The first was a black walnut whose trunk was twisted by a wind shear and hung precariously over three houses in our inner-city neighborhood.
The second was an enormous old elm in the far corner of our backyard. It had survived Dutch elm disease, but not the storm that careened through our neighborhood, tearing every mature tree – and some young ones – up by their roots.
One tree-sized limb hung suspended in our neighbor’s now ruined cherry trees. Nearly half of the tree broke off ten feet up, landing in two neighbor’s yards, smashing bushes, fencing and two lawn sheds on its way down. The remaining half towered over our house, threatening to come down at any time.
We were blessed to have friends help us clean brush for three straight evenings. Even then we only got half of it moved before the professionals came in. Needless to say, there was no shortage of firewood, even after what we gave away.
Our beautiful, shade-bearing, life-giving tree was gone.
God made trees to live in forests, with competition for space to make them grow tall and straight. Without it, trees grow larger, wider and heavier than their trunks can support. Eventually, the tree comes crashing down under its own weight, often with memorable, destructive force.
Likewise, God made us to live in communities. Those of us who have great gifts, or maturity beyond our years, often stand as the tallest trees in such a forest. Without the shaping forces of accountability, family, community, regular worship, and spiritual disciplines, we might take on more than we should, and grow larger than our character can support. When this is the case, a lifetime of productive service can come crashing down in an instant, often destroying other lives along the way.
And the worst part is the momentary but spectacular crash will be remembered far more vividly than the many other good actions that came first.
-mark l vincent