Below is a real story about something that happened to me in June 2000, shortly after the worst day of my life. The only way I made it through this tragedy was through the Grace of God. He sent a human messenger to provide me comfort and to give me direction. This message kickstarted my personal effort to dig deep into the Word and to learn how Jesus wants me to live my life. I am far from perfect and this is one of my favorite verses in Philippians 3:12-14.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
This is the foundation for why I have started this site, HeavenlyPerspectives.org. My hope is that through what I have experienced I may be able to help others endure through their times of great trial and sorrow. This story is very personal to me. I share it with you in love.
The Story of the Tree Man
By Michael Bond © 2000
Wednesday was the first day of my new life, a life without my daughter Arisa. The day before, Tuesday June 6, 2000 at 10:00 a.m., my wife Keiko and I did perhaps the most difficult thing that any parent can ever do, we attended the funeral ceremony for our daughter. Arisa died suddenly on Friday June 2nd at the age of 7 months. She died of congestive heart failure two weeks after a six-month checkup where she appeared to be in excellent health and having never been outwardly sick a day in her life. The medical examiner could not find any known cause of her congestive heart failure, a disease that more commonly affects older people.
Anyone who has ever participated in a funeral for a loved one understands that typically there is an initial flurry of support from family and friends. Anyone who actively maintains a community of friends or who has a supportive family will have the help that they need to keep going during the days between the death of their loved one and the funeral. While there is crying, questioning and grieving, there is also love and support and community. Immediately after a death there seems to be a natural human tendency for anyone with the slightest capacity for caring and compassion to want to help those in pain. However, anyone who has been through the process also knows that as soon as the funeral is over most of the people who have provided the support and compassion to those who are grieving go home. They go home, sleep that night, wake up the next morning and continue on with their lives, often times like nothing has happened. However, for the people who have lost a loved one, life is now radically different. The day after the funeral is the first day of learning how to live again.
This is the position I found myself in on the morning of June 7th. There were still close family and a few friends in our house during the day, however the crowd was noticeably thinner than it had been over the previous 4 days. Our house was overrunning with flowers that had been delivered from friends around the world and flowers that we brought home from the funeral service. While we were grateful for the food that had been delivered, some of us were wondering if it would be okay to eat something other than lasagna for the 5th day in a row! The only activities that were specifically planned for the day were taking Arisa’s brother Alec to summer school in the morning, removing specific flowers from the displays so that they could be preserved and an appointment with a tree man at 2:00pm to look at some red oak trees in our yard that had suffered from the intense heat of the previous two summers.
The story didn’t start on June 7, 2000. It actually started well before then. Before we moved into our new house in Plano in February 1998, Keiko and I purchased three large red oak trees from a local tree farm. Our new house was in a new neighborhood where the builder focused their “product” on providing a lot of home for the money. To do this, the builder had to sacrifice a few amenities, such as the landscape. Our builder provided only the minimum landscape required by the city and one ugly tree. Since the only trees in our neighborhood were those planted by the builder (there were no natural trees in this area) we wanted to plant some quality trees that would enhance our yard and our home.
Red Oak trees are one of my favorite types of trees due to the fact that they are very good shade trees (a necessity in Texas), their leaves turn a beautiful color of burgundy in autumn and they have long lives. In addition, red oaks are native to this area of Texas so they are capable of surviving the extreme variations in weather that can occur. However, since they are a slow growing tree it would be quite a few years before they could provide substantial shade. Given the need for shade in our backyard (which faces west) we decided to purchase three fairly large trees. Two were placed in the back and one was placed in the front.
Both the summers of 1998 and 1999 produced extended periods of heat and no rain. Each summer had in excess of 35 days where the temperature exceeded 100 degrees. While some water is certainly necessary, red oak trees prefer to live in climates with dry soil. Therefore we could overcome the lack of rain by watering the trees once a week. The real problem resulted from the heat of the sun. During both summers the sun scorched the trunks of the trees in the back yard, causing the tree sap to boil out and drip down the tree trunks. The newly planted trees were under great stress.
In 1998 both backyard trees lost virtually all of their leaves in July. However, the leaves came back in late August and the trees did not seem to be any worse for the experience. In the summer of 1999 the backyard trees again lost many of their leaves (not as many of the previous year), but this time some of the leaves did not come back. The limbs where the leaves did not come back were in the top of the trees so I wasn’t sure whether or not the limbs had died. I decided to wait until the next spring to see if leaves returned to the branches. If not, then I would know that the limbs had certainly died.
As spring approached in 2000 I eagerly awaited the return of the leaves to the backyard trees. When the leaves on the trees came out in March it quickly became apparent that the limbs where the leaves did not return the previous summer were indeed dead. The dead limbs concerned me, but I did nothing for the trees. In April, I noticed small insect holes in the trunk of the tree closest to our house in our backyard (which also happens to be the prettiest of our red oaks). The insect holes concerned me and I knew that I should contact someone to have the trees looked at to determine whether or not there was anything seriously wrong with them.
Being overly preoccupied with work, having an infant daughter and a special needs son at home, in addition to being a bit of a procrastinator, I didn’t do anything about arranging for someone to look at the trees. I didn’t know whom to call. However, in mid-May my parents informed me that the same tree farm that I had purchased the other trees from was having a moving sale and offering substantial discounts on many of their trees. We went to the tree farm and purchased another red oak to fill-in an empty space in our front yard. While I was there I asked for a recommendation for a company that I could have look at the trees in my backyard. I was given the name of two companies that came highly recommended, one named Arborilogical and the other a more common name that I can’t remember now and I couldn’t remember when I opened the yellow pages to find their phone number. About a week before Arisa died I called for an appointment and I was told that they were booking appointments for two weeks later. While I was disappointed that they could not come earlier, given the option of Tuesday, June 6 or Wednesday, June 7, I picked the later.
When looking through our calendar the weekend after Arisa died, I noticed the appointment with the tree man for June 7, they day after Arisa’s funeral. My first thought was that I should reschedule the appointment since it wouldn’t seem right to do something so trivial the day after saying goodbye to our daughter. However, my next thought was that I knew we would have nothing specific planned for the day so we might as well just keep the appointment and get it over with. I didn’t want to reschedule the appointment for another two or more weeks later.
When the tree man arrived early that afternoon I made sure that we met him outside. Our house was filled with flowers that were obviously from a funeral. I didn’t want to be put into a position of having to explain the flowers and the fact that my daughter had died to a stranger. Shortly after the tree man arrived, my father and my younger brother Jeffrey joined me outside the front of my house. The three of us walked with the tree man as we inspected the older red oak tree in the front yard, which had also suffered some damage from the sun. This tree had some dead limbs in the top that needed to be trimmed out and the grass that had grown up around the base needed to be removed. Other than that the tree seemed to be in good shape.
We then walked around the outside of my house to the back yard to avoid going into the house. We first inspected the tree farthest from my house. Again, other than the dead limbs at the top and the grass growing around the base (which competes with the tree for water and other resources), this tree was in fairly good shape.
Finally, we moved to the back yard tree closest to my house. This tree is the prettiest of the original trees we purchased. It is a double-trunk tree that has the potential to grow into an excellent shade tree for my house. It is also the biggest tree we purchased. However, bigger is not always better when it comes to planting trees. This red oak was in the worst shape of any of the trees that we had. The westward facing side of the trunk had suffered from severe scorching by the sun. The tree sap that boiled out of the tree the previous two summers caused the bark to expand, which created gaps for the insects to come in and eat parts of the tree. When the bark cooled, it cracked and died and began falling off the tree. While the future seemed bleak for this red oak, the tree man informed us that there was a very good chance the tree would repair itself and survive. What we needed to do with this tree was the same as the others, trim out the dead limbs and remove the grass.
All of the above required about 15 minutes. However, we were paying for an hour, and the tree man wasn’t in any rush to go anywhere and he just started talking. This tree man had the gift of gab and a passion for trees. Since we didn’t have anywhere to go we let him talk for a while. It was very interesting to listen to him talk. Not only did the tree man have a passion for trees, he clearly had a passion for talking about trees! As he talked we quickly learned that this man was one of those people who had forgotten more about trees than we would ever know. I was struggling to keep up when he started talking about how there is a chemical in trees that helps the tree create a proper balance between the size of the root system and the number of leaves that the tree can support. It was a fascinating conversation.
About that time my father went into the house for some unexplained reason, leaving just Jeffrey and me there with the tree man. As my father left the conversation turned to talking about the proper method for trimming dead limbs from the trees. The tree man talked about how to trim limbs in such a way that it worked with the natural function of the tree and not against it. This all seemed to make sense and it was good information to know. From there the conversion took an unusual tangent.
The tree man looked at Jeffrey and me and asked, “Do you know how to tell a good tree from a bad tree?” We told him no, because we certainly didn’t know for sure where he was going. He continued, “You can tell a good tree from a bad tree by looking at the angles between the branches and the trunk of the tree. Good healthy trees have open angles (something like the letter “L”). Bad trees have very tight angles between the trunk and the branches (something like the letter “V”).” This information sounded interesting, even though I had no idea why he was telling it to us.
He continued, “When trees that have tight angles (like the letter “V”) between the trunk and the limb grow big enough, they get to the point where the bark from limb is touching the bark from the trunk. Bark touching bark is structurally an unsound condition. The bark does nothing to strengthen the joint between the branch and the truck. Inevitably, when the tree grows large enough and a strong wind comes along, the branch will fail. This problem does not occur in trees with open angles between the trunk and the branches.” Again, this was very interesting, although we had no idea where the conversation was going. “When the branches or the trunks on these “bad trees” fail and fall to the ground, they generate “offspring” that grow with the same tight angle between the branch and trunk characteristics as the original tree. The offspring trees are genetically prone to repeat the process of growing and failing over and over again with every generation.”
While the discussion of genetic issues was starting to make the conversation slightly uncomfortable, nothing could have prepared us for his next comment. He said, “I wondered for a long time why God would put a tree in the forest that he knew would eventually fail.” As you can imagine, this comment struck very close to home but we did not reveal what had happened to my daughter. Although a barrier went up in my mind that prevented me from processing what he said (it was more than I could take at the time) my mind was able to record what he said so that I could consider it in detail later. The tree man continued, “I thought for a long time about why God would put a tree in the forest that he knew would eventually fail. After thinking about all of the possible reasons that I could consider, the best reason I could come up with is this. If you think about what is good for the whole forest and not just the individual tree, you can see what is necessary for the forest to survive and thrive. In order for the forest to survive and thrive, the forest must have twigs and branches and tree trunks lying on the ground to decompose and provide nourishment for the remaining healthy trees. If not for the twigs, branches and tree trunks the forest could not possibly survive and thrive. Some trees must fail so that the others can be strong.” All I could say after he was finished was, “I’m sure that must be the reason.”
Shortly after this portion of the conversation ended my father came back outside to join Jeffrey and me. A few minutes later our visit with the tree man ended as we walked him back around to the front of the house, paid for our hour of service and said goodbye.
We went back inside my house to get some refreshments after having been outside almost an hour. While I was standing in the kitchen getting something to drink, Jeffrey mysteriously disappeared in my house with his wife for about 10 minutes. It wasn’t until later that I learned Jeffrey had gone to tell her about what the tree man said. When Jeffrey joined us at the kitchen table he looked over at me and said, “What did you think about what the tree man said?” Although I knew immediately what he was talking about, I had not given any thought to what the tree man had said. I was still blocking his comments from my conscious mind. In fact, I’m not sure whether or not I would have ever cleared the block in my mind if Jeffrey had not asked me the question. My response was,”Who would have ever expected to hear words of comfort from a tree man. It’s possible that he spent his whole life learning about trees just so he could be here today to tell us that story.” Once the subject came up in the house, everyone wanted to know what the tree man said, so I told them the story. Everyone was amazed.
I continued to think about the story during the remainder of the day. My initial thought was “Wasn’t it nice of God to arrange to have this tree man give us these words of comfort when we needed it.” I slept through the night and woke up Thursday morning still thinking about the story. I dropped Alec off at summer school by 9 a.m. and headed back home. On the way home, I had a feeling that I needed to share the tree man story with Todd Harris, the Senior Associate Minister at our church, Christ United Methodist Church (www.cumc.com). I called Todd on my cell phone and I asked him if he was available for me to drop by his office for a few minutes. He said he only had a few minutes before a meeting, but that he would be glad to have me drop in. When I arrived at the church I went in to see Todd and I told him the story. Todd was amazed by the story as well. Forty-five minutes later (way past Todd’s meeting time) I left Todd’s office and I planned to go home. Before I could get out the door of the church office Charlotte, one of the assistants in the office, stopped me. Charlotte said, “Don wants to see you.” I didn’t even know that Don Underwood, the Senior Minister of our church, knew I was in the office and I had no idea what he wanted to see me about. However, Todd and I went into his office as requested. When I arrived in his office Don informed me that my father had called him and he indicated that I had a story that Don should hear. I told the story again, this time to both Don and to Todd. Don’s response was, “a gift of God’s amazing grace.”
I left the church and I was headed home when it finally hit me. My initial thought had been that God had put the tree man (the human) in the right place at the right time to provide comfort to me when I needed it. However, when I thought further about what happened, I realized that it wasn’t really the tree man (the human) providing me comfort at the right time. In reality it was God talking directly to me through the tree man providing me with the message that I needed to hear to allow me to continue living after Arisa’s death. What is even more amazing, is that as early as the night Arisa died I knew that Keiko and I would need to find a way to make something good come of Arisa’s death. While I did not know what it would be, I had faith that God would show me what he wanted me to do when the time was right. I had no expectation that he would do it so soon.
The impact of what the tree man said has had an enormous impact on my life. Here’s the way I understand what God said to me through the tree man. He said,
Arisa died so that the forest (others) might survive and thrive (live).
What that means to me personally is this.
If Arisa died so that the forest (others) might survive and thrive (live), then perhaps it’s my job in life to take care of the forest (others). If so, I know exactly how I would take care of the forest (others). I would take care of the forest (others) one tree (person) at a time.
As a result, I have committed my life to be a source of compassion and strength that God can use to help others who are suffering through times of “unbearable sorrow.” I want to show people that when the worst thing that can possibly happen in life does happen, God is still with them. In fact through His grace He is carrying them as is described in the poem “Footprints in the Sand”. I have already started the journey of being an instrument of God’s grace. At God’s direction I know that I have already provided compassion and direction to several others, often times when I didn’t even know I was helping.
Upon further reflection it has been possible for me to see many places where God’s hand directed everything that made the meeting happen when and where it did. He had been working to prepare for that meeting for many years, perhaps since before I was born. Here’s a short list of places where I can see that God’s hand was involved.
• Keiko and I moved into this house in February 1998, over two and a half years before Arisa died. The house faced East/West, with the back yard available to the summer sun. We needed large trees in the back to provide us with shade.
• We planted the red oak trees as soon we moved into the house.
• The summer’s of 1998 and 1999 severely scorched the trees and provided the need for a visit by the tree man.
• When I received a recommendation for someone to call, I was given two names. To this day I can only remember one of them, the company that I called.
• When I called to make an appointment (before Arisa died), I was given the option of scheduling on either Tuesday, June 6th or Wednesday June 7th. Normally, I always take the soonest date. However, this time I selected the later date, June 7th, the day after a funeral that I did not know we would have.
• I was thinking about the Wednesday appointment as early as that weekend. I considered canceling the appointment, but I didn’t.
• Todd’s sermon at Arisa’s funeral the day before talked about how things that happen in nature are often times symbolic of human life.
• The tree man himself is a man of nature. What better person to understand God’s work and deliver a message from God.
• Jeffrey informed me later (I didn’t see it myself) that when the tree man began his statement, “I thought for a long time about why God would put a tree in the forest that he knew would fail” the tree man had a unique calmness and soft spoken manner that had not been there before the comment or after I stated, “I’m sure that must be the reason.” Jeffrey informed me that the change was very subtle, but distinct. Jeffrey said he knew then and there that this was a divine moment.
• The tree man had a need to know why God put trees in the forest that God knew would fail. I have no idea how long he thought about this problem, however, he gave us the impression that it had been something he had considered for a long time.
• I needed someone there to hear the story to remind me and to let others know that I didn’t imagine it. Of all the possible people who could have been that witness, Jeffrey was by far the best possible choice. I don’t know what hearing the story did for Jeffrey. However, I know what having Jeffrey there meant to me. Given everything that Jeffrey has endured in his life (Leukemia, Bone Marrow Transplant) and as close as he has come to dying, his credibility and integrity in this situation would be considered beyond question.
• Just before the tree man gave us God’s words, my father went into the house. When the tree man was done my father returned. It is my feeling that given the opportunity, my father would have stopped the tree man when he was delivering his message. My father would have told the tree man what had happened because he would not have wanted me to suffer. That is why God temporarily removed him from the scene.
I think that one of the most amazing things that can be said about the story is this. I have told this story to hundreds of people and it has been shared by many of these people to many other people. Others in my family have shared it as well. The story has made a significant impact on at least a handful of people that we know about, it has changed their lives. Perhaps it has had an impact on others but we just don’t know it. We never did tell the Tree Man what happened to Arisa. When I look at the impact made by one man allowing himself to be used by God, without his own knowledge, it is awe-inspiring. If he can do it, so can I, and so can many other people.
Finally, after the tree man left that day, my father, Jeffrey and I did something physical that also had a tremendous amount of symbolic meaning as well. We did what needed to be done to help the trees recover. First, we pruned back the dead limbs in the trees so that the trees could begin growing again. Then we removed the grass that had grown up around the trunks of the trees and was strangling the roots. What better way could we have started the new direction in life that has been given to my family and me by God?
On October 2, 2000 I mailed a copy of this story to the Tree Man so that he would know what he had done for us. I didn’t know whether or not I would receive a reply, but I receive an email in reply on October 6, 2000. The reply is so amazing that I asked the Tree Man for permission to share it. He agreed. Except for eliminating his real name, below is his complete response.
Michael, I received your letter and the incredible story of the tree man. I cannot describe the feelings and emotion that went through me as I read. I can assure you that I had no clue that the Lord was using me at that time. I also cannot explain nor understand why a miserable sinner as myself would be utilized in this manner. I am grateful that you chose to let me know the story. After reflection it occurred to me an event that happened for me the very next day, June 8th. June 8th is my birthday. That morning, before I awoke, I had a dream of my father giving me a hug. My father had been dead for a year and a half. As I awoke in tears, I felt a wonderful sense of peace that I had not felt for a long time. I felt that I had just been given the best birthday present ever. Maybe these events are connected. I can only trust in God's will and direction, if I know that I'm getting it or not. I am sorry for the loss of your wonderful daughter, Arisa. I hope that the Lord will continue to sustain and comfort you. Please continue to use the story to help others. As I am utterly out of words I will close for now. Sincerely,
The Tree Man