Daddy lived his entire life in a town known for its abundance of trees. As a lumberman, he was well-learned in the characteristics of maple, oak, and pine. Yet dogwoods – flowering trees which are valued for landscaping but not for lumber – were Daddy’s favorite.
I ask my daughter to walk with me in the neighborhood so that I can show her the dogwoods up close. As we step up to a tree and hold the blossoms in our fingers, I show her the shape of the cross, the pure white interior, the pointy crown in the center, and the crimson edges on each petal. At Easter, Daddy’s favorite tree presents a picture of our Savior’s shed blood, a hopeful reminder that love is stronger than death.
As I sit on the damp ground days later, I notice anew that Daddy’s grave marker is outlined with dogwood blossoms.
And I cling to the promise. Hope wins.
Driving from the cemetery, I find comfort in these words:
Stripes of blood that stain its frame; Shed to wash away our shame;
From the scars pure love released; Salvation by the Mercy Tree.
Death has died. Love has won! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.
One day soon we’ll see His face; Every tear, He’ll wipe away;
No more pain or suffering; Praise Him for the mercy tree.
More days pass, and my daughter doodles pictures of dogwood blossoms. I smile, knowing that she’s thinking about it.
She asks more questions now. In the past few months, she’s witnessed a lot of heartache. Our home feels more broken and yet all the more sacred. Real life is happening here.
My girl is old enough to absorb the truth that it’s hard. And crazy. And joyful. Because authentic life in Christ means that we worship Jesus the same at home as we do at church. We’ll praise Him whether our hearts are content or they are cracked into pieces. Following Him is something we do when life is happy and full and when life is hard and fragile. And we can’t shy away from sharing with our daughter the paradoxes in this life of faith:
“It must have been fascinating and frightening,” she says. We’re talking about what it was like for me, at her age, to visit the Holy Land and stand at Golgotha – the “Place of the Skull,” the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
“Like disturbing and wonderful all at the same time.”
My girl is getting it. Only Jesus can take the most disturbing, horrific event in human history and make it … wonderful.
Only Jesus can look upon the very ones who mangled His body and see them with mercy.
Only Jesus can roll away the fear and shame that entomb me.
Only Jesus can transform loss into gain and “light and momentary troubles” into eternal glory.
One day this little girl of mine will suffer a broken heart. Maybe one day a doctor will answer her most fearful questions with a shake of the head and a solemn voice. A friend will walk away. Her faith will be met with sneers. The door will slam shut on her dream. She’ll sit at a grave.
But maybe she’ll remember the time we held the dogwood blossoms and she’ll think about how those little red stains add beauty and meaning to the flower.
Maybe she’ll think upon the tree; and how her Savior’s blood turned it from a method of murder into a means of mercy.
She’ll remember that He said, “It is finished” and she’ll trust that life in Him has no end.
Joy comes through suffering.
You must lose your life to find it.
Blessings come through insults.
The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.
The meek will inherit the earth.
God chooses the foolish over the wise.
Strength comes through weakness.
Love is stronger than death.
This is a picture of me stepping out of the empty tomb beside Golgotha (1983, I think).
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Song – “Mercy Tree” written by Krissy Nordhoff & Michael William Neale, sung by Lacey Sturm, and featured in “My Hope with Billy Graham.”
The Bible doesn’t specify what kind of tree was used for Jesus’ cross. The “legend of the dogwood” isn’t taken from Scripture. It’s merely a symbolic depiction of Jesus’ sacrifice seen in a dogwood blossom – http://www.visualforces.com/christian/photography/nature/the-dogwood/