My Beautiful 50-Acre Woods

They’re tearing up the woods behind my house. My family moved into this house over 20 years ago, partly because of the thick, 50-acre woods behind it. It was a beautiful, lush patch of forest in the middle of the city, and we absolutely loved it. Now, they’re building a park there. Actually, there was already a park there, behind our stretch of woods, but it was quite neglected and had become a hangout for drug dealers and other “ne’er do wells”, as my grandmother would have called them. At first, when I heard they were going to expand the park, I was happy to hear that the neglected area would be revitalized, and a new park for families would take its place. At the inception of the project, the city assured the neighbors that there would be a generous stretch of the woods left so that our houses would still back up to the woods, and we would continue to enjoy the privacy to which we’d become accustomed.

Phase Two

But that was Phase One. Now, Phase Two has begun, and over the last week or so, there have been giant forest-eating tractors behind my house, and I’ve watched my beautiful woods become nothing but a patch of mud with a few trees sticking out here and there. I can see the main road that runs adjacent to our home through my back window, and I am realizing now that I will have a public park pretty much in my backyard. Some of you may think that’s a good thing and in some ways, it is. I have some young friends who visit my house often who can hardly wait for the park to be completed, and I’m thankful for it in that aspect. But oh, the memories that have flooded my mind these last few days!

The heartache I’ve felt as I’ve watched these machines destroy the woods has left me feeling quite sorrowful, and I’ve had to do some self-examination as I try to reel in the sadness I feel. When I think of those woods, my mind drifts back to the many memories our family has made there. When the boys were young, they would play in the woods for hours climbing, pretending, building forts, having picnics under the giant oak tree, and basically enjoying the freedom of playing in the woods—something every child should have access to, in my view.

They were cowboys, pirates, outlaws, pioneers, explorers, and many more imaginary characters. Oh, they were one other thing too—they were filthy! I actually loved it when my boys came in from the woods covered with dirt and leaves. They would bring me samples of moss, mushrooms, bird feathers, and the occasional unidentified animal dropping. I loved being a “boy mom,” and I didn’t mind the dirt at all. They loved to dig for “treasure” back there. They found other reasons to dig, too. They buried time capsules full of precious keepsakes, and they buried a number of small pets back there. Indeed, our woods were full of many precious memories.

Later, when the boys became teens and the airsoft craze rolled around, they played again in those woods. Target practice (sometimes on each other, sometimes on squirrels, trees, or old tin cans) could go on all afternoon and was great motivation for finishing up schoolwork. As they got older, there were times they would just walk back into the woods to sit by the creek and think, read, or just be. I can literally trace every stage of their childhood through those woods.Forest-Eating Tractors in God's Woods

There were practical advantages to having woods behind our house, too. It was a natural composting place for yard clippings and the occasional storm-torn tree branch. Oh, and I’m pretty sure the boys threw close to a ton of dog poop back there over the course of the lives of five dogs! I remember watching my husband teach both boys to mow the lawn, and how to carefully spread out the clippings on the floor of the woods, to keep the path dry and passable. It was really quite a marvelous system they had there. Those are tender memories of father and son that are etched in my heart because of our woods.

All the Changes

The boys have grown up and left our home now. Their childhood is tucked away in memories and photographs. And now those woods are a part of my memories too, as they also are gone from our home. Now, I have a backyard full of deer trying desperately to get food out of my bird feeders, because their home is suddenly gone. The owl that lived in that giant oak tree no longer calls out, “Who, Who?” as I have my pre-dawn devotions on the patio. We have to close our curtains at night because the headlights of the street that passes by the woods shine into our living room now. I’m pretty sad about the loss of the woods, but if I’m honest, I’m a little mad, too. You wouldn’t think the loss of a few acres of trees would be bringing up so much emotion, and maybe I’m being overly dramatic about it but feelings, while not reliable indicators of truth, are nonetheless real and must be dealt with.

How Should I Respond

So what do I do with all this sadness, sense of loss, and frustration about our woods? Well, if I’m thinking biblically, I might want to take a second look at that last pronoun I used, “our woods.” Whose woods are they, anyway? In a worldly sense, they belong to the city, and they can do whatever they want with them. But, from God’s point of view, they are His woods.

For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.
(Psalm 50:10-11)

God created, sustains, and owns every inch of this earth, and all the creatures who dwell on it. “My” woods are His woods, and He is sovereign over them. If He had wanted them to remain untouched, they would still be there. He is also able to feed those deer and rehome that owl because, no matter how much I want to take ownership of all these things, they are not mine, but His. Who am I to tell the God of the universe how to run what He created?

Another important fact has become clear as I’ve mourned the loss of these woods: I am way too attached to the things of this world.

But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short…Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away. (1 Corinthians 7:29a, 31)

Yes, I must remind my heart that I am only on earth for a brief time, and that everything here is temporary. Only eternal things have eternal significance, and these are the things I need to set my mind and heart on.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Setting my mind and heart on things above (Jesus, perfect peace, an end to pain, grief, and tears) will lift me out of the sorrows of this world and up into the realities of heaven, where there will be no sorrow or loss of any kind. The destruction of the woods cannot destroy the hearts or the souls of my children. If I’m going to invest emotional energy in something, it would probably be better used toward prayer for them!

Evaluating My Attachments for the Glory of God

My attachment to those woods ran much deeper than could have imagined. What else in this world am I strongly attached to, that just hasn’t come to my attention because it hasn’t been taken away? The events of the last few days are a good reminder to take my own inventory, and see if there may be other worldly things that have crept onto my list of “must-haves”.

The neighborhood children and moms to come will make memories in that same space where those woods were. They’ll just be of a different kind, and that’s ok. Long after my husband and I are gone from this address, that space behind it will still belong to the Lord, and He will still do with it as He pleases. That’s more than ok. That’s for His glory, and that’s what I long to desire more than anything else. He is good and faithful, and will work it out for good. I know this, because He told me so:

All things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8: 28)