I used to think that in life you get what you deserve. There is a sense of justice and even pride in that. If I work hard and do good, good things will naturally follow. If life is fair, as it should be, then I am somehow the master of what comes my way, for good or for ill. I learned a different truth in my back yard.

My back yard is not manicured and stately like some, but wild and a little messy, littered with flowers that spring up unexpectedly, their seeds blown to life by the wind, and pine straw shaken loose from the old, tall pine trees. One corner of the yard has an old wooden chair with slats shaped like birdhouses at the top, while another has jasmine climbing up the side of a handmade fence. In the summer, the yard is enclosed by green from the forest behind it and the trees on either side.

The sense of peace in my yard is almost palpable. I spent one whole season of my life being healed there. It was a season filled with fear so strong and unexpected that it swept over me like a tsunami. I just hadn’t seen it coming. On bad days I would go into the back yard and sit on the reclining chair, angled so that I could see the tops of the trees and their swaying leaves. When the wind came through, the trees came to life, their branches lifting and dipping the leaves, which seemed to be waving in joy. Here I sought relief from the fears that haunted me—fears that stemmed from my own failures as well as those of others. Fear that lied as much as it spoke the truth, although at the time, I couldn’t see that. In the back yard, I could breathe deeply and let go.

Except for the old pines, which serve to provide a little shade and a lot of mess, none of the trees are actually mine. You see, I am surrounded on all sides by trees that belong to my neighbors. They provide the solitude, the sanctuary, the tide of nature’s rhythm that soothes my spirit. I didn’t plant them, I don’t care for them or feed them or trim them, although occasionally I have to cut back an encroaching branch or two. All I do is enjoy the solitude they create. Like grace they are provided by the efforts of someone else. So, once again, I am made aware of the fact there are things I experience because of the goodness of others, not because I work hard or do good. These things are not about justice or fairness. Rather they run right into the arms of grace—undeserved, unearned, and life preserving. You may not have a yard, but God himself provides His own place of renewal and safety for you. “You (Lord) have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade in the heat.” Isaiah 25:4. God’s grace provides shelter and peace when we need it. Now there is a reason to hope.