The Library Tree, and Other Friends

I met a new tree tonight. He* was a stately tree, with a trunk that looked about a foot in diameter, branches that didn’t start until five or six feet up—I wouldn’t have been able to climb—and that stretched out about six feet all around him. He was purposed to provide shade for readers-out-of-doors. I know that because he was right outside the library. This has been a week of chilly grey days, and this evening was no exception, so I didn’t sit down underneath his outstretched branches with my book. I got in my car and drove home, thinking of how much I want to go back and get better acquainted later in the springtime, when it’s warmer and sunshinier.

I make friends with trees easily. And even if I don’t get to meet them, there are so many trees in Denton that I see as I drive through my neighborhood. They are all so different. Some are evergreens, which doesn’t mean much when the Texas heat turns their needles to brown in July, and their lowest branches are higher than the roof of the house they stand sentry beside. Some are stately oaks. I saw one tonight whose trunk was three feet wide. He’s sure to be among the older trees in Denton, and I’m certain I could learn some fascinating local history from him, if he could speak my language (or rather, if I could speak his). Some trees are unassuming, and probably make the best friends to young children. Their branches begin low and are far apart. They’ll make great climbing trees, if you manage to befriend the squirrels who call them home (I don’t recommend unauthorized treespassing; those squirrels are nutty). Still some are eye-catchers, such as the purple leaf plum trees, whose deep purple leaves bloom from pink flowers. I love them all. They are possibly my favorite markers of the changing of seasons. The young green of baby leaves in springtime; the deepening of the green throughout the summer, from May’s forest green to September’s hunter green; the changing of the leaves in autumn, as the trees begin to show their true natures and reveal their hidden beauty; the vulnerable, bare branches of winter—I love the role trees play in marking the passing of time.

I delight in the beauty and stateliness and wisdom of trees. I don’t really understand why. I don’t believe it’s been a lifelong fascination; it seems to have grown and blossomed in the span of my adult life, which has also been the span of my Christian life, minus a few months. I imagine my love for trees is connected to my new life, and while I have some piece of an idea, I cannot comprehend it well enough to put it into words for you. Tolkien’s childhood experiences and his Tom Bombadil have certainly compounded my warm feelings for the natural skyscrapers of the God-breathed world, but were not the source. Those wonderful poems we call trees are a significant part of the longing I feel deep inside. I love them and all echoes and vestiges. Art and jewelry that depict trees, leaves, or branches have always been my favorite. Really, truly, I would love a bouquet of brilliant autumn leaves more than most any flowers. And one location on the top of my vacation wishlist is a redwood park out west. While so many dream of or enjoy vacations to the beach or the mountains, I just want to go to the woods. Find me a quiet cabin surrounded by trees just far enough apart so that some sunlight creeps in, and I could be content for a very long while, especially if there is a significant reserve of good books.

Though I don’t make a habit of, reading seems like a pastime best suited for the shade of a tree. To me, books and trees are inexplicably linked. Flicking the pages of a book somehow reminds me of the wind rustling the leaves. I have loved books all my life, and maybe that’s why I can befriend trees so easily. It’s also part of the charm of my new bookish friend.

In any case, the Library Tree has a new admirer in me, and I mean to branch out and visit him with a book in hand on a warmer day.

*I assume most trees are sirs, with the exception of the blooming trees, such as the redbuds and whitebuds. I realize that is a generalization.

Saturday Afternoon Musings

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, whether blog, poem, or story, so rather than have a point to get across, this blog post is an exercise in writing. And forgive me; my wit and writing are very out of shape, so to speak.

The clouds caught my attention over and over again today. This morning a cloud alit on Denton! As I drove to work, everything looked different because of the fog. I’m so glad we see fog sometimes. Without it, how would I ever be able to imagine what the inside of a cloud looks like? It gave me a few thoughts for my cloud story. Hopefully someday I’ll actually work on that one again (when is “someday”, by the way? I’ve been waiting for someday to come for a long time). When I left work this afternoon, the fog had lifted. The clouds were high and lofty again, and though it was one big blanket of cloud cover, the twists and striations throughout the sky struck me as very Dali. The Painter of the skies didn’t spare a drop creativity in Denton today.

At Panera for lunch, I met a grandfatherly old man. I don’t know if he’s really a grandfather, but he seemed like he’d be a good one. We first spoke when I overheard him ask an employee if there was an Oshman’s in Denton. Being a near-native Dentonite, I remembered the Oshman’s in the Denton Triangle Mall, and could tell him about how they were replaced by the Sports Authority here in town. We kept talking when I commented on his letter jacket that read Cardinals on the back. Turned out he loves the St Louis Cardinals (Rangers are his second favorite team, he told me, after I told him I like the Cards second best to the Rangers). He’s from Springfield, MO, and he told me a few baseball stories from when he was younger. He’s seen games at the original Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, the first Busch Stadium, and the current Busch Stadium. When he was 17, he asked St. Louis catcher Joe Garagiola for an autograph, and he was told “Get lost, kid!” I got home and promptly looked up Mr. Garagiola. Turns out he left the Cardinals in 1951—which means my new friend was 17 over 60 years ago! He also met Stan Musial sometime in his many years. And he’s kept a good memory so he could tell him stories. I’ve never heard old baseball stories from someone who actually met some of the players. Baseball really is magical. Did anyone else ever read the book Elmer and the Chickens vs. the Big League? My brother had that book when we were kids. I probably haven’t thought about in ten years, and all of a sudden as I write, it’s on my mind. It was a good one. I’ll be on a mission to track it down, now.

I miss writing, but I have no motivation. Even now, I’m writing a blog post instead of working on my story. It’s hard to put effort into it, not knowing if anyone will ever read it. Will anyone even want to read it? Will it even be worth reading? Basically, without regular accountability, I don’t write. Sad, but true. Excuses are too easy to find. Too many distractions, not enough time, nothing to say, I’m hungry, I want coffee, I should do some cleaning, I haven’t checked Facebook in five whole minutes, and my hand hurts. Harumph. Oh, and I’m afraid and incredibly insecure about my words. I like what I write when I write it… and then two hours later, I’m embarrassed and want to delete it and pray no one has read it yet. I haven’t yet figured out how not to care about what you, the reader, thinks.

For that reason, this blog is going to serve that purpose. I’ll write when I find the time, the inspiration, and the gumption, and I’m resolving not to unpublish.

Autumn Gloria

all of nature’s fading green,
and autumn’s waiting in the wings.
the august sun sets molten gold,
the last of summer to behold.
the harvest moon is coming swift,
first fruits soon to reap, to pick.
the trees with yellow branches bend;
their leaves will leave them for the wind,
but not before they flame to red,
the last sign summer’s gone to bed.
the clouds roll in, the fall has come,
ushered in by a quiet hum
of whistling winds and rustling leaves,
of acorns rolling off the eaves.
a darkened sky of clouds will yawn
till sleepy swallows wake at dawn.
when all the leaves their boughs betray
and autumn time is blown away,
all of nature will fade to grey,
now winter’s glory to display.

Breakdown

“These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only a scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us…” 
-C.S. Lewis, the Weight of Glory

Heart-broken

How do idols break the hearts of their worshippers? It is so easy to ascribe ultimate worth to things that are only meant as faint shadows of the truth. But beauty and magic and comfort, et cetera, do not find their ultimate source in objects, experiences, or people. Our real destiny will provide these things, but in the meantime, rather than enjoying them in these secondary or tertiary sources, rather thanking God and ascribing the glory to him, we devour the mere scraps we find in this world, which do not satisfy, and ignore our growing, grumbling discontent. Lewis also wrote that, “We often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us, because, at that moment, we expected some other good”. What good does God offer, and what “other good” were we expecting? I think what he means is that, ultimately, the primary good, the good God offers that our natural-born selves reject, is God himself. We reject him because our idolatrous hearts expected something else, something we valued more highly at that moment. We wanted and expected and thought we deserved a lesser good. We sulk, because we think, at that moment, that we deserve more than what he offers. What a foolish idea! That I, sinful and broken and unable to fix myself or redeem myself, deserve more than what God offers, when what he offers is all of himself! Ludicrous. But I’ve thought it. Maybe not consciously, but I’ve acted upon that premise. And so, not satisfied with God himself, we turn to the blessings he’s given and make them primary. We declare that they are the primary good. We think that our current job or relationship or home or status will be the solution to all our problems and the source of all our pleasures. We put our hope in and expect joy and fulfillment from our idols, and when we’re not satisfied, our hearts are left broken.

Breaking the Enchantment

The joy, the longing, that we feel at those blessings, that fleeting sensation, is, as quoted above, “news from a country we have never yet visited”. Doesn’t that make you want to go there? If the things which are so good and pleasing in the here and now are shadows of the pleasure of being in the presence of God—because that’s what’s so great about that far country—we should long to be there and enjoy him. Regarding our desire for that place, earlier in the paragraph I quoted from, Lewis writes, “I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of us—the inconsolable secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence”. Why do we feel such shyness? Why are we trying to rationalize it and explain it away? “Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice,” says Jack. We are taught to enjoy as primary pleasures the things in our small world, in order that we might forget that sense that we were made for another world. That is the enchantment that must be broken.

A Broken and Contrite Heart

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Ps. 51:17).
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Ps 147:3).

(Here I diverge from the essay. I strongly encourage you to find and read the entire thing.)
I cannot break the enchantment laid upon me. I need grace. This world breaks my heart because I give my heart away so freely to a world that makes false promises. But it is because of grace that my heart feels the disappointments so keenly. It is grace that my heart has not grown hard. I need to be heart-broken and brought to my knees, humbled. I have to be broken all the way. I need grace to accept the healing, the peace and wholeness and redemption God lovingly offers when he offers himself. And that’s what he offers. He offers grace and peace. He offers his son Jesus Christ, who sustains all things. He can heal my broken heart and break the spell.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.            Psalm 73:23-26

Testimony

I was baptized today. I wanted to post my testimony to the five, or two, or however many people who will read this post. I don’t really know how many real people read these blog posts, especially when I’ve gone months between them. But, to whomever’s reading, I’d like to share my testimony here as I shared it today. It’s abridged, so if you’d like to know more, please ask.

Before I was a Christian, I was an enemy of God.
I grew up always going to church, and I assumed that I was a Christian. But I didn’t know and understand the Gospel. It was explicitly taught in my church, but also because I didn’t understand and accept my sin for what it was. I loved legalism. I held others to high standards and looked down on them when they fell short. I was a slave to pride and self-righteousness, and I couldn’t see my own sinful heart. I couldn’t admit how much I broke God’s law, how much idolatry was in my heart, how I was dead in my sin.
I have a good mind and have always enjoyed learning. I definitely began to take pride in and find my identity in my intelligence during my teenage years. The human heart is made to worship, and I believe that I made intellect my little-g ‘god.’ The legalism I clung to intermingled with this idol, so that any classmates who didn’t try, who accepted ignorance instead of making an effort to learn were morally inferior in my eyes. In the midst of all of this, I was also incredibly insecure. As high school dragged on, I became depressed and lonely and bitter and angry. I didn’t know why, but I knew it didn’t feel right. I asked friends to save me, but they couldn’t. At the end of my senior year, my parents decided to divorce. My mom left that summer; my friends were absent, preparing to go off to college. I had never felt so alone. I was sad and angry at everything, but still I clung to my self-righteousness, even though it gave me no peace.
At the end of the summer, God changed something. He changed everything. He used my feelings of depression and isolation to highlight and underline and shout out to me my need for him. For all I knew about God from church, I realized that I didn’t feel his presence in my life. I didn’t have a relationship with Christ; I was still separate from God. On a day in August six years ago, at the top of a playground, I cried to God, pleading with him to change that, whatever it took. Six months before that, I had written that I felt as if I were drowning and needed rescuing. God was calling me to die to myself, to my legalism and self-righteousness and strength of mind. God gave me grace and mercy and full access to himself through Christ. He replaced my life with Life in Jesus and gave me the gift of his Spirit. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
Looking back, I see God’s hand clearly between that day and this.He led me to a group of friends that year, one of whom introduced me to DBC. He led me to join a small group, to move in with like-minded sisters in Christ, to serve with Student Ministries. I was drawn into community with others who love Jesus and into ministry to serve Jesus, that I might live for his glory. God has taught me faithfulness (still is). And he has adopted me into his Kingdom and made me an heir with Christ. Life is sweet and pleasing and free, not because it is easy (it’s not), but because I can rest on the promise of God, which is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-6