To read the first part of this story, click here.
We have a variety of oak tree in our back yard that doesn’t lose its leaves until spring. I don’t know what this oak is called. It could be a Pin Oak. An English Oak. A Live Oak. After spending entirely too much time trying to find out what it’s called, I finally decided it doesn’t really matter.
The point is, the tree used to annoy me. All the other trees dropped their leaves in the autumn. And here was this tree, stubbornly holding its leaves over the winter. Then, finally, when the grass was just getting green, it would drop its dead, brown leaves all over our yard. Piles of dead leaves in the springtime. It really messed with my seasonal photos. My yard looked like spring with an identity crisis. Especially since we have never really raked the leaves at our house . . .
So I didn't really like this oak tree. Then, a day or so after I decided to stop yelling at my kids, I listened to a sermon by Dr. Timothy Keller. This is one of the ways God put his loving arms around me and lifted me up as I was emerging from the darkness. Keller’s sermon, “Forgiving & Forgiven,” was exactly what I needed to hear. The title gave me no clue as to the actual content, but something (Someone) made me click on that particular sermon and I daresay I’ll never be the same.
The first half was about anger—specifically parents being angry with their children. And what to do with that anger. How to be angry and not sin. How to be angry with the sin in our children in the right way and how to realize when the anger comes from our expectations not being met. Keller talked about how the change God works in us doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It takes cultivating the fruit of the Spirit. The old, bad fruit needs to be forced out and drop off as the good fruit grows.
He compared it to a variety of oak tree they’d had in their yard when they lived in Virginia. The leaves didn’t drop off in the fall. They waited until spring, when the new buds emerged. As the new life came into existence, the old, dead, ugly leaves dropped off.
I looked out the kitchen window that March day and saw our oak tree, covered with old, dead, ugly leaves. And all of a sudden, I saw that tree in a different light. That tree was the hope of my life. That ugly old oak tree was the symbol of a life about to change.
Of a mom who’d been caught in a vicious cycle of anger and rage and sin.
A woman who could change and grow and become more the woman God intended her to be.
I read this article around the same time. It’s a great article, but I quickly realized I needed more. That mom had used the symbol of the "Orange Rhino" as something to remind her of the change she wanted in her heart. It worked for her.
For me, it’s the oak tree. I see the change God is working in me when I think of the annual cycle of this tree. It’s a reminder of the bad fruit that will continually be dropping off as I cultivate the good fruit.
I look at that oak tree now and it’s my symbol of hope.
I'm not saying that I have not raised my voice since March 25th. Just yesterday, Adrian was driving me insane. He cried and whined all day. At five o’clock he insisted that picking up ten tiny toys was, “Too hard!”
I did raise my voice as I marched him over to the toys and insisted it was not too hard for a 3-and-a-half-year-old to pick up a few things.
I know I shouldn’t have even raised my voice. But I didn’t lose it. I haven’t raged at them. I have taken deep breaths and walked away and prayed very hard. And cried.
I have slowed down and looked into their eyes and reminded myself that this is my only time with them and it will be over just. like. that.
There’s a little part of me that doesn’t even want to post this for fear that tomorrow I will lose my resolve and rage at them again. But I have to trust God to keep doing this work in me. I have to fall on the grace that changes me and the grace that picks up the pieces when I do fail. Because it’s not me. I can’t do it without Him. And if I try to do it myself, then it’s not real.
But this is real. This is the fresh bud of spring pushing the dead leaf off the branch.
There is no room for that old, withered leaf anymore.