Sunday, August 7, 2016

Deeper Roots

We lost a tree this week. It was our tall, slim poplar, the one which served as temporary home to Lucy the stray parakeet in April.

Actually, it had been visibly ailing for a few weeks, but towards the end of last week the decline accelerated and we called an arborist to diagnose the problem. It looked like November, the poplar's yellow brown leaves the size of salad plates blanketing the lawn, dwindling numbers clinging to branches.

The tree expert dug around the base, scraped into the bark and roots, and pronounced his verdict: root rot.

We had made two mistakes: planting the tree too deep in the ground, so that the soil and mulch smothered the root flare, and choosing the wrong tree in the first place. This kind of poplar, similar to a cottonwood, grows quickly here in north Texas. It sends its energy more into growth of the tree upward than to growth of the root system downward and outward. It's also a soft, porous wood. Both factors leave it with weak defenses against the stresses of drought, hail, high winds, and floods, all of which we have experienced in its short life.

When hail stripped the first set of leaves off the tree in March, the rotting roots meant the poplar had to draw on stored energy in each cell of the tree to generate new leaves and sustain its life until the new leaves could produce their own energy from sunshine and chlorophyll. When another hail storm and flooding rains succeeded the March storm, the tree's demise was not only assured but sped along. Without deep, strong roots to anchor the tall trunk in the earth, a delay in having it taken down would only increase the likelihood of failure, which could only mean significant property damage for us or our neighbors.

Consequently, Thursday the team of a climber and a chipper arrived to strip the once-beautiful poplar of her branches, bottom to top, and then chop apart the trunk section by section from the top down.

The arborist told me, "It's always sad to lose a tree, but if you wanted to look on the bright side, this is your opportunity to replace it with something better." We asked for his recommendations, and one on his short list, given the other trees in the immediate area, was a Chinkapin white oak. In contrast to the poplar we lost, this oak is slow growing vertically but puts out deep, extensive roots. It's resistant to the oak wilt that can kill other oaks quickly here, and it's a hard wood, making it more resistant to rot. We have now learned the hard way about planting at the proper depth to leave the root flare above the soil line.

All that remains. The utility cables are too close to have the stump ground.

This story is not just a cautionary tale about gardening or the care and feeding of trees, however. The whole event has me thinking about roots more generally and metaphorically. The prophet Jeremiah wrote about trees, roots, and extreme weather in the seventeenth chapter of the book named for him:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 ESV)
The six years of this blog's existence have indeed been a season of heat and drought. My soul has had to sink deeper roots in the Lord and His grace to survive, and by God's grace I'm still here, still fighting with every new challenge to look up and say, "I trust You. Your way is better. I don't like this, but I trust that you know what I need more than I do. Don't let this pain be wasted. Use it for Your glory, my good, and the growth of your kingdom."

Verdant leaves and fruitfulness are not for me to assess. Often I still do fear and suffer anxiety. My ongoing chronic pain and limitations cost others at least as much as they do me, and that adds sorrow to sorrow. Not one of the hardships my loved ones face is something I can fix or even mitigate.

The arborist's words about the oak comfort me in this. The slowness or even seeming lack of visible progress and growth may mean that the energy is going into my root system, going deeper into the Lord to find the nourishment only He can give. In time, someday, this particular season of affliction will end, and that growth below the surface will not be in vain. It may make me more resilient in the next season of drought and scorching heat, more fruitful regardless of circumstance. Even if the only benefit is increased knowledge of God and Christ, both in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, it will be worth the affliction that brought it about. Our Lord is growing us into sequoias, not wildflowers, which means we need His enduring grace so we can endure.

Remembering the first season of brokenness in my Christian life, I recognize that I didn't know at the time the growth that was underway, but hindsight shows me that I learned more of the Lord and His Word during that season than I did in my year of seminary (as valuable as that was). I wouldn't take a million dollars to live that ordeal over again, but I wouldn't trade a million dollars for what it gave me.

If you are in a season of affliction right now, I pray these musings encourage you and give you hope. May the Lord make us fruitful in the land of our affliction. May He cultivate in us a trust in His good, faithful, true person that will withstand whatever drought, storm, heat, or ice His providence decrees. May He draw our roots deeper and deeper into Himself through His Son, His Word, worship, and prayer. May all our spiritual seasons bring glory to His name, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Thank you, crumbles, for gracing me with your time, friendship, and prayers for the last six years. You are a blessing!

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