I live in Northwest Arkansas. As one visitor to the area asked, “You get a whole corner?” Yep. The region has become what some would describe as urban sprawl, only there is no real urban center. Unless you count the Walmart home office. But I digress.
If you look at a map of the United States you will find us in the upper left hand corner of Arkansas. An hour from my driveway is the city center of Joplin, Missouri. If that doesn’t spark an “Ah-ha," let me remind you that in May of last year Joplin experienced the most devastating tornado in the nation’s last six decades of weather record keeping. The monster was over a mile wide, scrubbed the ground for a staggering 38 minutes, destroying 8,000 structures and leaving 1,800 acres of land scoured.
When all the statistics were tallied, 160 were dead – many were children literally yanked from a parent’s arms into the storm. The most frightening horror films ever made are those recorded by amateur videographers as they experienced the terror first-hand. It was an event that even from my cozy corner of relative safety will not soon be forgotten.
On Saturday I had an opportunity to go to Joplin with a friend of mine to drop her daughter at Missouri Southern after Christmas break. I was not one of the relief workers who headed to Joplin post-disaster, so this was my first look at what is now recovery. As we sat at a stop light, my friend pointed out a massive oak across the street that was the lone testimony to whatever stood on that square of ground, save a flat of concrete foundation. The tree had been debarked in a twisting pattern from the bottom of the trunk up to what was left of the branches. My friend said, “It must have some strong roots.”
Maybe you understand. Maybe you haven’t experienced a physical EF5 tornado, but you’ve been left in the wreckage of an emotional storm. Maybe you’re standing right now in the scraps of what was a prosperous life full of future hope. Maybe your body has been ravaged and scarred by a tempest of illness. Maybe you’re turning in a circle trying to find a recognizable point on the landscape of your life, and coming up empty. You’ve been debarked. The question is, are you still standing?
Standing may not seem like such a great thing relatively speaking, but as I looked at that tree compared to the devastation around it – the absence around it – what I saw was survival, hope, fortitude, and the promise of a future. There wasn’t much left, but by God it was still standing. And I mean, by God, and only by His strength.
Sometimes we live through debarking and just stand there dazed by the experience, shocked beyond comprehension. But we’re standing; roots dug down deep enough to not feel. Deep enough to hold firm. Deep enough to preserve life. There’s not much left that’s visible to the eye and what’s there looks pitiful, but the roots are strong and we're still standing.
I could preach at you from the parable of the soils in Mark four, or allegorize the Root of Jesse. I could tell you that you should plant yourself in the Word, abide there and send down roots into streams of Living Water. I could remind you that the Word says that even from a stump, a tree can grow and bear fruit. But you should do that reading yourself. It will make your roots stronger. It will make you able to stand. It will preserve your life when the winds of destruction rage against you.
Those roots will leave you as a testimony of survival, hope, fortitude, and the promise of a future. To those who can already see the clouds gathering on the horizon you will be a tribute to your roots. When there is nothing else left, live from the Root.