Unless this is the first post on this blog you’ve ever read, you’ve likely heard me use the word “identity.” It is something I am passionate about, because it is foundational to every aspect of how we live. It’s also something every one of us struggles with.
When it comes to shaping our identity in the person and work of Jesus, I could think of no one better to share with you than my friend Michele Cushatt. She understands the “identity struggle” first hand. Without giving away her story (which you can read in her book Undone), Michele knows what it’s like to have faith in Jesus, lose her footing, and to wonder if she’d ever again be able to stand. She also know what it’s like to cry out to God for grace and discover the miracle of His Presence and His Purpose right here, right now.
Michele has been a friend for more than a decade. She also happens to be one of the most beautifully authentic people I know. And as you’re about to discover, she is a fabulous writer.
In our back yard sits a beautiful cherry tree. It’s my favorite tree by far, boasting trunk and branches thick enough for my children to climb. Blanketed in lush green leaves, it provides both privacy and shade while my husband and I savor warm summer afternoons on the deck. Even better, every May our cherry tree blooms, offering up fragrant pink flowers as the first hints of a delicious cherry crop.
Until this May.
Everything appeared fine at first, the tree budding in earnest and promising to do what it’s always done. But halfway through the budding process, the cherry tree simply stopped growing. The buds stalled in progress, appearing frozen in time. It was as if they didn’t have the strength to finish their bloom.
It’s now been months since May. The buds remain unopened. Spring never delivered blossoms and summer never delivered fruit. During a long, hot July, our leafless cherry tree offered no shade.
After doing a little research, I discovered ours is not the only tree that experienced such a fate. I’d assumed the cause had something to do with an unusually cold and wet spring culminating in a Mother’s Day freeze. But that was merely the final knife blow. The death of our beloved cherry tree began long before that.
Months before, when fall was about to give way to winter, Colorado experienced a sudden and dramatic cold snap. Weeks before, we’d been given the gift of a warm, balmy fall. Turns out that wasn’t so much of a gift for the trees. The warm temperatures did nothing to help the trees prepare for winter. Then in early November, the temperature dropped more than forty degrees in half a day and remained frigid for a week. Because they hadn’t finished their winter-ready hardening process, the trees experienced a sort of flash-freeze. Arborists say the tender sap of fruit trees, in particular, struggled to recover, leaving tens of thousands of trees weak throughout the winter. Then, a tough spring and Mother’s Day.
It wasn’t a single blow that brought my cherry tree down, but a thousand small “cuts.”
I’ve spent a lot of time looking at that tree over the past several months. I’m hesitant to uproot it, hoping a lengthy rest might give it a chance to repair and once again grow. And as I wait for a rebirth, I find myself reflecting upon this often fragile life.
We’re not all that different from my cherry tree. At times we can be lulled into a false sense of safety during a sweet, uneventful season.
We stop making preparations for winter, stop thinking about the up-and- down nature of this unpredictable life. Instead, we pour ourselves fully into the laziness of balmy living, disregarding the reality of the change certain to come.
Then, almost overnight, the temperature drops.
A blizzard catches us by surprise. A cold snap cracks our core. Ill-prepared as we are, we grow weak. In shock, we stop growing, stop blooming and blossoming. Then, when one unexpected blow turns into two or three or four over the course of weeks or months or years, it’s enough to take us down.
Just as the trees can do nothing to control the temperature, we can do little to strong-arm our circumstances. Winter can and will come, often when we least expect it. However, unlike my cherry tree, you and I have access to an unshakeable source of life:
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).
Jesus’ words of warning to us living, walking fruit trees.
Bad weather is bound to come. But we can prepare for it. And we don’t have to endure it alone. If we want to have the muscle to make it, whatever may come tomorrow, we need to be invested with Him today.
Let’s make a promise, shall we? Let’s not be unprepared. Let’s not allow warm weather to fool us into thinking winter will never come. You and I both know it’s simply a matter of time. Instead, fully awake, let’s make preparation. Let’s soak up the Word and ask God to fortify us—heart, mind, and soul. Let’s pray, pray, pray, inviting the sap of the Spirit to restore and establish us, “strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:8).
His strength is our strength. We are able because He is able. And He offers us everything we need to thrive.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. —John 15:5
Pulled from the pages of Michele’s most recent book—I Am: A 60-day Journey to Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is— these words were penned during her long and grueling recovery from a third diagnosis of tongue cancer, during which she was permanently altered physically, emotionally and spiritually. In it, she speaks with raw honesty and hard-earned insight about our current identity epidemic and the reason why our best self-help and self-esteem tools aren’t enough to heal our deepest wounds. Michele and her husband, Troy, live in the mountains of Colorado with their six children, ages 9 to 24. She enjoys a good novel, a long walk, and a kitchen table filled with people. Learn more about Michele at michelecushatt.com.