Not long ago, I found myself taking a side road near home after a restful hour of driving. It was my day off and I decided to have some quiet time on the road. I needed to breathe. I needed to take in the air and feel the freedom that comes to me when I realize I am in the strong arms of my Heavenly Dad. On the old county roads around rural NY I get lost in the views that sprawl out on all sides of me. Rolling pastures and green, lush fields are adorned with wild-flowers that manage to blossom under the relentless grip of mid-August’s pride. My heart always swells with a calm content when witnessing objects of beauty flourish under such harsh conditions.
Something compelled me to make a left, and I felt His peace as I consented, turning down another dirt road. Rock walls swept passed me on either side and I began to praise my Lord as I took in the rows of cornfields swaying confidently in the afternoon breeze. Several blackbirds were shrieking the cry of the triumphant as they swept low and out of sight behind the stalks and I was confident that at that moment they too were praising the Creator of slower creatures. Above, some high-altitude wisps of vapor were making their way light heartily eastward and a blue I rarely see was painted across a broad expanse of sky as I crested a slight hill.
Sipping my coffee I turned onto an unfamiliar road I suspected might escort me to my main route not far from home. I could feel the presence of His Spirit and I was, at that moment, already home. Home in Him. Home with Him. Free from care. All my uncertainties of life and the questions that regularly arise with the daily interaction with a people estranged from their Savior were stilled. Suddenly, I sensed I was not alone. All that I saw, it seemed, was calling out for Father’s special touch. I had made my way up this road and found Jacob’s Ladder all around me. Heaven and earth had mingled. All of creation was crying out to their Master and I was caught up in the middle of it.
It was then that this little dirt road quickly descended a hill, turned sharply and I found myself passing an old farmhouse on the corner of the road that ended and forked into a main street. I pulled the truck over. Something was wrong. An unseen itch racked my soul with such agitation I began to bite my lip nervously.
And then I understood. Where this road was so quiet and isolated just on the other side of the hill, it had now ushered me to a highly developed suburban neighborhood. In the blink of an eye I went from “God’s country” to the heartthrob of humanity in all its hurried, frenzied futility. But that was not what was wrong. Life ebbs and flows and beauty is to be found in His presence no matter where I sojourn.
It was the old farmhouse. It sat at the corner of the intersection where the old country road met with a newer street. It held the best view of the entire area and I knew immediately that at one time it sat vigil over many hundreds of undisturbed acres. An owner of that old farmhouse generations past once enjoyed a setting similar to what I had just driven through moments ago. Now it was encroached on all sides. Modern raised ranches stood quite rudely only a few dozen yards away, giving no heed to any thought of privacy. A white post fence was all that kept the onslaught of modern advancement at bay, and in the name of sub-divisions and wills divvied up amongst siblings, suburbia had pressed hard upon this sliver of old heritage. The house was slightly tired. It looked weary of having to stare out across neighborhoods and driveways and automobiles that long ago lost the hard chiseled lines of its simpler predecessors. I took a hard look at the fence and tears welled up in my eyes as I realized a fresh coat of paint was recently applied that defied the world to attempt to take anything more. Whatever may have transpired in times passed this white wooden sentry would permit no further advancement upon the old farmhouse.
“You shall come no closer.” It said. “My borders are set.” A last stand.
On the corner of the property closest to the road, stood an enormous elm tree. It shaded most of the postage stamp property and much of the road as well with its farthest branches reaching well past the fence and almost touching some younger trees on the other side of the street. It occurred to me that it was only a matter of time before those branches would be trimmed by the highway dept. under the money-forged guiding arm of some of the more affluent homeowners of the area. In time the tree itself, standing so close to the road, would be under the hard gaze of the town council.
My peace was gone. Tears now streamed freely down my cheeks as I sat back and looked at the loss of something pure, something that seemed a little closer to God. That farmhouse embodied all that my heart yearned for and that was why it hit me so hard. Simplicity. Peace. An escape from the world and all its madness. Anger began to surge in me as I began to recall memory after memory of people being wronged by others. The weak being trampled by the strong. Those who have no advocate get swept away, and this tiny homestead represented all that was true and honest. Now it was but a shadowy reflection of what it once was. And no one notices. People were washing their cars, walking their dogs, and the pungent smell of charcoal ash which normally represented family and fellowship to me was putrid in my nostrils.
I cried. Long deep sobs that revealed a much deeper pain was lurking beneath.
“Why did you have me turn down this road, Lord? I was so enjoying my time with you. I cannot stand seeing housing developments crop up around old county lands. You know this.”
Bitter tears flowed as I surveyed my view that went from a piece of heaven to twisting into near hell itself for me. My blurred vision caught sight of the elm and I spoke to it. “I am sorry, my friend.”
And then it spoke back.
“It must all be swallowed up, David.”
“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about, tree.”
“Does not the Word say that everything will melt away? That ALL must be consumed? All of creation groans for the redemption of the earth. It longs for the day that all will be swallowed up in death, including Death itself. The triumph of the cross is the re-birth of His creation. Everything must die. And what will be revealed is the new creation. I long for this. I do not fear it or grieve it as loss. I groan in anticipation for it. What you see here must come to pass everywhere.
“You feel the sadness you do because you are trying to hold onto your own life. You are afraid of the death that awaits the world because you do not understand the life that comes after it. All of creation must be redeemed from sin. Everything is speeding toward that end. Do not be afraid anymore. Rejoice in it. True life is birthed from death.”
I soaked in the words my Redeemer was speaking to me through His creation. My mind cleared and once again I felt His peace upon me. Not as before. It was a more subdued relief and I understood that some deep mending was going on in my soul by the hand of the Holy Spirit. I knew that a healing had begun in me, and that this road He led me down was a beginning. There would be more. Quite some more I discerned. I sat there a long time.
I started my truck and as I pulled away, said goodbye to that old elm and to the white fence and farmhouse.
I strongly suspect I will see my friend the tree again. I’ll see him when all of time has taken its time under the guiding hand of the only One who truly calls all the shots. I suspect he will have more words of wisdom to offer me as I stop to ponder some other deep issue of my heart. He’ll be there planted beside another house. Overlooking a vast field. On another road.
One made of gold.