I’m the woodland steward at my house.  When we bought our home 16 years ago, we were attracted to the small woodland in the backyard – it seemed the perfect place for our 4 sons to ramble.  Little did I know at the time, how God would later use those woods to restore my soul.

Have you heard of Forest Bathing?  It’s the latest health and wellbeing craze that began in Japan. Scientific evidence has shown that just being in the presence of trees and nature and connecting with it through our senses has therapeutic health benefits.  The human heart rate and blood pressure are lowered; stress, anxiety, depression and anger are reduced; the immune system is strengthened, and one’s overall sense of wellbeing increases.  Research shows that chemical compounds emitted from trees provide these positive health effects.  In our own country, studies show that hospital patients who have a view of nature recover more quickly and require less medication. 

These scientific discoveries, in my opinion, are exactly what God intends for us.  We’ve all had our breath taken away while watching one of God’s brilliant sunsets. We’ve sensed the awesomeness of God while gazing at a majestic mountain or hearing powerful waves crashing against rocks. Creation isn’t filled with wonder by accident –  it was intricately designed – and we are attracted to it with all our being.  When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden.  We are hardwired by God to affiliate with the natural world. 

So, back to our small woodland, it didn’t take long to figure out that the woods were totally infested with buckthorn, a non-native invasive shrub, which had formed an impenetrable thicket inhibiting the growth of ground layer plants and wildflowers.  That’s how I became the woodland steward – I felt called to take care of this gift from God and restore it to a healthy, natural state. 

About the same time, one of our sons began to exhibit the unhealthy symptoms of mental illness, and I became the mother of a mentally ill young man.  Thus began a long, frightening and difficult journey into the, new-to-us, world of mental illness.

We did the best we could with what we had. We fumbled around and made many mistakes; we learned a lot; we sought help from God and man, but for many years the illness dominated our lives.  I was treated like public enemy #1 by my son.  Much of his fear, anxiety and frustration was verbally directed at me, as he lashed out in blame. It deeply wounded me, especially after all I was doing to help and support him. 

Through this trial, I continued with the woodland restoration.  Once we got rid of the buckthorn, we started in on the other invasive plants.

Psalm 23:  The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. 

God used nature to restore and heal my soul.  As I pulled out the invasive weeds that don’t belong in a Minnesota woodland, He was pulling weeds out of me: weeds of fear, anger, resentment and weeds of deep sorrow and grief. 

The woods became a place of refuge for me. The leafy green canopy was like the shelter of the Most High where I could abide in the shadow and safety of His wing.  Often my Bible and a chair accompanied me to the green sanctuary, that sacred place of dappled shade – my being soaking up His presence – basking in His love. 

Other days – totally spent, barely able to go on, I’d lie down to rest under the trees, mesmerized by the shafts of sunlight dancing through the canopy openings. His light, the glory of His brightness penetrating the dark places in the woodland – in me.

As we were being restored – the woodland and me, my son, our family –  native woodland plants started to appear and grow: pink flowered geraniums, arching stemmed Solomon’s Seal, and to my great delight – trilliums!  All signs of a healthier eco-system. And the signs of a healthier me?  A deeper peace and trust in God germinated and began to grow within me. 

I started adding native plants to the woodland –pagoda dogwood here, bloodroot there and ferns in the hollow. And God added healing to my spirit and soul: prayers from others, words of truth, understanding and insight, classes and support through NAMI the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

I like to say that the beauty of God’s creation healed me.  Maybe there is something to forest baths!  His creation is beautiful, full of splendor and majesty. Yet, it all points to Him: to His beauty, to His splendor and majesty. It’s more than I can imagine! Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by the beauty of nature, that I desire to merge with Beauty Himself – to be IN Christ.  That is where we are restored and made whole: in His presence; in His love.

The restoration work in the woodland and in me is an ongoing process, and much progress has been made on all fronts, but I’m especially thankful that my son is much better now, is living an independent life and he even invites me/us to visit him!  Truly a miracle!

And so, I will close by joining with the Psalmist and all creation declaring the Glory of our God.

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice!  Let the rivers clap their hands. Let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord. Let the seas roar and all that fills it.  Let the fields exult and everything in it.  Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord!

Amen!