There are four trees in my parents’ backyard. They were planted over 30 years ago, and now, for the sake of a house expansion, my folks are cutting them all down. I have made them feel adequately guilty about their decision saying things like, "I see how it is, these trees have done nothing but grow bold, tall and beautiful as they provide shade and shadow, and suddenly, overnight have become disposable for the sake of progress and comfort." Adequate. After speaking on the trees' behalf, I turned my advocacy to the understanding that this is my folks' house which they spent over 30 years paying off and took the coldest corner of the first floor as their somewhat pathetic bedroom 26 years ago so that we three girls could have our own room. They have promised to replant one large tree. I told my mom that the math was off.
Apparently, their initial intent was to remove the two smaller ones and only one of the thick trunked mamas. However, since they were planted at the same time decades ago only 25 feet apart, their roots weren’t given the room to grow to their needed capacity, and if one tree is taken away, then the likelihood of the other to fall is great.
Two days ago, I stood at the base of one, put my arms around it to fulfill a stereotype, and looked up. My hands didn’t come close to touching and the nests that squirrels have built seem closer to the clouds than my feet. This tree is big and strong, but only as strong as its source of life underneath the earth. Roots are to the tree as internal organs are to the human: often under-appreciated for their absolute necessity by the mere fact that they can’t be seen. But as I hugged the bark I hugged the roots I stood on who will be destroyed when its other half is detached from the earth.
Trees are famous throughout literature. Whether it is Welty’s magnolia as the South or Frost’s swinger of birches, trees have proved to be profound symbols of life, change, opportunity and stability, My favorite spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, writes in his book Reaching Out:
"The roots of loneliness are very deep and cannot be touched by optimistic advertisement, substitute love images or social togetherness. They find their food in the suspicion that there is no one who cares and offers love without conditions, and no place where we can be vulnerable with being used."
Only one tree was planted inside of my chest when I was born. It’s not as old as the ones condemned to die, but its roots were given the chance to spread the length of my body: from toe to pore to fingernail. When I love, I love with the fuel of a 5’10” framed set of roots. When I fear, I fear with similar sustenance, and when I’m lonely my suspicions are sweating out of those very pores.
But these suspicions are soon (or sometimes not so soon) quelled by another force altogether: the force that made them so beautifully and tragically detailed and well-extended. It is the grace and presence of God that has given life and love precedence over all fear and pain and loneliness.
Today, in the midst of fertile solitude that is slowly taking the place of a lonely winter, I can look at the trees in my parents’ backyard and think of another rather life-altering tree. Four years ago today I skied into a tree. Sometimes I forget it happened. It seems ridiculous when I explain my scar to someone these days. A couple lifetimes have begun and ended in these four years. Led Zeppelin is playing in the background…I didn’t listen to them pre-tree. Weird.
Last night I was reading my reflections of this anniversary just one year after, and I caught myself ‘amen-ing’ quite a few times. There is no way that I could articulate myself any better now than then, so I will echo my words.
fear...isn't it funny how the majority of our decision-making and emotions are motivated by fear? fear of rejection, vulnerability, failure, happiness, loss, expectations...i feared pity and pain.
i feared being needy. a self-proclaimed independent woman, i hated the idea that i couldn't do ANYTHING for myself. my mother helped me go to the bathroom, medicine controlled my pain, sheena and jocelyn washed (tried to) my hair, dr. c cleaned my wounds, countless people drove my morphined self around....this fear of need led to anger and tears. i hated my altered state; i hated that i couldn't control my motion and emotion.
my weariness quickly morphed into apathy. i had no desire for spirituality, and was quite lost in the realms of faith. i questioned the character of God, found little comfort in the suffering of Christ. swallowed whole by grief, i survived.
through the life of best friends, families i have since adopted as my own, mentors who came in the nick of time, God knew how to keep me afloat.
one of my pastors taught me how to pray because i didn't know how; one of my pastors reminded me of God's patience.
and slowly, patiently, my eyes were dried, my ears open, my mouth kissed...i became aware of the comfort i tried so hard to deny.
life exists in great contradictions: death for life, depravity for fulfillment, humility for confidence...suffering for freedom.
i said earlier how the tree had taught me how to suffer, how to need, and how to fear. well, the bigger picture is that only through those elements of life did i finally understand liberty. like most things, our culture has perverted the concepts of freedom and liberty to help build a western empire; however, Christ brought freedom and liberty not for the building of an empire but to put an end to fear.
jeremiah, the prophet, likens God's faithfulness and patience to the deep roots of a tree near a stream's water. their length unseen, their strength unknown, their importance essential, the deep roots constantly provide, nourish, give life to the tree. i like to think of the Spirit's presence in my life like those roots. my limbs think they know how to take care of themselves, but the truth is they are weak and break...but my brittle bones have a much richer well of life.
i came to realize this past year that God is patient with my wayward soul. i read psalm 23 for the first time this year...or perhaps it was just the first time i read it with those dried eyes. "He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams." timing. God knows it and i only think i do. he knows my fear, my doubt, my need, my suffering, and knows when to let me rest beside peaceful streams...what sweet, deep-rooted life.
thank you, Lord, for giving me freedom from fear...
thank you, Lord, for giving me comfort in the midst of suffering...
thank you for times of mourning, for trees that change everything i thought i knew...
and for the deep roots of your spirit that are present even when my vision is too blurred, my hearing too deaf, and my voice too dumbed.
I think I'll go give those trees another hug tomorrow....make sure there are no hard feelings.