Oh sweet magnolia, crushed by snow and ice!
Is there hope that you could grow again and ever look so nice?
Your branches once stood tall, reaching toward the sun
But now your limbs are broken and it seems circumstances have won.
This is what we thought, as we surveyed the damage years ago,
And we almost cut you down, figuring you were too battered to grow.
If only we could have seen what we can see now!
How you would grow and persevere some way, somehow.
The scars of the storm remain, but new branches have grown in too,
And every spring, your blossoms now remind me of hope that is true.
There is a metaphor rooted underneath that I can only now see,
And a lesson to be learned from you, a single New England tree.
It is possible to survive and even thrive in the aftermath of a crushing blow,
There just needs to be time to heal and care to grow.
Storms are real, and their impact can be devastating.
But His creative hands are always working and always recreating.
Someday, I will look back on my life with a clearer view too,
And see another testimony of grace and hope ever true.
Behind the Words
In October 2011, a severe snow and ice storm battered New England. While the region is no stranger to winter weather in its proper season, the timing of this storm resulted in danger and damage of a greater magnitude than if a storm of the same intensity hit a month or two later. The trees had not transitioned to their dormant winter state and many of them were still holding onto their leaves. Heavy, wet snow weighed down heavily on every branch. Throughout the night of the storm, the startling sounds of tree limbs cracking and crashing to the ground interrupted any semblance of slumber. By morning, yards and streets were littered with branches and sometimes entire trees on the ground.
Surveying the damage in my yard with my dad, we found that our beautiful magnolia seemed decimated beyond repair. The snow and ice pinned several main branches to the ground while numerous other large branches were snapped in two. The tree seemed on the brink of death. We were skeptical that it would ever be a thing of beauty again and considered taking the remnants down. My mom somehow convinced us to take away the broken branches but leave the rest, just to see what would happen. She still had hope for it, despite it being a sorry-looking sight. For several years after this storm-induced pruning, it looked lopsided and sparse, like a relative of Charlie Brown’s humble Christmas tree. It was alive though, and its roots were established deep in the soil from years of growth, unaffected by the burden of snow above the ground. Soon, new branches started to grow where broken ones were torn away. Over the course of more than a decade, the tree defied the odds and the circumstances that nearly crushed it. Today, it is once again a beautiful, thriving tree. While some of the scars of “snowtober” are visible if you take a close look, the tree has a new lease on life and a person unfamiliar with the storm would not know of its once dismal state.
Like this tree, we too sometimes face storms that permanently alter our lives. We may find ourselves feeling defeated, hopeless, and broken, like the magnolia tree buried under the weight of snow. Nonetheless, thriving is still possible in the aftermath. We belong to a creative Creator that uses even (and perhaps especially) the difficult circumstances of our lives to prune, shape, and restore us. Our lives may look beyond repair, but all we need is time and the powerful, artistic hand of the One who sees hope where others see no hope at all. He who can breathe life into dry and dusty bones is surely able to breathe new life into the shattered remains of a broken life. He can even transform brokenness from circumstantial pressure into a careful pruning that simultaneously forces us to let go of broken branches and gives us the opportunity to branch out in ways that were not possible before the storm.
When we are rooted in the nourishing soil of His word, we can be like “a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought…” (Jeremiah 17:8, ESV). We can thrive in all circumstances, unafraid of what the future holds. Storms will come and breaking will occur, but our roots can survive wind, rain, drought, or snow by His power and grace. After the storm, there is a mess, but there is also an opportunity for new life to spring up and for hope to be renewed. Like the magnolia, we can stand firm and we can recall His promise to make all things new. Whatever comes, we can grow according to His will and His way. Thanks be to God.