I sat staring at the dead tree before me, amidst the two thriving evergreens on either side. I had been reading about Lent and trying to wrap my head around it enough to be able to teach my children in an age appropriate manner what really it means. The giving up, the adding in, the ashes, the repentance…describing this to a four, seven and ten-year old seemed a bit challenging.
The tree had been in the middle for ten years. It had lived there, it had appeared to be like all the rest, until this Spring. Its dull pale orange hue sharply contrasted the two luscious greens touching it from the left and the right. I did notice a few green sprigs beneath its bottom most layer, but realized that they were just off shoots from its thriving neighbors.
The trees, all three, had grown in the same pile of red clay, carelessly tossed by the builder of our home. We knew it wasn’t good soil when we moved in…but 4 months into a pregnancy, we weren’t about to redo the entire back yard with loads and loads and dollars and dollars of good soil. We assumed that the builder placed plants in the red clay that were known to survive there.
Year after year, I have watched those plants die. I have tried my very best to add in good soil, to prune, even to transplant to spots with more or less direct sun, morning sun, afternoon sun…hopeful to salvage at least some of the original plants. I have even looked up those plants most amenable to red clay…the ones that should thrive in its environment. I have not yet found the right combination to seasonally paint the landscape of my backyard.
The only plants that remain in their original places are the evergreens, hardy trees I never imagined would give up the fight in my backyard landscape, even despite the red clay underpinnings. And now, I viewed the unexpected latest casualty, this evergreen…deeply rooted in immovable, impenetrable, unamended red clay.
I circled back around to my original thoughts about Lent.
The Lenten season is a time of self-reflection, of recognition of the hard road that Jesus walked to the cross, for us. It is a time of repentance and of turning to God to thank Him for the good gifts He has given to us, especially the gift of Jesus and the unthinkable sacrifice of his death. It is so easy to go about our days and put His huge sacrifice in the very back of our minds.
It truly is a blessing to be able to pause and remember.
On Ash Wednesday, many Christians receive the mark of the cross on their foreheads, smudged in ashes to remind us of our mortality and sin. As we receive the ashes, we look ahead to the cross, the symbol of Jesus’ resurrection and His forgiveness, celebrated 40 days later on Easter Sunday.
Just how do you teach this concept to a child?
The dead evergreen rooted in the unamended red clay just might resonate. I thought about how often it is that looks are deceiving…the old, “don’t judge a book by its cover”…just like the tree… it looked just like the ones on either side until this Spring.
I read up a little on the exact type of evergreen it is. The information I found, from the NC Cooperative Extension, led me to believe that this tree, indeed, has a root problem…”especially damaging in situations where soil drainage is very poor” and “occurs most often on stressed, weakened trees.” Though these evergreens are known to be hardy and can thrive in acidic NC red clay, they do “have a preference for moist, well-drained soil with good fertility.”
Looks certainly can be deceiving. It may take a while to see the ill effects of bad, infertile soil, but time will reveal the effect it has on our insides. Also referred to in my post, Abide: Cultivating the Good Fruit, ones fruit or, in this case, greenery, eventually gives our hearts’ deepest secrets away…
The soil you feed to your soul will eventually produce either bright green evergreen leaves or dull pale orange dead ones. The true colors of one’s soul will ultimately be revealed.
You may have heard the parable of the sower from Matthew 13:3-9.
“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
God spreads His seeds all around and invites us to do the same, sharing His love with others. There are so many things that get in the way of that good fertile soil that is cultivated through being in His word and living according to His ways. Sin gets in the way…sin that causes a figurative “root rot” that may not be seen right away…but eventually, unrepentant sin festers, spreads and destroys our lifeline (our roots) to the fertile, life-giving rich delicious Jesus soil.
Acknowledgment and repentance of sin must occur before treatment and healing of our broken human condition can begin. If we don’t acknowledge that beneath our shiny smiley exterior, there is a crippling, often slow-growing, disease that is damaging our roots, we will end up like the tree…withered, dull and eventually, dead.
Sin destroys and kills, it separates us from life. It is a hard truth. But, once recognized, once turned away from, we can fully embrace the good gifts of our Heavenly Father. We also can more appreciate the fact that Jesus did die in our place. He took all of our sin upon himself and accepted the punishment…the punishment WE deserve.
Though I have tried and tried to make that poor soil in my back landscape work…it hasn’t. Though it has taken a lot of time…all of the original plants have been destroyed by its known less than life-giving make up. I should have replaced that soil…the difference it would have made these 10 years later is one now I can only imagine.
I talked to my kids about sin, “the things we do wrong that we know we can do better.” I talked to them about how sin can grow and can spread and can damage our thoughts and our minds. I talked to them about what Jesus did for us and how important it is to admit that we do things wrong and we need Jesus.
After writing their sins out on paper that was burned to ashes and placed in a bowl, I watched all three of them make the choice for our pastor to make a cross on their little foreheads.
While replacing the soil in my back landscape is something I wish I would have done…I would much rather use this example as a way to teach my children about the importance of rooting ourselves in the rich, fertile soil of Jesus and His word…and help them live and thrive in that rich Jesus soil.
Thinking about the fruits of the labor of mothering these children and the soul tending the Lord is doing, brings me a beautiful image of a luscious, brightly colored garden in their hearts. No, it is not easy. Yes, there are times when I fail…miserably. But, if I view this time as a time of replacing that original poorly nurtured soil with the fertile Jesus soil available to us all, it makes me want to rev that rototiller’s engine and chip that clay away, one little time out, redirection, life lesson, natural consequence at a time. Both for them…and for me.