This bears repeating: The Tree Swing

Ruth's Blessing

Grandma Ruth Miner,  and boy, did she  spread the love around on us!

Autumn and apple trees: caramel apples, bobbing for apples, apple pie all are practically synonymous with fall in temperate lands. But an apple tree holds a deeper meaning for me now.  Out behind the bedrooms of their tiny house,  in my Grandma Ruth’s backyard, stood a wonderfully full and tall apple tree. I can still remember the smell of green apples wafting in through the open window as I lay in the big old double bed with such a hollow in the center of the mattress  that I had to hold on to the sides of the bed to keep from rolling onto my younger sister. The best thing about the apple tree, though, was the rope swing with a board seat that hung from the thick lowest  branch. I loved to swing –  and in all honesty, I still do.  That’s why something the Holy Spirit gave me several years ago at the beginning of a long journey of loss is so precious to me.

Charity, the daughter of my dear friend Sharon, “took” us both on a “walk through the Father’s house” in a meditative inward reflection. The idea was to imagine you were in God’s house looking for Jesus. No way was I going to conjure up something from my own imagination; I wanted the Spirit to lead my thinking, or,I inwardly purposed, I would have no thoughts at all. Sharon was seeing a huge house with marble floors, gilded furniture, beautiful paintings; I imagined something like the Clampett’s mansion from the old TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but the house I saw had no furniture at all, and I felt very strongly that I was looking in the wrong place. Up the stairs I wandered in my imagination, but no Jesus. Sharon was out in a beautiful rose garden, then saw a stream filled with beautiful jewels. Heaving a sigh, I decided to follow my first inclination and go out the back door, which turned out to be the faded green wooden screen door of my Grandma Miner’s house. The next thing I sensed was me sitting on the old board swing, and somebody was pushing me. Up into the branches I swung as whoever was pushing me did a run-under – something my own sons called an “Underdog,” and I flew even higher, brushing green leaves with my toes.

I went on in my imagination to sit by the edge of my Grandma’s garden with Jesus, but the imagery of the apple tree stuck with me, so tender and personal.  Two months or so later I was reading the Bible in my morning devotions, curled up  sitting sideways in my favorite wing chair. Yes, guilty as charged, there is still a core of childhood in me and a bit of tomboy lingering from the close relationship I had with my older brother Dave. But there is grown woman in me enough that my heart raced as I read a passage from Song of Songs 2:3. The beloved speaks about her lover: Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade . . . .  I drew in an astonished breath remembering Jesus pushing me on the swing under my Grandma’s apple tree.  I know it’s debatable what sort of fruit tree the original Hebrew in that verse refers to, but to my heart, apple tree meant apple tree and the tenderness of a Savior who doesn’t discount or take lightly or dismiss as childish the things He knows touch our hearts so deeply, individually. I should say child-like rather than childish, and what could come more from the Father’s heart than something that delights his child?  At the same time, Song of Songs is a deeply passionate love story. Who loves us more passionately and fervently than Jesus?

Three years later I mentioned this experience on my Grandma Ruth’s swing in a morning devotional message at a women’s retreat.  I was amazed and humbled beyond words when one woman said during our closing circle, “I came hoping for God’s Spirit to move or speak in my life. It didn’t happen Friday night. It didn’t happen on Saturday. it didn’t happen until this morning when I heard the words “my grandmother’s swing.’” Jesus, you did it again: connected something so intimate in my life with something so personal in another’s! It isn’t just my heart you know; you know every heart in unique loving detail. Scandalous love!

My musings continued as I remembered my younger son  telling his Grandma, my mother, that he was going to take apple seeds with him to Heaven when he died so he could plant an apple tree there for her. My mother had such an intolerance to sugar that even eating the fructose in an apple would give her a migraine headache. Ethan knew she’d have no headaches in Heaven and knew how much she missed the sweet crunch of a ripe apple.

Will there be apple trees in Heaven? I don’t know. If Ethan has any say in things, there will be for Grandma. I do I know there are trees in Heaven: the tree the apostle John saw and related to us in Revelation 22:1-2:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

I know those trees – because, tomboy that I still am, I climbed a tree with Jesus that morning and realized with a sudden flash of insight just what tree we were sitting in. I realized just as quickly what tree we all stand at the foot of for our healing: the cross of Calvary. 1 Peter 2:24: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds we are healed.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that I feel such healing love when I remember sitting on the swing under that apple tree. What kind of god from any story of mythology, from any other faith, exudes such passionately personal love as the One God made flesh in Jesus, offered up willingly out of the greatest heart that beats at the center of all creation, for all of His creation? My heart, still so broken for my human beloved, finds healing from the Lover of my Soul under the tree.

A “. . . BUT . . . ” to move:  Jesus, people disappoint me, even betray my deepest trust and confidence. I betray myself sometimes and disappoint others, BUT your love for me is so intimate, so tender, so powerful, so profound, that I fall to my knees in humbled wonder saying ______________________________________________. Take me to that secret, special place you share in my heart, and I share in yours: _________________________________.

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Absolutely, Positively!

“Oops, here we go again,” I’d think as I edited and fleshed out the books I helped my friend and much admired pastor write. My job was to add background and supporting material, all the while maintaining the author’s voice. It was, after all, his book, his name on the cover, his reputation that he entrusted to me, and I took my responsibility seriously. He was and is a visionary, painting, as one of our editors at the publishing house observed, “in broad brush strokes,” often splashing the canvas of his compelling ideas with the words everywhere,everyone, no one, always, never. I took my “blender brush” to soften, tone and blend his concepts, transforming those words to many, some, sometimes, usually.

In real life as in writing, it’s generally true: you can’t apply a blanket statement to people. You and I live in an age of increasing moral relativism, which only makes this generality seem all the more universally applicable. After all, we’re adults, not preschoolers who see the world in black and white. We know better; experience has matured us. BUT . . .

I raised two precocious sons and worked with young children in classrooms and churches, so I’m accustomed to dealing with “Why” generators and “I do it myself” machines. My second son, 11 years younger than his brother, grew up in a climate of continually trying to fit into adult conversations and activities. Argument was the fencing foil he wielded (effectively, I might add) to insert himself as an equal into the family. If I said the sun was yellow, he’d reply, “No, it’s more golden orange.” Aaugh! Did we have to verbally dissect even the names on finger paint containers?

I asked him one memorable day when he was four why he needed to argue so much, and he thoughtfully replied, “Well, if I do long enough, one of these day’s I’ll be right.” Touché!

Eric at 4 in mask and fins hallmark

Right, wrong. Black, white. We are adults and know better; experience has matured us. There is always room for divergent opinion because everyone has his or her own ideas. After all, Chinese people use red to paint the sun….BUT…. Just as I wrote for my friend under obligation to “speak” in his voice in his book bearing his name and his reputation, so we all “write” our lives under an Author – the Author and Creator of the Universe – to bear his name and his reputation.  According to the one who engineered life and the cosmos, me and you and everybody else, yes, absolutely, positively, he has some absolutes, some brush strokes broad enough to include us all.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 NIV

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. Ecclesiastes 7: 20 NIV

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Romans 3:11-12

Oh come on, God! Don’t the good things I do count for anything? I‘m not THAT bad, am I? Isn’t there some kind of cosmic tally sheet I can rack up my comparative score on? Don’t tell me I have to measure up to Jesus! You know I’m better than ______   Just like preschoolers, we don’t like to be told who we are or how we should paint our lives, or how truly – let’s use a word we don’t hear often, but it fits – reprehensible our sin is, even in the “best” of us. “Why, God?” “I’ll do it MY way! My way is just as good as his/hers/yours.” “I’m not a sinner; I’m more of a good person who occasionally …”

Absolutely, positively, God redirects us to the consequences of “I’ll do it my way” – For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

Absolutely, positively God counters our protests and culturally logical arguments through convicted surrender to truth via a flawed human being named Isaiah, a man of self-confessed unclean lips, equally tempted to moral relativism as we all are, and amazingly, God counters our arguments with truth for a very POSITIVE reason: LOVE.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to her/his own way; AND the LORD has laid ON HIM (the Savior Jesus/Yeshua) the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 NIV

and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:24 NIV

I viewed a TV nature program recently and saw the story of a seal with a runny nose. Vets suspected a brain tumor, but found the problem was an equally deadly infection in the seal’s canine teeth. Left untreated, without removing the hardened infected tissue in the seal’s nose and the abscessed teeth, the seal would have died with nothing visibly wrong beyond nasal drip. We can be, and usually are, oblivious to the abscess of sin endangering our own lives. Rather than making us LESS than we are, admitting our complete and utter helplessness to will ourselves or act ourselves into any resemblance of true goodness puts us in the perfect place to be cleaned out, cleaned up, made perfectly righteous BY the only Righteous One who ever walked the planet, Jesus/Yeshua/Isa/whatever His name is in your language. Yay and thank God for this positive absolute! Absolutely, positively we are relentlessly loved!

Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father BUT through Me. John 14: 5-6 NIV

By this will of God, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all. Hebrews 10:10 NIV

 But if we [really] are living and walking in the Light, as He [Himself] is in the Light, we have [true, unbroken] fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses (removes) us from all sin and guilt [keeps us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations]. If we say we have no sin [refusing to admit that we are sinners], we delude and lead ourselves astray, and the Truth [which the Gospel presents] is not in us [does not dwell in our hearts]. If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness[everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]. 1 John 1:7-9 AMP

Again, the former successive line of priests] was made up of many, because they were each prevented by death from continuing [perpetually in office]; But He (Jesus) holds His priesthood unchangeably, because He lives on forever. Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him, since He is always living to make petition to God and intercede with Him and intervene for them. Hebrews 7: 23-25 AMP

Now mature adults, both of my sons looked aghast at themselves in their early years in family photos and asked me, “Mom, why did you let me go out in public dressed like that?” My answer was, “Because you wanted to. You insisted on wearing purple shorts and over-the-knee tube socks pulled up as high as you could get them. You thought you looked cool, and I let you have your way.” Wardrobe relativism at its zenith!

Oh, God, my Father in Heaven, don’t let me go ”out in public” dressed in popular culture’s compromises like engaging in sexual intimacy before marriage, adultery during marriage, doctoring accounts, keeping so tight a hold on money that I can’t even see the needs of the poor, divorcing my spouse just because “I’m not happy, and my happiness matters above all,” peppering my conversation with profanity, “if it feels good, do it,”   “everybody has to find their own way to self-actualization/spirituality.” I can’t, I choose not to dilute or adulterate the colors of the life God wants to paint in and for me with muddy values and a stubborn “I do it myself! The sun is purple! If I argue with God’s Word long enough, eventually I’ll be right!” attitude.

The primary absolutely positive, positive absolute God will not change is salvation by faith through Jesus, no matter how I’d like to argue the point, and frankly, looking back over my life seeing some of the ways I “dressed” myself apart from Jesus, I don’t want to argue! I’m bound by God’s love and friendship, and more than that, his Lordship, to “dress myself,” to speak and love, live and write out the story of my life in the voice of the Author and Finisher of me, who does speak in absolutes for my positive good:

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:20-24 NIV

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 NAS

Imagine that – YOU are the “joy set before him,” absolutely, positively, finger paint and tube socks and all. Rejoice in the only one who COULD do that and DID do that for you, simply because he loves you.

I hope you enjoy this positive song about the absolute Way, Truth and Life, “No, Not One”

If you’d like to kick up your heels and dance along to your own copy of this song, you can find it on my friend Greg Picard’s album “Boundless Love” sold on Amazon. You can also read his blog on  current culture and Christianity at

http://upstreamatbittercreek.blogspot.com

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, you are my Father, and Jesus, you are the author of my faith, the author of my very life. I know I’m tempted to water down the depth of the sin in my life when ______________________________________________ and it’s probably because I fear _______________________________________________________________. Help me to stop arguing with you, God, about ______________________________________________________ knowing that you want me living by your word so my life can be _____________________________________________________ and I can __________________________________________________ to experience the fullness of life you want me to find through Jesus. I’ll do it your way, Father, for all the love you have for me. In Jesus’ name, amen!Absolutely, Positively!