The Watching Tree

under the greenwood tree

-September 17, 2017-

I went out on the front stoop one Thursday afternoon to find they had cut down the big tree on the other side of the fence.

At first, I couldn’t figure out what was different about my yard and stared absently at the sprawling shadow of the volleyball net across the creeping Charlie, until the colossal gap between the neighbor’s pine and the elm across the street glared at me, like it was offended I failed to notice its haircut immediately.

They cut down the tree! Something painful seized my heart and wouldn’t desist in twisting. It’s just gone!

Riveted to the stump sticking out alongside a slab of concrete sidewalk, I started crying—big, fat tears of dismay and regret, because, although I had never considered myself a tree-hugger before, the fact remained that I would have liked to say goodbye to the old tree before the city felled her.

What was worse, I’d had the opportunity because it was I who answered the door the day before, when a scruffy, toothless city worker knocked to ask if mine was the car parked across the street.

“It’s not,” I’d told him, while six other men in orange vests watched from their tree-gobbling machine. “Did you check the neighbor’s?”

He nodded. “We’re just going to post it and come back tomorrow. Make sure your cars are moved by 7 am.”

I promised, and texted the girls to inform them also, but not once did it occur that the fated tree was not across the street, but the one just outside our fence—the tall, watching tree, with three prominent boughs like a troop of soldiers that were known to frolic with the branches of the tree across the lawn, or wave at me through my attic window, or sigh over me in the stillness of sleepless nights when I lay on my back in the grass.

That tree had become a friend during a long season where God did not speak to me directly, but whispered in every rustle of its leaves, gave away his position with every sway of its branches.

And some unfeeling men had come through with a job to do, lopping off its branches and grinding its roots with a hungry chainsaw. They might as well have cut off my right arm, because—who needs that limb? Or dug out my heart valves, because, at the rate Minneapolis was hacking down trees along Penn Avenue, there wasn’t going to be enough oxygen-production to make city life worth living anyway.

Vaguely I wondered if, had I known which tree was posted, I would’ve planted myself beneath it in true tree-hugging fashion and refused to budge when the city arrived in the morning…

Probably not.

Deep down, I knew it had to go. It was diseased, I noticed a few prior—the leaves had turned brown and speckly. It had that sad, scraggly look of something that has been dying for a long time, and just wants to be put out of its misery.

Maybe the city workers were not so unfeeling after all…maybe they spared the tree in our front yard from catching the disease, upping oxygen-production in the long run.

I knew I didn’t need the tree anymore. God was speaking again, and I had to remind myself that the season of secret wonder wasn’t lost just because the tree was gone.

Even now the axe is laid to the root…any tree that doesn’t bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Perhaps the felling of the tree was just a continuation of the way God had always walked with me: providing tangible, naturally-rooted things (no pun intended) to represent supernatural realities.

It represented the limbs in my heart that he had cut off during the eternal, fiery summer, so that what was already producing fruit would doubly flourish.

Perhaps he just wanted to show me, if I could care that much about a tree, what was available in the caring of his people?

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Choosing Poverty

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Photo Credit: Elias

Driving home yesterday, I passed a homeless begging man in his wheelchair, just as another man passed him on foot, paused, turned back, and began to pick the pockets on the backpack hanging from the chair’s handles.

“HEY!” I shouted from the inside of my car, and thought wildly, as the swell of traffic carried me forward, of trying to pull over to stop the man.

I seethed at the injustice, doubting whether anyone else on the street and noticed and would intervene.

On Glenwood, beyond Lee’s Liquor Lounge, a little community of homeless people always congregated beneath the building’s awning. I tried to catch glimpses of their faces, wondering what their stories were.

The righteous anger against one poor man stealing from another poor man wrestled with a genuine desire to help and a creeping guilt of my complacency.

I thought, acts of injustice happen all over the city every minute–how could I stop every one?

And then, opportunities for goodness are on every corner of the city–how could I avert my eyes at a red light?

Followed by, but if I see injustice and it is in my power to do something, I should!

Leading to, I cannot give to every homeless person in Minneapolis without becoming a slave myself.

Eventually I gave my head a little shake to dislodge all thoughts and make room for something helpful from the Spirit.

The reality is, he said immediately, many people don’t have enough.

Enough cash, enough clothing. Enough true friends. Enough hope, enough joy. Enough protection, provision, purpose.

Enough love, enough life.

And I, a daughter of God, have everything.

My car sailed down Glenwood, under the 94 bridge, and I grasped in my spirit the reality of what I have in Jesus, the breadth-and-length-and-height-and-depth of wealth, times the Trinity.

I felt his recognition of my heart to do justice, to favor mercy over judgment, to see myself and others as what he speaks over us, nothing more, nothing less.

I felt his assurance that he would tell me when to move and when to stay, when to speak and when to be silent, when to give, when to inquire, when to simply smile.

You can have everything, I found myself telling him. Because I have enough, you can have everything. I want to live from your heart of abundance.

And I knew, as I said it, that he would require everything of me–already has been stretching me in my resources–in a way that wouldn’t feel pleasant to my fears and dreams and plans, but would be explosive for my faith and sweet in its reward with Jesus.

You cannot take a city by isolated, random acts of kindness, but you can take a city by a lifestyle of exhaling the goodness of God’s heart, for where abundance is, people tend to flock. We are made to receive his abundance with a magnetism that cannot deny his attraction, any more than he can deny his nature to give.

And that, in turn, causes us to give away what we’ve received.

Fulfilled are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. 

It’s the only cycle of poverty worth getting caught in.

 

Breaking Limbs and Birdsong

chickadee_silhoutte__by_mcorvec-daxockw
Photo Credit: Melissa Corvec

Last January, God showed me as a tree:

A towering shade tree, green leaves unfurled, branches hanging low.

I had picked the soil I thought I would flourish in, but he supplanted me to an open pasture and put down immovable roots beside a stream.

Here, birds are beginning to flock to my branches for refuge.

Chickadee. She lowers her core temperature to thrive in cold environments, congregating with those of her kind.

She stores her seeds and berries in a cache and calls, chickadee-dee-dee, to the other birds to feed them.

She is not shy to approach a human and eat out of his hands.

Chickadee, he called me. You eat your portion out of my hands and show the other birds where to get bread.

God showed me to a friend as a tree, but this time, “there is a limb growing out of you sideways.”

The limb is a necessary branch to the structure of the tree. It stems from my beliefs about God’s goodness. Rather, it stems from my unbelief about God’s goodness, because it’s growing out sideways.

It’s growing out sideways in the life I think I want to live–my own methods, my own definitions of what is good. I have to send all my nutrients to keep the limb alive, because the Gardener is not going to cultivate a dying branch.

The rest of my tree is suffering because of it. My leaves are wilting and thinning, my branches no longer strong enough to support the nesting birds.

“He wants to prune back, or break off, the limb,” she says, and I’m imagining him grafting the limb into the structure of the tree where it will receive the nutrients of the earth instead of my own effort.

I feel the breaking-off like the snapping of a bone. I feel the grafting of the limb like the resetting of a bone, followed by the slow, slung process of reforming.

If the tree is the integrity of my heart–that secret place where I join the honesty of myself with God–then I have come home where I was walking out on a limb.

excerpt from a yellow Legal pad
February 15, 2017

Unless a grain falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit, and your death among the snows of winter buried a seed that has grown into a mighty tree. 

He supplanted you in your crystallized desire, broke you off like a dry branch and grafted you back in, to a tree planted by streams of water, for his namesake, for your joy.

Dance, oh feet, upon the muddy pasture! The ground is plowed and ready for planting. Participate in the sowing, so you may reap a harvest.

This morning I woke to the beckoning of a chickadee in the tree outside my house.

It reminded me of the word God whispered to me, the same January morning he showed me my tree: mercy like birdsong.

The Life I Think I Want to Live

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Photo Credit: Stewart Hardy

There’s a construct in my heart.

It’s a spiral staircase, with pristine hardwood and gleaming banisters.

Nailed into the floor of Reality, it coils through Dreams, beyond Aspirations, into tendrils of Glory like tufts of burnt-edge cloud.

It has a name: The Life I Think I Want to Live.

In my heart, it looks like driving through Wyoming as dawn breaks, the sun an egg yolk broken all over a horizon of tabletops mountains.

This is the glory, God says, this is the Golden Shore, referring to the place of rest and satisfaction he promised me last April.

In my head, it looks like living on the road, blowing with the Spirit to ordained places and people who need rescue. It looks like heroism, like rescue, like broken hearts bound and shackled feet set free.

It looks like living in a house with perpetually-open doors–a haven of rest for young women in transit–an anointed hub in the middle of a city, with a brother house for young men growing into leadership. Between the two, a growing community of Jesus-lovers with faces set toward the four winds.

It looks like writing only the things I love to write, and making enough of an income to stay on mission and fuel my caffeine addiction.

It looks like intimacy with the man I love that is deeper and more fiery than the core of the earth, a rich soil for planting seeds with roots stronger than weeds, a wide open space with recyclable potential for an Eden.

In my head, it looks like perfection.

Which is why it is a construct. Everything in reality is a little more lopsided than that, and there is nothing man-made that isn’t structurally unsound.

Daily, little things occur that trigger frustration because life reveals a smudge on the banister, a crack in the wood, a dissimilarity in the grain.

In reality, I am back to work scraping hardened soup from a pan with a butterknife.

In reality, the dream house has a clogged sink and I don’t know how to use the drain snake.

In reality, freelancing looks like writing what is available at a rate that someone else decides, on a deadline.

In reality, intimacy is the painful process of locating my constructs and yielding to Jesus deconstructing them–generally in a backward, measureless, structureless way–so I can love the man he has given me with the purity of self-sacrifice.

In reality, I am walking the length of the Stone Arch bridge after dark–smoking, because I can’t seem to approach my own father without some kind of guard–and wrestling with his Spirit because I told him what I want when he asked, and now he’s telling me I only want the version in my head.

Which, apparently, is not his reality. And his reality is the only one that offers life.

I am confronted with this reality: I can’t have both the life I think I want to live and the life God offers.

But I don’t know how to abandon my staircase.

 

 

Gossamer

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Photo Credit: Mirella

Four months of silence.

It was one of many things God required during the winter–the death of my words. Rather, the death of my validation in you reading my words.

How will you see who I am if I can’t tell you with words, written or spoken?

How would you know me? If you don’t know my heart, do I still have value? Do my words have value if you never hear them?

As dust collected in the spaces of my keyboard, pain collected in the cracks of my heart. Fear mushroomed in that void between my heart and lips where words once flowed freely…. I will live unseen.

But he never took his eyes off me.

Several weeks ago, when he released me to speak, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to.

Over the winter I filled half a journal and two yellow Legal Pads with words. Words that only come from the deepest place of honesty because no one will ever read them–words that are mine and his.

Unfiltered, unedited, unjustified.

Just heartbroken, because I’m not convinced that his eyes will be enough for me.

Still, love holds me fast, fragile, like a gossamer web.

Soon I will tell you the story of this winter.

About the ways his Spirit underscored words I penned seven months ago, about the Aha!-moments long foreshadowed, about pain’s strikethrough of my heart (and mercy’s parenthetical encapsulation), about joy like a forest of !!!!!! when I understood the intricacies of my story within his–after plodding for so long like an …, to find that he never writes a plot with holes!–and I will tell you about love waiting to hem me in at the end of every unspoken sentence like a  .