I am a Tamarack Tree

What kind of plant best represents you? One of my friends was given that question as a prayer prompt a long time ago. Plants are often used symbolically in the Bible, and she was challenged to ask God what kind of plant best characterized her. She prayed about the state of her soul and how she was living in relationship with her Creator. She was surprised by the image that implanted in her heart and mind that day. It was an unexpected picture that helped her understand more about where she had been and where she was headed.

I have thought about this question several times since I first heard it. The oddness of this meditation seems to have given it sticking power in the corridors of my heart.

A new image recently came into my eyes and embedded itself in my heart.

The tamarack tree.

Have you ever seen tamarack trees in the fall?

I saw an abundance of tamaracks over the weekend and could not stop taking pictures. Tamarack trees are stunning in the autumn. Their golden brown color immediately attracts my eyes. In part, because of the surprise in seeing their color. Because tamaracks are coniferous, yet, they are not evergreens. They have needles that change color in the cool of the fall and grow anew in the warmth of the spring.

Tamaracks are a seeming contradiction perfectly suited for their environment.

Tamaracks primarily grow in bogs and swamps, thriving in close proximity to water. They also grow in open spaces because of their need for a direct view of the sun. But they only grow in the north. They gain the strength from the water and the sunshine that helps them survive the harshness of winter.

I am reminded of verses in the Bible talk about how, when we trust in the Lord, we will be like trees planted near water. Jeremiah 17:8 also says our leaves will always stay green. With that image in mind, I have pictured myself as a big strong evergreen who can handle the harshness of life without dropping a needle. But I wonder if the key in this verse is not the description of the green, but the portrayal of the location. The green is symbolic of a tree that does not die or waste away, because it is set next to the source of life.

But now, here stands a tamarack. A tree planted near the water that does lose its green, but yet, does not lose its life.

Tamaracks do not use their energy in the cold season to maintain their emerald color on the outside, but to build their strength on the inside. Years ago, native people used the wood from tamaracks to make their snowshoes. They knew tamaracks had the ideal mix of strength and flexibility needed to hold their weight in balance over the cold wet snow.

This feels like faith to me. I am a tamarack tree.

There are seasons in which I have been stretched and beat against with cold harsh winds. And during those times, my faith has looked different. My needles fell and my energy focused on my core. It had to. But in the midst of those times, my location never changed. I am rooted next to the Living Water, with my branches pointed to the Light of the World. This doesn’t mean I am always green, but it does mean I am always filled with life. I need not fear when seasons change.

And I pray that as I have gone through springs and autumns, summers and winters in my faith, hardiness has built in my core. That I, like the tamarack, could provide strength and flexibility for others in their times of need.

I am a tamarack tree. What kind of plant would you use to describe your faith?

Exposed Roots

I pull hard to free the plant from its bed. I want to make sure I get all of it. Plants pull up easy. It is the roots that resist.  

I set it down and look at the roots, dangling and exposed on the concrete.

Roots are out of place on this hard ground. They are meant to be surrounded by soil, embraced by nourishment and protection.

 

There are times when a transfer from one bed to another is the healthiest thing for a plant. Perhaps the new bed will have more sun. Perhaps the neighbors will be more suitable. Perhaps the plant will be more visible to its gardener.

 

Whatever the reason for a move, if a plant is going to a new bed, there will be a transition period. When it is released from its old bed, but is not yet planted in the new.

 

In this time in between, a plant is at its most vulnerable. It cannot live long without the stable home of water and dirt.

 

I look at this plant, and know that it is me.

 

Precarious and exposed as I sit in transition.

 

I am moving next month. This is not a surprise. We knew our time was limited in this city.

 

But now that we have begun the process of moving, I am taken aback. Something has happened that I did not expect.

 

I grew roots. Deep roots in just one year.

 

Last year, when I looked ahead to what the move would be like, I was not afraid. I knew this place was temporary. I figured that in such a short time, I would be an easy plant to pull.

 

But something happened. This year. This year has been wonderful. The schedule I have kept. The church I have joined. The friends I have made. They have fed my soul and enriched my life.

 

So now, I find that my roots are long. They dug deep into the soil. And the transition is harder than I expected.

 

My roots have been pulled, and I am left feeling bare.

 

I know this is a good move. It will be close to many family members and friends. It will be a great job for my husband. It is a move to a good garden in which I am confident our family will flourish.

 

But still, the transition is difficult.

 

In order to say hello to something new, I have to say goodbye to something cherished.

 

Yet, even as I type this, I look at these roots again, and wonder.

 

Maybe I am not being uprooted. Maybe I am just entering a new season.

 

So much in life is uncertain. People move. Families grow and shrink. Jobs come and go. Seasons of feeling vulnerable are common.

 

But maybe it is roots that provide us the stability and nourishment to sustain those changes.

 

Maybe this is what Jeremiah meant. Maybe, if my roots are in the Lord, I will be able to bear the change of seasons with grace.

 

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”  - Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

This move in so many ways feels like a gift from God. Perhaps my feelings of nakedness are reminders to root myself in Him through the changes. To follow Him. To trust in Him.

 

And this makes me wonder again.  If my roots are in the Lord, they are not bound by location. My friendships can come with me to a new place. Our skies may be different, but our roots are by the same stream.

 

That is a comforting thought indeed.

 

What do you think? Have you ever moved? Does it feel more like uprooting or just a change of seasons?

roots and stability

Change is everywhere. Kids. Jobs. Houses. Health. Relationships. Emotions. Life is a puzzle of constantly moving pieces. It can be dizzying.

People have different feelings about change. I happen to enjoy it myself. But, I still crave something solid. Something I know will be steady in the midst of the changes that swirl around me.

Psalm 1 tells me how to find those roots.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. -          Psalm 1:1-3

There are many ways cope with change and difficulty. Some healthy. Many unhealthy. This psalm tells us that whether active (walking or standing) or passive (sitting), the way of sin will not bring us the comfort we seek. The key is to delight and meditate on God’s Word. That is what will give us the roots to weather storms.

If you’re like me, this actually doesn’t bring much comfort. This psalm makes me feel like a failure.

I love God’s Word, but I wouldn’t say I “delight” in it. If I were offered the chance to read a Bible verse or eat a piece of chocolate, 9 times out of 10, I would choose the chocolate. I delight in chocolate.

And, I love to read God’s Word, but I wouldn’t say that I meditate on it day and night. I also like to do things besides read the Bible. Things like hanging out with friends, watching TV, and sometimes even sleeping.

So am I lost cause? Am I bound to blow in the wind like chaff (what it says the wicked will do in verse 4?) Or can I be the tree who is planted by the water?

I think there is hope for me yet.

Because the language of this Psalm is not the language of a destination. It is the language of a journey.

The Hebrew word for “delight” is “chephets.” It is also used to indicate “desire” or “longing.” So the question isn’t whether my heart already craves God’s Word above all things. The question is whether my heart is pointed in the direction of God’s Word. Longing to see it transform me. Longing to delight in it more each day.

The Hebrew word for “meditate” is “hagah.” It is also used for “imagine” or “muse.” So the question isn’t whether I read God’s Word day and night. The question is whether God’s Word is the lens through which I view the world. Imagining how God would want me to respond to the needs around me. Imagining which decisions God would want me to make.

Life is a journey full of twists and turns. As I walk, this psalm asks me to reflect on my path.

Am I walking on the path of sinners? Longing to have what they have? Or am I walking on the path of God? Longing to be what His Word says?

The path of God’s Word is what will give me stability. The path of God’s Word is what will bring comfort and blessing.

The path of God’s Word is what will give me roots.