“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 that was felled years ago in our front yard. A lightning bolt had severed all strength from this formidable giant. When the leaves first cascaded down, we presumed our shade tree was just releasing its seasonal avalanche. But this time was different. Its bare arms were left uncloaked for weeks, and when the moon glowed between its naked branches, our friend looked like a horror-movie prop. Finally, mushrooms took up permanent residence on the trunk and sucked the last drops of nutrition from the rotting wood.
During our house hunting days 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 heart-shaped balloons. For weeks afterward, a bunch of the red balloons remained in the arms of the tree and greeted us each time we returned from another round of checkups.
As James slowly recovered, one of his uncles climbed up and bolted two metal chains to one of the sturdy branches. After that, all five of our children, their cousins, and the neighbors’ kids 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 as the root structure reverberated beneath the lawn.
When the wind grabbed hold of the tree and shook it, the lawn looked like a crumpled, green tablecloth. The tree swayed sideways, regained its balance, and stood firm. It refused to be overcome. 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 each time it unleashed bushels of leaves that created hours of chores for the children. Saturday mornings always held a round of irksome raking. The children complained but complied. Our tree was helping build character as they tackled a task they had little use for.
As one 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 in the rear with two paramedics attending him. 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 dreadful, early morning light, I stumbled out of bed and limped outside, grief suffocating me. A neighbor walked by. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said. I nodded, but no words came out as I stood beneath the overreaching arch of our front lawn host.
Later on, a low mound of wood chips remained in its place. The disheveled lawn bore 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.
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. Even now, sixteen years since James died, we still draw strength from the faithfulness and graciousness of our God who sustains and provides for us to endure and to overcome, in seasons of plenty and seasons of want.
Elizabeth A Mitchell
Photo Credit: Unsplash