At some point along my journey I realized that I had a thing for trees. I don’t remember when I first became aware that these giant trees called “sequoias” or “redwoods” existed, but when I first heard about them, I knew that one day I had to see them. Maybe it was just the American tendency to get caught up in the “biggest”, “tallest”, “oldest”, “first”…but I liked trees and I had to see the biggest. These big trees took on a new meaning for me in 2001 while looking at greeting cards. I came across this card that simply had a picture of a little kid looking up at the trunk of what I knew must be one of these giant redwoods. I was in the beginnings of preparation to leave my career of 10 years in corporate America and head to the mission field. I was full of anticipation regarding this new adventure, and it seemed that this card adequately represented our lives before God and His plans for us – both were bigger than we could fathom. After almost 4 years on the mission field, weary and burned out and in desperate need of a break and a long conversation with God, it wasn’t surprising that the Lord would lead me to take a trip to Redwoods National Park in California to spend some time in these trees.
So, what is the
Story on THE REDWOODS?
When I returned to Michigan after my time in the Redwoods, it hit me that what I once would have considered to be a mature stand of trees now looked like mere shrubbery! An old oak tree, a giant relative to its setting, was no longer as impressive. The thought came to me: what if the life I am living is mere shrubbery as well? Suppose God intended something far grander for His creation? While learning about these trees at the various park visitor centers, I felt like I had read about this place somewhere before. These trees were flourishing in a landscape that sounded very similar to a landscape described in the first few pages of Genesis before the account of the flood in Chapter 6. Walking among these trees felt like a glimpse of Eden, like you could once again literally walk with God in the cool of the day. In the wake of Adam and Eve’s fall, as they were escorted to the county line of Eden, certainly the reality must have hit hard when they saw the sign that said, “Leaving Eden, Now Entering Shrubberyville.” We’ve had a sense of restlessness with Shrubberyville ever since, but we’ve settled because it’s all we’ve ever known, all we ever thought there was. Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves to be content with lives that only seem big because we had no other reference point. In the book Rising Above, Wayne Cordeiro says, “God is not concerned that we will dream too big. He is more concerned that we will settle for far too little.”
I wasn’t prepared for this encounter, these trees were grand beyond any expectation. Like the Queen of Sheba going to visit Solomon and saying, ‘the half had not been told.’ I felt I had truly entered another world, another realm or another time. I couldn’t walk down a trail without constantly pausing with my jaw dropped, imagination conflicted, and my neck strained in an unsuccessful attempt to view the tops of the trees. No other living thing seemed to provide comparison to these giants. It is impossible for the literature to exaggerate in their descriptions of an encounter with these trees. Writers liberally borrow architectural, religious and mythical vocabulary which still seems to fall short in communicating their “other-worldliness”. R. A. Rasp says, “The hushed atmosphere of a cathedral redwood forest engenders feelings of awe and reverence. An ambience of gigantism humbles the mind but enriches the spirit.” The National Park literature says that “one’s sense of proportion and time is challenged”, and that these trees “evoke feelings of smallness in visitors to this Lilliputian world of the forest floor.” These trees can grow more than 350’ in height (that’s like a 35 story building…) and up to 22’ in diameter (that’s like the size of your living room), and somewhere in these forests are trees that were seedlings when Jesus walked the earth.
“The Redwoods, once having been seen, leave a mark or a vision which stays with you always.”
- John Steinbeck
The Redwoods tell me that we haven’t yet envisioned the fullness of what God intended for us and what He intends to accomplish through us. Now this isn’t just about the tendency to get caught up in the “biggest” and the “best” or necessarily about “success” as the world defines it. This is about the God-given capacity each of us has been entrusted with. This is about wanting our lives, our leadership and our organizations to impact the greatest good and bring God as much glory as possible.