This evening I accepted the invitation to join the Life Tree Experience following the day’s reGroup activities. It began at 7 pm and took place in the Life Tree Cafe. Yesterday evening I received a bit of an introduction to the concept from Thom and Joani Shultz while visiting them for dinner in their home. I was intrigued by the concept. So simple. So missional.
Life Tree is a one hour experience in a cafe with four people to each round table. It is moderated by a trained person who leads us into small group/large group discussions. Tonight’s talk was on angels. I did not expect it to have much relevance to my life. Just keeping it real here, but wow, I was wrong.
We were asked to describe one time in our lives where we thought that an angel might have intervened to help us. I have several such occasions, but none so wierd as the one I am about to share. When I was 17 years old I was seriously depressed, a condition which had gone on for about 18 months. There was a season of respite, but it came back full force to such an extent where I began again to consider suicide. One night in the mountains near Washougal, Washington I was at a camp site. I was a dishwasher for a kids camp. I had too much free time. I wandered off campus onto the wilderness road in the middle of the night. I heard voices and saw faces. Demonic. I was frightened and confused and felt bitterly alone. I got lost; after an hour or so I found my way back to the campsite. I saw that lights were still on at about 3 am. I began to walk back onto the road. I felt a hand on my chest. I heard a voice tell me that if I go back out, there was no guarantee I would make it back.
Angel? God? My imagination? You might imagine why I rarely tell this story. Yet I told it tonight to three strangers at the table who are not part of reGroup. Then the host began the video story of a husband and wife, told from the wife’s perspective. I don’t know what I expected, but I certainly did not expect (nor did my small group) what happened next. The video told the story of a marriage in trouble because of a depressed husband with a flair for the dramatic. She thought he was being theatrical again when he took off his ring, left the kitchen to go downstairs and warned her to say goodbye. He begged her to come down, saying it was her last chance, over and over again. Finally, sensing urgency, she did. He was in the closet with a gun. She saw the shadow profile. He begged her to come closer. She tried, but she couldn’t. It was as if a forcefield stopped her. She could retreat back upstairs, but she couldn’t proceed downstairs. She was prohibited by whatever was stopping her. So, she fled out of the house, calling 911.
Angels? God? Her imagination? The people at my table were stunned. I didn’t know what to say. I could have chosen many other stories. You know, the safe ones that are acceptable in polite church society where we dare not speak of that which we cannot fully understand, categorize, or control. To make an already long post just a bit longer, I was asked to tell my story to the larger group. One person observed it seemed that perhaps God was orchestrating this experience tonight to validate my perception from so many years ago, and to remind me he is in control and at work today. I think that person is on to something.
So what did I think of the Life Tree Experience? For me, it was Real: Relational. Experiential. Application oriented. Learner-based. I think this has potential to be an experience which could bring believers and lost people together for conversations about God, the Bible, and their lives in ways that are affirming and that encourage people to grapple with the real stuff of their lives in a safe environment. That is a good thing.