Have you ever been stumped?
Americans use this colorful idiom when we face a perplexing problem or become confounded by some intellectual puzzle. "Stumps" have come to mean much more than a physical obstacle to forward motion. When you are stumped, forward progress halts until you find a way to remove the stump or go around it.
Farmers know about stump removal, as do road builders. God knows about stumps, too, and sometimes chooses to use them for his purposes.
Our Northwest forests are among the most beautiful on the planet, and in my opinion are the finest living classrooms of "stump-ology." At first glace, the forest floor appears to be utter chaos, wild and dense, but it is in a constant state of rebirth and renewal.
Scattered among the tangled mass of decay on the forest floor, you find what are known as nursery stumps. To the unperceptive, these rotting stumps appear to be dead. But that isn't completely accurate.
While they may be dead at the level of the first generation, the remains of the original tree that fell to the ground, in reality, is thriving. In fact, it is busy giving life to a whole new generation of trees. The nursery stump creates a perfect growing medium for a tiny seed or struggling seedling to be protected and nurtured. The decaying tree becomes nursemaid, a nurse-tree, to the new tree generation.
Walking through the wild and wonderful forests of our state, I have seen more than one huge old stump, broken off, with all the appearance of being dead. Yet, springing out of its ragged remains is a beautiful fledgling fir tree. What I have come to understand is that the old stump has become a birthing room, providing the seedling with a protected incubator of nutrients, exposure to sunlight, and life.
In the Bible, the book of Isaiah, Chapter 11, the prophet uses the metaphor of a stump. In that prophetic scenario, Israel is likened to a battered stump that contains the holy Messianic seed of the future. "Out of the stump of David's family will grow a shoot -- yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root." Isaiah 11:1 (NLT)
What a picture of hope for Israel ... and for us. The prophet's image starts small. The long-awaited Messiah arrives as a shoot, a tiny, tender, green sprout. A baby.
Isaiah doesn't describe the shoot springing up out of a carefully prepared, plowed and furrowed field, but rather out of the pain of loss. These may be places where life's circumstances -- including wrong choices and poor decisions -- have sheared off hope for our future.
Amazingly, that is where the shoot grows best -- out of deadness, confusion, brokenness, disappointments, decline and all the twists and tangles of life gone wrong. In the midst of this chaos and loss, the life of Jesus springs forth for all who call on his name.
In God's wild and untamed nursery, he shows us that the blasted, battered stumps of our lives can become the very way of salvation, providing the soil for new life, in all its beauty and mystery.
-- The Rev. Micah Smith is author of Heaven's Heartbeat and president and founder of Global Gateway Network (www.globalgatewaynetwork.org) with offices in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.