For days, I had passed over it; the unobtrusive, worn maple stump.
The tires of my tractor occasionally bumped into the hard gray knob, but it was low enough that it didn’t impede the progress of the building site. Back and forth, pushing the soft, red dirt with the front-end loader of my tractor the land began to take shape. The ground was slowly beginning to resemble the start of a foundation for the future out-building.
This wasn’t my first.
I can still hear J.W. Parson’s voice telling me, as he grinned from ear to ear, “Boy, you’re married, right?” We had paused between me trying to play the song on my fiddle he had just shown me and the next few minutes when we would begin the painful process once more. The room in which we sat was lit by one weak bulb hanging down from the ceiling. The string that you pulled to turn it off and on with lay draped across its yellow luminance. Around us implements of killing hogs hung on the walls; saws, knives, and axes. Their clean, sharp edges glowed in the dim light. There was an air of reality in J.W.’s out-building that only aged blood on wooden floors can exude. Reno Sharpe and an elderly friend of mine who had tagged along for the evening’s entertainment sat on an empty upturned five-gallon bucket nearby smiling as he probably already knew what was coming.
“Yes sir,” I replied unsure of where this was going.
“You got you an outbuilding to play in?”
“No, not yet.”
He laughed and winked over at Reno.
“Well, you better git to building yourself one if you want to stay married,” which he followed up with a roaring laugh as he slapped his knee. Reno and I joined in, for it was apparent what he meant.
In a matter of speaking, the lack of having a place to practice as a beginning fiddler was my stump back then. Before I could really go further, that outbuilding had to be built. Yet, to become the fiddler I had hoped would take countless hours of isolated study and practice.
Nothing would come easy.
Not long following that evening’s lesson, I began constructing my studio in the barn where for several years my violin would eventually sound more like that of J.W.’s, but never entirely. In that isolated home-away-from-home, we would find a retreat from which music, art, and writing flowed. It was more than just an out-building; it became our sanctuary of sorts.
To begin, it was necessary to take a step back.
That was then, this is now.
Once more, we are beginning again; starting over; seeking to find that special place where we can feel the hand of our Lord reach and speak through us. What we hope to achieve will not be easy. Yet, there is so much for which to be thankful. In this journey of faith, we are constantly reminded of the world we left behind and how we are made anew.
So, once more, we begin again.
From the forest, the opening was carved. The aged, rotting maple seemed an easy target when the trees were selected to be cut. Its stump remained all through the clearing process, never presenting itself an obstacle other than the occasional bump under the tires. It wasn’t until the land was leveled and the string lines were pulled that it became obvious; the stump had to go. The very foundation could not be set without it being completely removed. What once seemed a trivial matter now halted the entire construction process. It seemed nothing more than a grayish-mud splattered annoyance that would be gone in a matter of minutes.
Then reality struck.
When the blade of the scoop began trying to find the outer edges of the root ball, it quickly became apparent, this was a much bigger problem than first imagined. In essence, I was going to have to take a step back even further than imagined in order to extract the now, unavoidable barrier.
Last week, working with the Christian club students, we found a similar reality check.
There again was the stump; one that at first seemed to have little if no consequence in what we were planning. But as we progressed in what we had hoped to achieve; evangelizing the Word of God to the rest of the student body, it became apparent that there was something daunting sitting in the path of our progress; an unavoidable root ball of sorts; fear.
When we began to do more than speak about what we should do as Christians, when we would actually go out and witness to others, it was then that we realized how ill-prepared we really were. The very act of approaching others in order to speak to them about Christ froze our students, stopping their very progression of growth. Like those students, when we try to evangelize to the world around us, some of us quickly find our shortcomings. We hear that voice in the back of our head reminding us, “You are not ready.” It is then obvious, like the tree stump, we must go back to the beginning and start over, learning what we must do to witness as those early disciples.
Digging deep into the earth surrounding the remains of the tree we would begin to hack away at the tenuous arms that held the once massive tree in place. Like membranes of bone, the ancient arms stretched in all directions. Like embedded fears from childhood, our inhibitions to speaking to others about our faith can only be overcome when we remove the restraints we put upon ourselves; our self-imposed root ball. With time, study, and trust in the Lord, our faith will grow until we understand there is no fear in serving Him; for He is with us in all that we do.
The back-breaking work was eventually rewarded this past weekend when the massive root ball gave way. It was an enormous relief. Once the obstruction was gone, the re-leveling of the building site took only a few minutes.
Likewise, the work with the students will take time. It won’t be easy, and at times it will seem as if we can’t win but in the end, the reward we will obtain will be far greater than that of removing even the most stubborn tree stump. Once they have found their confidence, their personal stumps will be gone, leaving the ground from which to build.
Bringing salvation to the lost will be something they, and each of us will never forget, and the heavenly reward will be for all eternity.
Thanks be to God.
“The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits. Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established. …” – Proverbs 16