© 2015 Lynn Abbott
My neighbors’ house sits on a grassy rise down the road apiece. Few trees occupy the lot. In fact, he tells me that she doesn’t like trees blocking the view of the house.
I shift my feet rather uncomfortably and glance at my home. Since moving in nearly 10 years ago, my husband and I have planted close to one hundred trees.
And because our house rests downhill, the trees now almost completely obscure it.
My neighbor’s revelation certainly destroys any dreams I may have entertained of creating a tree-lined avenue. They will never plant trees along their portion of the sidewalk.
I dunno. Seems people are of two minds when it comes to trees. Some love the grassy, unadorned hillsides of Kentucky horse country; others, love the sound of autumn’s fluttering leaves on the Blue Ridge.
My love of trees sprouted during my parent’s summertime sojourns. I particularly remember camping in Montana one summer… Dad attended a geology conference and, thus, work occupied some of his time.
But of course, I didn’t care about any of that. Keeping up with my big brother who was allowed to hike in the woods and dive in the lake was enough to occupy me.
At five, I resented my mother’s injunction to stay on the shallow side of the pier. After all, my brother swam in deeper waters.
However, for me, the high point of that trip remains a ride on the back of my dad’s Honda to the mountain grocery. Clinging to my father, I marveled as he picked his way through the windy, tree-lined roads. The journey took my breath away.
Such a ride for a five-year-old would never happen today. Too dangerous. Yet, that is how, with the wind in my face and tall trees as my witness, I acquired a taste for adventure.
And so, I treasured the trees. At age ten, I even attempted to sabotage “progress” by planting cherry seeds on land that had been cleared for suburban housing. Like Seuss’ Lorax, I spoke for the trees.
Robin Hood captured my imagination. The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House towered as my ideal. And Tom Bombadil’s forest songs haunted me.
Yet, as an adult, I must acknowledge my neighbor’s argument: trees actually block grand vistas. Although camping in mountain forests puts me in range of mountain views, for the most part, the woods are rather closed in.
Forget it being difficult to see the forest for the trees… It’s impossible to see sweeping vistas through those sage, leafy sentinels.
For this reason, wooded paths actually force me to focus on the immediate…the crunch, crunch of fallen leaves, the snap of a twig, and if I’m fortunate, the song of a bird.
I suppose this is because I cannot see far into the thick canopy. I cannot know what lies beyond the trees. I suspect that’s why the woods simultaneously comfort and frighten.
Sometimes, I am Red Riding Hood… Or Frodo and his frightened companions lost in Bombadil’s woods.
When I stop to consider it, I realize that much of life requires plodding through the woods rather than dancing breathlessly on the mountaintop.
Occasionally, we ride on the back of our Father’s bike–wind whistling through our hair– and so we experience an extraordinary view of the world. Eventually, however, we must return to life below the tree line.
There, I do my daily shuffle. The thick pine needles encumber the trudge, trudge of each step. At times, life becomes mysteriously quiet, and I fear what lurks ahead. I peer into the dim and dusty thicket, but I only trace shadows of things to come.
And I long to ride like the wind, back to the mountaintop.
“Let’s just skip the long hike through the woods, Abba,” I whine. Yeah, I prefer clinging to my Father, and speeding through the forest.
Better yet, I’d happily camp out on the mountain top.
Peter felt that way, too. He even suggested dwelling there permanently. In Matthew 17, after seeing Christ transfigured in glory, Peter offered to put up tents for Christ, Moses and Elijah.
Let’s just keep this mountain top experience going, he seemed to say.
In fact, the whole of Biblical history seems to bear this out.
Have you ever noticed that?
Thumbing my way through the catalog of Biblical saints, I see an unmistakable pattern: again and again, Abba’s children slog it out in the day-to-day–waiting for the promise, looking to Abba for that future significant celebration on the heights, hanging on for dear life to their Father God.
They shuffle by faith through brambles; they struggle to deflect the dark menacing whispers of the unfriendly copse that crowds Bombadil’s home.
They fight back fear, and sing with Anna of the King and I, “Whenever I feel afraid/ I hold my head erect/And whistle a happy tune/So no one will suspect I’m afraid…”
But the sound of song seems to fall flat in the solitude. They may even feel their prayers cannot penetrate the leafy ceiling.
Nevertheless, they forge ahead… faithful. Routinely.
I read of Noah who received an incredible revelation. Yet, undoubtedly, his initial excitement wore thin after years of boat building, and ridicule from his neighbors. I can almost hear him question, “How long it would be until the waters actually begin to rise?”
I remember that Abraham also waited. You remember, too. God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand. Sarah, however, remained barren. Year after year. Decade after decade.
Unjustly accused, Joseph appeared to moulder in a dark, dank prison. He had dreamed of greatness… Was it just a young man’s vain hope or a promise from God?
Moses longed to rescue his people, but after his murderous debacle in Egypt, Mo’ fled into the wilderness where he spent his days tending sheep. It was a far cry from the gilded halls of Pharaoh’s court.
Joshua and Caleb caught a vision of all that the Promised land offered. But they were outvoted by the Israeli community. As a result, they wandered the wilderness with their countrymen for 40 years.
God found Gideon threshing wheat… downhill, hiding from the raiding Midianites. Discouraged and beaten down with his people, Gideon wanted nothing more than to survive.
After the initial burst of excitement that comes with any move, I’m sure that Ruth found life lonely and difficult in her adopted country. In an effort to provide for her mother-in-law Naomi and herself, Ruth collected the left-overs during the harvest. Daily, she worked in those unromantic fields.
David began with triumph over Goliath; however, Saul’s jealousy soon drove the young shepherd-soldier into wilderness caves. The giant slayer spent years running from his enemy, Saul.
Samuel served with little recognition. Advising Saul certainly proved a thankless task. I suspect Sam sighed a great deal as he delivered God’s warnings again and again to an unrepentant Saul.
Daniel, taken into Babylonian captivity, worked as a legal alien all of his life. He received visions from God, but did not live to see the return of his people to the land of Promise.
Nehemiah must have been elated when granted permission to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. However, life on the ground proved difficult. He encountered fierce opponents, and exchanged the luxuries of palace life for manual labor.
The apostle John spent his life on Patmos…and looked forward to Christ’s return. But I imagine that his day-to-day life was not only difficult but also very dull.
And our Sovereign Savior was born in a stable rather than a palace. He lived as an itinerant preacher and died on a cross…
As Robert Frost once noted, the woods are lovely, but they can also be, “dark and deep…” In fact, in the forest’s twilight, trees seem endless.
And Frost also adds, there are miles to go before we sleep…
So we drag our feet through autumn leaves, through the underbrush…our sight limited by the trees that crowd our path…the day-to-day of our existence…
And all the while, we long for the mountaintop.
Yet, even in the woods, Grace dances like dappled light. Abba sends glimmers of things to come. And with moments of hope and joy, He lifts us as we stumble through the long, woodland hike, (Psalm 3:3).
After many monotonous days riding the waves, the ark came to rest on Ararat. Noah sent out the dove … and the dove returned with an olive branch.
Abraham entertained angelic guests who reassured him of Yahweh’s promise. Then, they gave him Abba’s name for the promised son… Isaac, or laughter.
Joseph interpreted dreams for his fellow inmates, and God fulfilled those visions. Yes, Joseph found success even in that dark place.
And then, there are always those moments when we walk into a clearing. Briefly, Abba grants a glimpse of the big picture, and we find our place in His world.
We cross a bridge, or pull into a turn-out. The look out over the valley’s expanse gives us a taste of the “even better things to come…”
And in the clearing, Moses encountered the burning bush, and Yahweh spoke.
Gideon saw a fleece fulfilled.
Ruth received kindness from Boaz.
David gathered a group of loyal men. His popularity soared despite his exile.
Samuel anointed David, the hope and descendant of the One to come.
In the lions’ den, Daniel experienced God’s miraculous, intervening salvation.
Nehemiah rebuilt the city wall in the face of overwhelming opposition.
And on a deserted island, John received a vision of Christ’s return; the beloved disciple beheld the beauty of the new heaven and earth.
But the most spectacular clearing occurred on a Sunday in a garden tomb. Christ’s resurrection guarantees our hope. It is a down payment, a promissory note. The most spectacular mountaintop ever still awaits us.
In the meantime, you and I continue to look for glimmers. Abba allows light to filter through the trees. His grace guides us along the path.
The woods grow thick and the future is veiled in the forest’s dusty atmosphere.
But as we seek Him, we find Grace sufficient to illuminate the uneven lane immediately before us.
Of course, when I focus instead on the dark, seemingly impenetrable forest that lies some distance ahead, fear overtakes me. But Abba hasn’t asked me to look beyond the trees.
He knows I cannot.
My mission is to simply follow Him through the forest
Thus, He calls you and me trust the dappled light of His love.
Those who have gone before smile as we forge ahead with sometimes faltering faith… (Hebrews 12:1,2). They know that stepping from glimmer to glimmer, clinging to Abba and his promises, we make our way to the clearing. There, we find renewed strength for the journey, (Isaiah 40:29-31).
My neighbor has a point. The view is lovely from that rise above the trees.
I’ll give her that.
But my life more frequently resembles the house nestled in the forest foothills.
And Abba meets me there as well. His voice sparkles through leafy canopies…
Indeed, the Light of the World whispers, “This is the way; walk in it,”(Isaiah 30:21).
That’s right. Clinging to our Heavenly Father, we will one day reach His home above the treeline…
with its stunning mountaintop views.
“… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,” ~Hebrews 12:1,2
“For you will go out with joy, And be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, And all the trees of the field will clap their hands,”~ Isaiah 55:11