““Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. 8 For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.”-Jeremiah 17:7-8
There are the long spells of time when all is well with my soul, and nothing seems to cause me to take pause. But then out of the blue, it’s as if I’ve been woken up from a long sleep, and suddenly there’s the sinking feeling that there is a looming appointment that’s been forgotten; panic and dread begin to well up inside like a cauldron of hopelessness. These anxious moments are my days and nights lately. Like a lone survivor of a shipwreck looking for the matches to light the signal fire, I scramble to find comfort in the Word. The Bible is closer now than ever before and the scriptures more significant. When those days of fighting between despair and trust come to a close, the trails near our new home have become my bastion of solitude.
There is a peacefulness to the forest.
I can recall my youth, growing up amongst the cornfields of Indiana, looking out my window knowing there was another place that beckoned; a place where mountains and dark wooded vistas wrapped themselves around clear flowing brooks. Back then I didn’t understand or know why I felt the calling. All I could see then was a sea of green cornstalks, occasionally broken by a tree line. The flatness was so apparent it now takes my breath away just to think of it. Sullenly, on my last visit for my father’s funeral, my heart ached as I watched the gray, dormant land pass by the windows of the car. There was an endless feeling of loss that panged me then, but it came not just from the loved one dying, but more than that, it was from knowing that I had spent a childhood amongst this. Part of me had known death before it was ever realized. A vast somber landscape that forces one to search for hope, and escape, any way you can to be saved from something so overpoweringly sad that it makes you wonder how you ever survived to this day. In that place, the most insignificant speck of color became the focus; your pleasure was measured by simple things. To that extent, you are made aware of beauty when it is placed before you, and you soaked it in like one drinking from the well for the first time.
From the somber landscape of Indiana to the mountains here in North Carolina, my life has been a journey I could have never imagined. This is my world now; beauty like Eden, so precious and stirring you cannot help to be moved. Yet, like the bends in the river, my life has taken a turn that we never expected once again.
We could dwell on the why, the how, or the what of it all. But like Lott and his family, the angels told them not to look back lest they become pillars of salt. So we force ourselves to go onward, measuring our steps ever so painfully. Again, reaching for the Word can provide comfort when there is none, allowing for the eyes to look up and see the world around instead of looking down and pondering our fate.
Making scripture come alive was something I had found so pleasing in this past year. So with that in mind, I sought the tree mentioned in Jeremiah, the one that stands beside the stream. My strength comes from Him, like the living water through which the tree survives even in the hardest times. Back to the forest and trails that have become my comforter, I returned once more.
On the days when nobody at home wants to go with me, I then seek out my friend and hiking buddy next door, Leroy. Like a child again, I wander up to the door of his house seeking out my brother in Christ. I knock and jokingly greet his wife Annette with, “Can Leroy come out to play?”
“Sure, ‘c’mon in and I’ll get them,” she replies with that big wide Texas grin as she swings the door open. “Yes, he can come out to play,” she laughs.
With a sheepish grin, he emerges around the corner grabbing his walking staff and hat, “Where too,” he quips?
“Wherever the good Lord takes us,” I smile in reply. “Today we have to hurry, I want to catch the river before the light is gone,” I say pointing to my sketchbook in hand. “I’ve got a tree in mind that matches scripture that has been on my mind a lot lately.”
“Great, let’s get going then,” he responds, and with that, we were off to the nearest trailhead as we wave goodbye to Annette.
As our feet find the path below, we quickly jump into the day’s events and happenings. Before we know it, we’re standing on the banks as the golden light of the sunset begins to paint the river a copper glow, as Leroy described it. The trees are standing firm overhead as the shadows start to overwhelm the forest beyond. Over and over again, the scripture from Jeremiah had been resurfacing in my mind as my recent job loss has created a turmoil in my life like never before.
As we scanned the scene before us, we both saw it at the same time and realized, there it is; the one that spreads its roots out by the river, the one that will not fear when the heat comes, the one whose leaves will remain green and not be anxious when the dry weather comes.
Two artists standing in admiration of God’s beauty, and knowing His word was with us, makes me even now feel blessed in so many ways. The Lord puts us in places with people for reasons we cannot fathom or understand. We are asked only to do His will and obey. When we do, we will be rewarded with innumerable sanctifications.
In awe and silence, I quickly sketched and captured as much of the image as possible before the light of day was gone. Leroy and I had shared once more the feeling of the Holy Spirit coming alive as the Word became truth before our eyes. We shall not be anxious in times of drought, for we will find sustenance in Him, and we will continue to be fruitful in all that we do.
Another walk, another trail, and the journey continues.
These are the Words of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”-Psalm 121:1-2