Cut Down the Tree

There once stood, in Kentucky, an old magnificent tree. The tree was beautiful and lush, the pride of its owner. It stood tall in front of her house, a welcoming  piece of nature, a beautiful finishing touch to her homestead.

Much to the woman’s dismay, the strong tree was destroyed in Union artillery fire. After the war it still stood upright, but it’s limbs were bare, dark and twisted. It’s charred trunk was only a painful and sad reminder of the past. The woman who owned the place, would stare at the tree and weep for the injustice of all that had happened. When General Robert E. Lee visited the woman, she pointed out the tree to him, expecting sympathy and at the very least for him to condemn those responsible for what had happened. The wise general took one look at the tree and softly said, “Cut it down, dear madam and forget it.”

Lee knew something that few people come to grasp in life: The tree that once stood there would never be the same again and all the tears and bitterness in the world would not change that fact.

All the tree now held was a constant reminder of the injustice the woman had felt and until she would let it go, she would forever feel victimized.

This story, originally told in Charles Bracelen Flood’s book, “Lee: The Last Years”, gives me much to ponder today. For it is a true story, and a wise decision. And it has been proven very true in my own life. My own “trees” sometimes look quite different, maybe it’s a broken treasure, reminding me of the person who shattered it. Maybe it’s a hurtful email held onto for the very same reason as the woman held on to the tree: to point out the wrong that was done. Those texts held onto, serving as a reminder of what happened, as a means of pointing out the injustice. And ridding ourselves of these tokens of injustice that prove our unfair case is painful because it makes a bold statement: I’m not fighting anymore. But oh, the peace that statement brings!

Although the situation feels quite different when the reminders of the pain are not things, but people, doesn’t it? And exactly how does one move ahead when people can’t just be thrown away? It’s one thing to walk out of prison doors and never see your tormentors again, but it’s quite another to live among them. Is it right to flee when they enter the room? Is it good to ignore their presence, as if they don’t exist? Is it helpful to try to force their hand in making things right?

In reality, “Cutting down the tree” when pertaining to close relationships sometimes feels like a physical cutting off, but what it really is, is a recognition that all my human efforts have failed. And rather than continuing on a dangerous path of tearing each other down, there comes a resolve to live moving forward, instead of trying to regain something from the past.

This is the struggle I have been going through, learning to let those you love make painful and heart wrenching decisions and learning to not fight those decisions. Giving space out of safety and respect. Giving a gentle smile out of love. An encouraging word when appropriate. And always praying and staying soft.

Above all, learning that our hope is in God alone. Our hope is NOT in the actions or responses of others. He alone brings healing where it seems impossible. He alone can make the wrong things right. And in His timing all will be restored.

That burnt, ruined tree, will never be the same. It’s true! However I’ve discovered, that when a dead tree is cut down, often a new shoot springs out of that dead stump. Yes, it takes time to grow and no, it doesn’t look the same as the tree that was lost. But it’s ALIVE, it’s fresh, and it’s healing.

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Undeserved Grace

“I NEVER get the respect I deserve!”

“I just deserve a break once in a while!”

“I did nothing to deserve this hurtful treatment!”

These are all things we say to ourselves. And quite honestly, after the rough past few years, my mind thought about these things daily: “I don’t deserve this! I deserve better! I’ve done my best!”

Again and again, hurtful words said to me and actions done against me, replayed in my mind. And oh! The scenarios I made up in my thoughts about how I could change things, how I could defend myself, how I could make myself look better…even how I could make others look bad!

But you know what this type of thinking brought me? No peace at all. 

None.

I was tormented by my thoughts, by self pity, and as hard as I tried I could not, COULD NOT, see any chance of break through for the future. I felt hopeless. I felt like I needed justice and I needed to be set free by the person who had wronged me. And I knew that aside from a miracle, that would never happen.

Finally, I cried out to God one day saying: “God! You know I’ve been treated unfairly, you know I’ve been wronged…but it’s no longer that person who’s torturing me day after day…It’s my own THOUGHTS! How can I change?!? I’ve tried so hard! How can I be set free? I sat with my bible open and scanned the pages waiting, hoping for something to stand out, for something to give me peace…but the minutes ticked by and nothing happened. There I sat, alone in my room. The silence was deafening, the loneliness was painful. God seemed to be far away.

The next day again, I pleaded: “God! I’m just numbing my pain day after day! I sit on my phone and play games. I browse aimlessly on social media, waiting, hoping, YEARNING to fill the empty void that was once filled! Where did I go wrong? What did I do to deserve this?” And nothing. Just the sound of the clock on my wall counting the seconds away. Oh, once in a while I’d get a verse that spoke of God’s love for me or of his faithfulness to us, and I’d feel hope. Once in a while I’d read the book of Job or the story of Joseph and be comforted that God was working in my pain. But most of the time, I just felt like I was on a constant waiting list. Just holding on to hope that “joy would come in the morning”. When would morning come, God?

Then one night I had a dream, a sad dream. I dreamed that my sister, who loves me dearly, came over and was watching me. I’d do I bit of work, then sit back, drink wine, and play games on my phone. She looked at me, full of compassion, and said, “Heather, this isn’t you. I know that you’ve been beaten down, but this isn’t you.  Please, choose your next steps carefully because the road you’re on is a very dark path.” I woke up and felt deeply convicted. For this was the very thing I had been doing for the past while. Immediately, in the middle of the night, I deleted the games, social media and any distractions on my phone. That was the first thing.

This freed up much of my wasted time, but still, my thought’s drifted more then ever to what had happened to me. And I still felt discouraged reading God’s word. But I didn’t give up. Day after day, morning after morning I pushed through the pain and I opened the bible that had once given me so much joy.

Then one day there it was, a verse that I had read many many times, but never really seen:

“Therefore since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” Romans 5:1-2 NLT

Undeserved privilege. Completely, utterly undeserved.

And I broke down weeping, because no, I didn’t “deserve” the pain of this last year.

What I really deserve is hell itself. That’s what I deserve. That’s what my sins deserve. But losing sight of this undeserved grace had led me to where I believed I actually deserved better.

I am completely undeserving, but able to stand confidently and joyfully before God, sharing in his glory!

My heart wasn’t able to find joy because I was focusing on all the things I deserved, but didn’t get. Now joy flooded my soul because I saw all the things God has given me that I HAVEN’T deserved. And the list is very long!

I have been saved from a meaningless life because of HIS sacrifice. I have a husband who loves me unconditionally and forgives me again and again and again, I have five beautiful HEALTHY children, I have many loving and caring friends and family who pray for me, I have an amazing church, I live in a free country that I never had to fight for, I have food on my table every single day. I have hope of one day going to heaven to meet God and you know what? I don’t deserve any of it. 

It’s SO hard to change this way of thinking. It really is. But, man, the joy is worth it. Living from a heart of thankfulness, instead of a heart full of pain is worth meditating on these things and taking every thought captive.

Friends, it’s worth seeking him through the hard times, because in the ups and downs of life there is only One that has never changed. He’s there every morning when I rise, and every night as I drift to sleep, even when I can not feel him. And I lived long enough to know from experience that while there are many things that can numb the pain, there is only one that can heal it: Jesus.

“My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8 NLT