Late yesterday afternoon, I walked outside to empty my mop bucket and rinse out my mop. Of course, in the midst of doing so I got distracted and remembered something I had been noticing for the past few weeks in our backyard. We have a lot of woods right behind our house, and never having had a house with trees surrounding it, I like staring out my big kitchen window at the woods every morning as I drink my coffee. Over Christmas holidays, I noticed that a big oak tree limb had broken off from the top of a tall tree. The broken limb had begun its decent down to the ground when it got entangled in a mass of thick vines growing  both in and between the trees behind our house. For weeks, I had been telling Dave that he needed to get a ladder and cut that huge limb free so it would be out of my eyesight every morning. My husband, not taking my subtle or direct hints to get rid of that limb, continued not being bothered by the limb at all, so literally since Christmas holidays, I have watched daily as the slow effects of gravity forced the unsuspecting tree limb further and further toward the ground.

By Monday morning, I could tell that the limb was almost touching the ground but the other part of it was still entangled in a bed of both thin and thick vines. I knew that at this point the limb would be no match for my strong husband so I mentioned yet again that I wanted him to get that limb out of the woods for me. I’m not positive about Dave’s reply but I know for certain that it was not, “Sure thing, Honey.” Seems like it was more like, “You actually want me to go in the woods and get that one big limb? The woods are all behind us. There are limbs everywhere.” And he kind of shook his head like my request was unreasonable or something…  I wondered at that moment how the man had managed to ignore me all the dozens of times I had asked him to remove the limb before. I guess if he thought  the idea sounded crazy this time, he must have worked hard to hold back his sarcasm when I told him to get the tall ladder and the chainsaw to free it weeks ago!

So on this late afternoon, when I was actually outside to empty mop water, I decided that it was past time for that limb to be rescued and removed to our nearby burn pile. It looked like I would have to take matters into my own hands and tackle the limb, so on the spur of the moment, with Dave and Hunter at the gym, I left my mop and bucket to head fearlessly for the woods. In hindsight, I had in my mind that this would be a relatively easy job. Since the bottom part of the limb was already touching the ground, I really thought with a little pull and muscle, I would have it freed in no time. To my dismay, when I gave the first heave ho, the limb budged only a few inches. I could immediately tell that there was a tangled mass of vines deeper in the woods that held the top part of the limb captive. I knew then that this was going to be more of a battle than I first thought, but I kept on pulling. With every tug the limb would gain a little more freedom , but still the mass of aggravating vines kept the bigger part of it trapped.

Looking at the thickest of the vines, I had the bright idea that if I could cut through the thickest vines then my pulling might be able to overpower the weakened areas. I remembered that I had seen a machete in our garage, and I had been looking for a reason to practice using that thing. (I have certainly watched enough episodes of “The Walking Dead” to know what to do with a machete! I will deal with all criticism and my reasons for watching that tv show on a future post! Lol)  Seemed like this was my chance to use the machete and let out all my pent up anger, so I took advantage of the opportunity!

It did not take me long to realize that our pitiful machete was barely sharp enough to scratch the bark on those Tarzan vines growing in our woods. I chopped at them repeatedly to weaken the grip in spots, but the machete was certainly not the answer. I realized that not only did the thick vines have a hold on the limb but a mass of thin ones were also wrapped in, out, and all around the thing. I continued to chop and pull, throwing down the machete at times to jump up and down on the limb trying to break it free. Once I was pulling backwards with all my might, when the limb gave way just enough to make me fall flat on my rear end in a bed of briars. It was an ordeal I tell you!!

After twenty minutes of chopping, pulling, jumping, and breaking vines with my bare hands, I won the war and freed that limb. I single-handedly pulled that partial tree to the burn pile by myself! With my hair dis-shuffled falling out of the clip, my favorite sweatshirt stained from all the dust flying around, scratches on my legs, dirt on my face and in my shoes, and small stickers in both hands, I won the battle with our landscape and freed the limb that was bothering me in the woods!!!

As I drug armfuls of broken vines and smaller limbs to the burn pile, I thought about how often our lives are similar to that huge broken limb. From a distance, that limb looked like it would be easy to move because of it size, but on closer examination it was trapped in a web that made it almost immovable. This my sound corny, but those vines made me think about how we as people can get ourselves trapped in a web of sin and deceit that entangles not only ourselves but others.  It happens slowly, one sin leads to another. The choices we make in this life have a direct affect on us, but our choices also affect others. Many times it hurts those closest to us, but our choices can also have an affect on many that we do not even know. Trouble abounds in this life. Satan literally does back flips of joy when we lie, deceive, and put ourselves and our own agenda before God and others. One sin embedded with another until a mass of thick and thin sins invade our lives and the good plan God has designed.

While I used my machete, I not only pretended to be a television character, but I chopped with anger thinking about the things in this life that I cannot change. The wrong decisions that I have made, and the wrong decisions of others that have had an impact on me. I have seen lives destroyed by a web of sin that little by little invades a person’s heart and mind. Soon that mass of sin alters their view of truth and love, leaving no room for God. Everything good and godly gets overtaken by evil. Lives are ruined, testimonies are destroyed, and although God has nothing to do with our choices, He typically gets most of the blame. When our sin is revealed, we get angry but rarely do we see that revelation as God fighting for us to get back on track.  A chance to break free from the vines that have us tied up and bound.

I have shared before that of all the verses in the Bible that have helped me through life, Jeremiah 29:11 is probably my favorite. Many times, I have literally stared at that declaration by God and clung to the promise that God has a good plan for me. “A plan to prosper and not to harm; a plan to give hope and a future.” I have read that and thought how losing Holt sure felt like harm to me. I have pushed aside the devil’s whisper that this verse is for other people, but it does not apply to me. I so needed a reminder of this verse that I had it painted on a board and hung it over our mantle so I would see it every single day. Sometimes I still find myself staring at each word trying to understand how that verse applies to my circumstances and wondering what God still has in store.

What I have come to believe about Jeremiah 29:11 is this… God does have a good plan for me. Not only is that for me, but He has a good plan for every single person who puts their trust in Him. But, we each have the free will to make decisions that directly have an impact on God’s good plan, and like it or not, I have an impact on the good plans of others. My bad choices can affect other people and lead them to make bad choices; I can increase or decrease their troubles. I have the power to encourage or discourage with the plan I choose to follow.

Evil in this world and sin in our lives can create a web that appears to bind us up and keep us from having the good plan that God intended. Satan wants us to believe that once we have messed up that we cannot break free. THAT IS A LIE! Regardless of the vines that seem to keep us from turning our lives back around, God is still for us. He is constantly fighting for us to turn around. He can always provide a way to break free. He is tougher and stronger than the troubles that bind, and when we allow Him to take over, He can even use the harm we have inflicted upon ourselves and others in a way to bring about something worthwhile.

I don’t know about you, but I need more honesty in my life. I need to see believers who live like they believe. I need help fighting for real hope, and I need encouragement that there is more to life than the mess we see on earth. I need God-sized faith to fight vines that try to hold me down. Like that big limb, sometimes I simply need to remember that Jesus came to set me free.