. Repeatedly count them.


But let’s not assume that “trouble-free” and “blessing” are one and the same.


Sometimes I identify all the stable and comfortable aspects of my life, in fear. Deep inside my spirit in the place that doesn’t often see the revealing light of truth, I think, “Please keep me in a bubble of protection. Don’t let me experience that person’s heartache. Please let me remain firmly on the path of ease.”


November can be a tough month where I live, with the weather deciding once and for all that summer is over and the sunlight calling it a day by 5 p.m.


Darkness and chill drive us inside. We examine our lives because we have so many hours next to the people we live with. We are stuck within the walls of homes and lifestyles we built, for better or worse.


November gives us more than shifting weather patterns and a time change though. Have you noticed the sky?


The sunrises and sunsets are indescribable this time of year. Flaming coral next to blushing pink. Menacing deep blue collides with pure white. Anything goes with the November sky. The brilliance can take my breath away. The sky commands my attention.


November is the most glorious month. Sure spring is hopeful with new growth. Summer is calm and kind. Winter snow is magical.


But for me, the barren, leafless trees are the most artistic, noble, stalwart examples of a life that points to God.


We will be in Florida with family on Thanksgiving, our tradition. People tell me I’m lucky for the annual trip. But sometimes the setting feels flavorless and unromantic. I know, I know – how dare I not cherish the warmth, water, and sand. Don’t misunderstand me – eating pumpkin pie by the pool is not so terrible.


However, my preference is vibrancy. Dynamic seasons. A gritty morning where hunkering down in the house is acceptable followed by a warm autumn afternoon that beckons people outside. Fall has a lot of personality, many faces.


Nothing makes me revere the Lord quite like the November sky seen through the limbs of trees. It’s the prettiest site on earth to my eyes. Naked limbs that have lost their leaves. Exposed branches that remain firm, ready to tough out the coming winter.


Their emptiness allows the sky to be revealed.


November trees are leafless, not lifeless. I see more of God in leafless times.


I am thankful for the hurts that have made me more compassionate.


I am thankful I don’t understand God’s ways, because that keeps me humble.


I am thankful for depression, because then I know I am utterly helpless in my own strength.


I am thankful for the dark, because then I know the light.


I am thankful for sickness, because then I know health.


I am thankful I am weak, because then I rely on him.


I am thankful that God built in a time of rejuvenation for trees.


I am thankful he did that for us too, in the form of sleep and Sabbath, but also in seasons of life.


I am thankful for brokenness because, then I am made whole again, reinforced by God’s grace.


It’s hard to write this because honestly I don’t want any hardship. I will most definitely choose comfort whenever I have a choice.


But if we are always bursting with bubbling happiness and an effortless life, I believe we lose out. I don’t necessarily know that we are more blessed than others if we have endless creature comforts, money, leisure time.


Maybe the blessings are the difficulties.


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:3-10)


So, in those times when your leaves have fallen, when your color is gone, when you are cold and bare, remember that the sky is more visible through you now than when your leaves flourished.

Photo Credit: Chad Harnish

  • Carissa Magras
    Posted at 02:13h, 22 November Reply

    Yes, yes, YES! When Christians respond with “I am blessed!”, it is always a bit like nails on a chalkboard to me. Not because we are not blessed – we are – but because my definition of blessing is typically different than most. Thank you for articulating it in such a beautiful and poetic way. I am blessed – because He was, is, and yet to come. Period. End of story. Not because I live in America, not because I’m healthy, not because I am financially provided for, not because of anything “good”, except for God. I have been redeemed, therefore I am blessed. You are right… it is hard to “bask in the blessings” when we’re ill, grieving, homeless, mistreated, and falling apart. But God never promised easy paths. He just promised that He would bring good from the evil done (i.e. sin or suffering experienced). Your posts are always sobering, and never bubbly or “feel good”, but they speak truth – a truth that brings light in much different way than sugar-coated motivational quotes. But light nonetheless. Keep at it. You are the kind of write I aspired to be (I chose to stop because of crickets from people’s discomfort… don’t be like me… keep going even when it’s quiet… you’re making a difference, that might only be known in Heaven). 🙂

  • Stacey
    Posted at 08:09h, 21 November Reply

    Another book marked favorite post from your blog! My Dad’s favorite verses are Matthew 5:3-10. They are mine too.

    And I SOOOO get it – the joy journal. I started one and it has sat beside my bed with the pen on top for the past few months. I got to 5 daily entries – and now it serves as a token of guilt as if to say, “You don’t feel gratitude today?” Trust me, I DO, feel gratitude. I feel it immensely! Rather, I don’t have the withitness / energy to WRITE my gratitude / joys down. I do think about them and study them in my brain before closing my eyes to sleep. I hope that counts.

    I can so relate to your feelings about this season of November and I love your closing words – “the sky is more visible through you now than when you flourished.”

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