1999 is a year I will never forget.
It was a hard year for my family:
My parents were both almost completely absent,
My mother physically,
My father, unable to cope with her illness, mentally.
Our home was pure chaos,
Six children running wild.
We had little or no accountability, which is a bad combination when you are nine.
Dad had to make a living,
Mom had to get well again,
That left us to our own devices.
In all the madness of our home,
My big sister Liz was my safe haven.
We are twenty two months apart,
And were practically inseparable since I was an infant.
Whenever I felt scared or unsure,
There she was, no matter what.
The house we grew up in is in the middle of town,
Big and white with burgundy shudders and front door.
The back yard is a full acre, with tall old trees all around it.
The chain link fence was the boundary we were to obey, always remaining within it’s confines.
Behind our home was a nursing home with a large field next to it and a pond where Canadian geese would raise their young.
Railroads tracks were nestled behind the trees of their property line, the familiar whistle of the trains roaring by echoed across the field.
Beside our home was my dads office, with an apartment building across the parking lot.
For the most part, we were isolated from the rest of the world,
No one bothered us,
No one asked questions,
No one stopped to wonder why these little children were always outside and never doing school work.
No one noticed most of the time we were by ourselves.
Our backyard was strangely therapeutic to us.
The projects we would build and the games we would play,
They helped us think of something, anything besides how sad we were.
There was a grove of pine tress in the south eastern corner of the yard we called “the woods.”
It was probably a total of seven medium sized trees and three very large pine trees.
They majestically towered high over our heads, watching over us as we played.
The tallest one had a thick branch that hung just low enough for us to reach on our tippy toes.
I don’t remember the first time Liz and I climbed that tree,
But I know she was the bravest, the trailblazer,
So I know she was the first to try it.
She taught me to pull myself up, when I didn’t think I could.
To close my eyes for a second and catch my breath,
When my stomach churned with fear.
The smell of the pine needles was enchanting,
And the gooey sap would stick to our hands and legs for days.
But as soon as we sat there and looked down at the world below,
It felt like home.
How we loved that tree.
One day we decided to build a tree house,
It was nothing more than a few boards we found laying around the neighborhood in ravines and ditches,
But it was ours,
And that made it amazing.
The pine tree bled it’s sap as the nails pierced deeper into it’s branches,
But it never gave way.
It was our refuge in the storms,
when we sat in our tree house, no one else could touch us.
Sometimes when the arguments got too loud, I would sneak out and climb that tree.
I would venture a little higher each time,
The branches became more fragile with each step,
But there was a rush not knowing whether or not you would fall,
And I loved it.
The pinecones that speckled the floor grew tinier,
And when I reached highest point I could go,
I felt like I could see the whole world beneath me.
No one could reach me,
And as I sat nestled in the pine tree branches,
There was no one but me and God.
I would pray up there,
Sometimes for hours.
I would sit and just talk to God,
Tell Him my stories,
And how out of place I felt.
Something about nature makes people feel connected to God,
That was when God really became real to me,
When He first felt like my friend.
It was like I was the only person on this earth in those moments.
It didn’t matter what happened in that house,
How lonely I felt,
How hopeless it all seemed,
How confused or chaotic everything was.
Because when things became overwhelming,
I could climb my stairway to heaven,
To sit at the feet of my God.