He spoke into my life where my parents could not or would not involve themselves: the stunted places, those aching, relational gaps.
Husband of Pat, my beloved Theatre Arts mentor, Dr. Howard Stien entered my life slowly. Gently.
We shared coffee, anecdotes, laughter, the singular pleasures of knowledge vs. mysteries, and the love of writing. We shared our awe for a God who loves to graft stories and lives together.
How does one measure the relational graft that feels divinely ordained—and, finally, organic?
In Tree-speak, a graft can generate something new.
A graft can also repair an injured tree.
When the graft grows
Stien recognized my injured sapling-self. His regard grounded and sheltered me. Oak-steady, he modeled as well as articulated God’s grace in ways I could grasp. His quiet confidence in my abilities renewed hopes, long dormant.
With trademark humor, Stien wore black on exam days. I wish I’d taken one of his Biology classes.
Are you thinking of someone who’s been a spiritual father, or mother, to you? A person this special enters our lives as if sent—even fleetingly—and if we are open, we are indelibly changed.
My stoic Viking in denim was also a soft-spoken apostle for curious, wide-awake living. Kindly and wry, his questions took root in me. Generated ideas. Dropped seeds.
Over the years, he attended many of my performances. During our hug afterward, sometimes he’d say he’d felt nervous for me. Just like a dad.
The graft that “takes”
What will be said about us, after we’re gone?
Are we, like Stien, leaving a vibrant legacy?
Family man and farmer, scientist, pastor, and builder, tail gunner and neighborhood runner, author, professor, and mentor—he feels spliced into my spirit. Part of my extended family tree.
Had Stien been born a tree, I’d picture something oak-ish: resilient, and crowned with shining leaves.
In “Trees for the Forest,” from his book Thoughts While at Bat in the Tenth Inning, Stien writes:
“My intrigue with trees is about as old as I am . . .
[L]ately as I drive down a tree-lined boulevard
or stroll through the ponderosa stand bordering our community
I marvel at the unique individual beauty of these magnificent creations.
It’s like seeing persons in a crowd.”
He adds that while people’s names often elude him, he still recalls genus names from his early studies, like Quercus for oak.
The graft that takes keeps on giving . . .
Leaving Hospice a few days ago, the word terebinth dropped into my mind. Terebinth, often translated “oak” in the Bible, comes from the Hebrew word meaning “mighty.”
I’ve no idea what aftershave Stien wore, but the terebinth’s unique fragrance unites heady balsamic resin with notes of lemon and fennel.
You want to stay near a richly complex aroma. Breathe it in. Absorb its warmth.
Online, I explore Stien’s world, and learning eases my sorrow. I return with these spiritual parallels:
- A solitary tree, the terebinth holds its ground on exposed hillsides and in tangled ravines
- Substantial roots deeply penetrate soil and anchor the tree
- Fruitful, the tree provides soothing oil and strengthening proteins
- Valued for its inner treasure, the tree, when tapped, offers a cleansing solvent (turpentine)
- Handsome, even in great age, the terebinth is recognized by its subtle blossoms and winged leafstalks
He is nine days gone. It feels like a wing has gone missing.
“Although my father and my mother have forsaken me,
yet the Lord will take me up
[adopt me as His child].”
—Ps. 27:10 (AMPC)
Has someone been a spiritual father, or mother, to you?
Are you currently encouraging a sapling-soul in need of repair?
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