A Tale of Two Trees

What kinds of trees fascinate you? Do you prefer redwoods or palms, oaks or evergreens, birch trees or Christmas trees?



Abundant trees are a hallmark in the northern woods of Wisconsin where we live. This fall, amid a beautiful show of red, orange and yellow hardwoods, a friend and I hiked the Kettle Moraine Ice Age Trail which stretches across our state from north to south.



As we ventured around a bend, two divergent sights seemed remarkable and significant. We stopped to observe. Ahead was an enormous two-foot-in-diameter tree, together with its five-foot root ball, uprooted on its side, dead.


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A short distance away, towered another. This was a similar tree - with a huge root structure completely exposed - standing straight and proud on the path beside the river, alive and thriving.

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With the season being Fall, the obvious signs of nature, of death and dying, lay all around.


The visual images stimulated our conversation. These two trees recalled a beautiful place called Garden of Eden. The Genesis account recalls two trees playing a significant role in the history of our world.


Soon after Creation, a dreadful choice was made one day near the foot of the forbidden tree. With a single act of rebellion, Eve’s desire and Adam’s silence plunged a perfect world into the darkness of sin. Eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – against God’s command - cut the first humans off from the Tree of Life and God. Death entered the world, and its curses with it.



As I contemplated the unfolding scene from Genesis that Autumn day, the two trees created an analogy to be considered.



Which of the two trees – dead and uprooted, or alive and thriving -  would represent the outcome of my life?




What had once been an impressive tree was now lying dead, due to a shallow root system.




Would my life reflect this slain giant riddled with a rotted foundation?




Would I someday fall like a goliath during an onslaught of deadly winds in the form of troubles and strife?




Yet the other tree stood tall, its roots thickly tangled and firmly imbedded near the water.




Would I be able to withstand the pressures and attacks of life?




Would I stay firmly rooted?




Next my thoughts focused on two different trees standing on either side of a third, a gory scene in Israel. My mind’s eye could see one tree holding a criminal, his pain causing him to curse and revile God. Another tree bears the second offender. His mouth opens, and the humble words tumble out to the man in between.




“Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42




Jesus’ words settle the question for all time. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43




Today. With Jesus. In Paradise. The vile criminal would be there, in heaven, because Jesus said so.




A shiver runs through my body at this thought. And the cool breeze brings me back to Wisconsin. The musing ends.




But my question lingers – which tree? The dead or the living?




The trees in the Garden, at Calvary, and in the Kettle Moraine bring a solid answer. Though divergent and seemingly random connections, the thread that tethers them together points to only one theme and one tree – God’s Son, the Christ. Because God punished his son with our sins on that tree, also known as the cross, I can answer my wonderings with certainty.




The lives of God’s people will be rooted, alive and thriving.  I will not die, but live.




“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24




You can know of your life’s outcome with certainty, too. Do you believe the words and promise of Jesus? By God’s grace, you can. You need not fear. Everyone who calls on Jesus will be saved. Even criminals like the thief on the cross.




“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9




As women, we might tend to feel small and weak, even powerless at times. But God’s Word tells us otherwise.




In His eyes, we are not small nor shallow.




We are not easily pushed over by the storms of life.




God’s chosen people have deep roots, and are strong and alive. Planted by the Spirit, we are grounded in him - kept alive by his Word. As a result, God gives us power to extend our branches as a kind of storm shelter for our families and friends.




“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61:3




What a stunning visual for God’s people! I hope to remember this great scripture picture during the musings on the next hike in the woods.




Thank you, Lord for rooting us in you.
Forgive us when we fall.
Bring us safely into your Paradise where we will be with you forever!
In Jesus, Amen.




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You Mean What?

I love words that have multiple meanings. Sure they flustered me as a child, but now I tend to view them as perfect material for embarrassingly dry and remarkably fantastic “pun” humor. Believe it or not, there is actually a Guinness World Record for the word that has the most meanings with the verb ‘set’ taking said coveted title.

Why do I bring this up? Well, this month’s theme “Fall into Grace” centers on one of those words-that-have-a-lot-of-meanings words.

Fall.

Oxford English Dictionary comes up with 264 meanings for this simple 4-letter word. Impressive right? Makes me feel a little bit better about the time I’ve spent staring at my blinking cursor on a blank Word document trying to figure out how in the world I was going to write any semblance of a readable and semi-interesting blog post around a concept that can be interpreted so many different ways.

As a wheeler, falling - at least in the conventional/literal sense - isn’t something that typically crosses my mind. I may worry occasionally about “falling” during a transfer, an event I more (or less) lovingly refer to as “biffing it,” but that’s about it. That, my friends, is what I call a silver lining to assuming a permanently seated position and not having to worry about tripping and falling over my own massively uncoordinated feet - especially in the snow-covered and icy winter Wisconsin streets and parking lots.

At the same time, I will admit to worrying about a different kind of falling. Well, maybe worrying is too strong of a word…I will admit to having an undeniable level of concern about a different kind of falling. Falling in love.

I’ve fallen in love before and I’m not talking about the often flippant and over dramatic love that seems to overtake the lives of many teenagers (yea, I may have been one of those…). I’m talking about that kind of love that you are so sure is real. So sure that it’s reciprocated.  A love that started with a casual conversation and has now culminated in an exuberant “YES,” a glittering ring on a particular finger, and a white dress purchased and ready for its debut on a very special day. A special day where you commit yourself to another in front of your friends, family, and God.

Yea, I’ve been in that kind of love… but I’m not there anymore.  It only took one moment for my world to turn in a different direction and the path I thought I had paved so perfectly for my life to be obliterated. That white dress never made its debut and the glittering ring was set aside. That moment is now 3.5 years in the past and I can’t say I’m upset or angry things have turned out the way they have. I’m so grateful for what I’ve learned from “falling in love” and really, from falling out of love.

But then again, the thought of opening one’s self to that possibility of hurt, that idea of falling in and then maybe out of love again - oofta. Love is hard.

Yet that’s not really a fair thing to say. Love CAN be hard, but it can also be beautiful. God’s love is beautiful. It can lift you up and out of the darkest moments of your life. It can make you realize that you are worth so very much.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.  
           Psalm 143:8

An earthly relationship is a wonderful blessing from God, yet I couldn’t be more thankful for my season of “falling out of love” and singleness. It has been a time that has opened my eyes to a love that’s so strong, so faithful, so unending, and so perfect. It’s a time that has allowed me to “fall” in the best possible way.

Take some time and fall in love with God - fall into his protective and loving arms.
Fall into him.

I'm Free Fallin'

"Just leave me alone! Leave. Me. Alone!” came shouting and crying from the child thrown across the bed at the end of the hall. The wailing caused a pall to fall on the household as everyone else became silent and gave each other sidelong glances. It appeared the child would get their wish because no one else knew what to do but give in. This child wanted freedom from us, the parents. So be it.

 

In a short period of time, when no one ran to the bedroom to object to the request, the tantrum was over and the three-year-old emerged in a much calmer state.

 

Have you ever witnessed or been this child? The all-too-familiar scenario speaks volumes about human nature. How often do we also, as adults, fall prey to throwing the proverbial fit when we are too angry, tired, hungry or overwhelmed to deal with life? I know I have more often than I would care to admit.

 

Just leave me alone.

 


Like an out-of-control child, the natural self grabs for the freedom to be or do want it wants, when it wants it. Psychologists and academics call this type of freedom foolish freedom. Foolish freedom is a type of freedom that desires no boundaries. Without rules, this freedom often goes to an extreme and destroys its resources. As an example, think of a rock star smashing a guitar at a concert, because they can. It’s a desire that eventually implodes.

 

The twin to true freedom is responsibility. In a recent graduation speech, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of theUnited States, Clarence Thomas, spoke about our freedoms as citizens and the corresponding boundaries which make independence possible. Growing up on a farm he mentioned the obligation to take care of the land, to use it to produce food for their family and for others. 

If there was to be independence, self sufficiency, or freedom, then we first had to understand, accept, and discharge our responsibilities… The only guarantee was that if you did not discharge your responsibilities, there could be no independence, no self-sufficiency, and no freedom.
— Imprimis, May/June 2016

The apostle Paul talks about this type of freedom. Those who believe in Jesus have become truly free from the curse of sin and death. Believers have been redeemed by the atoning work of Jesus. In a sense he turned the freedom/responsibility upside down. God has let us off the responsibility of paying for our desire for a foolish freedom because we are not capable of paying for our sin and fulfilling his requirements to be perfect. We are born in sin. Instead, Jesus took the blame and paid by his death on the cross.

 

The astonishing act of making payment, and subsequently giving the gift of faith to all who believe, has set us free from that debt and replaced it with a debt of gratitude. All he asks is that we obey the Great Command, to serve others in love.
 

God the Father has made it possible for us to flee the path of being left alone to wallow in our guilt.

Jesus’ love has made it possible for us to be reunited with our perfect and just heavenly Father.

The Holy Spirit has given us the capability to live the gospel out of thankfulness and joy.
 


We don’t have to do anything to earn our salvation, and at the same time we are free to do more and to be more because we can live out the freedoms won for us on the cross.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
— Galatians 5:1

So in a sense, our freedom from sin has a built-in responsibility. It is the key to a happy life no matter what our circumstance. We can choose to live out of gratitude and love for the freedom God has granted us by following his directives in the Word.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
— John 13:34-35

Our freedom can be manifested in all kinds of ways.

As parents, we train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We teach our children to serve each other out of love, even when they want to be left alone.

As family members, we bear with one another through the highs and lows of life. We support one another with encouraging words.

As friends, we listen to one another. We counsel each other to turn our desires for foolish freedom back to the freedom of living life in accordance with the Word of God.


Living in God’s type of freedom sounds easy as I sit at my computer and pen these words. However, dedicating our lives to preserving and passing on the Word of God and the truths therein is an uphill battle.

I ask myself, do I love my freedom in Christ enough to persevere?

Am I willing to be responsible in love even as the world around me crumbles into chaos and disorder?

Am I strong enough to stand up and shine when all around God’s people are encouraged to slip back into foolish freedom?

On our own, we are not able to do this. With God, all things are possible.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
— Ephesians 6:13

By grace, we can be truly free because we have been set free. 


Thank you, Jesus, for coming to earth to live the perfect life I cannot live and to pay the penalty for sin I could not pay. We are truly free because of your love. Help us to flee our desire for foolish freedom. We want to be beacons of your love in this dark world as we live out our freedom to serve you and others. Empower us through your Holy Spirit and may we live to glorify your name. Amen.

Winds of Change

I’m one of those people who loves fall. For me, that love is a lot more than just a serene, “Oh, fall is so pretty” statement...it takes on more of a hardcore, “Fall is epic!” broadcast.

There’s simply something special about that new “crispness” the air takes on as the temperature falls a few degrees. Maybe it’s the way the sun hits the changing leaves from behind, igniting those classic fall colors that have just started to take residence.

Maybe it’s the anticipation of what’s coming next: those cold winter nights where snuggling up with a cup of hot cocoa and a book couldn’t sound any more perfect.

Fall is a season that exemplifies change.

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Yet, I despise change.

Change can be difficult and it’s often uncomfortable. The things you’ve come to know or have planned out are suddenly different and you’re stuck trying to figure out “now what.” I don’t know too many people that truly like change, yet everyone deals with it in some form or another in our day-to-day lives. Maybe you changed jobs recently. Maybe that friend you were going to meet for lunch today just called and wants to know if you could meet a some other time. We all experience change.

I, likewise, am no exception to the “change” rule and I guess you could say I have experienced a bit more change in my life than the average 23-year old.  You see, a week after I graduated college, I incurred a spinal cord injury in a freak accident when a dead tree fell on me as I was standing in the front yard of a friend’s lake cabin on a picture perfect day. That one moment changed the course of my life forever, altering not only the way I get around in the world—with wheels instead of legs—but the ways in which I experience and view life in this world.

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Handling a change like going from walking to wheeling is something that’s pretty challenging to describe. How does one grieve the loss of that ability to stand tall and proud? How does one grieve the loss of friendships and a romantic relationship that stem back to something so physically rooted as paralysis? How does one handle that much change in life? How does one handle ANY amount of change in life?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. –Romans 8:28

What a beautiful promise. What a comforting truth.

Those words are a wonderful assurance of the loving God we all have, even in those moments when we think He’s not around or paying any attention to tiny little me. Those words are beautiful reminders that God can use and does use change for good things. Notice how that verse never says change is easy (because it’s not) or how it never says we’ll understand why something happened (because we often don’t).

But it does say God works for OUR good. He cares about me and He cares about you and He plans to use whatever change you’re encountering in your life for great things.

Paralysis was certainly not on my list of “life goals,” but the things I’ve been able to accomplish with God’s help since that one fateful day are things I could have never fathomed. It has inspired a new appreciation of what faith actually means and what trusting God really is all about.  It has allowed my eyes to be opened to all the false perceptions I once held (without even realizing it) about persons with disabilities. It has allowed me to travel the country as Ms. Wheelchair America 2015, advocating and educating others about those very lessons of the abilities of persons with disabilities. It has even pushed me to race in my first ever marathon (yep, I pushed all 26.2 miles of it) which I completed in a qualifying time for Boston.

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Those things I never could have done without God’s help and guidance.  Those things I never could have done without coming to embrace the unexpected change in my life.

Yeah, I’ve always loved fall, but now the season holds a bit more of a special place in my heart.

With a simple push out the door, a glance around at those vibrant leaves, and a deep breath of fresh fall air, God never fails to send me a reassuring message.

Change can be beautiful.

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Sam_Headshot

Sam Schroth is a perpetual learner, loving to live life to its absolute fullest each and everyday the Lord blesses her with. Currently in the midst of applying to medical school while adjusting to life as a paraplegic, Sam is “Never Sitting Still” as she learns and grows in God’s grace and never ending love.

www. samschroth.wordpress.com

But A Breath

image-13 A few nights ago, I took my dog for a late evening walk. With the sun setting in the distance, casting a warm glow across the brilliantly decorated trees, the scent of campfire hung in the air. A thick warm sweater, hand knit wool hat and gloves, and bright orange scarf kept me warm and cozy against the refreshingly cool wind. My dog and I strolled slowly around the block, reveling in the soft clicks of leaves meeting pavement, crunching piles of them underfoot as we walked. The evening was as perfectly Autumn as they come.

Caught up in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation, I felt the sudden urge to use my body to the fullest of its capabilities, and I began to jog. The dog and I ran the length of 3 blocks before slowing to a walk again, panting slightly as we caught our breath together.

I stopped at a corner to stretch my muscles, surprised at how limber and able I felt. It had been well over a year (possibly two) since I’d run like that, and several months since I’d managed to even walk without waddling. Toward the end of my recent pregnancy, I had endured chronic hip pain, severe heart burn, loose joints, insomnia, and extreme fatigue. I had slept on my side while wishing I could sleep on my stomach, caught myself panting after climbing a normal set of stairs, and held on to furniture for dear life as I struggled to put weight on my legs without pain first thing every morning. Now, just a month and a half past the birth of my fourth child, those problems were largely gone or disappearing. Not only was my physical strength returning, but my mental clarity as well. No longer pregnant, I once again had the stamina to do more with my days than nap and mope.

In retrospect, I can see that my “preggo problems” were zapping my energy and preventing me from accomplishing things my non-pregnant self easily accomplishes. For nine months I lived in something of a fog, unable to meet deadlines or keep commitments or remember what I ate for breakfast. My children went through periods where they watched a lot of tv so that I could rest, and we only ate healthy food for dinner if my husband made it. (Which was often. Thank goodness he likes to cook!).

Despite the hip pain and heart burn, if you would have asked me during my pregnancy how I was feeling, I would have told you, “pretty good! Can’t complain too much!” I had normalized and accepted all of the pain and discomfort of pregnancy to the point that I might have even told you I was rather enjoying being pregnant. At times during my second trimester I even thought with delusion how nice it would be to remain pregnant forever. I wouldn’t have to endure the pain of childbirth that way! ;)

But pregnancy does not exist for pregnancy’s sake. Pregnancy was designed to develop and nurture a beautiful person created by God. Lord willing, the physical pain and discomfort of pregnancy does not last forever, but is replaced by a new life with a baby and a body on the mend (albeit stretch marked and saggy!).

Just as I enjoyed my pregnancy, accepting the pain and discomfort I lived with daily, I often find myself enjoying this world as I willfully ignore the pain caused by sin all around me and within me. Sometimes I even think with delusion how nice it would be to live here on earth forever. I wouldn’t have to face death that way! I cling to this life as though it’s the best there is, as though I don’t hope for something greater to come.

But this world is not all that God has planned for us. This temporary life of pain and sin will eventually be replaced with a new, perfect, eternal life. God has Heaven in store for us after our earthly death! When we compare our time in this world to the one God has in store for us, this time is so brief. The Bible refers to our life as “a breath.”

Psalm 39: 4-5 “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.”

As Christians, we can approach this short time we spend on earth surrounded by sin and the pain of death much the same way an expectant mother suffering from “preggo problems” views her pregnancy: focused on the end goal. Just as a mother yearns to hold her baby in her arms at the end of her gestation and labor, we can yearn for our heavenly father to embrace us one day at the end of an earthly life of suffering and death.

Acts 20:24 “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

Rather than cling to the pain that we know, we can cling to the hope that we have.

Hebrews 6:19a “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

How do you feel about death and the life to come after it? Are there times when you cling to this imperfect life fearfully as though it’s all you’ve got? What reassures you of the hope and assurance of eternal life with God that we have as Christians?

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