The fresh spring wind tosses the tree branches playfully at the corner of College and Arroyo. There, barricaded behind rows of palm and cedar trees, is my church, the place where my faith was forged by God.
I am chilled by the breeze as I sit in the crooked arm of a low hanging branch. This is a wonderful place to think. Many great decisions have been made after an hour in this tree. I pondered the meaning of life, the importance of friends, the inevitability of death, where to have lunch...
Every Fourth of July my church holds a picnic for everyone under these trees. (The picture is of Jon on July 4, 2003. He IS juggling flamingos; your eyes are not playing tricks on you.) The cedars shelter us from the blistering Livermore heat while we enjoy our fair country and her birth. We shower the ground with countless watermelon seeds and scraps of busted water balloons, all beneath the natural canopy of green.
One summer a boy from our church was killed in a car accident. A man and his liquor were the perpetrators. The boy's memorial service was held at the church, and we welcomed hundreds through the doors to sit, think and remember. To grieve. When the air inside became too thick with loss for me to stand, I escaped back outside to the tree, seeking again answers I already knew. I sat in this tree next to a friend whose faith was stronger than mine. He comforted me.
Growing up brings revelations, but it remains full of questions that cannot be answered. A man I knew for years as a strong, good, honest man, committed suicide. I'll never know why, and neither will his wife. And that man's best friend, another whom I considered to be the best, most faithful Christian and husband, left his own wife and child for a reason I simply cannot find. Not even with the help of the tree.
Why does God allow us the choice to leave life behind? I've known a few who have taken advantage of that choice, leaving grief and confusion behind for their families and friends. Maybe that was their point? Oh, I wish I knew.
In the shade of this tree I stood in my senior ball gown, linking arms with my closest friends, as we celebrated our graduation. We smiled so brightly! Let's make this a memory, we all thought, not knowing that later on the quickness with which we left behind our own youth would be painful to recall. Not knowing we'd want our childhoods back.
At this church I was married. On my way through the doors before the ceremony, with my dress and veil streaming behind me, I tossed a glance over my shoulder towards the tree. It was there, sturdy and still on the lawn. For a moment I really wanted to stop, blink and pause the swirling world around me, walk between the people frozen in time on that happiest of days, and walk humbly to the tree. I longed for it all to be that simple. But in mere seconds I was up the aisle and handed over and vowing and married and kissed and gone. Done! No time for the tree that day.
Once I was kissed here. A nice boy who is now a good man got up the courage to take a kiss from me. Or perhaps he gave it to me, his first kiss. Either way, the memory is pleasant. My, I was young. My youth group played games here, frisbee and capture the flag in careless loops in the dark amongst the grove we took for granted. When our church raises its new building on a plot of ground not far from this place, leaving this property forever, these trees, this particular tree, will be what is missing even in the midst of all the modernity and hope for perfection.
I believe this tree is where God sits each day, watching the people drive right by and into their own lives. He waits for me and you and everyone. The children climb on him, shimmying up the trunk, bare up to twelve feet from the ground except for that one swooping branch, and they drop to the ground in gales of laughter during a game of tag. God loves to let them play. He loves to let us think and pray.
When I do stop to allow the tree to work its magic, my faith is energized. I am pushed to remember all my blessings, to count them and care about them. I sit and think about the questions, big and small, answered and unanswered, important and impossible. And then I walk back to my life and spend my soul dry with worry and anxiety in the same old groove. But the tree will always be there, beckoning to me from the corner of College and Arroyo. There it will be in front of the church where God pulled me through everything that has happened in my short lifetime; and there He'll wait for me to return and remember it with Him.