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     Standing outside of the ruin that used to be our house, I saw something that looked out-of-place.  I had to laugh at myself, I mean, “OUT OF PLACE??”     The whole world looked out-of-place!  What made that little thing look particularly (I repeat) “out-of-place?”  I stretched out my hand to my eight-year-old daughter Julie, in an effort to keep her from stumbling on all the rubble, and I pointed out to her what had caught my eye.

“Look, Julie!  Do you see it?”
“See what, Momma?”
“Over there is the place where your bedroom used to be! Can you picture it?  Now, in your mind’s eye, try to picture where your bed was.  If you look very carefully, you will see something right in that very spot.  It’s small, but it’s standing up straight, and it’s green!”
“Oh!  I think I see it!  Can we go and look closer?”
“Yes, but hold tight!  We have to be careful not to fall.  Watch out for all the tree-limbs and broken things on the ground!”

We picked our way through the rubble and muck; all the brokenness that had been our house.  We stepped over my favorite copper teakettle, dented and twisted almost beyond recognition.  But I saw it for what it was, and I felt my heart break again.  I didn’t want to count it as another thing lost to me..  My great-grandmother had given the antique kettle to me before she died.  It had been her mother’s before her.  With effort, I put it out of my mind as we moved on closer to the place where we had, until the day of the storm, tucked Julie in her bed every night after whispering our prayers.  I was suddenly overtaken by the memory of the first night Julie spoke out loud her own prayer.  Her Daddy had just offered his version of an Amen, “So be it!” when we heard our daughter’s sweet voice, “Thank you, God, so beat it!”  We had to suppress our laughter when we saw the look of innocent gratitude on her face.  We didn’t correct her.  We both knew God understood.

Walking up close to the edge of our once-upon-a-time house, we saw there in the middle of Julie’s “room,” an apple tree – at least that’s what it looked like.  It was just a seedling.  I could not figure out how it got there.  It could not have been growing underneath Julie’s bed – I was not a great housekeeper, but I was not one to let plants grow under the furniture, even if they could.  Julie walked gingerly over to the plant.  Its leaves seemed to be dancing, reveling in the sunlight, reaching up to grow.  And it was green. It was the color of life.  Right in the middle of the bleakest landscape I had ever seen; in fields reeking of destruction and death, there was life.

“Momma, look!  It’s beautiful!  Can I have it?  Can I keep it?”

“Oh, Darling, I don’t know!”  I fretted over whether it would live and grow.  The tornado must have somehow blown it here from who knows where.  It probably didn’t have enough roots to survive much longer. I didn’t want Julie to be subjected so soon to more things lost, more death, more ending, more sorrow.

“Please, Momma!  Let me take it with us.  God must have put it here for us.  There has to be a reason.  You and Daddy have always told me that God can turn anything bad into something good!”  Her eyes were filled with the light that had not shown from them in days.

I felt a wave of shame wash over me as I realized that our eight-year-old daughter saw in that little tree something I had failed to.  All I had seen were endings, and the loss of “precious” things.  I had blinded myself to the beginnings that were all around me, the life around all of us.”You know, Julie?  I think you are right!  Why else would life show up here if God didn’t want us to take care of it?”

“Let’s find a little pot for it, Momma, and some dirt to put in it for our tree!”  I laughed and answered, “I don’t think we’ll have much trouble finding dirt, Honey, but we can certainly look for a pot!”  Julie grinned and scanned all around her for a suitable container for this little God-given symbol of hope.

Five years have passed since that day.  The day my daughter taught me about living in hope.  Not a day has gone by since then that Julie has not tended and cared for her – for our – tree.  The day we moved into our new house, about a mile from where our old one had stood, we had a ceremonial tree planting in our otherwise un-landscaped yard.  That little bit of dancing green life is now a full-fledged tree. Its roots are growing strong and deep, down to life-giving water.  It bloomed this Spring for the first time, and the buds of its first fruits are showing in the wake of its falling fragrant blossoms. Each day we are reminded of the lessons that God has taught us through that young apple tree:  Live in hope, take root wherever we are, bloom where planted, and we will bear, in due season, the fruit of God’s everlasting love.

(This brief story was written in response to the photo prompt for Week Five of Short Story Slam.)

Always, all ways, I wish for you the abundance of enough. . .

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