Over Labor Day weekend Jeanie and I went to visit friends at their farm in the hills of Virginia, a place of remarkable care and beauty.
Their home is actually a retreat house that Anne, a therapist, author and spiritual mentor, has built on family land. Every guest room motif reflects a part of the world where she and David (a successful executive) have served in mission or social enterprise. Every path cut through the woods has stopping places for rest and prayer.
On an afternoon walk Anne pointed to a slope where dozens of white sleeves stand, supporting newly planted maple and oak trees.
“I want it to look beautiful now,” she explained, “and to be a place where 50 years from now our grandchildren can look and remember what this place is for. A place of hospitality. Not just for our family enjoyment but where people of all sorts came to find refreshment and faith. To see how with love and care the natural beauty of a place can reflect the glory of the Creator.”
Those “trees for tomorrow” kept me wondering, as we drove home into the busy fall season, what markers will we – family, teachers, others – leave for our children and grandchildren?
Over dinner David and Anne talked about places where they might eventually be buried at their farm, whether at the corner of a rustic chapel, or on a beautiful vista on top of Whisky Hill.
David wondered why he found little in the Bible about burials. Actually there’s a fair bit. Abraham was buried in the cave of Machpelah, along with his wife and sons. Moses was buried in a valley, although the exact place was unknown. Joshua was laid to rest in the hill country. The bones of Joseph were brought back from Egypt to his father’s ground. The places, except for Moses, were marked.
Deep in our bones and spirits it seems is the desire to have markers – markers not only that we have lived, but why we have lived.
And what do we remember from Jesus? Not only the tomb where he was buried and which he left behind, but the living memorial he established at the last supper: drink this wine, eat this bread, remember me, love one another as I have loved you and lay down my life for you.
What legacy then are we leaving for the children in our care, our homes and schools?
My mind doesn’t travel far to think of legacies that matter – just a couple of miles down the road to where my wife’s mother was dying in her home on Park Road. She pulled Jeanie close, put her hands on her shoulders, and said, “Daughter, pass it on to every generation.”
Mother and Daddy Graham passed their faith on to their son Billy, who has passed it to the world. When a while ago I asked what he’d like said at his funeral, he slowly answered, “He tried to do what he thought he should.” And what was that? “Preach the gospel.”
They passed it on to their other son Melvin, not a preacher but a faithful farmer whose marker at Forest Lawn East cemetery reads:
I’m just a nobody
Who can tell everybody
Who can change anybody.
It was passed on to Jeanie, who passed it to our three children, including Sandy, known as a winsome Christian at Myers Park and Chapel Hill, who died during heart surgery at 21, and whose own marker reads: “A heart for God.”
Their lives were their markers. Three generations planting seeds that still grow on.
I don’t have a farm in Virginia where I can plant a grove of trees. You may have neither a platform to preach or a farm to run. But could we each plant one tree – or at least a seed - for every child who is born?
And, with small seeds, a prayer, a word of encouragement, a bit of needed attention, we also can plant “trees for tomorrow.”