Leaves Behind

Image“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

It was hardly surprising how deeply our family felt the loss of the enormous tree they felled this week in our front yard. Months ago a lightning bolt had severed all strength from this formidable giant. When the leaves first cascaded down, we presumed our outstanding friend was just releasing its seasonal avalanche. But this time it was different. Its bare arms were left uncloaked for weeks, and when the moon glowed between its naked branches our tree became a haunting silhouette. Finally, mushrooms took up residence on the trunk and sucked the last drops of nutrition from the rotting wood.

During our house hunting in 1997, this black olive was the welcoming committee that first caught our attention and drew us through the door. Instantly, we felt at home. The following year when our son James returned home after a heart transplant, our family and neighbors lined the street with red heart-shaped balloons. For weeks afterward a bunch of them stayed lodged within the arms of the tree and greeted us each time we returned from another round of check-ups. As James recovered slowly, one of his uncles climbed up and bolted two metal chains into one of the sturdy branches. After that, all five of our children, their cousins, and the neighbors’ kids as well, spent time swinging, hanging out, and growing up beneath the overhanging canopy.

The year the hurricane shook us all to bits my father had recently been diagnosed with bone-marrow cancer. Vividly, I recall peering out the window and watching gale-force winds battle against our sturdy tree. Each powerful gust threatened to topple the massive black olive. The root structure reverberated beneath the lawn as the hurricane grabbed hold and shook it like a flimsy, green tablecloth. The tree swayed sideways, regained its balance, and stood firm. It refused to be overcome. From my perspective, I pictured my father holding firm, too. His multiple myeloma was creating havoc as it thundered against him. But in this season, it would not topple him over just yet.

We spent many happy days walking past our towering guard. We hardly noticed it except to grumble whenever it unleashed bushels of leaves that created hours of chores for the children. Saturday mornings always held a round of irksome raking. They complained, but complied. Our tree was helping build character as they tackled a task they had little use for.

As the day drew to a close in August of 2006, I left our home in the passenger seat of an ambulance. James was sequestered on a gurney between two paramedics working franticly. As we drove away, I glanced back and waved at our six-year-old daughter Anna. She was sitting on the swing that hung from the black olive, my sister by her side. James would never return home. We would never be the same. In the early morning light I stumbled out of bed and went in search of air. Grief was suffocating. A neighbor walked by. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said. I nodded but no words came, as I stood beneath the overreaching arch of our front lawn companion.

Now a low mound of wood chips remains in its place. The disheveled lawn bears witness to the enormous work involved in removing the hulk from its post. Apparently when the Lord gives gifts we foolishly presume they are ours forever. Not true. Each season comes framed with his unique and undeserved treasures for us to relish and enjoy. He provides inconsequential moments, earth-shattering events, and ordinary trees to bring us pleasure and remind us of his goodness in the midst of it all.

Elizabeth A. Mitchell


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  1. Lois

    Elizabeth, thank you for coming by my side each and every Tuesday morning with insights into God’s Word, life, love, and loss, sometimes making me smile and today making me cry. Thank you for your transparency. Missing you.

    • Ray Bridgham

      Another moveing devotional. I did not know your father died of multiple Myeloma. I had a very dear friend who died with the same cancer last September.

  2. Michelle

    Thank you for sharing so beautifully this sweet reminder💕 of God’s goodness in His gifts to us.

  3. Lillian Pierce Mattox

    Dear Elizabeth,
    As I listened to this devotional, I actually felt that I was reliving each recollection with you…..I could feel the depth of love and compassion for each one mentioned and the undergirded faith in our Sovereign
    God that in spite of the physical loss anticipating the future reunion never to be
    separated again. What that dear tree represented to you and your dear family in
    my creative imagination is now “full grown”
    In Heaven…….because “earth hath no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” Thank You for writing and sharing something so very beautiful!!!
    Gratefully your Sister in Christ,
    Lillian Pierce Mattox🙏🏽💕

  4. Lillian Pierce Mattox

    My Bible Study Leader, Suzy shared this with me this morning. I have been widowed twice and lost my mom seven years ago. This really was a lovely memorial to “the Tree of trees” in your life…..ironically an extension of the Resurrection Season that we get to share in until HIS return!!!

  5. Paula

    This was comforting and lovely.

  6. Elizabeth Annoreno

    Your words remind me that everything on this side of heaven is temporary but that our Heavenly Father can use even a tree to teach us lessons to show His love, care and protection, the 23 Psalm comes to mind.Two years ago today my daughter Veronica 56yrs old went home to be with the Lord, I miss her so much! Now she is with her Dad and my Mom whom she loved very much.Thank you Elizabeth for reminding us that nothing is insignificant for the Lord.
    Love & blessings
    Elizabeth Annoreno

  7. Debra Cohoon

    Thanks sweet friend for this reminder today that everything on this earth is temporary but also that God loves us so much and gives us even simple things like trees to enjoy to remind us of His goodness and love for us!

  8. Paul

    Elizabeth, Your “Hearts Journey” brings to mind 1 Peter 5:10, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” You are a living testimony to God’s Word! Thank you for sharing.

  9. Charles

    Thanks sister Eliza! True life is short. Our relationship with Him is paramount and only what we partner with Him do with Him will last. Shalom


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