Leaves have emerged onto the branches of the giant old tree in my back yard, I must have slept while it happened. Barren all winter waiting for spring, then brilliant red buds lined the wood as it reached across my yard and into the sky. Every year I plan to watch for the moment those promises turn to leaves, to see evidence of hope long buried sprouting into shade for giggling children on the trampoline. I miss out each year, it happens without me. The tree doesn’t need a witness to change, it needs no applause or pictures to capture the stunning developments. The tree does as God asks, through every season, without complaint, shedding losing growing deep in the soil where no one can see and reaching high into the heavens. The tree allows nails to pierce it’s trunk as planks are applied for little feet to climb, it allows tiny growth to be pulled and plucked by a little boy who grabs hold and explores. The tree is steady in purpose, providing comfort and shelter and the joy of seasons to all who venture near. I can hear God asking me to be this tree.
How does one truly accept all that has come before, all the seasons and the plucking and the piercing? Forgiveness. Ugly horrible painful deep real forgiving of the people who have hurt me because otherwise I remain like a weed, sprouting up each summer in danger of being trampled, being poisoned, carrying my own prickly edges of protection that hurt bare feet and hearts that come too close. Without forgiveness I cannot accept that I am where I am supposed to be, I am who I am supposed to be. What if just one life event were different? What if I were not a childhood sexual abuse survivor? Would my heart really seek out the quiet children others miss? Would I understand the acting out teen who is yearning to tell a secret and deathly afraid to do so? Would I join in the slut shaming movement instead of wondering how this young woman learned to use her body to gain love? Becoming like the tree is to gain that perspective on my life, to forgive all that has come before and embrace the very soil that feeds my roots.
I have abhorred my father for longer now than he was alive, longer than I was with him. My hate has always been justified in the horrific things he did and allowed others to do. But what if I were to see him as damaged also? What if I go back a generation further? He was a child once, he was 6 years old once just as my cherished Plum is now. He was worthy of love and hopes and dreams, did anyone tell him that? What broke in him that he emerged as a hurting adult? That inner little boy must have been devastated at how his life evolved, how he was hurting his own children. That image breaks me, I can relate to that sorrow. I found a connection to my father. I found a way in to forgiveness. My tree is growing roots.
I have avoided any mention of my exhusband, a chapter of my life best forgotten. Yet my children came from that union, gifts that bear the sweetest fruit and the most painful thorns. Much hasn’t been resolved from that rushed marriage and the even speedier dissolution, so many points where events could have turned right instead of left with only a different choice from him. Still, I know where he came from, I know who he is. Thirty-five years is a long time to be disappointed in someone for not being more, not being stronger. The truth is, it was never about him, it was always about me. He wasn’t enough for me, I chose wrong. I can forgive him for not being the right person because it was the wrong union, like a tiger and a frog marrying, never a chance for success, someone was always going to be destroyed. All fallout from that marriage is ash or glitter, burning bridges or sparkling promises of the future. He still influences the children, yet I am grateful that he gave them to me in the first place. I can offer forgiveness to him for not being strong enough to help me, then or ever, it wasn’t really his calling. I forgive myself for seeking refuge in the union, I know what I was escaping from, I was only looking back, not where I was headed. I brought devastation to us all. My tree is growing stronger.
The events surrounding my journey into prison are so rife with spots of intervention, my God I wanted someone to rescue me. The double life was exhausting, I have never possessed the ability to hide my feelings well, how could everyone miss what was happening? Furthermore, how could I not trust ANYONE? Surrounded by professionals who could have saved me, healed me, believed me, I chose the path of secrets and pain and the ugliest spiral into darkness. I have no need to forgive those who missed my tear-stained face or my anxiety or my bloody panties in the trash can, I am long beyond holding anyone else accountable. It was all me. Can I forgive myself for not screaming? Can I forgive myself for not going to the next person and the next until someone heard me? Deeper still, can I forgive him? He was once a child, like my father, that someone wanted more for. The sickness with which I sought out abusers so I could be the perfect victim is appalling, fuels my marching and protesting and shouted chants. I have to be heard now, I won’t be silent. Is this not what God wanted me to learn? I do not need rescuing, I am my own savior, I am strong enough. Without this experience I would be on a markedly different path, I would certainly not be married to Chef, not be involved in my church, in the deep meaningful relationships with women who have molded me. I would not care about prisoners who are locked away and forgotten, I would not understand to serve a replica prison meal before the showing of the documentary “13th” at church. My soul without these deep broken places would not feel and notice the aches of others, I cannot believe I would care as deeply. I am those lepers, I am those on lists who check boxes and struggle to ever be employed or respected. Can I accept that my brokenness brought me to an alternate wholeness? Only through real forgiveness for what happened on a dirty mattress in a filthy apartment when God cried out with me. Forgiving that moment brings buds of hope, as surely as Jesus shed blood on the cross to give us all new life. Those seconds as I watched the ceiling My God was still with me, waiting for me to realize I was more, I was meant for joy and comfort and purpose. Such a patient God, through the long seasons as I am stripped bare and forget that summer comes and I am His and my body is not for this. He has long forgiven my horrific choice to accept so little from life, to forget to reach up and out. Peaceful gratitude swells within as I offer up my branches now to the God who has shown me I never have to allow anyone to cut into my soul again. Forgiving myself, my rapist and the God I thought did not protect me, my tree grows strong and sturdy.
The ugliest times in my life are the very parts that move me into action, into growth. Those branches that look dead in winter sprout new buds and then leaves, providing shade and comfort for the weary and the rowdy. I rarely can see when I move from bud to full leafy coverage, God moves swiftly. A call, an ask, I am fully vested into areas of ministry before I realize that I have grown and pushed myself deeper into soil and out further into the sky. I am the tree that stays steady through the seasons, planted exactly where I am meant to be. The pains of my past are piercing and purposeful, certainly God did not orchestrate the horrors but will use what I give him to bring beauty and glory to His world. All He asks is that I stay planted right where I am, that I trust that I can bear the seasons, that I watch for the buds to emerge. Children will giggle around me, birds will nest about me. Life happens in trees, all of life.
I don’t need pictures or applause to document my changing and growth, I don’t need anyone to notice that I have moved into a new season. Trees don’t long to be planted elsewhere, they don’t yearn for the leaves shed last autumn or the one before. God is asking me to be this tree, to be right here, right now, and know that He is with me. My heart wants to be obedient to this ever present God. Still, those leaves that have fallen away… a certain wistfulness and ache remains. Clearly my work as a solid tree of faith is just beginning. This season of renewal in Him brings peace in releasing the weight of the past, a peace in embracing this moment, as I wait for the birds to nest.