The Real Tree of Life

Monet Japanese bridge at giverny

 

In the 1980’s I visited the Monet exhibit when it was at the Chicago Art Museum.  My husband at the time humored me with tickets and appeared to be as delighted as I was with the works of this famous impressionist.  Sometimes you just have to see things in person to understand their brilliance; this was true for both of us after we toured the travelling exhibit.  We brought home a print of the Japanese Bridge at Giverny to frame and proudly display in our home as a remembrance.  I still have that picture lying in wait for the perfect place to showcase it in the more contemporary-styled home of Steve and me.  Perhaps we will find that spot in another few decades or maybe our next home, whichever comes first!

Another piece of art takes my breath away every time I see it.  If I can ever find another print of it I suspect that I will always have it on display somewhere no matter our décor.  I was in the gift shop of the Chicago Art Museum with a boyfriend at the time, years before finding the Monet print, when I found a poster of Henri Matisse’s “The Tree of Life.”  It’s a photograph of a stained glass window from the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, Italy.  Something about it captured my heart.  The colors and themes are simple, completed in a form of collage for which Mr. Matisse remains famous.  I’m not particularly fond of most of the rest of his work however, that tends to be more abstract or includes distorted images of people, places, and things in bright colors.  Many of those people are partially naked:  tis not my cup of tea to have an image of a naked stranger on display in my living room!

We carried the poster home on the commuter train back home to the suburbs like a prized possession.  This trip occurred before I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the true giver of life.  Oh I knew the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis and the two trees in the Garden of Eden:  the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life.  Perhaps it was the simple themes, Biblical title, and reverence for our Creator that struck a cord in me when I saw this image.  Sadly over the years of living in various apartments then storing the print in a storage locker, the framed poster was damaged by a basement flood beyond repair.  Or perhaps it was the distraction of graduate school that cost me my better judgment in keeping this little memento safe.  Oh well.  It’s not that important right?

Years later I came upon the Tree of Life image online.  I searched and searched through scores of poster websites trying to find another copy.  On two occasions I even called the gift shop at the Art Museum trying to locate a source for securing another copy.  The image was printed for that temporary exhibit only and the staff said I would have to contact the Vatican in Italy for another one!   Yes, I looked for contact information for the Vatican gift shop and eventually ran into a dead end once again.  Still another lead led me to an oil painter who could make copies of it but the online service appeared somewhat nefarious for the cost.  I’m not sure it would be worth a few hundred dollars to have a beastly oil painting when a nicely matted and framed print will do just fine.

tree-of-life-stained-glass-behind-the-altar-in-the-chapel-of-the-rosary-at-vence-1951 

So the search will go on for perhaps another few decades.  That’s fine too.  These days the “stuff of life” (as in art prints) is less important to me.  An older mentor once taught me at a critical time in my life to hold things of value lightly before the throne of God’s grace.  It’s like placing a pencil in the palm of an outstretched hand.  He may grant you good things or non-material blessings depending upon each season of life in which we find ourselves.  Sometimes we hold onto the pencil for a purpose as it lies on our hand and other times the pencil falls away.  To discern whether to hold on to it or let go out of our hands is wisdom indeed and worth holding onto the most.  Let’s reflect on this further:

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.  Proverbs 3:18

Ah yes, there it is.  Looks like in the Bible the Tree of Life was first noted in the Garden of Eden and later referred to wisdom.  What else we can find?

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.  Proverbs 11:30

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  Proverbs 13:12

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.  Proverbs 15:4

On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  Revelation 22:2

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.  Revelation 22:4

And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.  Revelation 22:19  (Our just reward if we do not heed His invitation.)

 

Knowing that I have access to the tree of life through my relationship with Jesus Christ has made a tremendous difference in my life.  These past 2 1/2 years have been wretched with painful, noxious symptoms and waking seizures every day, multiple times per day, and often for hours.  Other symptoms come and go every day.  Knowing the hope that lies within our Lord’s living water manifest within the image of a life-giving tree resonates with me.  I love gardening and increasingly appreciate being outside more than indoors:  two ingredients drawing me towards His majestic creation in the natural world.

As He gives life to nature so does He breathe life into you and me.  The past 1 1/2 months since my brother’s devastating stroke pains me as I realize his suffering too.  My love for Mike draws me to pray for him in hopes that he rededicates his life to the Lord who loves him despite this situation.  As we both dwell in the presence of the Lord there will be a purpose for our lives, a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  We must draw upon the living water extended to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection to realize these promises, until we are called home to dwell in His presence forever.  His indwelling Spirit will sustain us, and strengthen us like that tree of life growing strong and tall against the storms that may come.  It is the harsh winds and rainstorms that help the sapling to develop strong roots, sturdy branches, and rings in the trunk that tell the stories of His amazing grace through it all.

The real tree of life is not a poster or a pendant found on the internet:  that is for certain!  The real tree of life is the Lord Jesus Christ as the rock of my salvation, His firm foundation under my feet, nourished from the Word of God, yielding the fruit of Holy Spirit for His glory alone.  We will grow in love and admonition of the Lord:  a wonderful place to be.  I am so grateful to have found the true Giver of life.  Gentle Reader:  have you found Him too?  :J

Inspired by Michael

Gotta love a wacky sense of humor!  Call it gallows humor if you will.  Today it is keeping me sane.

Here are a few momentos as I support my brother, Mike, recovering from a stroke.  Enjoy!  JJ

No Kidding!
No Kidding!
My favorite.  Have a good day all!
My favorite. Have a good day all!

 

oldcarguys pepsihope sick sense of humor strokerecoverysick sense of humoroldcarguyslife-support-computer-humorHIPPA humorheadnurseonfloor'Yummo Toothpaste contains no caffeine, and cleans your teeth better than Coke or Pepsi!'

This one looks like Mike!
This one looks like Mike!
Michael George Lech
Michael George Lech

To Hell and Back: Part 2

Continued from To Hell and Back:  Part 1
Back by Grace
I had caught a glimpse of hell on earth with the most violent seizure attacks that I had ever experienced in my life in the wee wee hours of the morning on July 5, 2013.  Our mini family reunion and gathering for a memorial service was shaping up to be a living nightmare with no end in sight; something like, “weeping, gnashing of teeth” were now my living hell as the Bible describes hell for those eternally separated from God.  But I have Jesus in my heart!  Nothing made sense.  Surely I felt as though I was dying.  I found myself asking:  where is God now?
The story continues.
It was inching closer to 6:00 a.m. EST on Friday, July 5th.  Since we were now in the CST zone, my husband, Steve, and I figured out between the ongoing attacks that we might be able to get a little sleep before the sun came up if these episodes would somehow stop.  But how?
The inner voice I have come to know as the Holy Spirit in times such as these suggested that I ask Steve get my industrial gas mask out of my suitcase.  He did, I strapped that baby on, and within 5 minutes the episodes had diminished in frequency, intensity and duration.  Just a low grade intermittent series of tic attacks remained and I started to be able to speak without eliciting further attacks.  Steve was already talking about packing up and going to a hotel immediately or even driving home tomorrow!  We doubted how we could possibly find the strength to do either option at this hour and what if I reacted to the hotel room?  Then what would I do?  Sleep in the car?  I wasn’t even sure it would be good for me to go to the car for awhile parked in front of my in-law’s because of the hot and humid weather of Arkansas:  perhaps I would suffocate in my sleep!
Then my waking prayer led me to suggest to Steve that he try to get some sleep and I would just lie there in bed for awhile until he was more rested.  I needed to trust that after some sleep Steve could lead us in what to do next and in the meantime the Lord would somehow sustain me.  I was a mess anyways so I should not be trusted to make any big decisions!  It was becoming difficult to breathe through the large respirator mask with my sore, constricted chest.  I was also getting very warm further aggravating all of the flared up noxious symptoms like the massive neck headache.  But I must wait anyways.  Neither one of us in no position to make a rational decision at this time.
Turns out that I was able to sleep about 2 hours.  I woke up feeling like my head was in a vice!  My chest tightness was actually reduced however, perhaps by breathing against the resistance of the respirator mask fitted to my face.  Wow, just like loosening a tight muscle through deep pressure, the intercostal muscles of my rib cage had relaxed enough to allow both breathing and sleep!  And somehow I was now fully awake.  I felt terrible but awake.  Then the next steps came to mind.
I gathered my purse, got dressed in my clothes from yesterday, grabbed some food and water from the kitchen and headed out to our car.  There was no time to worry about clean underwear and the latent UTI I was still battling.  Surely I would feel better after some nourishment as it usually had helped after past seizure attacks, so these would be my next steps.
The fresh air outside felt good.  It was considerably cooler and less humid than when we had arrived.  But geez (!) did it feel weird to be sitting in the passenger seat of a Dodge Magnum at daybreak, loaded with 21-foot and 19-foot surf skis on the roof!  How the heck could I remain inconspicuous in a fighter jet set up like that?  I saw the elderly neighbor next door walk outside to get his morning newspaper.  I’d been sitting there awhile, his house was for sale, and I was insanely curious about the listing information in the box in front of his house.  My how the delirious mind wanders!  But at that moment I just wanted to sink below the window line of the car door, if you know what I mean!
I must mention here that my husband’s family knows the story all too well of a really really close female family member suddenly leaving a family reunion with the family car sans family!  The father and his children were stranded several States away from home without transportation or monies to get home any other way.  Turns out that a couple family members helped them out and the dad rented a car for part of the trip.  Now here I am, relatively new to this family, suddenly disappearing from the bedroom, sitting in the “family car” with my set of car keys, and no one knows what is going to happen next!  I knew that I was not going to leave to go anywhere until someone in the household woke up, even if I knew that practically speaking, I could take time to find a hotel while everyone was sleeping.  But leaving a “ransom note” simply would not be enough to remove the reminder of the old wound.  Leaving would just hit “too close to home” if you know what I mean!  I had to stay put.
Then I noticed that the neighbor next store had come outside again, this time to take an early morning walk.  He was now talking to another neighbor just up the hilly, winding street.  Taking a walk was one option I had considered to kill time so I got out of the car.  The H.S. was working again and the idea came to ask the gentlemen about other hotels or rental properties within the community.  I knew that my mother-in-law’s house had been rented in the past.  Perhaps there are other homes like hers, maybe one with hardwood floors?
Turns out that the men were very friendly and helpful.  The retired Baptist preacher told me that a house across the street was was a rental and there was a sign with a phone number posted over the carport.  We walked over to the house and I copied down the phone number.  I thanked him as we finished chatting and returned to my fighter-jet home base to start making phone calls.
My dearest Steve walked up to the car about then to check on me.  I updated him on the information that I had just learned and said that I felt awake enough to start making phone calls.  He was still so exhausted that he needed to return to bed.  I didn’t see a problem with that and kissed him goodnight once again.  Before long my in-laws, my “other mom” and “other dad” as I call them, were up and checking on me as well.  With tears I shared what had happened (and would learn much later that night that they had heard me crying earlier and knew something was wrong).  I did not want them to feel bad as they had graciously opened their home to us to stay with them for the weekend.  Later I found out that they never got the Facebook message about my sensitivities!  Sigh.
Within a few minutes, my “other dad” and I were checking out the housing options that sounded suitable for me.  Over the next several hours I had done a sniff test at the local hotel, had another seizure attack and mostly recovered, toured one of three rental houses, rented one, stopped at the library, and returned back to their house to pack up the car.  By this time my Divinely-sustained energy on two hours of sleep was waning.  Like a damaged war plane on auto pilot, I eventually got to bed after some food, supplements, spit bath, etc. around 3 in the afternoon.
The townhouse rental worked out reasonably well as alternative housing.  I could prepare all of my special dietary foods without inconveniencing or even offending my “other mom.”  My in-laws’ provision of a place within the gated community of Hot Springs Village even gave my husband’s sister and husband a place to crash closer to family for two nights with us in their own suite.  Staying with us saved them hours of driving and increased our time to visit with them.  Sweet.  Unfortunately my time was cut short some by some more attacks (cause I’m still on Lyme antibiotics that flares up the attacks too) but it was still more time overall than we would have had if they were staying an hour away where their vacation had started.
Steve and I had some very sweet respite in that townhouse in Hot Springs Village.  We got to share our surf skiis with our family at one of the beautiful lakes nearby too.  If you read between the lines, this means that I got back in my surf ski kayak for the first time in a year!  For that, I am also grateful.  It felt great!
“To hell and back” is my sentiment for this past long weekend.  Going forward, my antibiotic regime is about to change to better address the UTI.  Perhaps I will tolerate the Levaquin better this time than in the past, for having endured the wretched side effects of the Doxycyline I’ve been on the past 2 weeks.  As the long weekend continued, I ended up reacting to environmental toxins in more places than my in-laws’ home and generally recovered o.k. after each. Gratefully, the reactions were in private, my preference.
So the Lyme and the Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome certainly did not take a vacation this Fourth of July holiday!  And yet I can’t help but see that having the attack and spending time with my “other dad” brought us closer together in a way that probably would not have happened if everything had gone  smoothly.  I saw a tenderness in him on Friday that I will cherish.   Steve and I have only been married five years.  Sometimes it takes a lifetime to have a connection like that with your “other dad” . . .
There’s a saying that I’ve quoted in this blog before that bears repeating here:  When going through hell, don’t stop!  Yup, that’s a funny one!  The take home message is this:  if you but do as scripture leads, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ, our suffering (seizure attacks) will produce endurance (on 2 hours of sleep), our endurance will build character (to enjoy time with my father-in-law), and our character will produce hope (that our suffering will not be wasted).  I encourage you to mediate on Romans 5:4, where these themes are found in God’s Word.
When going through hell on earth do not stop.  The Lord is working and it will be for our own good and joy.  He promised for those who believe in Him (1 Peter 1:6-9) and in the end there can be great joy!
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