I woke up, and He was there.
The man was farther away, looking down, pushing his finger on the right side of his chest, counting each rib. And He was next to him, all around him. And all around me. I pushed my hair from my eyes and saw that I wasn’t seeing Him. But His presence was thick enough to feel and felt real enough see.
And what I saw was Good.
• • •
Adam was a man but not the kind you would think. You wouldn’t describe him as the strong type or the gentle one or the kind that keeps to himself. Adam was every type of man because he was the only one.
And I suppose I was every type of woman. I liked to feel warm grass under my feet, and I gathered flowers in bunches of colors. I took charge of the birds while Adam watched the fish. I was resourceful and clever as I fed them. I was gentle as I spoke.
I loved Father, and I loved Adam, and they taught me everything. Adam taught me the names of the animals and plants, what life had been like when it was just Father and him. That we were not allowed to eat from Middle Tree. Father taught me how to see without my eyes and hear without my ears. He taught me how to laugh and how to love. He taught me how to walk with Him.
I walked most days. I don’t think I ever knew how far or for how long. It didn’t matter because He kept with my pace. He talked to me about His love for the animals and for Adam and me, but mostly He listened. He was pleased when He talked but delighted when I spoke. He listened to me talk about Adam and about the new things I’d learned, never-ending things. When Father listened, Garden felt silent and still—like there was nothing else on His mind.
• • •
Time seemed very slow back then, but it must have been a few years before I noticed the change.
I wanted my walks with Father to be shorter—that’s what I noticed first. Things started to grab my attention. I’d have a thought that I should leave Him to care for the lions or lie in the wheat field and watch the clouds. The beauty of Garden started to rival His. I knew they couldn’t win, but something in my head told me Maybe they could.
I never cut the walks short, but I thought about it.
I started to think about Middle Tree a lot too. As I learned more and more, my mind seemed to have a greater capacity to hold things and an insatiable desire to take it all in. At first, I took everything for what it was—for what Father and Adam told me it was. But as the days strolled on, I began to think for myself, to wonder, to question.
I became curious.
• • •
I would never disobey Father. I knew that.
No matter how much I wondered and explored, I would never wander out of His reach. Could I, even if I wanted to?
I asked Him one day, because He knew everything. I asked Him to remind me what would happen if we ate fruit from Middle Tree. He said we would know much more than we know now, much more than we could even imagine. I asked why He didn’t want that for us.
Because I love you He said.
• • •
It was the only thing we couldn’t do. The only thing. And as my mind grew, I began to think about that more. Why was everything else permitted?
Father knew the questions in my head, but He waited for me to ask them. I asked why He made Middle Tree different from the others. He said All you know is My presence, but there is something other than My presence. My presence is Good, and the absence of My presence is Evil. There are only these two choices.
I told Him I didn’t understand, and He said You are not aware of choices, but you make them every day—you and Adam both. You are the only two I created to make choices, you are unique in that way. You are special. Though I want you for My own, I won’t capture you. Though I want you to love Me, I won’t force you. Middle Tree is how I show you this love. So Middle Tree must always be different from the others.
All you know is Good, and it is never a question for you. But if you eat from Middle Tree, you will forever wonder. You will not just have the choice between Good and Evil, but you will experience their pull, their contrast.
His voice was sure and deep. If you experience life without Me, you will forever wonder if life with Me is truly Good.
• • •
Adam was curious about Middle Tree too, but He seemed to wonder about different things—about how the water rushed in the stream and how the wind blew around him but not through him. He was curious about what He could see. I was curious about what I couldn’t.
He said every time he walked by Middle Tree he saw one of the serpents resting nearby. The one with the yellow eyes and slender limbs. There’s a look about him that’s different from the others Adam said.
I heard Father’s word in my head—Choices.
• • •
The first time I met the serpent was an accident. I was making my way through Garden learning about as many animals as I could. I remember it was the day I met the moles and a zebra, which I’d only seen at a distance.
I watched the moles dig a hole, and I knelt to copy them. My fingernails filled with dirt, and the land felt cool under my knees.
When I met the zebra, he was sleeping in the field. I rested my head on his back and traced his stripes one by one. Like tigers and lemurs and chipmunks. But still different.
Father is so creative.
And as I walked back to Adam, I passed by Middle Tree—it always seemed to pull me near. And the grass all around the tree was bright green, the greenest you’ve ever seen. The serpent was resting, waiting, in the grass. I almost passed him by.
I turned to look for Adam, but he wasn’t near. Who said that?
I did, and I saw the serpent watching. I saw his yellow eyes—they were inviting, distant, different. I wasn’t sure why. He asked what I thought of his ability to speak.
I’ve never heard a creature say words, but maybe you are like Adam and me. Anything is possible with Father.
He shrunk away, stepping backwards up into the tree. Have you ever thought of eating from this tree?
The idea had never crossed my mind. Of course I’d been drawn to Middle Tree, been intrigued by it, but I’d never thought I could eat from it…
• • •
Now I can’t stop.
• • •
It’s been years, I’m not sure how many—but I still think about what the serpent said. Have you ever thought of eating from this tree?
I think about it daily.
I see the serpent hanging on Middle Tree every time I walk by. He’s described the taste of the fruit as something like a sweet lemon. He’s told me the differences between Middle Tree and the others many times—how Middle Tree’s fruit never falls to the ground, and its leaves never change colors. He’s made me notice the tree, want to be near it.
Today after my walk with Father, I’ll pass by Middle Tree again. I may touch the fruit like I did last time, but nothing else. The serpent has become my friend, my companion. I hear his words in my ear when I’m falling asleep—Your eyes will be opened. You will be like Him.
I want to be like Father, I do.
I’ll walk by Middle Tree today, and I’ll see what the fruit feels like—if it’s still smooth or soft like it was before. Maybe I’ll even smell it.
And the serpent will be there, and we’ll talk, and he’ll tell me more stories about Father. And I’ll sit under the shade of Middle Tree, but I won’t eat from it. I never do, I never would.
I’m just going to sit with the serpent for a little while, not for long, I promise.
It’ll just be a normal day.