“The tree you saw was growing very tall and strong, reaching high into the heavens for all the world to see. It had fresh green leaves…Wild animals lived in its shade, and birds nested in its branches.” (Dan. 4:20-21 NLT)
That was our tree. Now gone. Only emptiness remains. A void in the beauty of the yard where the once grand, old oak tree stood. Disease invaded the rings of his time-worn torso. Even so, cutting him down seemed cruel. He existed only for the service for others.
In the hot, summer sun, his leaves unfurled like a canopy of shade for everyone’s comfort. The full breadth of his limbs became a playground for the silly squirrels, as they hopped from branch to branch, playing Run, Chief, Run.
In the humid evenings, while the tree frogs croaked their lullabies and the crickets joined in the chorus, the fireflies blinked their dance of the nightlights, lulling him to sleep.
In the midst of fall, as the sunlight emblazoned his boughs, he put on a multicolored coat of beauty, just for our enjoyment. Seedlings of hope fell from his limbs to the ground, spreading out his tiny descendants of the future.
When the brisk winds of fall whipped around him, he dropped his radiant coat, standing naked to greet winter’s chill. Then, the delicate snows dressed him in a gown of white.
In spring, he blossomed with new growth and fanned out like a peacock, exploding with pride as he became the stage for the birds’ annual songfest. Transformed into the local bed and breakfast for all the nestmakers, he opened his arms and welcomed them into his home.
He loved the fragrance of the floral bouquet that grew at his feet. The neighborhood cats sought their refuge in the security of his heights. And the dogs, well, let’s just say they kept his sod turned over.
Years of growth created roots that spread out deep and wide, keeping him firmly planted. He laughed at the winds and shook his branches at them, as if to scare them away. When storms came, he bowed only slightly to their strength, standing immovable in his place. His strength was born out of testing.
As time passed, he grew knotty and hard, dried out and rough. His sickness, once internal and secret, became external and open. Disease took its toll.
The arborist came and, after cutting him down, left behind some remnants, which we laid to rest in the fireplace. The arborist’s saw revealed his inner progress as ring after ring attested to his stamina throughout the years. Once again, he gave himself for the use of others, as we warmed ourselves in front of the blaze.
As the flames began to engulf him, there came a sound, a whistle. No, it was a melody. The song of the tree. From within the tree’s heart, the fire released all the sweet songs of the birds singing amongst his branches, the sounds of kids giggling as they raced around him, the twitters of the squirrels running to and fro, and the hubbub of the cicadas and the tree frogs.
Remembering all these sounds, he began to sing in the fire, his song of praise drawn out by the flames. But if not for the fire, the song would not have been released. A song of praise to glorify his Creator.
As I listened to his song, I asked myself: Do I exist to serve others? Do I welcome others into my life? Do I open my arms to comfort and care for others? Do I display a beautiful exterior while my interior is knotty, hard, and diseased? Do I plant seeds of hope for the future? Do beautiful things grow around me?
As the years pass, do my roots grow deeper and wider, giving me stability? When the winds of adversity come, do I laugh at them? When the storms of heartache beat upon me, do I stand immovable? Do I gain strength out of my testing? Have I allowed my hidden sin to become visible, or have I repented of it? When I am tossed into the fires of affliction and the flames lap up around me, do I sing sweet songs of praise and thanksgiving to my Creator?
Oh, Lord, let me grow to be a true testament of Your love and compassion. Let my branches reach out to those around me and bring them comfort in their trying times. Make me into that beautiful creation You intended me to be. Let my strength be born out of my testing. And Lord, if the only way my heart will sing its melodies to You is when I am in the fires of affliction, then fan the flames ever hotter.