I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Wade so interested in a new hobby, but he and his good buddy, Brody, have become engrossed in making maple syrup. Compared to beekeeping, it’s almost in every way easier, less time consuming, has cheaper startup costs, and zero stings, but there’s one necessary element needed for maple syrup: maple trees. I’m pretty sure Wade decided he wanted to start tapping trees at the same moment he impulsively purchased a pack of twenty spiles, or taps. This was also, unfortunately, long after those iconic maple leaves had fallen to the ground, and every tree in the forest appears to be the same—tall, gray, and tree-ish.
Last weekend, Wade asked me to go for a walk with him in the woods. The dog bounded ahead, jumping a few rabbits, and splashing in the trickling creek. Blue jays and cardinals gossiped and bickered from the bare branches. I know identifying trees in winter isn’t impossible, it’s just more difficult. Most deciduous trees in our area have what’s called alternate branching. Maples are unique in that they have buds in pairs and have opposite branches, or branches beginning at the same point on opposite sides of the limb.
“Identify” is one of those media buzzwords that rarely concerns trees these days. In the content quiet of the woods with Wade, I pondered identification. How would someone identify us? Would we be marked as a Christians, ones firmly rooted in our faith? In a world that seems to be in a perpetual state of winter, sometimes it’s like we’re all the same—exhausted, easily agitated, and fearful.
Christ takes us back to nature when He says, “You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:16). Faith and God’s grace produce good works. As much as I appreciate them, words are not enough to reveal the authenticity of another. I want my husband to tell me he loves me, but the silent ways he shows it steals my heart daily. No one measures love by the number of words on a Valentine. Rather, love is proven true on those strolls around the farm, in spontaneous dance parties with giggly children, and soft kisses on my forehead before I fall asleep.
What about Jesus? I tell the world I love Him, but do I show Him? Do I talk the talk, but fail to walk the path of Christ?
That afternoon, Wade and I became quick students of maple tree identification. I would drill the hole into the shaggy bark. He would hammer in the tap. Sap dripped and rolled steadily into our buckets. They say it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of finished maple syrup, and that this number can vary depending on the sap’s sugar content.
For maples, it would seem their sweet fruit, the sap, is hidden. Even still, the trees are identifiable, and everyone knows how delicious syrup is. This gives me hope. I think of the silent, uncelebrated saints, those that patiently endured difficulties and ailments, or who quietly tended their families and vocations, those without any searchable inspiring quotes on Google or in cross-stich. Saints like the lunch lady at my elementary school who discretely gave hungry children extra helpings, or the stranger who sent me a note of encouragement, or the gentleman at church who always seeks out my children to show them they’re seen, known, and loved with a pocketful of peppermints. Surely, these folks are the ones who make the world a better place, who cooperate with grace, and who bear good, sweet fruit.
Here’s to wishing your relationships are rooted in love and reaching heavenward. I don’t know how far I could stretch the maple tree metaphors, but I’m sure it’d be too much. Then again, sappy is good these days.