Portrait of A Tree


Crape/Crepe Myrtle [Lagerstroemia]

” ‘Natchez ‘ Crepe Myrtles grow 20′-30’ high in the South.   The foliage becomes a reddish-orange in fall.   The bark peels off attractively, rather like that of birches, adding winter interest.   Natchez Crepe Myrtles bear white blooms.   As with most crepe myrtle, the flowers are the main selling point.   They not only grow in striking clusters, but put on a display that lasts longer than that for most plants (mid-summer to fall).   The blooms yield to fruits that are brownish and persist through winter.” [Wikipedia]

Dear Readers,

Recently, I was looking out the window at my Crape [Crepe] Myrtle trees:  I chose the “Natchez”  variety — but not for the profusion of ornamental and transient white flowers.  No, I chose it for one striking and enduring characteristic:  the beauty of the emerging “inner” bark.

It is fascinating to observe the process:  Over time, the rough, ugly, greyish, thin, “outer” bark will peel and slough off, to reveal the smooth, satiny, cinnamon-color “inner” bark:

The vigorous and healthy growth of the tree provides the vitality and energy to burst through the containment of the outer bark.

The portrait of this tree reminds me of the dynamics of a forty-year process:  

Forty-two years ago, in May of 1970, I attended a Protestant Youth of the Chapel Retreat.  I was 18 years old and my only motivation for attending the retreat was to spend time with my high school boyfriend.

In those days, weekend retreats were very simple.  They were intentional “retreats” from the world and provided hours of silence.  As I recall, the retreat followed this daily pattern:




Morning Prayer

Keynote Speaker


Canoe on the Lake or Hike a Nature Trail

Silence:  Rest,  Read, and Bible Study


Keynote Speaker

Vespers by the Lake



Lights Out



The Keynote Speakers were two handsome, athletic young men, who were volunteer staff with a university campus ministry.

The theme for the speakers’ lectures that weekend was, “My Heart: Christ’s Home,”  based upon a simple little booklet, written by Robert Boyd Munger.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA

Robert Boyd Munger

I assure you that I did not, before the retreat, possess a yearning to offer hospitality to Christ — no, not even admittance to a tiny, dark, recessed corner of my autonomous life.

For I was a busy high school student:  Endless activity filled my days, evenings, and weekends.  And then there were also my studies, which I must cram within the frenetic schedule.  Contemplation and meditation were completely absent from my life.

But the weekend retreat and the hours of silence provided for me an opportunity to stop, think, and ponder.

I was not yet a student of theology.  If I had been, I might have snorted in derision at the simple content of the booklet, My Heart – Christ’s Home.  

It measures merely 3 1/2″ x 5″  and contains only 25 pages of text.  Page 3 introduces the theme:

“That God may grant you to be strengthened with might, through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” [Ephesians 3.16-17]


“That Christ may settle down and be at home in your hearts by faith.”  [Weymouth translation]

The keynote speakers offered each of us a copy of the little booklet, which contained eight tiny chapters.  Over the weekend, I read the booklet, as a novitiate might pore over a prayer-book.  The reading filled up the moments of silence, as I meditated upon the weighty message of this simple book.

On the last evening of the retreat, I perfectly remember that we, the high school students, were encircled around a camp fire.  We sat on the benches of the amphitheatre, in front of the lake.

The two speakers, standing in front of us, concluded their talks and asked us, “Are you ready to ask  Christ to ‘settle down and be at home in your hearts by faith?'”  

In silence, we departed and returned to our cabins, in time for curfew.  The counselors extinguished the lights and all was silent.  With a flashlight, under my blanket, I re-read the booklet.

And then I made a very reckless decision:  I followed the instructions, contained within the booklet:  I “transferred the title-deed of my home:”

I signed the title-deed of my life over, as it were, to Christ, and placed my life under his ownership and control.

If I had carefully counted the Cost of Discipleship, as the author Dietrich Bonhoeffer implores us, I might not have made such a life-altering decision.

It was, I admit, a rash thing to do.

And I do think that, at the time, someone might have warned me about the long-term consequences.

The portrait of the tree represents those consequences:

Over forty years’ time, the presence of the Living Christ has eclipsed my life.

How did I ever hope to think, forty years ago, that I could safely contain the Lord of the Universe, within the confines of my life?

For, even heaven cannot contain him!

This is my fair warning to those contemplating such a serious decision:  Count the cost of discipleship.

Take heed — for Christ will burst through the confines of your life.

The thin veneer of your life will peel, slough off, and float down to the ground.  Doubtless, you will not enjoy the process, for it is painful.

The life of Christ, mighty, majestic, and powerful, will not conform to the contours of your life.  Your life must conform to his life.

But the process, as painful as it may be, will also startle you with its ultimate beauty:

Forty years from now, you may survey the life-less and superfluous outer bark and think to yourself,

“Oh, yes, this process was indeed necessary.  He has increased and I have decreased.”  

Then you will realize that the transfer has become a transplant:

Christ, The Great Physician, has removed your heart of stone and has given you a heart of flesh.

It is a mystery beyond my telling.

Coram Deo,


P. S. 

Yes, I married Stephen Payne, my high school sweetheart.


I have four extra copies of the booklet, “My Heart – Christ’s Home.”   If you want a copy, free of charge:

Step One:  Include a Reply/Comment below — I will reserve a copy for the first four persons who respond.

Step Two:  Contact me at my email address [marmeepayne@gmail.com] and include your  name and snail-mail address.

Or, if you want to order the booklet:  

ISBN 0-87784-075-X

Revised Edition, 1986, by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA


InterVarsity Press

POB 1400

Downer’s Grove, Illinois 60515


Filed under discipleship, The Cost of Discipleship

3 responses to “Portrait of A Tree

  1. Margie Gibbons

    My heart is filled with glory as your words express phases of your life that also bring memories to mine. My dear sister, Anne Porter is also reading your blog or should say, reading your heart and is am I—truly being blessed by your written expressions, as we decrease in ourselves and increase in HIS–thank you, thank you Margot, our sweet Sister in CHRIST!

    Smiles, love and hugs,
    We are forever grateful for the Payne’s and our cherished times of dinner and fellowship we joyfully shared with the Payne’s and Davis’!
    You are dearly loved!
    Margie Gibbons– now experiencing how our loving FATHER GOD reigns in the lives of the South Florida folks He graciously places in our daily life!

  2. Margie Gibbons

    I think the Gibbons need to plant a Crape (Crepe) Myrtle in our South Florida front yard as a daily reminder of our wonderful days in Tallahassee.
    Thanks for bringing my heart and soul to this realization and connection to our Sovereign GOD!

  3. When we built our house in 1987, we didn’t have money to pay for professional landscaping, so I did what I could with whatever was cheap. I don’t know whether the white crepe myrtles I planted near the front porch are Natchez or not, but I have loved the bark all these years. Our yard man, bless his soul, always prunes them–I should say “pollards them”–so they never spread a beautiful full skirt like the one in the picture, but I enjoy the cinnamon-looking bark.

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