This morning my first chore was to plant a witch hazel tree. Witch hazel trees are the only trees to hang onto their curly and colorful bloom-like tendrils during our zone 5-6 winters. A tree that I had drooled over for years and finally splurged on from a mail order catalog for my birthday a couple years ago. I took a risk and planted it in a very large pot (around 100 gallon), knowing that anything in a pot is more at risk of succumbing to freezing temperatures, but I was so uncertain of where I wanted it, that I chose the pot. We made it through the winter with plenty of moisture to sustain root growth. One thing led to another and I neglected the attention to the pot during a post winter snap that occurred during the early spring of 2018. The limber branches became brittle and despite my periodic checking, continued to snap to announce my failure and loss and mock my gamble on the pot. The particular company I ordered from had no guarantee, and so I mourned the death of my prized witch hazel tree and tried to let it go.
Fast forward to the summer of 2018, in which I stayed several times in Reed Springs, MO to help with the care of a granddaughter while my son and his wife worked out job training for her new job. On each trip around 20 miles or so before their home, in a town called Highlandville, I passed a nursery that specialized in trees, and kept wishing I could stop. On the last babysitting stay, I called the nursery and discovered that they, indeed, had native Witch Hazel trees! The native variety is not the pretty pink flowered cultivars (though there is some pink in the yellow), but wow. What a pleasant surprise. I managed to prioritize the expenditure and arranged to pick up the tree on my last return trip. The only size available was not much more cost than my former mail order purchase and yet many times taller and more established. The owner agreed to tie the 6-8′ tree into a manageable size bundle and load it in my Subaru. I was ecstatic, and drove the 3 hours home with the top portion of the tree beside me as my passenger.
So this morning was planting time for the Witch Hazel. Digging a hole big enough to generously accommodate a 10 gallon potted tree is no small undertaking. As with any of my gardening endeavors, I spend time in prayer and so clearly see spiritual application. After about an hour of digging with pick ax and sweat pouring, even at 7:30AM, I encountered not just the typical small rocks the Ozarks are so famous for, but a large rock. It was in the way of the hole that I needed, and so I continued to exert great effort at prying it out. After a few minutes of absolutely no headway, I uttered a prayer for a sign of hope before giving up with this very large rock in the way of the future root growth of the witch hazel. After a few more swings of the pick ax, the rock cracked. Clearly, the Lord was giving me hope, not only for the large rock embedded deeply in the way of my planting hole, but also showing me what He can do with stone, i.e., hearts of stone. “I’m going to give you a new heart, and I’m going to give you a new spirit within all of your deepest parts. I’ll remove that rock-hard heart of yours and replace it with one that’s sensitive to me.” Ezek. 36:26 International Standard Version
The picture above shows all the pieces of the same rock.
After the initial crack, I was energized to persevere. Though frustrated that the Ozarks can sport boulder size rocks well below the surface of an unsuspecting lawn, I continued. Sweat pouring, I continued carefully striking blows at the rock in a manner that I hoped wouldn’t keep me awake in shoulder, arm and back pain later, making new cracks, taking out pieces, and marveling at the size of one ridiculous size rock in just the wrong place. As progress was slow, I employed another method, that is, of picking at the dirt all around the rock, so as to access more of the rock for continued blows. All the while praying, listening to the Spirit speak to me about stony hearts, the Master Manipulator of our surroundings so that He can better “reach” us, and how nothing is impossible with Him. He can and will penetrate the hearts of stone.
I don’t know what makes stones geologically, but I do know some of the contributors to stony human hearts…things such as offenses, hurt, pain, bitterness, defensiveness, stubbornness, self-defense, and pride. And to think He gave me the strength and perseverance to remove this deeply embedded stone as large as a turkey platter. I have no doubt it was more for His glory in giving me another gardening devotional, than for my Witch Hazel tree having more space for it’s roots to grow. Yet, sometimes in the process, He showers His love and blessings on my own paltry plans while He accomplishes His greater purpose. And I’m ok with that. After all, I’m just clay in the Potter’s Hands.
I do hope this Witch Hazel lives. I’m sure there will be more spiritual application, what with the brightness it displays in a dreary winter landscape, so I have a hunch it’s going to do just fine.