The calendar says it’s Spring these days, even though the weather apparently hasn’t heard the news. And though I had to put a coat on to do so, I finally made it outside to start picking up sticks in my yard.

As a child, picking up sticks was one of my least favorite chores. I am sure there were times when my parents jsut let me stay inside and read rather than fight the fight over a few twigs and branches. Now, I consider the task one of the rites of Spring.

In these early days of Spring when it’s too early to do much gardening on my little suburban plot and the lawn is more brown than green and definitely not ready to mow, bending over to pick up winter’s mess is the first step for getting back into shape. Most of the other outdoor chores will require more energy and greater muscle tone than my flabby, winter body can handle currently. But all the stooping, reaching, grabbing and stacking is just the ticket for easing my way to Spring sveltness.

One of my other favorite parts of picking up sticks in the Spring is finding all of the refuse the earth no longer wants. Through the winter of freezing and thawing, all kinds of foreign objects are shifted and shaken up to the surface. Bits of trash and treasure left by previous owners, absorbed deep into the soil, are now spit out again.

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Last year, I painstakenly picked up various pieces of glass and bottle tops, pen caps and candy wrappers, thinking that by the end of Spring, I had removed all evidence of previous human habitation on my plot. Suprisingly, as I make my way around this same little yard again this Spring, I am finding more evidence that I am not the only person who has been here. Along the edge of a small flower bed, I saw a spoon poking out its head. It’s definitely not part of my set of flatware. I have found bottle caps off of beers I have not drunk, tags from flowers I never planted, and pieces of broken glass from windows I didn’t shatter.

That’s what winter does for the earth. Not only prunes the branches that are overgrown, but also gets rid of the clutter others have left behind. The same thing happens in my life during the dark, wintery seasons.

These past few months have often left my soul feeling bitterly cold, with seemingly little life and growth. But I am seeing Spring come around, and the work of picking up all the refuse has begun: my own branches of fear, discouragement, and hopelessness that have kept my faith from growing and the bits of betrayal, dishonesty, and carelessness that others have left strewn in my life this past year.

I’m not collecting all of this garbage as a prize to be fawned over and made much of. Rather, I am bundling these hurts and sins so they can be dumped on the curb for trash day. And Jesus, who makes much of me when I go through the discipline of this cleanup, will come and take it all away.