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With the kids all back in school and football games starting this week, my internal calendar thinks it’s fall. But fall doesn’t officially come for another month and it’s too soon for the leaves to start changing colors.

Yet, as I look at the panoramic view of the mountains from my home in northern Colorado, I’m reminded of a place of notable change.

As you travel higher in elevation, there comes a place where habitats change. Timberline, sometimes called the tree line, is the edge of a habitat where trees are capable of growing. Past timberline, the environmental conditions are such that trees can’t survive (usually too cold or not enough water) and the few that do are usually stunted, gnarled, and twisted by the harsh elements. (On the plus side, it takes deep roots to enjoy the unobstructed view.)

There are places on Earth where trees don’t grow well. High altitudes. Deserts. Poor soil. Extreme cold. High winds. Not every environment is right for trees.

The same is true for my life. There are places I thrive. Church services and women’s Bible studies. Personal quiet times. Family nights. Volunteer projects. Places where I am fed spiritually, watered with God’s love, and emotionally full through relationships and service.

There are also places where it’s hard to survive, let alone grow. Secular academic institutions. Work environments. Media messages. Places where my values are challenged, my choices are ridiculed, and temptations abound. Places where deep roots are essential. Places where one might seem out of place (like a tree above timberline).

I’ve been doing some blogging lately for the missions department at our church, especially reports on short-term trips this summer. So this idea of difficult places to grow reminded me of those who choose to live in a different culture far from friends and family. They need the roots and nurture from a support system in order to personally survive the challenges … and yet, their presence is as refreshing as a tree by an oasis in the middle of the desert. A visible signal that life-giving water is nearby.

If I’m called to live at timberline, do I have the roots to survive?

What about you? Are you in a thriving place or a trying-to survive place? What do you need in order to grow there? Do you find the tree above timberline inspiring? Why or why not?

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