It is a beautiful, 73-degree evening in Tennessee. The wind is blowing gently, sun shining clearly, birds singing sweetly and the sounds of families gathering at day’s end are floating on the air. I’ve put in a long and good day at work but find I cannot settle until I let some thoughts out into the light.
While home in New England recently, two things struck me deeply.
First, I was at the home I grew up in where my brother and his wife now reside and bring beauty to the old place. We sat out in the yard discussing all manner of things, some deep and some not so much. I was looking out over the ever-changing landscape and we started talking about an old tree at the corner of the “back forty.” That tree used to be one of the corner anchors of our pasture where we stabled a couple horses. As I gazed on it, I noted a line about 4 feet off the ground, a dark and obvious scar of some kind that went completely around the side of the tree. I realized it was where my dad had wrapped the electric fence we used to keep the horses corralled. I commented on it to my brother and we also talked about how twisted the huge old tree trunk is. That tree has survived over a hundred years of New England weather and kids climbing her branches. She survived the hurricane of ’58. She withstood a recent tree-razing that has destroyed much of the property behind our old place. Yet, she still stands, maybe not as expansive as she once was, but still growing and giving shade.
It reminded of a some of my favorite trees.
One old girl I found on a foggy day smack dab in the middle of a public school parking lot. Age and weather and children had scarred her quite a bit, but her beauty was overwhelming to me.
And then there is one of my oldest and dearest twisted friends. She clings cliffside in Ogunquit, ME. I have spent unending hours in her shade, gazing at and listening to the ocean, pouring my heart and my eyes out to the Creator. I am amazed every time I see her at how her roots reach out through the air to cling to the rock that holds her.
These trees all have been shaped and moved and scarred and beautified by the very elements that could have destroyed them. I pondered this for quite a while that day.
The following afternoon I was trying to cram as many words as I could into my brief time with some dear friends, all the while trying to hear as many words as they could offer as we caught up with one another. Somewhere during the conversation, a comment was made about how our pasts don’t have to define us. And this was my immediate response:
“Our pasts do define us, but they don’t have to bind us.”
I realized, even as I said it, I had never really believed it before. I had let my past define AND bind me in so many ways.
As I’ve considered this truth over the last several days, all my favorite trees came back to mind. They are marked, scarred and twisted by all they have lived through.
So am I.
Yet, they put their roots down deeper, sometimes inexplicably, and chose to grow. Their limbs may not be straight, they may bear the visible marks of long-past trauma, but they still grow. They provide shelter and beauty and places for children (of all ages) to find joy.
I will be like these trees. I will let God who loves me shape me and use what was meant for evil to bring beauty. I will let my roots go deeper, even if it means they must struggle to get there. And I will bear the marks others have left on me just as Jesus bore the marks left on Him.
I will be like the trees.
“They are like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
(from the ancient text of the Old Testament as found in Jeremiah, 17:8)