It had taken her longer than she thought possible to climb to the top. Still, from this vantage point, the climb had been worth every bump, every bruise, every scraped knee. She clung tight to the thinning branches around her and surveyed the surrounding fields and rolling hills.
Awesome… Beautiful… The words didn’t come close to describing it.
Others had told her of the view, and it was inspiring, but it wasn’t the view that captivated her. It was the connection – oh, the connection! In the midst of the climb, her connection had flourished. Her fellowship with God was now beyond anything she’d ever experienced, or even expected. She’d sought after His heart, followed Him, obeyed Him. It had brought her here. To this place.
Now, her heart soared. She never wanted to leave this haven.
This place above everything and everyone.
She wasn’t sure how or exactly when, but after some time, she began to grow restless and lonely. There just weren’t that many who dared to make the trek upward. Sure, there were other girls in nearby trees, but they were girls. She wanted a guy. Her guy.
Not that her tree hadn’t seen its share of activity. Once she’d heard laughing and looked down to see a boy grab the first few branches. He’d seemed determined enough, but with the many boys on the ground who laughed and jeered, she watched sadly as he’d descended back down as quick as he’d come up, licking a few scrapes and getting slapped and punched by the group of obnoxious friends around him.
Why was that? She wondered. Would there ever be a guy to climb the tree? To the top? There was such a longing inside of her. A longing to love, to be loved.
Still – it was lonely up here.
Or was it?
There was still God, of course. But lately, He’d seemed far away. Why was that? Reasons came instantly to mind, but she didn’t want to dwell on them. She looked down.
From this spot in the tree she could see guys below – plenty of them. Girls too. But they were not the kind of girls that she wanted to associate with. Or did she? After all, they were the ones that the boys seemed to be so easily drawn to. Maybe there was something wrong with her. Maybe she should dress differently. Maybe she wasn’t pretty enough. Maybe she should come down from the top of the tree.
There was laughing from the ground. Girl’s laughter. Then the guys joined in.
Her frustration peaked.
“Hey,” she yelled, her voice sounding somewhat empty in the space around her. “Hey! It’s great up here. Come on up!” she yelled it again, this time a little louder and swung an arm for attention.
A few boys glanced up, grinned and then returned to their easier targets: the girls on the ground.
This was infuriating! “I should just go down. Maybe just halfway,” she said aloud. “They’ll see me better if I come down from the top. Yeah, that’ll be better.”
But as she started down through the branches, a sudden sharp pain etched her shin, drawing a blood red line. But more than the pain in her leg, there was a sudden pain in her heart. What was she doing? How could she turn away from God’s sweet presence at the top of the tree? Another stab of pain, this time from near her elbow.
She stopped then. Feeling the branches squeezed tightly in her fists, the leaves around her face. The tears came then.
“What’s wrong with me, God? Why won’t any guys join me up here?”
Return to the top, daughter. Return to me. I will provide.
“But, God, surely I have to do something to attract them, don’t I?”
Be the woman that I desire you to be.
That seemed simple enough – to leave it in God’s hands. Still, a war raged on inside of her. Indecision. She remembered the other girl that had made it to the top of the tree just hours after her own arrival. This girl hadn’t stayed long, deciding to descend to the lower branches where the guys could have a better view of her. She’d never returned. And now, as she thought about it, a glance downward showed that this girl was no longer even in the tree. So much for staying on the lower branches.
Voices called to her then. Guy voices yelling in chorus:
“Hey, you! Up there, come on down!”
“Hey, sweet thing! Nice legs!”
“Hey, Baby, let’s party!”
Her foot moved down another branch.
“You’re gorgeous, girl! I love you! Come down here and be with me!”
The girl started. I love you? Why did such precious words sound so hollow? So empty?
Because they were.
This guy had no idea who she was. He’d never taken the time to know her mind, her soul. All he was looking at was the exterior. Was that really love? She already knew the answer.
“Help me, Lord. Forgive me,” she prayed, then reached . . . up. The pain left her arm. She reached up again, and the pain left her leg. The final leaves brushed against her face and then she was at the top, bursting into the sunlight above, and…
His presence was there again!
She sucked in the sweet air and felt the joy of God spread throughout her soul. The guy voices called out below for a few more moments, then quickly stilled, moving to easier prey. The sound of the wind, the cry of an eagle somewhere, the rustling through the leaves – it all seemed heightened and sharper in focus. She was with God, He would help, He would provide. She could trust Him with that, couldn’t she?
Yes. Yes, she could.
Hunter wondered aloud if he’d ever reach the orchard. It had not been an easy road. So many distractions, so many voices called to him from either side of the narrow dirt path. It only seemed to get worse the closer he moved toward the trees. Still, the journey was worth it, right?
“Hey, good looking.”
Distractions were everywhere. Such as this girl who now blocked his path. His eyes stared into hers, and his peripheral vision picked up on the skimpy top she wore – or maybe barely wore would be a better description. Hunter forced himself not to look down, even though this girl was making every attempt to get him to look.
“Excuse me,” he said, stepping to one side.
“I’m Stacy,” she said tossing her black hair to one side. “You can call me Stace. What’s your hurry? Don’t you like what you see?”
She jiggled her chest. The sight sickened him. Why did she feel the need to behave in such an indecent manner? Did she really think that she was being attractive?
“Hi, Stacy,” he said, trying to be polite. “I’m headed for those trees over there.” He pointed and she followed his gaze.
“There? ” She said it with such condescension, like spitting out a bite from a spoiled, worm-infested apple.
Why did that bother him so?
“Yeah. There ,” he continued. “I intend to climb that tree.”
“Oh,” she said, rolling her eyes and moving more out of his path. “You’re one of those. One of those Ga-wd people.” She drew out the word ‘God’ like it was a dirty phrase.
Well, now it was out in the open, Hunter thought. Though he had his sights set on the distant tree, he did still feel a certain compassion for this girl. Was it God’s compassion?
“Why don’t you climb with me?”
“What?!” she jumped back as though she’d seen a rattler. “Why would I want to do that?”
“To be closer to The Creator.”
“Oh, so I need a Creator now? Is that it? You think I’m some sorry sinner who needs saving, right? Am I right?” She brought her fist to her mouth and chewed on the side. Her eyes were wild, but a little girl hovered near the surface.
Hunter moved a little closer to her. He felt God’s heart for this girl. So much hurt in her eyes. “We have all missed the mark, Stacy. All of us have sinned. But in His great love, God sent a Savior for us…”
She cut him off quickly, hammering her fist into her hand. “Don’t need it. Don’t want it. Don’t want Him!” She started to move off. Hunter’s heart broke for her.
“Is there anything I can…”
“Just go away!” She insisted. He heard a catch in her voice. “I’ll just find someone else.”
Hunter stood uncertainly for several minutes, watching as Stacy stumbled over the landscape. His heart broke again as a questionable looking guy with dark hair hurried up to her, spoke briefly, then walked off with his hand tightly around her waist. A whispered prayer left Hunter’s lips as his feet slapped against the dirt path again: “Father God, open Stacy’s heart to Your truth. Your love. She’s so lost. Save her, God. Save her.”
Finally, he was here. The tree loomed large, daunting above him. Could he really climb this? It had seemed smaller from the distance, but now…
He moved closer to the base of the tree where he encountered more girls. Several were already engaged in questionable activities with other guys. He watched with sadness as two detached from the guys they were with in order to approach him. He politely refused each, wondering how any of them could choose to live this way.
This used to be you too, Hunter.
As he stood there by the trunk, he reflected on how many times he’d almost given in. After all, it sure was a whole lot easier to choose someone along the ground here. The choices were many – in quantity at least. And there surely wasn’t much work to having one of them. No climbing, no effort. All he had to do was compromise his convictions.
No. He was stronger than that. His God was stronger.
He looked upward again. So many branches. And the height. A sudden fear gripped him. What if he lost his grip? What if he fell?
“Can I do this, God?”
Strength flooded him. Of course he could do this. God had promised his strength in such times.
Did love wait up there? Whether it did or not, he knew that the top was his destination. God had someone for him. He would trust Him and leave that in God’s capable hands. For right now, he needed to stop worrying and just be the kind of guy – the kind of man – who sought, who longed after God’s own heart. God was directing him up the tree, and to start climbing meant, never stopping. To the top. All the way.
He grasped the first branch…
“Hi,” the feminine voice was so sweet, so alluring. So… captivating.
Hunter let go of the branch and turned. She was stunning, which surprised him. How had he missed seeing her when he was walking up? Sparkling blue eyes, high cheekbones, blonde curls bobbing gently near long eye lashes. She was wearing a tight fitting pink top with white shorts. He felt an instant attraction… and a distant warning.
“Uhhh, hi,” he choked out. His head felt like it was spinning. Those curls…
“Heading up there?” her blue eyes darted upward then locked back on his.
“I, uhh…” Why was it suddenly so hard to talk? “I, I was thinking of…”
“Stop thinking,” she said, putting a hand to his chest. “I’ve got a better idea.” She moved closer. Closer than he should have felt comfortable with, but yet, he liked her closeness. Yeah, he liked it a lot. Somewhere in the back of his mind a warning sounded. He should be moving up the tree, not staying here. She was talking again, this time she leaned in and whispered close in his ear. He should not be feeling her breath on his neck!
“You don’t need to climb that tree. There’s nothing good up there anyway.” Her hands ran along his shoulders, caressing his arms. “I can make it so much nicer right here. Stay with me.”
Hunter started to believe it, wanted to believe it. How long he’d waited for companionship like this. For this kind of touch.
Help me, God!
“I…” his words caught in his throat. He had heard something.
“Did you hear that?” he asked, eyes searching upward.
He heard singing.
A song of love. But not just any song.
It was a love song for The Creator.
Hunter’s eyes opened. Really opened. The girl who seductively caressed his arms began to take on another look, an evil dimension. These hands on him were wrong. All wrong! This wasn’t love.
His mind was racing. His mind was shouting.
“No!” he bellowed, grabbing her wrists and pulling them from him. “I must climb!”
Her pretty face turned to a snarl and she swore violently in his face, spittle flying from her mouth. “Go on then! You obviously don’t know how to be a man or you’d BEHAVE like a man!” With that she grabbed a double fistful of his shirt and pulled him forcefully toward her, her mouth open, searching.
Hunter’s reaction was instant. He reached up, grabbed the first branch he could and grappled himself up and into the tree. The girl actually hung on for a split second before releasing her grip and falling hard to her seat. She looked up with angry eyes, yet her voice still dripped like enticing honey.
“Hey, don’t forget, hottie,” she called out.
Climb, Hunter. Climb. Don’t look back.
“I’ll be right here waiting,” she implored seductively. “Come back to me an-y-time.”
Hunter climbed. “Forgive me, Father,” he prayed as he reached upward again. “I almost gave in.” He stopped to catch his breath, then shuddered at how close that had been. He stared downward. The girl was gone. No where to be seen. Strange how none of the girls below ever dared follow him into the tree. Yet, as he scaled through the branches, he realized the sudden truth: They were from two different worlds. Two different masters.
“Give me Your strength, Lord. The strength to not give into temptation. The strength to always follow You.”
He heard the song again. From above.
The sunshine was invigorating, life giving. The song of praise that left her lips filled her ears, filled her soul; filled the world around her. Yet still, the words just weren’t enough to express her gratitude to the Creator for all that He had done for her. She raised her hands and lifted her face to the sun. “How good You are, God! How great You are!”
A rustling stirred near her and a guy – no, guy was too generic. This was a man. Someone had climbed up! Someone else with a heart for God. He stood, grasping the branches around him, his back to her. She took in the strong shoulders, the determined gaze as he swept the horizon. She almost giggled, he had no idea that she was even here–
As though reading her mind, he turned and looked right at her. The tanned face split into a genuine and sincere grin.
“Hello,” he said. He turned around again, taking in the panoramic view for a second time. Then he breathed deeply and tilted his face to the sky. “God, You are so good.”
Those words warmed her heart like no other.
He carefully made his way till he was about three feet from her. Then, he extended a hand, and she offered hers in return. “I’m Hunter.” His grip was warm, firm.
His eyes smiled.
She felt breathless. “P… Pleased to meet you, Hunter.”
“How long have you been up here?” His hand still held hers. She made no move to pull hers away.
Memories flooded her then. She was drawn to the day that she made the decision to climb.
“It’s been a few years…” her voice trailed off, then came back. “I was beginning to think that there wasn’t anyone who had the heart or strength to climb… But, I’m so glad you did – uhh, I did.”
He laughed, the sound intoxicating. She blushed as he gently released her hand. Here stood a man with a heart for God. The kind of man that her heart yearned for. Yes, even longed for.
“Was that you singing?” he said it with a twinkle. She felt a brief tinge of embarrassment, but that quickly faded and sent her heart jumping.
“Oh,” she said, fluttering her eyes for dramatic effect. “Didn’t you know?”
Hunter arched his eyebrows in a “tell me” look.
“What you heard was a very rare and exotic singing bird…”
He wrinkled his face and laughed again. “Oh, sure. A bird that sings praises to The Creator?”
“It could happen,” she said shyly.
“Sure. Sure, it could happen. But not today. Not now.” He paused, then added, “The song I heard was a rarity. A unique cry of praise to our God. As unique as you.”
A quietness fell between them. Somewhere a real bird began a call. Distantly, she heard another bird answer back.
He stared at her, yet under his direct gaze she felt no discomfort, only a deep abiding peace.
In words barely above a whisper he said, “You’re amazing!”
A deep contentment came over her. God’s peace wrapped around her like a cashmere garment. Leaves around her seemed to gasp.
Hunter continued. “Do you know how long I have looked for you?”
“For –“ her voice cracked suddenly with emotion. “F… For me?” Why were his words having such an effect on her?
“Yes. For you.” Hunter stared off at the horizon. She wondered what he was thinking right now. “So many,” he began. “So many girls think they have to…” He bit his lower lip, fighting to find words. He looked back at her. “They think they have to expose and cheapen themselves. But not – but not you.”
Now it was his turn to get choked up. And somehow that deeply touched her. What kind of strong, gentle man had God brought into her life? He looked up to the sky. “Lord, thank You for bringing this beautiful woman into my life.”
She gasped.Woman, God? Beautiful… me?
Yes, daughter. Yes to both.
He moved onto the same branch as her. The tree held solid. There was no give under them. And it could have been her imagination, but it almost seemed as though at that moment the tree grew, surged, bloomed beneath her. She could almost feel its roots driving deeper, its branches drawing strength from deep underground waters.
“I would love to learn the song you were singing. I’ve never heard it before.”
She was touched. “It’s one I wrote myself.”
He arched an eyebrow. “I’m impressed. Then I will not leave until I sing it as beautifully as you.”
She laughed. “Will we have that much time?”
“Time has no meaning now.”
This was him. This was the guy. The man. There was no doubt. Why had she ever doubted that she’d meet him?
He was looking at her. Waiting. She breathed deeply and sang the first line: “Oh, Lord. Hear my pray-er…” she let her voice trail off.
Hunter smiled. “I’m reminded of Psalm 143.”
She put a hand to her chest in sudden surprise. “I based my song on Psalm 143.”
“You are an amazing woman.”
There. He’d said it again. Woman. And amazing. The tears came then, and she did nothing to hold them back. There was no shame with them, they were simply an outward sign of her immense gratitude. Tears of thankfulness to a holy and loving and caring God. The waiting was over. The waiting that she’d thought would never come.
He spoke again, looking deep into her eyes. When she looked back she saw that he too had tears spilling from his eyes. “Should we learn more about this amazing God together? This One who hears and answers our prayers?”
“Yes,” she said, dabbing at her cheeks and smiling. “Lead the way, Hunter.”
(c) Copyright 2006, Ron Masters
[ Author’s note: This story was inspired by the little story below about trees, girls and apples.
Thanks, Lauren! You helped to kick the creative powers into motion. –RM ]
————are like apples——————-
——–on trees. The best ones———–
——are at the top of the tree.——–
—-The boys don’t want to reach——
—for the good ones because they ——
—are afraid of falling and getting hurt.—-
Instead, they just get the rotten apples-
—from the ground that aren’t as good,
but easy. So the apples at the top think
-something is wrong with them, when in
–reality, they’re amazing. They just
—have to wait for the right boy to——-
—– come along, the one who’s———–
———– brave enough to—————–
—————– the way———————
—————–to the top——————–
—————- of the tree.——————