The Tree

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Photos by Jamie Sutter

I “grew up” as a Christian during the charismatic craze of the Toronto blessing, Brownsville revival, Morning Star prophecy in the nineties. While I still consider myself a recovering charismatic and have had to drastically redefine my faith since leaving that particular movement, there were moments that stand out as particularly holy. Times when I still believe the veil between the here and the There was thinned and God leaned forward to whisper in my ear.

One of those moments occurred during a typical late night revival meeting at my church. I was sixteen. As was my custom I had been kneeling at the altar crying for about an hour when a small framed, gentle man knelt down beside me and laid his hand on my back. He didn’t attend our church but was always present for our revival meetings, and I remember deeply trusting this man’s connection to God despite his awkwardness with people. He had prayed for me many times in the past and I always felt a strong sense of calm when he did so. My youth was fraught with chaos and drama and struggle, so any moment of peace was well-remembered.

This particular night he said that God had allowed me to face many deserts already in my life. Like a tree in a barren place I would learn to struggle and fight for nourishment from the ground, digging my roots in deep. Storms would crash against me and droughts would stretch on for seasons, but if I allowed my roots to really sink in I would never be shaken. He said this was important because God would use me to heal, shelter, and nourish other people throughout my life.

Looking back eighteen years later I see the truth of those words played out. I have spent a lot of my life struggling to stay faithful, to dig in and sometimes grit my teeth against the winds and rains, sometimes languish in the heat praying for a drop of relief. I’ve also poured a lot of my life into people around me who are struggling, hurting, lost, wandering and I think I’ve helped them. I think the lessons I’ve learned, the truths I’ve embraced, and the experiences I’ve had have indeed allowed me to provide something like shelter and nourishment and healing to others.

The earth I’ve found myself digging into time and again has been the Word, the Christian Bible. Whatever your thoughts on the book (and I’d happily discuss those with you over coffee – you don’t think anything I haven’t :)), it has been all the things to me the cheesy CCM songs proclaim. It’s been a rock, a shelter, a defense, a comfort, a love letter, a chastisement, a hand to wipe away the tear and a kick in the ass. I love the book; I’d gladly spend my life mining it for every last treasure I could find there. This doesn’t mean I don’t hear God, find God, feel God, in myriad other ways. But that book has been the one constant in my life for almost twenty years. When Christians said I couldn’t be one of them, it still claimed me as God’s. When all I could hear were the hideous lies being screamed at me about myself, it insisted on the truth of my worth. When the evil in the world has seemed overwhelming, it’s persisted in the promises of His goodness and the eventual redemption of all things.

I could never in a million years claim one verse or chapter or book as the most important to me. However, there is one section that has reverberated in my soul without ever losing potency. This passage speaks directly into me, shouting its truth over all the lies I believe about who I am in this world. It’s found in a book of prophecy and was originally written to the nation of Israel, as a promise of God’s love for them as His people. It says this:

“But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with You; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.'”
(Isaiah 31:1-2)

I’ve passed through a few fires. I’ve been crushed by some waves that threatened to keep me underwater. I’ve crossed rivers that knocked me clean out. But I’ve never drowned. Wounds have been healed and at the end of the day I have yet to be overcome. Not because of my strength, or because I deserve it, or because I’m in some way inherently more special than other people. Because I am His. And He will never let one of His wash away from Him.

When I decided to get a second tattoo, I wanted something that would serve as a testimony of what I believed to be ultimately true about God and myself. I decided on a tree. I wanted the words of that Isaiah passage to flow up from the roots of the tree because any fruit or beauty you see when you look at my life is the result of deep roots weathering many storms. It’s God’s Word producing fruit in my life. The evils and ugliness of my past have indeed been redeemed, and the evils and ugliness yet to come will be as well.

I wanted the words in the text’s original language, so I triple checked the translation with some Old Testament scholars I know. Then I went to a friend’s husband, a phenomenal Chinese painter, and asked him if he’d consider designing it for me. I couldn’t wrap the images together in my mind, and as someone familiar with pictorial language I trusted him to respect the Hebrew characters. I was reticent to ask him to do so because I dreaded being that friend-of-his-wife begging favors because he was an artist. He never balked, and came up with this beautiful, nuanced design. I never imagined the watercolor design, or the twisted-ness of the tree. But it’s perfect. Soft and fading at the edges but vibrant, imperfect but strong. Beautiful and low to the ground. I hope these things can be said of me someday. I hope to continue to live out the word spoken over my life so many years ago, to be worthy of such a calling. For what could be more significant than offering shade to the weary, fruit for the hungry, and healing to the broken?

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2 Comments

  1. Vicky said,

    August 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    My daughter just looked over my shoulder and immediately knew who this was. She said, “Mandy has so many tattoos!” I like these posts because now I have something to say to her in response that is full of meaning and beautiful that she can understand about our bodies.

  2. June 1, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    […] myself and god as the source of love and beauty and creation and justice and hope. It’s still a foundation in my faith and my […]


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