Eighty-two-year-old Eloise sits in her nursing home room with Stage Six Alzheimer’s. She remembers her name but frequently doesn’t recognize her granddaughter. She is sweet and kind to all the nurses and has a special impact on them, although they appear in her room every morning as strangers. It is easy for them to be patient with Eloise; other Alzheimer’s patients sometimes act stubborn and cantankerous. In spite of losing her memory and spending most of her time alone, she is happy because she looks out her window and sees a tree.
Until a few years ago, Eloise was an accomplished landscape artist, and one of her specialties was painting trees. Once she had an extraordinary gift; now she is handed a crayon and draws lines like a two-year-old—lines that possibly represent tree trunks and branches.
I share her appreciation of trees. Growing up on a farm in upstate New York, I spent a good deal of time climbing trees and wandering among them, admiring God’s artistry. In the pasture across the road from our home, there was one especially majestic tree. One day my father explained that its symmetry was a mirror image of its underground root system. If there had been an impediment to the development of the roots, it would have been reflected in the part of the tree that was visible above the ground. The tree was beautiful because it had a well-functioning root system.
I have often thought about how trees parallel our lives. We go through cycles much like the seasons—bright new beginnings, like springtime’s pale green buds; flourishing times, like summer’s lush and gorgeous trees; resplendent times, like autumn trees flamboyant with color; and bleak times, like the stark beauty of branches shrouded by winter’s snow, which will eventually give way to spring and new life again.
We too need an invisible system of roots in the spiritual realm. Our connection with God is what feeds us and helps us to bear fruit in our lives. He nurtures us while we’re green and growing and fruitful, helps us yield to the loss of our leaves in the fall, and keeps us alive within through seemingly endless winters, so we’ll bring forth the miracle of new buds in the spring. When our spirits are firmly rooted in God and we are nourished by His Word, it shows in the branches of our lives.
I can understand why Eloise seems content to sit and smile at her tree as she waits for the eternal spring—heaven. She has lived a full, rich, loving, fruitful life, firmly connected to God through her personal relationship with Jesus, so even as her memories fade and her communication skills fail, her deeply rooted love and faith sustain her.