Grow Young Tree

IN A RECENT TRIP TO MY HOMETOWN I TOOK SOME time to go see a tree. “A live oak tree,” my dad had called it (with the accent on “live”). It was nothing more than a sapling, so thin I could wrap my hand around it and touch my middle finger to my thumb. The West Texas wind scattered the fall leaves and caused me to zip up my coat. There is nothing colder than a prairie wind, especially in a cemetery.

“A special tree,” I said to myself, “with a special job.” I looked around. The cemetery was lined with elms but no oaks. The ground was dotted with tombstones but no trees. Just this one. A special tree for a special man.

About three years ago Daddy began noticing a steady weakening of his muscles. It began in his hands. He then felt it in his calves. Next his arms thinned a bit.
He mentioned his condition to my brother-in-law, who is a physician. My brother-in-law, alarmed, sent him to a specialist. The specialist conducted a lengthy battery of tests—blood, neurological, and muscular—and he reached his conclusion. Lou Gehrig’s disease. A devastating crippler. No one knows the cause or the cure. The only sure thing about it is its cruelty and accuracy.

I looked down at the plot of ground that would someday entomb my father. Daddy always wanted to be buried under an oak tree so he bought this one. “Special order from the valley,” he had boasted. “Had to get special permission from the city council to put it here.” (That wasn’t hard in this dusty oil field town where everybody knows everybody.)

The lump got tighter in my throat. A lesser man might have been angry. Another man might have given up. But Daddy didn’t. He knew that his days were numbered so he began to get his house in order.

The tree was only one of the preparations he made. He improved the house for Mom by installing a sprinkler system and a garage door opener and by painting the trim. He got the will updated. He verified the insurance and retirement policies. He bought some stock to go toward his grandchildren’s education. He planned his funeral. He bought cemetery plots for himself and Mom. He prepared his kids through words of assurance and letters of love. And last of all, he bought the tree. A live oak tree. (Pronounced with an accent on “live.”)

Final acts. Final hours. Final words.

They reflect a life well lived. So do the last words of our Master. When on the edge of death, Jesus, too, got his house in order:

A final prayer of forgiveness.
A plea honored.
A request of love.
A question of suffering.
A confession of humanity.
A call of deliverance.
A cry of completion.

Words of chance muttered by a desperate martyr? No. Words of intent, painted by the Divine Deliverer on the canvas of sacrifice.

Final words. Final acts. Each one is a window through which the cross can be better understood. Each one opens a treasury of promises. “So that is where you learned it,” I said aloud as though speaking to my father. I smiled to myself and thought, “It’s much easier to die like Jesus if you have lived like him for a lifetime.”

The final hours are passing now. The gentle flame on his candle grows weaker and weaker. He lies in peace. His body dying, his spirit living. No longer can he get out of bed. He has chosen to live his last days at home. It won’t be long. Death’s windy draft will soon exhaust the flickering candle and it will be over.

I looked one last time at the slender oak. I touched it as if it had been hearing my thoughts. “Grow,” I whispered. “Grow strong. Stand tall. Yours is a valued treasure.”
As I drove home through the raged oil field patchwork, I kept thinking about that tree. Though feeble, the decades will find it strong. Though slender, the years will add thickness and strength. Its last years will be its best. Just like my father’s. Just like my Master’s. “It is much easier to die like Jesus if you have lived like him for a lifetime.”

“Grow, young tree.” My eyes were misting. “Stand strong. Yours is a valued treasure.”
He was awake when I got home. I leaned over his bed. “I checked on the tree,” I told him. “It’s growing.”
He smiled.

Max Lucado

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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