Tag Archives: life

Feeling Stumpy?

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed buying sentimental gifts for my parents, especially gifts that might bring a tear to their eyes. Although my motive may have been misplaced, my intention was to use those gifts to express my affection for them. When my parents sold their home a few years ago, I inherited one of those gifts: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. In a typical burst of sentiment, I had given this children’s book to my mom and dad on the occasion of their joint February birthdays, when I was eighteen years old; my dedicatory message to them is inscribed inside the front cover.

This poignant story recounts the relationship between an apple tree and a boy. The young boy climbs the tree, swings from the tree’s branches, and even carves a heart into its trunk to signify his relationship with the tree. Later, he carves another heart into the bark with the initials of himself and his young sweetheart. Ultimately, the boy grows into manhood and sets off to make his way in the world. When he needs money, he sells the tree’s apples; in need of a home, he uses the tree’s branches for lumber to build a house. Throughout this tale, the tree persists in referring to the aging man as “Boy” and continually waits in expectation of his next visit. Ultimately, the “boy” asks the tree for her trunk to construct a boat. The tree lovingly acquiesces and is consequently reduced to an old stump in the ground. The story closes with the boy’s return as an elderly man; the tree welcomes him but explains that she has nothing left to give him. He responds that he only needs a place to sit and rest. The tree invites him to sit down and rest on her, as an old stump is indeed good for that. He accepts her invitation and takes a seat on the old, barren stump. The last line in the book reads, “And the tree was happy.”

The image of the old stump suits the way I have regarded myself this year — barren, depleted, isolated, and exhausted. At times, I have felt abandoned (although I could not exactly say by whom) and alone (despite a loving family surrounding me). I have felt increasingly useless and have speculated whether I have anything left to offer anyone. Such thoughts have plagued me during this pandemic season complicated by spiritual and political unrest in our culture.

Nonetheless, as Christmas approached, the promise of the “stump Scripture” somehow rang in my spirit: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1 ESV) From the apparently dead stump of Jesse — a stump defeated by sin and affliction — God visited humankind and caused the Messiah to spring forth. Indeed, in God’s mysterious economy, hope arises in seemingly impossible circumstances.

As the holidays approached and I meditated on this verse, my very beloved ninety-year-old father contracted COVID and was hospitalized. Following an initial rally and predictions of recovery after physical therapy, extreme weakness overtook him, and pneumonia set in. Our children and grandchildren were scheduled to join us a week ahead of Christmas to celebrate the holiday, and I sensed I should read The Giving Tree at our gathering. Deeply sorrowful at the prospect of losing my father after his heroic fight against the virus, I searched our stash of children’s books, to no avail, and consequently dismissed my intention of reading that book as maudlin and focused on preparations for the family’s arrival and the inevitable phone call from one of my sisters about my father’s worsening condition.

Our youngest son and his family arrived first, and the toddlers raced upstairs to play with their toys. During the course of the afternoon, I ran to their play area to retrieve something and, to my astonishment, discovered The Giving Tree lying on the floor of the game room. Our three-year-old book lover had apparently rifled through the book stash and happened to pull out that very book! Of course, I snatched it up and opened it to re-read my inscription to my parents: “To Mom and Dad, who never stop giving.” With a sense of wonder, I placed the book reverently on my bathroom counter, in case it should merit an official reading the next day.

That next day, all the children and grandchildren arrived, and one of my sisters called to report that our father’s breathing had become more labored, but that he was awake and could hear. She kindly offered to hold the telephone for him as we each spoke our final words of love and thanks to him. After that final tearful phone call, only a few minutes transpired before she called me back to report that our father had taken a final deep breath and transitioned into eternity.

My father was a hero in every sense of the word, a man of impeccable integrity, unparalleled wit, humor, and insight. He loved people and mentored many (albeit unwittingly). Even in death, he left a rich legacy of faith and faithfulness, honesty, authenticity, and humor.

What happened after that phone call? We celebrated Christmas, six days early, as the entire household had planned (not knowing the Lord had appointed that very day to call my daddy home to Himself). What a comfort it was to be surrounded by all our children and grandchildren! After everyone’s gifts had been opened and admired, I read The Giving Tree aloud, with our three-year-old grandson voluntarily clambering into my lap (particularly meaningful, as he was named in honor of my father) to follow along with the story’s illustrations. As I explained about new life springing from stumps and seemingly dead places, the message of Jesus Christ springing from the stump of Jesse increased in poignancy and vibrance for me, as God had truly given me a righteous legacy through Messiah, in parallel with the heritage given me by my earthly father — who now lives with Him and whose legacy lives forever with our perfect heavenly Father.

Where we are experiencing death and barrenness, we can be confident that the Lord is able to cause new life to spring from that stump. Just as the ancient olive trees in Israel, though gnarled and consumed, serve as the source of saplings full of new life, God is able to make His grace and power abound to us and transform our ashes into beauty. Indeed, He delivers us from destruction!

Yet if even a tenth remains there, it will be burned again. It will be like a fallen oak or terebinth tree when it is felled; the stump still lives to grow again.  Now, the “stump” is the holy seed. (Isaiah 6:13, TPT)

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Loss, Legacy, & Life

20170121_081936Recently I made an unexpected trip to assist my father in conjunction with a move based on safety issues and health concerns.   As usual when in my mother’s kitchen, I decided to bake my dad a pie.  During the process of rolling out the crust on my mother’s time-worn, decades-old pastry cloth, I suddenly found myself overcome with waves of sorrow rooted in the realization that this banana cream pie was the last pie I would ever bake for my dad while he was actually still living in the house he had shared with my mother for many years.   As the pangs of loss threatened to overwhelm me, I realized that, although my parents might be slipping away from me, they were leaving me an invaluable legacy that not even death will be able to plunder.

Baking a pie is really a simple pleasure and an easy task — or so I had thought when I was a small child.  My mother could be found baking pies in our various kitchens (we moved often) two or three times a week.  I did not find that remarkable at the time, as that process was a normal part of life for our family.   When my dad was out of work, my ever-resourceful mother continued to bake pies using the rhubarb that grew wild in the back yard.   One of my friends even preferred watching my mom bake pies to playing with me, which hurt my tender feelings.   I could not understand how such a routine activity could fascinate my friend to that degree.  (I discovered years later that her parents were alcoholics, and her mother never baked anything.)

When I was about ten, we were eating in a diner (a rare treat), and I insisted on ordering a piece of my favorite pie (sour cherry).  Despite my mother’s polite warnings that it might not taste like what I expected, I ordered that piece of pie.   To my chagrin, the crust was leathery, and the filling consisted of a few artificially-colored red cherries floating in a sea of corn syrupy, gelatinous liquid.   The light was dawning….

My sisters and I grew up by my mother’s side and learned to bake and cook as part of the ordinary rhythm of daily life.  Friendly and inclusive, my parents both came from large families and believed in including everyone else in our family.  That process involved hosting many overnight guests, inviting everyone imaginable to dinner, and even preparing food for parties of various types in our home (including my father’s office events). There was nothing my culinarily curious and talented mother could not do, and my sisters and I considered this lifestyle of cooking and hospitality as normal.   It never really occurred to me that few people ever reciprocated, or that it was possible  NOT to know how to bake something as simple as a pie with a good crust.  Cooking and eating together were ordinary and fundamental parts of family life.

Ultimately, I grew up and realized many of my friends could not cook and bake or were afraid to try preparing anything new.   Their mothers had never allowed them in the kitchen, or their family circumstances had not been conducive to inviting people over.  I also noticed that most of the meals my husband and I enjoyed as young adults were in our own home, to which we immediately invited people not long after our wedding day. Rarely did someone invite us to dinner.  What was the simplest and easiest dessert for me to make?  Pie, of course!  (I have learned to prepare many delicious desserts, but pie is still my favorite!)

Decades later, we realized my mother was suffering from a form of dementia; one of the saddest, most telltale signs of her decline was the day she called me and asked me for her own pie crust recipe.   I felt a deep sense of loss at that moment as I explained her recipe and method to her.   I knew something serious had happened in her mind, as pie-baking had always been instinctive for her.

Back to the counter and the crust for the banana cream pie:  while contemplating the fact that this pie would be the last pie I would prepare for my father before he moved out of the house, as the undertow of grief threatened to swallow me up, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that a simple pie represented a tremendous, enduring legacy of hospitality, inclusion, life, and love — a legacy that no one can rob from me — a legacy of caring about others, a legacy of good food and laughter, a legacy of sharing simple pleasures, a legacy of conversation and fellowship, a legacy of giving.   How could I ever have regarded THAT as boring or ordinary?  As a child, I had taken all those things for granted and failed to realize what treasures I enjoyed on a daily basis; of course I appreciated them, but I had considered those routines normal.  As an adult, I recognize what a priceless inheritance my parents imparted to me, an inheritance that reaches beyond possessions and bank accounts.

Gratitude flooded my heart.  “Besides,” I thought to myself, “I will be able to bake Dad a pie when we visit the house and bring him home for dinner.”   I pray I will bake hundreds more pies for people in the years to come; my mother would do so, were she able.

Moreover, I have begun to search my heart with this question:   “How many treasures in Daddy God’s Kingdom have I taken for granted and considered ordinary?”  I am asking the Holy Spirit to reveal His legacy to me, in me, and through me to others as I navigate the remaining days of my own life.   May I not overlook the priceless gems lying in the ordinary places of day-to-day life!

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Shed the Shroud

alisha041Perhaps it comes as no surprise to most of us that even dedicated Christians find themselves subject to depression, sorrow, and shame.  What’s more, the burden of guilt for feeling depressed, sorrowful, and ashamed is often worse than the feelings themselves.  After all, aren’t Christians supposed to be the happiest people on earth?  Based on God’s Word we can be confident that Jesus has set us free from sin and released us into a new life permeated with His Presence.  By His Holy Spirit, He is readily available to us — as near to us as the breath we breathe.

Yet somehow, many of us labor under an all-too-familiar shroud of sorrow and shame that we cannot seem to shake.   In fact, we tend to think that that sorrow or shame is part of who we are, our cross to bear, our thorn in the flesh.  As such, we endeavor to simply cope with the heaviness and own it as our just due, as something unchangeable this side of heaven.  

However, that shroud is a cloak of death thrown over us by the enemy of our souls.   His goal is to choke off the joy God has made available to us and to blind us to God’s perspective on our lives.  The enemy blankets us in darkness and hopelessness; he loves to convince us that his heaviness is, in reality, part of who we are, a part we are powerless to change.   

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He called him forth from death into life. Lazarus emerged from the grave; however, he was still clothed in the grave clothes in which he had been wrapped prior to burial.   Jesus instructed Lazarus’s friends and family to remove the grave clothes and let him go (see John 11).   Sometimes I think I neglect to ask others to help me remove the shrouds that the enemy persists in tossing over me.  I think I should be able to toss them off by myself — which I only rarely am able to do!   Often, I muddle through a week or so without recognizing that the shroud is NOT part of me, my personality, or my calling.  It is a dark cloak of death that suffocates everything the Lord has breathed into me!

Jesus, help us to speak life to one another and remove the shrouds of futility, hopelessness, depression, sorrow, fear, and shame that so readily block our vision and drag us down.   We choose to step out from under the heaviness of those grave clothes and into Your marvelous light!   Thank You for delivering us from the undertow of our past and the dark thoughts that would like to chain us to darkness.   You are truly our Deliverer! Empower us to shed the shroud and to yank it off one another!  Thank You for Your resuscitation station that enables me to shed the shroud of darkness and shun the shame!  You are glorious and full of hope, and I thank You for Your light and life that conquers every shred of darkness!

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5 NLT)




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