Vision, a picture of a preferable future. George Barna shared this definition of vision in his book Turnaround Churches. For some reason Mr. Barna’s definition spoke to me and I have used it throughout my ministry when talking about vision. A personal vision, a communities vision is a picture not of what is…but of what could be.
DAD’S VISION FOR SOME TREES
Nancy and I have been married twenty six years. When Nancy first came around my families home in New Baltimore, NY my father had a vision. He wanted trees on a piece of property that he owned across from his house. He went and got tiny little seedlings and began to plant…not for today, but for the future. Nancy laughed at his trees. To be honest there were a lot of people who gave my dad a hard time. These trees were less than the Charlie Brown type trees. They were basically twigs with a little green on them. Their current reality did not stop my dad. He had a vision of what could be.
The ground was hard. Digging a hole to plant the trees (twigs) with a shovel was not an option. Armed with a large metal bar my Dad went and began to drill small holes into the ground. These holes were just big enough for a little dirt and the twigs. One of Dad’s neighbors, Mr. Stafford, watched as the seedlings were planted one by one. Mr. Stafford was one of the funniest men to ever live. Dad was hard at work planting when all of a sudden from across the street he heard someone shout, “Timber!”
The truth was it was hard to see these seedlings once they were planted. More than one of them was lost to careless mowing. My brother was enlisted to help cure that problem. Dad gave him a large metal ring from a wooden barrel. Phillip had to go and place the ring around each seedling and then pull all the grass from inside the metal ring. It was not an easy job. I was glad Phillip was entrusted with that responsibility.
As time passed Nancy and I would come to visit. Every time we arrived there would be some friendly banter back and forth between Nancy and Dad about his trees. “Do you think we can use one as a Christmas tree this year?” “No, not yet…they have not grown much.” There would be laughter back and forth. It was a playful thing between Nancy and Dad.
One day we stopped by to visit and Nancy stopped laughing. The trees had suddenly grown. They were unrecognizable to everyone. Everyone except my father who had seen them before. Dad had seen them in his vision…his picture of the preferable future where the empty lot would be filled with trees.
Today those trees tower over my Dad and I. The trees tower over the houses on the street. They are beautiful. They have grown into everything my father envisioned them becoming. Who is laughing now?
LET THE TREES SPEAK
There are some lessons in my Dad’s trees.
Vision needs a caretaker. Someone who owns it, cultivates it, and leads people towards this picture of what could be. My Dad saw a lot filled with trees where others saw an empty lot and bunch of twigs. Dad was the caretaker and cultivator of the vision. It did not matter if others did not see what could be, he did. It was my Dad who carried water to the lot and carefully nourished each tree until they were able to survive on their own. The vision of what could be for a community of believers needs caretakers…people who can see it before it becomes reality. People who are willing to invest in what could be when others will tell you, “stop wasting your time…nothing will ever grow in that pile of rocks and weeds.”
Vision needs to be nurtured. My brother was gifted the metal ring he used to weed around the seedlings a few years ago. Last I heard he has it in his office. I know that is where I would keep it. It would serve as a reminder that a vision of what could be must be nurtured. There are going to be other things that grow up around it to crowd it out…those things must be removed in order for the vision to thrive. Nurturing a vision is not easy. Ask my brother what it was like to move from tree to tree and pull all the vegetation from within a two foot circle around the seedling. As we stand before people and point to this picture of the preferable future we must nurture the vision. It will involve sacrifice. Do not believe you will speak the picture once, twice, three times and people will jump to follow you. Vision must be nurtured, and nurturing is not always easy.
Vision fulfillment takes time. Nancy and I have been married 26 years. Dad’s vision of what could be has grown from seedlings to these massive trees over 26 years. The growth did not happen overnight. Too often we hear and get excited about some vision for what could be and then decide we want to see it become reality…right this minute. Vision fulfillment does not happen overnight. Let me rephrase that, vision fulfillment that has a lasting impact upon our world does not happen overnight. We can point to different situations or examples where it appears that vision fulfillment occurred overnight. If we took the time to look deeper we would find that very very seldom is there such a thing as an “overnight success”. More often than not vision fulfillment comes after a long slog of doing the right thing time after time after time with limited result until “suddenly” something shifts and we begin to see this picture of the preferable future unfold before our very eyes. Too many times we miss out on vision fulfillment because we are unwilling or unable to hang in there just a few moments longer and let things unfold until we see the picture of the preferable future unfold before our eyes. We want it now and in our rush to get our way we crush the vision.
Vision fulfillment needs to be celebrated. Nancy may have laughed at those trees in the beginning but she celebrates with my father today. Each time she visits his house one of the first words out of her mouth, after hello, is something about those trees. She comments on how large the trees are. A few times she has mentioned that they could serve as a Christmas tree in a large public area. In those moments she is acknowledging that while she may not have been on board in the early days she certainly sees the vision today. Her words acknowledge Dad’s idea of what could be and affirm his commitment to working to see it become reality. In our lives and communities we must take time to stop and celebrate vision fulfillment. In these days of continually moving forward and finding some new level to reach it is easy to forget to celebrate when we achieve vision fulfillment. Failure to celebrate can be disheartening and certainly does not encourage people to work harder to nurture the vision.
Vision is not easy…but it can be fun. Those trees were work…but they were fun. Dad had fun with everyone who only saw seedlings and could not see the forest. He laughed right along with them as they poked fun. One of those trees ended up in our living room for Christmas one year. We certainly had fun around that tree and there were many comments about where it came from as presents were opened. While personal and community wide vision work may not be easy at times we should not lose sight of the truth that it should be fun. It ought to bring us joy to gather like minded people to help work towards this picture of a preferable future. If your vision work is all dreary, and depressing…if it brings no joy, maybe it is time to ask if what you are working towards is really a preferable future.
Looking at those trees across from my father’s house it is amazing to think of all the lessons they have taught me over the years. I asked Rayann to take a picture of my Father and I standing in front of them so you could get some sense of the scale and size these trees have grown to. Once done Rayann showed the picture to my Dad. He laughed and said, “You can hardly see us, we are specks in the picture.” The seedlings have dwarfed the man who had the vision to plant them. That is the way God given visions often work. The visionary starts driving the vision. They own it, they speak it, they are responsible to keep it alive and moving forward. There comes a time when the vision outgrows the visionary. The vision becomes even more that what the visionary pictured or imagined and it is time for someone else to step in and take ownership and carry the dream forward.
I love the way Abba Father can speak to us through even the most simplest of things.
May we be dreamers of dreams and people of vision who are willing to ask God, “How would you use me to bring about your preferable future here upon this earth?”