Last month, Wade and my dad dug holes for forty-one new trees on the muddy farm. Wade quoted the old Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.” He smiled and rubbed his tired shoulders.
It’s a common saying this time of year, even though few people are out planting trees. Like any good proverb, it has a deeper meaning. It suggests that though there may be some inaction we regret not taking in the past, we should go forth and pursue what we wish we had started earlier. Stop smoking, start exercising, quit the nail biting, or begin learning a new language: we can start all those things today. Our trees may not be fruit-bearing by spring, but at least the seeds will have been planted, and good habits taking root.
We must have missed the garden in December, because for Christmas, Wade built me a cold frame. As the temperature was dropping, he busied himself in the evenings by drilling the wooden frame onto my raised garden beds. The simple structure is covered with greenhouse plastic to insulate plants and utilize the little sunlight we get on these shorter days. Cold frames (also called “cold boxes”) are used to overwinter dormant plants, or to give plants an early start, or to harden off seedlings that are soon to take up my precious countertop space. Currently, our cold frame is extending the growing season for some herbs, lettuce, and spinach, and so far, so good.
Maybe planting trees and building cold boxes in the dead of winter was foolish, but I always prefer optimism. Based off the glorious waving pine branches and my salad for lunch, I’m claiming success. Sometimes, growth is possible in even the most seemingly unfavorable conditions. Perhaps the key is in the faith to sow, or the hope in tomorrow, or the love that builds.
It’s not just pines and spinach that we’re tending these days. Even in the winter, the fallow time of the year or of the soul, we can grow in beautiful virtue. I know, every day cannot be the flowery springtime, or the sun-drenched summer, or the fruitful autumn. We must embrace winter’s work of self-denial, self-sacrifice, and self-discipline.
When we think about habits, we tend to focus on the harvest, those days when the trees will be thirty-feet tall, or the garden full of bountiful crops, when we’ve mastered Spanish, or cut back on coffee consumption, or regularly spent time in prayer… but all we are promised is this moment. May our thoughts of “should’ve done that last year,” not keep us from pursuing growth now, even despite the arctic-freezing forecast. Focus on the small thing, the one thing. Maybe that one thing is selecting seeds for next year, or practicing discipline with our phones, or being more patient with our spouse, or opening the Bible.
The first of January has come and gone, and perhaps some areas of growth seem futile. But are they really? Nothing could seem more like the Winter of the World, the darkest and coldest moments of humanity, than Good Friday. Just as the Son of God carried that old, wooden Cross up Calvary, and just as He fell three times, Jesus kept getting up.
Start today. If you need to, begin again. And again. Keep digging. Spring… Resurrection… is coming.
I’m excited for the next twenty years, every day in between, and eternity thereafter.