by Nevana Martin
Matthew 7:5: You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
James and I moved our family back to Athens a little over three years ago. It was a weird time of the year to be house hunting, and the pickings were slim. However, the very first house that caught my eye on Zillow ended up being the one we now call home. The listing read:
“This home offers privacy and is an animal lover’s dream. Peace and tranquility abound just minutes from Athens bypass. Charming home nestled back among 6+ acres of wooded property. The driveway offers ample parking for farm vehicles, recreational vehicles, guests etc.”
The owners were also the builders. In 1963 they etched out their homestead in the wilds of Jackson County and resided on it for 51 years. By the time we came along, they were in their mid-80s, and the house had become too much for them to care for. Despite her age, the woman was spry and showed us the path she walked every morning down to her barn where she kept her horses. We followed her through a tunnel of green, side stepping fallen logs and losing sight of the house as we were engulfed in the underbrush. It was difficult for me to get a sense of the land because it was so grown up, but I was easily enchanted by both the cleared yard near the house which was dotted with pecan trees and blueberry bushes and by her stories of family picnics down by the creek on Sunday afternoons. I wasn’t sold on the funky house, but we made an offer anyway – a house you can renovate, but there’s only so much you can do to land. James was able to see the property in a way I wasn’t, and I trusted his instinct.
Despite our acreage, when we moved in I began to feel claustrophobic. First, I took down the dated blinds and various other forms of window coverings. That helped some. With the help of my in-laws, we took down a set of cabinets that were lined up along the ceiling in the TV room, dangling over my head as I tried to get lost in the brilliance of Dr. Phil. I ripped up the stifling carpeting in dog room (what any sane person would call the sun room). Piece by piece taken away, I could breathe a little more but now I was better able to see out the windows, and the woods soon became my obsession.
English Ivy has been my long-time nemesis. A lot of people love it and, despite that it’s an invasive exotic, folks seem to take any chance they can get to plant it around their homes. I do things a little differently – any chance I can get to kill it, I take gleefully.
One afternoon I took hold of James’ Mawmama’s hatchet and set out. You see, our land was eaten up with English Ivy – I’m guessing it was originally planted on a steep knoll to help with erosion control, but like English Ivy does, it spread. Everywhere. It creeped along, noxiously, like the rabies virus, slowly upward, bent on killing its host. The ivy climbed trees all the way to their canopies, slowly smothering the ancient, life-giving mystics. And I was not having it. I wacked the ivy for months, working my way around a tree, first slicing the vine at a sight about head level and then hitting it again near the ground. I’d gleefully rip off the strip and look skyward at the ivy left above me, knowing its days were numbered. I’d take a few steps to my right and repeat the procedure until the tree’s trunk was fully cleared of the ivy. Then I’d move on to the next tree. And the next. And the next. Seven acres worth of trees in all. As winter grew into spring that year, our tree trunks were freed of the albatross, and the branches above stretched closer to the sun, no longer being smothered by that which did not belong.
We’ve again come to the time of the year where I’m starting to lose joy at the sight of leafless trees, and I’m itching to see the greenery again. As I drive through town, my breath catches when I notice something green in a tree – are they budding out? Is it finally spring? Each February I spend disappointed. My obsession for signs of life points me instead towards signs of disease – almost all the green I notice during these weeks is English Ivy. Without the distraction of the natural beauty of the leaves, the dank green stands out along the tree trunks. I’m myopically drawn to this insult; I see it everywhere.
It can be overwhelming to walk around the world noticing the pervasiveness of injustice while everyone else continues on, seemingly un-phased by it. “It’s right there in their own yards, and they’re letting it happen,” I think to myself when I see a house with only five trees, all eaten up with ivy. “They’re just a simple 20-minute-wacking away from eliminating the problem. We could be rid of this awful invasive if everyone just pitched in and did their part.”
The way some of us do faith is a lot like the way I drive around town judging folks who have ivy in their yard. It’s so easy to see how other people are doing things wrong, how their thinking is wrong, that they’re being smothered and stifled by something which doesn’t belong – by an evilness which slowly creeps upward, bent on killing their soul. Lent, though, as we’ve heard in church, is about a time for internal reflection. For us at Oconee Street this year, we’re focusing on Listen. Rather than worrying about our neighbor’s yard, it’s instead a time to grab up a family-heirloom-hatchet, walk into the wilderness of our own souls, and whack away anything that doesn’t belong, that is distracting, that is holding us back from being the beautiful mystics God formed out of clay.
Prayer: Dear God, Please help me to see myself the way you see me. Please give me the strength and the skill to eradicate that which is holding me down and that which is getting in the way of me stretching up and out. Please help my branches to get wide so I can take in all the world, so that I can be a resting spot for a chattery squirrel and a solid limb for a fledgling bird learning to fly. Please help me to see my neighbors’ crowns of glory, and help me to not focus on their specks. Please help me to love them as you do. Amen.