Deciduous Holly

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2,4

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6,7

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

Late November and early December temperatures have been unusually low this year, with overnight lows in the low teens. I know that isn’t much for those of you in the north, but it is a big deal if you live in Oklahoma. It is not unusual to get a few nickle and dime lows before winter is over, but the teens usually stay away until after the new year. I usually work nights, and although not continually out in the elements, I do have to spend some extended time out of doors. It gets to be a real drag when you have become comfortably warm up in the cab of your tractor, and then have to plung, all at once, out into the dark and cold. It is about this time every year that I look for signs of the coming spring. I know, winter won’t officially begin for another three weeks, but that is just the way I am.

I start work early on Fridays, making a short trip to Muskogee and back to Tulsa before my regular run starts. This time of year the sun is still up when I head out, but not for long. This last Friday I noticed that the sun was shining, low and red, across the expressway in front of me from right to left, and it was lighting up the berries of the Deciduous Holly scattered randomly on the edge of the woods to the northeast. I love Deciduous Holly, Ilex decidua, one of the few North-American native hollies. It doesn’t hold its leaves through the winter, hence the name deciduous. The old timers call it “Possum Haw”, though it is not even closely related to the hawthorns, and I have never seen a possum even near one. When all the leaves drop, millions of pea-sized orange-to-red berries are revealed. The swatches of near-crimson dotted along the easements are not gaudy, but distinct and prominent in an otherwise leafless, fruitless, colorless landscape. The berries are coveted by the song birds later in the dead of winter when all of the grass seeds are beaten down and spent. A flock of Cedar Waxwings is a rare and thrilling sight when they descend to feed upon a tall old clump of Deciduous Holly.

Deciduous Holly is a lot like the severe mercies of God. It is not until the winter of adversity comes into your life to strip you bare, that the fruit that God has formed in you is exposed to view, and even usefull to others. Only when your soul has been brought to the brink of dispair, or when you loose that loved one, or when your health leaves you, do you realize what God has been doing in you and through you. It is after the low times that you are most able to meet the needs of the despairing and lost around you. Only then can you reap the benefits of knowing an all-sustaining God. Only then can you say “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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