be the tree
For my brothers and sisters roaming this desert land, wondering even now about the how:
For you, it will maybe come out of nowhere, the way He spoke it. Then again, maybe not.
Through the middle, you be the tree in the wilderness, the tree that looks like my tree.
He’d been leading up to it for some time. It wasn’t just that day and me standing under an orange sky as it slowly streaks gold, stretching my legs against the front steps after a run and suddenly, I feel the wrapping of a truth. It wasn’t just. For me, this had been coming.
And I will tell you this, because He lights me with it, before I tell you the story of just how He told me:
I want to be the tree. More than anything.
Time blurs and I never really know, but I think it’s been four years since a beautiful friend hung a picture of a tree on the wall above my desk. I have to show you, so you’ll understand why I have goosebumps. She had poured out her time, her gifts, to help me redecorate. The day of the big reveal, I stood looking at the tree, and she said, “I read some stuff about how to make an office for a writer…and that just looked…I don’t know, peaceful. Thoughtful. You need a place to think. And write.”
So this is that tree, the tree I’ve been soaking up now every day for four years.
I’ve thought many times about the elegant, majestic way that tree stands in what appears to be the barrenness of desert. Because that’s where we all live, in a dry and weary land that offers us no water (Psalm 63: 1).
Above the tree, my friend hung a definition, one she said I needed:
I’ve been looking at the two of them together now for such a while, sometimes stopping in for only a moment to grab my computer during the late afternoon, while Riley and I muddle through her homework; sometimes during the quiet writing hours, during the listening, during the time when God pours it all out, fresh.
A tree, thriving majestic and thick, limbed in a barren place. Believe. Trust me.
And then one morning, sitting in the half light, feeling parched and thirsty and trying to drink deep before the day begins in earnest, I rest my finger on a passage that speaks to me all new:
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers (Psalm 1:3).
And this while I feel withered and without the strength for fruit. It’s as though the Living Word changes shape, as though the Spirit blows it gently a new way at just the time I am most ready to hear (Hebrews 4:12). I want to be the tree, I think, sitting there empty, sitting there longing for an oasis, trying to gather myself for another parched day.
I want to be the tree.
It takes so long, sometimes, for things to soak through all the way to the root of me, and I am more like the Samaritan woman than I care to admit, so busy drawing the water of Earth, too weary with my over and over to recognize that the Lord has come to speak with me. I hear an echo just for me in the things He says to her.
If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. …whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:10, 14).
If you knew the gift of God. I do lose track, sometimes, in all the every and again. And I forget He’s right here, sitting in the middle of my labor, reminding me that I am eternally His. It’s an important thing, living in the desert, to find water that will forever slake my thirst. “Give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty,” I whisper with the woman, gathering myself to make breakfast, breathing in every hint of Him I can manage. That woman stood close enough to touch Him, but she didn’t know, and at first all she could think to say was, “Why are you even talking to me?” Oh let me not also disregard the gift of His eternal intimacy.
The tree stays with me—the tree planted by streams, the tree yielding fruit at the proper time, the tree with the leaves that never wither. I suppose it feels like some of the other scripture I cling to, the verses that have become like a breath I savor slowly and exhale. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9). Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40: 28-31). Daily I find myself longing for the Everlasting, for strength that will not waste away, for a harvest at the proper time.
So I carry the tree with me, within me, as I cook bacon in the microwave and whisk eggs in a glass bowl, as I count carbs and gather bagged lunches and pray my family down the road and into schools and off to work. You will be like a tree planted by streams of water, He keeps saying through the middle, digging His fingers into the dry soil of me, right there in the desert, far from any water I can see.
The truth is that we live in a place of over and over need and over and over weary, and we all often count the earthly water and the drawing it more precious than hearing what He has to say to us. But blessed, He says, is the person whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1,2).” She’s the woman who becomes the reflection of His tree, thriving right here in this dry, weary land. What is it that David wrote? “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thrists for you, my body longs for you (Psalm 63:1).” David, he had it right.
When I recognize God’s voice, the sure grip of His hand, I find a way to remember. I order the vinyl online, and when it arrives, I rub it on the wall just outside my office—the verse, the tree.
So, for six months now I have walked past the one tree on the wall outside the door on my way to the other one above my desk. And now it’s the two trees I see every day, the one smack in the middle of canonized scripture, the one speaking to me in the middle of my desert, the You will be like a tree in script just beside, and the other tree, elegant in a barren place, just beneath a reminder to have faith.
And then in the middle of my praying some two months later, I realize I need to write a Bible study for women. In the middle of my asking how and what to offer Him, I know. It’s not a voice I hear. It’s a bizarre idea not my own, one that makes me shake my head, thinking of all my water-drawing. “Wait. Why are you asking me for a drink (John 4:9)?” I ask what I should surrender, expecting the answer to be something that fits comfortably in my chaos, but when the Spirit speaks to me, it’s never something comfortable. It’s something that makes me stare dumbly at the word how and write it down five times in a row with extra question marks for emphasis.
It’s madness, how I can feel so thirsty and live out in the desert and get so focused on my over and over that I can find so little time to sit with the Lord, so little time to listen, so little time to meditate on His law. He offers me Living water, says if I know the gift and who He is, I’ll ask Him for it. He offers to let me be His tree, the tree He waters. And it’s odd, how it seems to make sense to me that there’ s no time for anything truly lasting because I’m so busy with everything that will one day fall away.
I told you: It takes a long time for things to soak all the way to the root of me.
But He’s seeded me this far, and He’s so patient, and I know I have to write this study and I know enough of what it will be. It will be chronological and it will be whole Bible and it will be for as long as it takes. It’s a commitment. I feel that, the way I feel my thirst. Right then, I don’t think of the tree I’ve been looking at for four years, nor even the He will be like a tree I’m carrying within me. I don’t see the foundation God has been building for my hearing, the roots He’s nurtured. Not yet.
So I keep right on with my parched, quick living, and I start asking Him what I will call this study, as if that’s the first thing, because it has to be called something. I think maybe I am stalling, but still I ask, and for some reason I can’t quite place just then, all I see is a tree, and all I hear is ALIVE, and I am not even sure who’s doing the telling. If you knew who… “Is this just another one of my hokey titles?” I ask, but nothing changes. tree ALIVE tree ALIVE…tree. ALIVE.
And just so you know that God has a sense of humor, about this time Riley hits 7th grade science and draws Exploring Agriculture as her elective. So what are we doing together in the days when I start writing lessons but studying the hydrologic cycle and building a model of a watershed with mountains that look more like trees.
“Umm, are those supposed to be mountains,” Zoe says, walking by just as I burn my finger on the glue gun and Riley presses in moss on top of a cone shaped piece of florist foam, “because they look like trees.”
“Shh,” I say so quickly my lips barely open, slicing the air in front of my neck with my finger. “They’re mountains.”
“Okay, but they look like really big trees.” She says and keeps on walking, and fortunately Riley seems too absorbed with pushing the moss over the hot glue to hear her.
Trees. Water. Mountainous trees. It’s only now that I really get the humor.
Finally one day I walk past the wall tree declaring You will be like a tree and suddenly know this is why I keep seeing the tree and hearing ALIVE, and a single question worms its way in: “Why a tree?” And I don’t really know the answer, but I know that’s the kernel on which to begin, the tree, alive, and the verse that says I will be just like a tree planted by streams of water if I dwell in Word, if I eat and drink and breathe Him.
So just last week, I sit under the wilderness tree, under the believe so clearly defined for me, writing lessons and wondering how but knowing God will do what He wants regardless of how it all looks to me, because He always does. And I’m just happy that He’s so patient with me, and that He lets me participate. I need to tell you, so you’ll know how this happens.
I walk past my wall tree and sit down under the other, and I swivel back and forth in my chair, settling my fingers on the keys. And then I just start and I let it come, and suddenly I’m seeing in the writing something I had not seen before. It’s like God points a finger past my nose and whispers look, and I wake up to something heard fresh. There, He says, pointing, showing me that all of canonized scripture begins and ends with trees. First it’s the Tree of Life in Eden, the tree on which Adam and Eve can feast without limit. It grows in the middle of the garden, and it is described like so many other trees there, as “pleasing to the eye and good for food (Genesis 2:9).” But this tree represents eternal life, and this tree is the reason Adam and Eve are eventually banished from the garden after their sin. “He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever (Genesis 3:22),” God said, and He placed an angel there with a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life (v.24). And so their banishment from that one tree and from the garden watered by God from springs in the ground represents the break in a relationship, an end to living so close to God as to hear his footsteps in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). It is their choice to go their own way that sends them forth.
But in the last chapter of canonized scripture, the Spirit breathed these words, writing through John about the end of all things and the holy city, “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. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face (Revelation 22:1-3).” And as the keys click beneath my fingers, I see, I know that we will once again eat fruit from that tree and once again hear the footsteps of God and once again see His face.
And smack in the middle of it all, in the middle of our story, is “You will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” You will be like a tree that reminds of my tree, He whispers. But I still don’t see all He’s written all over the roots of me. Not yet.
And because God has shown me both that total immersion really is exactly what I need and that this study is partly about how to find Him, I start searching YouTube for videos about trees and copying them into an activity in a section of one of the first lessons. In order to hear the answer to “Why a tree,” I have to really think about trees and what they do and why we need them. I have to really look at trees and touch them and listen to them. God said that all creation testifies to the truth (Romans 1:20). Somewhere along the way, I find and clip this video:
It’s a crazy countdown about “amazing trees,” and the number one tree is a tree that has lived in the desert of Bahrain for 400 years, miles from any water source. They call it The Tree of Life. I watch the video and gasp, leaving it, tucking it deep.
So, you see, it had been coming.
Running the next day, under that sky so beautiful I can barely look away, I breathe His name in and out and I pray, and He moves through me, putting together the foundation He’s been building, the threads He’s woven just especially for me. And so I stand there stretching, and He grips me hard, and my breath catches in my throat. Suddenly it’s all there, all clear:
the tree in the wilderness four years above my desk
the believe above, defined so I can see the parts of it
the tree on the wall outside my door
the He is like a tree; the You shall be like a tree
the parched, thirsty life I’m living in the desert, drawing water over and over that will never fully meet my need
the Living water He promises me, welling up as a forever spring, a holy watering
the Tree of Life, watered by God, that meant eternity before and now means eternity restored to me, the bookends of my story
the Tree of Life, that touchable, 400 year old tree that lives far from any source of water that can be seen, out in the middle of the deserts of Bahrain
the You will be like a tree, the promised fruit, the leaves that won’t wither, the lasting things undestroyed by the dry wind and heat, the no more needing, the satisfaction that stays
And then He speaks it, strong and solid, deep and well-rooted, soaked in Living springs:
Through the middle, you be the tree in the wilderness, the tree that looks so much like my tree.
You be the vision of my victory, the truth of Kingdom now, the promise of how this all happens and how it all will finish. Drink deep of me, Beloved. I am the Living Water.
Be the tree.