Stand beside me in my living room, looking out my back window.  The temperature is dropping outside and it’s already below freezing. So naturally you’ll have a hot drink in your hands. It might be coffee, tea – sorry I don’t have much of a selection but if you are happy with orange pekoe, earl grey or a basic green tea, I got you – otherwise I can always make you a mug of hot chocolate.  And when I say a mug, I mean a MUG.  None of this teacup stuff for us.  My mugs are big, plenty of surface area to warm both your hands at once. My mugs say, “Stay a while.  Let’s chat.”  You take a sip and squint as you peer off to the right where I am pointing. Beyond the barn, past the chicken coop.  Yep! There they are.  Five rows of little sticks poking only two or three feet above the snow.  

They stretch a little more than half way down the field towards the tree line at the back of our property and only extend about 75 feet from the south edge of our lot, which is to say, there is room for many more.  In my mind’s eye there about 600 of them, but for now five rows of twenty twigs each stand bravely tethered to bamboo stakes.  “That’s my orchard” I announce with pride and excitement.  Gala, Cortland, Jonagold, and two rows of Honeycrisp. They are the beginning of something wonderful.  I’m sure of it.  I grant you, at the moment, they don’t look like much.  Seriously, envision 100 sticks in rows 15 feet apart, with each “tree” in the row 15 feet from the one ahead of it.  The nursery classified most of them as “whips” which is to say that most of them don’t even have branches yet.

We planted them in November.  That’s what you are supposed to do with bare root trees.  It’s wild actually.  These trees have never seen a pot.  They are all grafted on semidwarf root stock to grow fast and bear quickly.  At the end of the fall, when the last leaf had fallen off, they were dug up, bundled together and their roots were packed in wet saw dust for transport.  Hubby and I picked them up the following morning at the nursery a 2 hour drive from our home and raced back to start planting them in the pre-dug holes that we had prepared.  My dad and mom met us shortly after we got home and they helped get my precious little twigs safely into their holes.  They fell dormant before they were dug up and they will wake up in my back yard this spring.  I hope they love it here.  

The reason I chose bare root trees is that they grow much faster and sturdier than a potted tree ever could.  The roots of a potted tree curl around themselves inside the pot and even if you transplant them, they are likely to just keep circling themselves rather than spreading out to develop a broad root system.  Where I live is not exactly Kansas, but we get really high winds and last year a nasty tornado rolled through town maybe 10 kms from here, so deep strong roots matter.  Right now, my brave little sticks are fast asleep, and it would be entirely excusable if you were to assume that they were nothing more than 100 inexplicably evenly spaced dead sticks trapped in a foot of snow.  But I assure you, they are trees.  They are trees whose roots even now are spreading and digging deeper into the frozen soil around them.  They are establishing themselves so that within a year or two those bamboo stakes won’t even be necessary (remind me to tell you about that another day).  As we peer out on them this wintery day from our cozy vantage point, and take another sip from our steaming mugs, they really don’t look like much.  If I’m honest, there are really no signs of life at all from where I stand.  But here’s the thing.  I know those are apple trees.  And I know I planted them deep in good soil.  I know these frozen days are essential for them if they are ever going to bear fruit.  When I look out on my little shoots, I see an orchard.  I know what they are becoming, and I am beyond excited.  Just because their growth isn’t visible today doesn’t mean they aren’t growing.  Those roots are spreading, reaching, forming the footing from which beautiful fruitful trees will one day grow.  I have wandered down their rows telling them what they are and how excited I am to see them grow.  I have encouraged them to rest up and get strong, to enjoy the cold and not to be sad as I prune them because right now they need to focus on what’s happening underground.  Soon enough, I have promised them, spring will come and they will start to shoot up.  They will get taller.  They will grow leaves.  They may even grow some buds, but those I will have to trim off because this phase of their lives is all about growing roots that will hold them strong.  I explain that they are not just some little wildflower that will grow, blossom and disappear in the space of a month.  They are apple trees, and apple trees are awesome.  They get big and strong.  They grow beautiful flowers.  They live for years and years. And maybe best of all, they produce apples.  I love my little trees both for what they are and for what they will become.  They make my heart happy just looking at them because I know they are so much more than frozen sticks.  

We smile past our steaming cups and turn to find seats at my kitchen table.  It occurs to me to wonder, does God see me the way I see those trees?  When every other eye sees a dead stick in frozen ground, does he see what I am becoming?  When any reasonable soul, myself included, sees absolutely no progress in my life, does he know my roots are pushing deeper and sending out more and more fingers into the cold earth?   Does he look past the ugly barrenness of this twig to leaves and blossoms and a summer five years from now when this long, cold, difficult season will yield sweet, crisp, delicious fruit?  I think he loves me for who I am and who I am becoming.  I think just as I will prune and feed and watch for invasive bugs and lay down mulch and generally do everything I know to help my little trees grow, that God will do the same for me.  And I think he feels the same way about you.

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