The Road Ahead

A tree along a German walking path inspires a new season of fruitfulness. ‘There is new life in harvested fields!’

She is a grand-dame-of-a-tree, perhaps black walnut. Standing lone and stately about three quarters of a mile along a narrow road that runs through cultivated fields, she sports orderly leaves and fruit on sturdy symmetrically arranged branches. It shades an age-old wooden bench and a wire trash can; the bench permanently fixed into the ground, as only Germans would bother to do. My husband and I call it the ‘turn-around’ tree, because in our earliest walking ventures beyond our neighborhood, in days of our covid restricted movements, it was as far as I had energy, inclination or nerve to go, in our new village and nation of residence. My doubts and fears were myriad and varied:

Did Germany have snakes? Were there wolves in those woods beyond? There were wolves and bears in European folktales— ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, Hansel and Gretel’… What about deer ticks? Lyme’s disease was no joke; WWII…My husband ignored my flights of dread, and instead had a ball exploring (solo) the network of walking paths that wended throughout the area, curious to see where each would end up. He even pushed past the turn-around tree on several occasions!Meanwhile the bench under the leafy monolith became my place to stretch, my spot to scan the broad scene, the big sky, the ever-prolific fields, or to casually survey the way I had already come.

For me it became established as a resting place before I would turn back down the road to the comforts and safety of home. I remember an older couple going by us fairly vigorously with their dog, one day, on the narrow road. I was impressed, as many Americans here first are, at the agility and stamina of the aged Germans who ride bicycles like teenagers and can be always seen walking on the miles-long paths that seem to skirt most towns. But this day, as we came up the gentle rise to the tree, the woman was sitting there with her dog. I tried to catch her eyes to smile, but she kept them averted and seemed… was I right? Embarrassed? Was she ashamed that she needed to rest? I could only wonder. Her husband stood patiently by as we approached. We paused, did our ‘Guten tags’ (Good days) and then retraced our steps, yielding to the ‘first come, first served’ rule for use of the bench.

The long narrow road had come as a surprise to us, opening up rather suddenly as it does, when one first rounds the corner out of our contemporarily designed neighborhood. We caught our breaths at the wide expanse of well-rotated and cultivated fields, bounded by woods and rolling hills adorned by sleek windmills and aflame with a gorgeous sunset. What a gift, we exclaimed, and only a couple blocks from our doorsteps! Look at what we had been missing! Granted, before that, we had been savouring the blessing of our beautiful house, and the two whole weeks with orders to rest; no need to venture out; groceries were even brought to us!

But once discovered, the walk on the narrow road between the growing fields was the thing. So far, we had observed cycles of rapeseed (source of canola oil!), wheat of various sorts, barley(?), hay and feed grasses, corn and sunflowers. As life settled into a rhythm, I would take the walk or not, with or without my husband—becoming increasingly reluctant as the Fall and Winter cold would set in. I was quite content with that state of affairs– pumping it up or cooling it down, based on my druthers, arguing that the distance to the tree was at least a mile’s worth of exercise, and sufficient. Content, that is, until the Summer my daughter came to visit for a month. It wasn’t long before she had ventured out on her own, and one day came back beaded, glowing and breathless, reporting having gone beyond my ‘turn-around’ tree. She didn’t have much to report but the triumph of having ‘done it’. But somehow, I felt that a gauntlet had been thrown down and that God had something to do with it lying there on the path by the ‘turn-around’ tree.

A week after my daughter’s departure, on an overcast morning, I found myself on the path. It was approaching the end of Summer, so the fields had been harvested. I wished I had been present to see, and with mixed emotions I scanned the expanses of stark dry stalks which remained where once amber waves of grain, fields of bloom and tall grasses had shimmered and whispered. I smiled at the giant ‘Wheaties’ which stood in the denuded fields waiting patiently to be collected at the farmers’ good pleasure. I pushed on trying to remind my languid limbs how to get the most out of a walk. I was about half-way to the tree when I noticed how pungent the air was. Not fresh and sweet as I would expect freshly harvested fields to smell, but more like… rot.

An accusation and association began to play at the corners of my mind—the mowed and gathered fields, became a statement about my season of life: harvested; finished; mowed over; passé. The blush and bloom of youth, long past; the fruit of life—borne, yielded and consumed. Nothing left behind of use but decline and decay. Why had the road never smelled this way before, I wondered? The sun refused to shine as I pressed on past the broken reeds, weeds and stalks on either side… towards the one tree ahead. I felt my weakness and purposed to pause only briefly then turn around. But on approach I noticed someone had beat me to it. A middle-aged woman sat, sporting a jogging suit and walking poles. She was fussing with her cellphone and did not acknowledge my approach, so I pretended to not have been headed to the bench and walked by, planning to turn around a few steps past it. But in that moment the sure whisper of the Lord filled my thoughts, “Why not keep going? Go on. Go past the tree.” So, I did.

The path rose ever so slightly past the tree, and I scanned the scene as more harvested fields presented themselves. But noticeably absent, almost immediately, was the smell of decay from the fields behind. I lifted my head and took a breath, wondering if I was imagining it. As I did so, I caught sight of a deer, a doe, forty yards or so ahead, in a field on the left, right as she caught sight of me. I kept walking as we eyed each other, and she slowly walked as well, away towards the safety of the woods nearby. Suddenly, the air bristled and my ears picked up an unusual sound in the stillness, as light began to flood the fields to my right. The sound persisted and initially made me think of those plagues of locusts besetting crops in faraway places. But here in Germany? Was that the sound of a million little mouths nibbling? I paused to see if I could spy grasshoppers or other insects, but nothing. Yet the tiny rustling sound continued. In fact, if I could imagine what the sound of a growing field sounds like, that was what it began to connote! But was that possible? Was I losing it? Or was I hearing the sound of life bursting forth across a harvested field as the morning sun poured down on it?!

Becoming more aware of the sun, I looked up and behind me, searching for it among the previously steely clouds. I gasped and reached in my pocket for my phone to take a photo of what I saw–the sun gloriously breaking out through the clouds! I turned around on the path and fumbled, trying to do a panorama shot. I wanted to film the whole thing…to capture this surreal moment before it all past! By now I was close to where the deer had stood, and I looked to see if she was glancing at me from in the woods but she was gone. Had she just been divine bait to draw me further up and further in? If so, it had worked; I was there; the fields still rustled quietly, the sun still gloried, and I was breathing sweet air on the path, way past the ‘turnaround’ tree. I worshipped.

As I made my way back from that holy moment, I saw no sign of the lady in the jogging suit; had she been an angel in the way, to keep me from stalling at the bench this new day? It was a new day. I knew something in me had changed. I was ready. God had spoken: There is life yet in the harvested fields. He was making me well-aware that if I was ready, He was more than ready to do it again– to bring forth fruit in my life to His glory. All I had to do was press on past the ‘turn around’ trees of my life. Past the lies, doubts, fears, and temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The words of Scripture which I had been reflecting on and memorizing filled my mind now with fresh understanding:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, 4 by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2Pet.1:3-9 ESV)

In fact, His was more than an invitation. It was a command. He spelled out how He felt about those who ‘draw back’ in Hebrews 10:35-38; He says His soul has no pleasure in such. And in Revelations 3:19 He admonishes us, in love, to be zealous and repent of being lukewarm, (self-satisfied and lackadaisical). But just as firmly, God issues great comfort, assuring that as we press forward into knowing Him and His great and precious promises, we will be supplied with divine assistance, without which we can do nothing. Outwardly we might not look like much, but we are assured that inwardly we will be renewed, daily! (2Cor.4:16) Like the tree planted by the River of Living water, letting our roots go down deep, we will keep on bearing luscious fruit each season without fail! (Psalm 1:3)

Today, as I pass by the sturdy ‘turn around’ tree, I might pause to stretch, reflect and be refreshed physically, but daily I am pressing on past it to the next harvest. We must do it! A hungry world awaits the harvest of our surrendered lives!

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