By Hugh Chapman
As a nine-year-old, from our neighborhood tree house I used to marvel at the world that lay below. It was only in later years that I learned to feel even more deeply for the world above.
The tree house was a shoddily built structure assembled a decade earlier with scrap lumber and rusted nails by a group of older kids who had moved on to bigger and better things. But to my friends and me, the rickety floors provided a refuge from the humdrum days of our youth. Looking back, I now understand that if we could only have known then what we so plainly see now, we would have treasured every mundane moment.
The earliest days in the tree house were filled with laughter and excitement. My two best friends, Buddy and Skinner, had salvaged a pair of inner tubes from an old broken bicycle. We tied the two tubes together and made one long rubber band which we then draped over a tree branch to make a giant bungie-type escape hatch. We thought, at the time, that the device was ingenious.
By club rule, the escape hatch was only for emergencies — for instance, in case the tree was to catch fire or if angry timber-dwelling gorillas attacked us. We soon found, however, that emergencies were rare. But just to be safe we reasoned that it might be better to keep in practice.
So for three days, Buddy, Skinner, and I would take turns gripping the bottom of the loop then leaping from the tree where we would bounce a few times then drop to the ground. And though the tree never caught fire, the practice was a hoot — that is, until the day the strap broke.
That day, Skinner did a belly flop onto the sandy Southeast Missouri dirt below. Of all the rotten luck: for the first time we were facing true emergency and Buddy and I had to get down by way of the ladder.
Luckily, Skinner didn’t break any bones but the scare was enough to deter all of us from our alternate plan, a big umbrella that we had dug out of Buddy’s parent’s storage room. We were going to use it as a Mary Poppins style parachute but by now nobody much wanted to volunteer for the first jump.
We were fifth-graders that year and one afternoon the local Gideons showed up at our school to hand out pocket-sized bibles with red leather covers. I guess I must have been impressed with the gentleman who gave me my testament because I still recall his words. He said, “Son, this Bible is red on the outside, and it should be read on the inside.”
In fact, I probably did try to read from the book a time or two. But I wasn’t the greatest of readers and a lot of the words left me confused. I’m sure I must have half-heartedly thumbed through the little book a few times, but then like most of the other items of my youth, I eventually left it lying on the dresser where my mother likely picked it up and tucked it away in drawer. And there it must have rested, among all the marbles, slingshots, bottle caps and assorted baseball cards that a nine-year-old boy thinks are important.
But it was one of those Bibles — not mine, but Skinner’s – that eventually ushered in an important moment of my life. I was climbing the tree house ladder behind my friends when I noticed the red cover sticking out of Skinner’s hip pocket.
When we finally reached the tree house I asked about it.
“Hey Skinner, what are you doing carrying around that book that you got from them old men at school?”
Skinner took the book from his pocket and looked me in the eye. “I read from it sometimes.” he told me. Then with a scowl he asked, “Don’t you read yours?”
I stepped back a minute and scratched my head, “Well, Skinner,” I hesitantly began, “I did try to read it, but those words were just too hard for me and I couldn’t understand what they were saying.”
Skinner looked thoughtful for a minute then said, “Well, I guess I have the same kind of problem sometimes.” Then he brightly added, “but one of those fellows showed me a part that I think I do understand.”
Then Skinner found a place in the center of our little tree house and sat cross-legged on the floor as Buddy looked over one shoulder and I the other. In a moment, Skinner seemed to have found the place he had been looking for. And then with a loud and clear voice he began to read the words that remain in my heart even today ~
For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believe in Him should not parish but have everlasting life.
* * *
Psychologists tell us that early adolescence is a time of great cognitive development. It represents a time where, for the first time, a child begins to fully understand such abstract terms as ‘everlasting’ and ‘eternal’. I can remember how, on long summer evenings, my friends and I would lie beneath God’s velvet skies and gaze toward a million stars, which, like diamonds strewn across a darkened canvas, twinkled above. We’d marvel then, at the idea that God’s Heavens went on forever, and that his love, too was equally as vast. During one of those evenings, I shared with my friends the words I had heard recently from our Pastor at the little church in the shady Grove, a man named Robert Creed who filled in one morning for our Sunday School teacher. “As many stars in the heavens as there are sands on the shores,” he told us then. “Imagine that number, boys and then compare it to Eternity…and you won’t have even begun to know.”
I have no way of knowing the number of testaments that the Gideons distribute each year, nor could I even begin to estimate the percentage of those that end up, like mine, buried in some nearly-forgotten household drawer. But I do know this—
Within three weeks of that summer day in our little tree-house, David Skinner gave his life to Jesus Christ. Then, strengthened by my friend’s example, inspired by the words of John 3:16, and witnessed to by my mother, I was able to make the same decision only a few months later. Our younger friend, Buddy (Gil) Taylor, made his own decision a year or so after that.
Now those days have long since passed and having moved far beyond that little community I seldom get a chance to return to the place of my childhood. But once, several years ago, circumstances took me back to my little hometown. That day I took the opportunity to walk down the pathways of my youth and to stand in the area where my friends and I used to play. Though the rickety old boards have long ago been removed, the old oak tree still remains. And as was the case during those magic days of my youth the aged branches hold strong and they point reverently toward God’s Heaven–
– just as they did for me on a ‘gloriously humdrum’ day many years before.
I’ve come to realize that rubber bands break, old boards rot away, and even the strongest of trees must eventually die; and all the while young boys play, dream, live and all too quickly, grow old.
But God’s love, as do the stars above, rolls on forever
Tags: Christian, Christian Short Stories, Jesus, God, Love, Bible, Family, Hope, Salvation, Treehouse