There Are Places I’ll Remember – the Beatles, Abraham, and a Catalpa Tree

The Beatles had it right. There are places in life we will never forget.

Are there places in your life that have special significance? Why? What ties you to that place?

I’ve been studying Abraham this week, probably the most famous of God’s wanderers, and yet I’m struck by how important certain places became to him.

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before that Abraham would have had the same need to have a special place that I do. Maybe because his whole story seems to be about moving and wandering, I forget that he did that in obedience to God, not out of some restless desire to travel.

I like that God tells His stories in such a way that we always remember the people in them are real, flesh and blood humans. Abraham certainly grew hungry, thirsty, dusty, dirty, weary, and impatient with God’s timing.

God singled this one man out to be different from all others and the first thing God tells him to do is leave everything he knows and travel to a place He promises will belong to him (never mind that right now it’s occupied by a tribe of some very unpleasant and well-armed warriors) and eventually to his children (never mind that he is seventy-five, childless, and his wife is barren.)

Faith doesn’t even begin to define what Abraham had!

So, since Abraham has become known as such a godly hero (for good reason), I forget that he was just a man who loved a woman and that they both probably longed for a place they could call home.

At the end of Genesis 13, Abraham has traveled the entire Fertile Crescent from Ur to Egypt and has now returned to what will, eventually, be Israel. He has such trust in God that he allows his nephew, Lot, to choose the best land for himself and Abraham will take the rest. God tells Abraham to look around because one day, it will all be his.

Right now, however, it belongs to Mamre, the Amorite.

Understating the issue as usual, the Bible simply says that Abraham “went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the LORD.”

In Genesis 18, God appears to Abraham near the trees of Mamre. It is there that God tells Abraham Sarah will bear him a son within the year. Such a wonderful memory to have of a place already special to Abraham. It is still not “his” land from a human standpoint, but at ninety-nine, he is about to be blessed with a son and know the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise.

In Genesis 23, Sarah dies and Abraham mourns her. Unless you understand his life as a wanderer, you might miss the significance of this chapter on a human level. Abraham approaches those who possess the land in Mamre and asks them to sell him a cave there in which to bury Sarah.

They hold Abraham in such esteem, they offer to give him whatever he wants but he insists on paying full price for the small piece of land near the trees of Mamre. It is here, on land he owns, that he lays Sarah to rest and it is here that his sons will bury their father. Near the trees of Mamre.

We all long for a place to call our own.

Abraham was a man of great faith. Such great faith, he was willing to wander the earth for God and trust His promises when all human evidence indicated things were not as God would say. But even this great man of God was human, created from the dust, longing for an acre of dirt to call his own.

We can’t get away from being human. Some of us who follow Jesus for a long time try, though. We attempt to divorce ourselves from our humanity. We are tempted to think that that is was it means to be Christian but I don’t think it is.

God loves our humanity. He created us humans in his likeness. We are made to resemble Him. What He hates is our sin but it is not a sin to be human.

God knows our desire for a place. He understands our attachment to places. He meets us in special places in our lives.

For me, it is a stone altar by the pond where I was baptized as a girl. A hill just above my first church where I would lie on summer days reading my Bible and talking to Him. A tiny island at a Christian camp where turtles rested in the sun and water lilies snapped shut at night. The stone steps of a mansion on a college campus where God made promises to me that He fulfilled. A dorm room in a group home for children where I worked and spent hours alone with God by lamplight as my wards slept. The flat rooftop of a church in Japan where God helped me to see I wasn’t called to foreign missions. A bay window with a glider where I rocked my children and whispered my hopes to God. A conference center in North Carolina where God met me for long conversations and renewed my spirit.

And now I live in a place where there is a tree, a great catalpa tree. It is not my tree, though it may one day be. I’m not a fan of where I currently live. I’m confused and stressed by it although it does seem clear that has been provided for me by a loving God.

The tree grounds me. The tree is beautiful, sheltering, and alive. It reminds me each time I look at it, just outside my window, that God abides, that God provides, that God is.

My God is the God of Abraham.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:8-10 

What are the places in life that are special to you? Are there places where you have particular memories of meeting with God? Cherish those places and let them remind you that He loves that you are human. He loves you.

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  1. Beautiful tree. Beautiful post.

  2. Even though I’ve known all along that I serve the same God Abraham did, your words, “My God is the God of Abraham,” reminded me of the power I have available to me–the same power Abraham had! Praise Him!