(I've shared this story before on facebook and have been asked to share it again. This story is what I shared with Greg on the park bench that one glorious day. . .after I finished, he hung his head for a couple of minutes. . .then looked up at me with tears and said, "I want you to help me pray that prayer, I want to know that I'm saved and that it's for real." The power of God through this tree story continues on. . .)I believe miracles happen every day, and many go by unnoticed. But I noticed particular ones regarding a lawnmower, a pocket knife, and many other items which I will elaborate on later. God uses many ordinary things to bring about miraculous events. One of these was the cottonwood tree. God used that enormous tree to show his enormous faithfulness not only to me but to others during a difficult time and the story brought comfort to many after the fact.
It began back in the 90's when my boys were little. I became convicted to join an evangelism team at my church. Being the reserved, quiet person that I was, this was way out of my comfort zone, but like I said, I was much convicted to join, so I did. We learned in FAITH how to present the gospel to people and to witness in a non confrontational way and it was easy to learn.
After learning the program well, I became convicted again to share this with my dad and step mom not being sure where they stood on the subject. After going through the FAITH program, I became eager to know if my loved ones were going to be in Heaven some day. So one week-end, I packed up the boys and myself in the car and drove the hour drive to Tulsa, with the sole purpose of sharing the gospel with them and finding out for sure where they stood. I was a little nervous how they would react because these kinds of discussions never happened with them in the past, for reasons I don't really know. But I prayed and asked others to pray that it would go well, and that I would not be nervous. When I rang their doorbell, the nerves dissappered.
Their response was remarkable. They were very inviting and interested in what I had to say. My dad said he realized he had not always done things right, and showed remorse for not being in church the last 50 years, but did say he had accepted the Lord into his heart when he was young, and he knew it was real and he had confidence that he was going to heaven. Jean, my step mom said she believed in the Ten Commandments and that she was ok. I explained the gospel again to her and she said she believed everything I said, so I let it drop. I wasn't convinced about her salvation but I would continue to pray for her. Our conversation that day lifted many concerns and barriers I had with dad, and I felt good about it all. I shared with them the stories about my stubborn lawnmower, the lost pocketknife and other things that were answers to prayer. I had never been able to share my faith and my walk with the Lord with them before. I don't know why. It never seemed comfortable before this to talk about such things with them, but this day was different, and I left their home feeling very happy.
My step mom, Jean, had been mowing their yard since my dad had not been feeling well. When I was there, she said her lawnmower would not start and after hearing about my past answered prayers, one specifially about my mower, she asked if I would pray for hers. I did, and God faithfully answered right away. Dad and Jean were noticeably moved by this and they began showing an interest in more of my stories relating to God and prayer.
During this time my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. The courage he showed was remarkable to me and demonstrated the kind of man he really was. Few complaints came from him as he underwent radiation and chemotherapy. The side affects were hard but Jean became a rallying point for strength, standing with him through the darkest of days, and my respect for her grew immensely at this time. Eventually, the cancer spread to his bones, and the doctors gave him little if any hope of surviving.
I was experiencing a range of emotions. My parents divorced when I was a little girl, and dad was not in my life a lot after that. He was around, and when I went to visit, was always good, but he never took that extra time or special time that I saw other dads doing with their daughters. He never came to me, I always had to go to him. And then, it was just a surface relationship. It tore at me for a long time, then as a young married woman, I gave it to the Lord.
Eventually dad was hospitalized and Jean was physically worn down from the constant care he required. I told her to get some rest while I stayed with him through the night. Late that evening as I sat in the dimly lit room, I gazed at my dad sleeping in his bed and bitterness began to come up inside of me again, I was so tired and emotional. I thought of all the times he had not been there for me, and why was I now here for him? I knew it was an ugly thought but couldn't help it. I prayed out in anguish to the Lord, "Why am I having these feeling now, after all these years, I gave these up to you years ago, why are they back? Please take them away for good." After uttering those words, I felt the presence of Jesus so strong. It was if He was standing there at the chair I was sitting in and I clearly heard these words..."He may not have been the father you needed, but I am expecting you to be the daughter I created you to be." I looked up at my father and immediately my negative feelings felt like they had just soared out of me and in came the positive feelings of compassion and love like I had never felt before with him. I loved him always because he was my father. It was the right thing to do in my mind. But now I was loving him from my heart. Jesus put it there and it was real. I was able to help take care of dad from that moment on and never had another negative feeling toward him ever again. God had healed my heart in that situation. I knew He was telling me that in spite of what other people do or don't do, in spite of circumstances around me, that I, as His child, was to live in the way He had taught me through His Word. I was to live the right way no matter what else was going on around me or how other people were. I knew this was right, and I had such a peace that night, I will never forget it. It doesn't mean times would never be hard again. Obviously, they were years later with my son Tim, and during those times, I would remember my night in dad's hospital room and God's faithfulness and it would give me hope to come through this tough time.
And by the way, isn't this just like God? After praying out to God at my Dad's bedside and God completely healed my heart over this relationship, the next morning my Dad sat up and apologized to me for all the wasted years and hurts I had gone through. I told him forgiveness had already happened and for the few weeks that followed, I had that father, daughter relationship that I had always desired.
It was during the spring of that year my dad was sick, that the storms that so often blow across the Oklahoma landscape began to stir once again. An unusually severe storm with stong winds blew across central Oklahoma from the northwest. I had gone back home as I was traveling back and forth from my home in Edmond to Tulsa on the week-ends to be with dad. I had received a phone call from my sister that dad had taken a turn for the worse and I better get back there. I packed myself and the boys to leave the next day. That night, this terrible wind storm came through Edmond. The next morning, when we got up and looked outside in the back, we noticed one of the giant cottownwood trees had blown over. A giant ball of roots and soil had been uproooted leaving a huge gouged out cavern where the tree had once been anchored. I had to leave for Tulsa, so I asked Keith to find out if it was our tree, as it was sitting just behind our fence where a small creek ran. I knew it would have to be handled professionally and knew we did not have the money to take card of such a big tree. The boys and I went to Tulsa and as I sat in my dad's hospital room that night, shared about the tree going down. They asked what were we going to do about it, and I said I was just going to pray and ask God to take care of it. I did just that when I went to bed that night, telling Him I trusted Him to take care of this huge tree.
The next evening as I was standing in my dad's room at the hospital, the phone rang. It was my mother, who had just gotten off the phone with Keith. She was all excited, telling me how Keith had come home for lunch that day, and was looking out the back door while eating his sandwich, and noticed that the huge cottonwood tree was standing back up! Standing straight up! I knew this tree was way too big for anyone to have stood it up. It was at leat 75 feet tall, and the root ball was way past my arm span. There were no tire marks or footprints in the wet ground. God had stood the tree back up and was in perfet condition!!! The ground where the root ball had been torn from looked like nothing had happened. The ground looked untouched! I was praising the Lord and the eyes of my dad and Jean got as big as saucers wanting to know what had happened. I hung the phone up and told them God had stood our tree back up. They couldn't believe it. That night they wanted to hear all my other stories of how God worked in my life. Then before we went to sleep, dad and Jean called me over to his bed and asked if we could hold hands and would I pray. I had to bite the inside of my mouth to keep from crying. I had wanted this kind of relationship with them for years, and I was feeling so blessed to stand there praying with them and for them. This was a miracle to!
As my dad grew weaker, every time I spoke to him, the first question out of his mouth would be, 'Is your tree still standing?" And I would be able to say "Yes, tall, healthy, and strong." It seemed the tree was a sense of comfort and peace to my dad and Jean. The simple cottonwood tree became a symbol of hope for them knowing that God was watching over them and that seemd to give them a calming assurance.
In a matter of weeks, as I, my sister and brother, Jean and her daughter Tammy, stood around my dad's bed in his home, we watched him breathe his last breath. I wept in sadness at losing him, but was also comforted in knowing I had truely reconciled within myself of my relationship with him and knowing confidently about his salvation.
That tree continued to stand, healthy and strong for the rest of the season. During the rest of that year, Jean battled cancer herself, and like dad, every time I spoke to her, she would ask, "Is your tree still standing?" Again, I was always able to say "Yes" and she would get that peaceful look on her face. During her time of cancer, a church had given her a tract and on the back was the sinner's prayer. One day while visiting with her, she showed me the prayer and said how beautiful it was and that she prayed it all the time. I told her that was what I had been talking about when I was sharing the FAITH plan. She said she knew that now, but I guess it took the tract to help her fully understand that it wasn't about following the Ten Commanments and living a good life. She was able to put everything together in her mind, and I believe she truly came to have that everlasting relationship with the Lord. Nine months after my dad died, she breathed her last breath.
After I got back home, the following Sunday as I was sitting in my Sunday School class, I felt the Lord nudging me to tell all that he had done in the last year. Again, this was out of my comfort zone to speak in front of a group of people, but I couldn't keep quiet, for He had done so much. I shared everything with the class, and they were very moved. God gave me opportunities to share the tree story many times and always had an impact on them. I had several come to me and say that their prayer life improved dramatically. They said to me that they had never thought to pray for things like lawnmowers, lost items, trees, that they had always thought God should not be bothered with such things. But the Bible says to pray about anything and everything. God wants us to talk with him about all of it, the big and the little. That's what a relationship is all about.
A few days after I had gone home from Jean's funeral, another one of those Oklahoma thunder storms with heavy winds came through Edmond, and the trees began to wave. My oldest son and I were standing at the back door, watching particularly the cottonwood tree waving and bending. Lightning was cracking everywhere. I prayed "Lord, please keep the tree up and keep it strong". Just then the thunder boomed and the lightning cracked, and Tim and I watched the tree go down. Instead of thinking Oh No!, I just smiled thinking He stood it up once, He can do it again. I prayed for Him to do just that. The next morning I got up and ran to the back door to see the tree up but it wasn't. I prayed again, and the next morning got up to look. It was still down. By the end of the week, I stood at the back door, and said to the Lord, "Why did you let it go down, it meant so much to so many. That still small voice said very clearly, "It is not needed anymore". In my mind I could picture the two people that tree meant the most to. I could picture my dad and Jean standing in Heaven together smiling, and I could just hear them saying, "We don't need the tree anymore, it was only a symbol. We are here with Jesus himself and standing in His glory" Again, smiling, I was filled with peace.
When we were getting ready to move to Kentucky, several people asked if they could have a piece of the tree. Our sunday school teacher came over with his chain saw and cut a bunch of rings and at our last Sunday at church there in Oklahoma, we passed out tree rings from the trunk of our car. I packed up several and brought them to my new home.
From the Experiencing God Bible study is this piece:
When Israel crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, God gave Joshua the following instructions: "Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight. These stones were to serve as a sign to the Israelites. Joshua explained."In the future, when your children ask you, "What do these stones mean?" tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." (Joshua 4:6-7)
The stones were to be a reminder of a mighty act of God in behalf of His people. On many other occasions men built alters or set up stone (OR tree rings:) as a reminder of a significant encounter with God.
Little did I know at the time that I would look back at the miracle of that tree and be reminded of God's power and be comforted over and over again in the fact that He sees our every situation and He would be with me through the storms of my life. I would learn as the saying goes...Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.
my tree ring of remembrance