This past week the last 'trunk' of our beautiful white birch in the back yard fell over - all 45 feet of it landed on the ground - and I did not know it for hours. I stepped outside to grill some chicken and burgers and found it had died peacefully. I then spent the next three hours cutting it up by hand. We knew it was coming, but it was a shock to just find it laid out. It had been a part of the yard for years.
Shel Silverstein wrote a powerful children's book nearly four decades ago entitled "The Giving Tree" which I read as an adult 15 years ago, just as I was discovering God's unconditional love.
The story is heartbreaking, poignant and deep. Using the simplest imagery of a boy and his favorite tree, Silverstein touches the very heart of the child in each of us. The story is direct: the boy loves the tree and the tree loves the boy, but as time passes, the boy finds other things to love beside the tree. The tree is sad to see this is so, but cannot stop loving the boy and whenever the boy asks for something from the tree, the tree gives it, as an act of unconditional love.
Halfway through the book you want to cry for the tree who gives so much to the boy who doesn't seem to be aware he is taking EVERYTHING from the tree. The tree however is content to give, and give and give, for the tree loves the boy.
In the end, when the tree is nothing but a stump, it still offers itself as a place for the boy - now an old man - to rest. So the boy does, and we are told, once again, "the tree is happy."
Many see Silverstein's reference to mothers and women who give and give and give to their families and children and are 'used up' by their service, their only desire to be appreciated in return.
It is convicting for those who have taken much from their loved ones and given so little in return. Seeing the patient love of the tree and the loneliness caused by the boy who callously dismisses the tree's sacrifices year after year would humble even the most selfish, I should think.
But the distance between the two (he is a human being and the tree... well, "she" is not) can also touch our deepest fears of getting into a co-dependent relationship with someone who never moves and has no self-worth except to adore another person and serve them wholly as if they were God. THAT is unhealthy in any relationship.
So the book has many layers of interpretation - some encouraging, some scary, some very sad. It is a classic for this reason. There is not one message, but several. The grace and patience and love of the tree versus the busy-ness, the desires, the other 'wants' of the boy.
Its rare to find people who give as much as that tree. But I knew a few and both have passed away suddenly leaving a hole in the fabric of their community - like that bright white birch in our backyard.
Ron Teiwes, a gentleman builder who loved fishing - and, as Jesus said 'Fishing for Men' - who served at the Billy Graham Telephone Ministry and had two fantastic sons, passed away suddenly two weeks ago. He was 61, was out walking on the sports track, and fell over. He passed away after a week in a coma.
He'd built orphanages in Costa Rica. He led many to place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and saved their souls for eternity. My landlady Nancy knew him as a personal friend 20 years ago.
He gave and gave. Now he's home.
As I was clearing the last of the birch tree up on Saturday morning, another dear acquaintance - one of the followers of my blog in fact - also passed away: Barry Trowbridge.
Barry was jovial, and kind, had fought obesity and was winning, led worship and sang at Wheaton Bible Church (being blessed with just a GREAT voice), sang the National Anthem at a White Sox game (see clip) and, I just found out, had been helping refugees by having them stay in his home.
He was driving Saturday morning, had a heart attack and went off the road to hit a tree, dying instantly.
Yes, you could say it was a shock.
But Barry Trowbridge was a giver, like Ron Teiwes was because they had both been to THE "Giving Tree."
They had both been to Calvary. They had both been to the cross where Christ was crucified.
You see, the shame in the story "The Giving Tree" is that ONLY the tree gives. The boy merely takes. And when he is old, he is still just a boy who's aged. He never grew up where it counted - on the inside.
Ron and Barry - one 61 and the other 43 (a year younger than me) - had learned to be Givers - they were men who were "Giving Trees." They gave of their time, their talents, their treasures. And it was because they loved the One Who Gave All to Save His Children. This made them strong enough to give and give out of love, not fear.
They were such a blessing to all of us, the only thing we complain about is the sad fact they left us so soon. We do weep, but not as those who have no hope.
We will see them again - and that good era will never end.
But for now, we sit down at the Tree God provided, the place where He gave His only begotten Son, and rest in the truth that He gave them eternal life.
"...and the tree was happy."