Growing (On) Trees

Our house in August 2003.
Our house in August 2003.
Our house in 2003.
Our house in August 2003.

12 years can go by fast.

On August 14, 2003, my family (and our way-too-many belongings) left the house where I grew up and moved to another house across town. The move coincided with a lot of changes in our lives. I was leaving the private school I’d attended since second grade to start at a brand-new public high school. And after years of paying rent in a corporate building, my dad was moving his law practice into our home, exchanging his daily 20-minute traffic-filled commute for a few steps up and down the stairs. Thus, the new house filled a double need: it had the perfect space and layout for my dad to meet with clients, and it was located a mere .8 miles from my soon-to-be high school. The set-up couldn’t have been better. And as if to emphasize this perfection, our moving day even coincided with my first day of class, which meant that I left for school from one house to return home to another. In a span of just a few hours on a single day, our new lives in our new house had begun.

A lot has happened since then. I finished high school (and even had a stint as the mascot my senior year!), graduated from Oklahoma State, completed the Kanakuk Institute, and have survived my first three years of graduate school. From that perspective, August 2003 was a looooonnnnngggg time ago (and when I see pictures from my fourteen-year-old self, I am very grateful for that!). But time can be a funny thing. Because despite having lived here for 12 years, this house somehow still feels “new” to me.

But although my mind’s eye plays tricks on me, my actual eyes see a different story. Recently, my mom started transferring old photos from floppy disks (another testament to the passage of time) onto our computer. Somewhere between pictures of my awkward middle-school days (#unfortunate) and our family’s ill-fated trip through the Southwest, she stumbled upon photos of our moving day. When I saw them, I couldn’t help but stare—not just because my parents let me wear those clothes to high school, but because of how different our neighborhood looked. And it wasn’t just the empty lots and weeds that caught my eye; it was the trees, or, more accurately, the lack of them. When we moved to our house, the trees in our yard barely qualified as saplings. But today, while the Georgia pines would still dwarf them, they are now officially, undoubtedly, and definitely trees.

Our house (literally) today.
Our house (literally) today.
Our house today. :)
Our house today. 🙂

Out of all the pictures I saw, the image of these trees stuck with me and bothered me for the next several days. But try as I might, I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was nagging at me. And then, as I was lying in our hammock, staring up at the branches above, it hit me: I didn’t see the trees grow. Which I know probably sounds dumb and fairly obvious, so let me explain.

You see, I remember the neighboring houses as they were built (and I remember having an epic and very messy mud war with my sisters in one of the lot). Their construction was, relatively speaking, sudden and obvious. One day the lot was empty; a few months later it wasn’t. But the trees, on the other hand, were entirely different. I didn’t remember them growing, and I couldn’t pinpoint out a particular moment when they went from being baby saplings to full-grown trees. But when I looked at the old pictures, I could see it clearly. The growth was imperceptible, steady, bit by bit, but it was growth all the same. And now, twelve years later, I can lie in my hammock and—quite literally—appreciate the difference.

And that, my friends, I find to be incredibly, if not a bit strangely, encouraging. Because let’s face it; you and I have a lot in common with those trees. When look at ourselves on any given day, all we can see are saplings. The sky overhead seems so far away, and it’s easy to feel discouraged. But what we need to realize—what I think God wants us to realize—is that we have already come so far and He isn’t finished with us yet. And when our perspective is so limited and finite, when we can only see a day’s view at a time, He can look back over our dozen+ years and say proudly, “Look how far you’ve come.” He knows that, whether we recognize it or not, if we are walking consistently with Jesus and seeking to follow Him, then we are growing, even though we can’t always see it or feel it.

Incidentally, I started following Jesus a little over twelve years ago, just a couple months before we moved into this house. This journey has been one of fits and spurts (or as I like to say “spits and furts”), and more often than not I feel like the guy in this cartoon:

x-dragged-you-kicking-and-screaming

And yet, if I zoom out and shift my focus from today to the last twelve years, I can’t help but notice how much I’ve changed. I’m different now—fundamentally different—from the person I was in 2003, and from who I was even this time last year. And that’s not because of anything extraordinary I have done (after all, a tree doesn’t wake up in the morning and will itself to grow), but it’s the direct product of God’s patient, imperceptible, bit-by-bit working in my life. He truly is changing me from the inside out, and whatever good is evident in my life is due solely to Him and His life-giving presence in me.

Like the trees in my yard, I am slowly growing up in Christ. And while I move backward more often than I’d like and sometimes my growth feels minuscule or nonexistent, I hold on tight to this promise from Philippians: “He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

So in the meantime, I pray that God would make me like the tree in Psalm 1, which is, “planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not wither, and in all that he does, he prospers.” And I pray that, in time and as the years add up, people would be blessed by the fruit of God in my life and the refreshing “shade” from His presence in me.

And that is officially enough deep thinking for one day. It’s time to hit the hammock. Has anyone seen my Harry Potter book? I’ve been meaning to read this series for the last 12 years…

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