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What is it about planting a tree that makes the world a little more beautiful, and the person who plants it a little more hopeful about the future?

Maybe it’s the idea that, given the right conditions, the tree will grow. The tree will grow bigger than the person who plants it. Usually much bigger. Planting a tree reminds us that there are things bigger than ourselves. And the tree will live a long time, probably longer than the person who put it in the ground. Planting trees reminds us that we have good things to look forward to.

And the tree will occupy a space that otherwise might have been bare, or ugly or choked with weeds, and will bring a type of beauty to that space that will be hard to match as the years go by. Planting trees also makes our inner space more beautiful.

And the person who plants the tree, the planter, will look at the tree, gaze at the tree, and will have a sense of the past, present and future, all at once. The planter will remember when his or her hands dug out some dirt from the earth to make a little hole, placed a sapling in the hole, and tucked the little tree into its place, tamping the dirt gently around its tender roots. The planter will also see how beautiful the tree is at the present. “My how it has grown” and imagine what it will look like as it continues to mature – five, ten or fifteen years down the line. And the planter will smile.

Perhaps some of these thoughts were running through Martin Luther’s head when he wrote about planting his apple tree in an uncertain time. Maybe he was thinking of his God who gives strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Maybe he was thinking that he might not be around for too many more tomorrows, but his apple tree would.

Last Sunday, a group of Venezuelans, who live in Oaxaca, Mexico, came to the home for needy children to plant some trees. One hundred and three to be exact. They invited the children to help them and the kids responded with great enthusiasm. It was a blessed, happy thing to see adults and kids, Mexicans, Americans and Venezuelans, males and females, all working together to not only make this children’s home a more beautiful place, but the world a better place.

And to make their hearts a better space.

Venezuelans, living in Oaxaca, Mexico, come to FFHM’s children’s home with 103 trees and we all work together to get them in the ground.

He that plants trees, loves others besides himself. Thomas Fuller

God loves us and wants us to be happy. This verse from Romans emphasizes that truth. Notice it does not say, “May the God of misery fill you with all despair and anguish as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hopelessness by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

No, it is all about being filled with all joy and peace and overflowing with hope. If there are three words in our vocabulary that are the essence of happiness, they must be joy, peace and hope. And Paul’s prayer is that his readers would not just possess a little bit of joy here, and a taste of peace there with a smidge of hope thrown in. No. He wants his readers to be filled with all joy and peace and overflow with hope.

How is that accomplished? Paul says it comes from trusting in God. Trusting in God like a little baby trusts in its parents. Trusting in God so deeply that, like a baby, you don’t even realize how much you are trusting him. Sometimes when I am praying, I will all of a sudden say “Goo, Goo – Ga Ga”, just to remind myself of how much I truly depend on him for every little thing I have, like bread, breath and water. It also reminds me of my insignificant knowledge in comparison to the infinite knowledge of our omniscient Father. There are so many things that I don’t understand about life and God, that I would like to understand, but I can’t. Then I get this image of Einstein trying to explain the theory of relativity to a toddler. There is no way the toddler can understand. Like me. There’s no way I can understand a lot of the things that I would like God to explain to me. So I say, “Goo, goo – ga ga”, and go on happily trusting God.

So let’s trust in Lord; taste and see that God is good, all the time, and celebrate the fact that our Father in heaven loves us and wants us to be happy.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Mark 4:35-37

My mother-in-law is dying of stomach cancer. I call her Madre. She was diagnosed about three years ago, underwent almost a year of treatment, seemed to get better, but now it’s back with a vengeance and the doctors say there is not much they can do about it. She is ok with that. She is in the boat with Jesus.

She had a very difficult life when she was younger. She married when she was a teenager. Her and her husband lived with his mother. By all accounts his mother was very demanding and made life impossible for Madre. They were all poor. This was Mexico forty years ago.

My father-in-law and Madre moved to the outskirts of town and built a place to live, or at least to exist. Their walls were bamboo sticks and their floor dirt. She had six children. Three daughters died of various ailments before they were ten years old. The youngest son was born with down syndrome. They all had a hard life, especially her.

But then, she got in the boat with Jesus. She was working for some missionaries, who shared the Good News of God’s love with her, and she became a follower. Soon, the whole family was following Jesus. While outward circumstances didn’t change a whole lot, at first, their soul’s were now full of peace and joy.

After some time, the oldest son began working with the missionaries, recording indigenous people reading the Bible. Then he became pastor of a small church. After that he started a Christian radio station. Their daughter married a missionary, me, and she joined me in working at a home for needy children.

Madre always had a big smile and an encouraging word for everyone. She was always generous with her time, talents and treasure. Probably too generous. She never took a day off. Working Monday thru Saturday, and then busy with church commitments from dawn to dusk on Sunday. She never took time off for herself. Perhaps that contributed to her cancer. Who knows? I know that the only time she had significant time to rest was when she was going through her treatments and was living with us here at the children’s home. For the first time in her life she was being taken care of the way she was used to taking care of others. She was the focus of attention. She still is.

I like to think that God has considered all that Madre has gone through, and all that she has given to others and to the work of the Kingdom, He is saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into your rest.” And she sails across the lake, almost to the other side, with Jesus in the boat, enduring her last storm until she arrives safely Home.

Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

The flower and the plant in the photo above is Cylindropuntia fulgida, also known as the jumping cholla or jumping cactus. Of course it doesn’t really jump, but one gets that impression when one wanders too close to it. Just barely touch it and you will have at least one, if not more, cactus burrs stuck to your jeans or flesh if you are wearing shorts. You could almost swear the burrs jumped off the plant and onto you. At least that has been my experience on many occasion as these cactus are common in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I live.

This plant is an apt metaphor for the quote above by Thomas a Kempis. Many times we complain or murmur about the burr stuck on our pants or embedded in our skin, and we miss the simple beauty of the flower. We are surrounded by simple beauty, gifts from God, no matter where we live, but with our bent nature, we are more likely to complain about inconveniences and disruptions than we are to be content with things simple.

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God, without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Philippians 2:14

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Philippians 4:12

God, help us as your dearly loved children to learn, like Paul, the secret of being content, and to think, at least twice, before we open our mouths to murmur, grumble and complain.

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