Gary Lee and the Big Tree

 There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.   Proverbs 18:24 NLT

     I consider myself fortunate to have grown up where the outdoors began a few steps from my back porch. I spent so much time outside that I think dirt made up about fifteen percent of my diet. We lived out of town with no one around my age who liked exploring the surrounding woods and fields and streams. No one, that is, until the day Gary Lee and his family moved in about a five minute bike ride away.

     It didn’t take us long to recognize our mutual fascination with nature and the outdoors. I was about eleven years old when we met, Gary Lee a year younger. We soon became friends and set out to discover a myriad of intriguing critters in the surrounding countryside. We spent so much time together that the few nearby neighbors may have believed we were blood relatives.

     We excelled in inventing outdoor games. Gary Lee and I found we could climb a small tree, grab hold of the main stem, and kick our feet out. We’d then gently float back down to earth as the tree bent under our weight. Once on the ground we’d squat down and push off, soaring into the air as the straightening tree gave us the sensation of near weightlessness. Then we would softly settle back to earth and push off again.

     Gary’s brother Dave joined us and we played this game for days, always searching for the perfect tree to send us a little higher or hold us in space a bit longer. Then one of us had a thought. This was rare, which is probably a good thing, for when one of us made the bold proclamation that he’d had a thought, near disaster often followed. This time was no exception. The thought went something like this:

     “You know, if a fifteen foot tree is this much fun, think how much more fun a fifty foot tree would be! It will just take all three of us together to bend it down.”

     “Sounds reasonable to me,” agreed the other two.

     It didn’t take us long to find a really big tree. I mean really, really big. As all three of us scrambled up, I reached the top first. I surveyed things and estimated where the three of us would have to hang on to the trunk to bend it to the ground. As I waited for my two friends, I decided to give the tree a quick test to make sure all was in order. I grabbed the main tree trunk and kicked my feet out, drifting gently away from the tree and dangling several feet above the ground. Then I heard a loud sound like a gunshot come from near my hands. The trunk that I gripped had snapped and no longer remained attached to the tree. So there hung I, suspended in ignorant bliss for a split second, hanging free over nothing but air, clinging to about ten feet of useless stick in my hands.

     But not for long.

     I shot past Gary and Dave like a blurred rocket, missing main branches and hitting the ground feet first, crumpling into a pile. I ended up on my back, my hands outstretched above my head and still desperately gripping the top of the tree in my hands. I easily could have died.

     I may have passed out a bit, but I remember staring up with fuzzy vision to see Gary and Dave’s mugs hovering over me as they determined if I was still alive. I felt as if all the oxygen on the planet had disappeared. I gradually got my breath back and my feet under me, shaken but miraculously uninjured. As I slowly wobbled back to their house, we each continued to recount our perspective on the event.

     After high school Gary Lee stayed near the home front and I headed out to parts unknown. Whenever I returned to the area we’d visit and time would fly. We kept in touch even though we sometimes lived on opposite sides of the globe. When one of us ran into a wall in life we’d call each other to lean on someone who would listen, and to receive some trusted advice.

     At times when Gary struggled I tried to share the message of Christ’s love and His sacrifice on the cross, but he would have none of it. I felt that just my speaking about the Gospel would destroy our friendship, so I opted to pray for him in silence and hope for an opportunity to come.

     We often spoke of the upcoming time that he would visit me in the mountains to hike and backpack. I had specific trails picked out and sights I wanted to share with him.

     That visit never came.

     On July 18th 2013, Gary asked someone a life changing question: “After pushing God away for so many years, will He still hear me if I pray to Him now?”

     The correct answer, of course, is found in the Bible – specifically in John 6:37, among other places. “…whoever comes to Me, I will never turn him away.”

     On that day Gary Lee humbled himself and called on Jesus to forgive him and be his Lord and Savior. A few months later Gary checked out of this planet and headed for his real home. The sorry rascal was younger than me, he wasn’t supposed to leave first. I imagine he can now fly from here to there and is no longer concerned about his friend falling out of trees. Actually I can’t even conceive of the joy he is now experiencing.

     And I am so very grateful.

     Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
1 Corinthians 2:9

     Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers… Hebrews 2:11 NIV

     I hope you have a great day.

 

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