When the sun shines brightly to warm the earth, on what would normally be a cold-January day, I am beckoned outdoors.
One such day this past week I had the good fortune of a dear friend’s company on my adventure. As we walked through the wooded trails near our home, I was chattering on about some trivial thing when I stopped short, realizing my friend was no longer beside me, but had paused a few steps behind.
When I turned to join her she was staring up at a leaf-bare tree; a look of awe on her face. Admittedly, I couldn’t imagine why. I’d walked past this tree hundreds of times on my jaunts through these woods and had apparently found the tree unremarkable.
(Isn’t it amazing what fresh eyes can see?)
When asked, my friend said she was intrigued by the thorns (perhaps spikes is a better description) protruding, not only from the branches but in clusters from the trunk as well.
She said she felt like there was a deeper story there.
This dear friend was on to something.
As we tuned in fully to the scene around us, we noticed this tree was by itself, save for some low-growing plants. It stood, perhaps strategically, right next to the lake.
We stayed a few minutes more taking in the tree and its surroundings before we continued on our walk.
But the image of the tree stayed with me. I suspect it was the makings of this post, bubbling beneath the surface that caused it to linger. So, I decided to go back and ‘observe’ the tree for a while.
As I sat and watched the tree, birds flew near but never landed. My trusty pup who is often my companion on treks through the woods, made a wide berth around the tree as he played at the shoreline of the lake. It would seem the birds and my dog were aware of what I had missed hundreds of times.
The potential danger of those thorns.
And as I sat and stared, questions about this remarkable tree swam through my mind. Along with my curiosity, I was surprised to feel a strange sort of sorrow in my soul.
Why would a tree stir such feelings in me? I wondered if God was showing me something as He often does through His creation; a lesson to be learned.
I was drawn to collect more data. It became important to know more about this thorny tree that seemed to be speaking to my heart.
Wanting answers quickly, and honestly-craving someone with whom I could share my feelings about the tree, I started with a person who I thought would know about all things botanical.
I called my dad.
In his humorous wisdom he said, “well honey, I think what you have there is a thorn tree”.
Translation: “I know nothing about your tree.”
Not to worry. I had a backup plan. Next stop, the purveyor of all wisdom.
What I learned was fascinating. The tree is not actually called a Thorn Tree. In fact, it has a deceptively sweet name: The Honeylocust Tree. The thorns on the trunk and branches are believed to be an evolved trait for the purpose of protecting itself. But, according to experts, aren’t exactly positioned well do so.
The ‘spines’ (as one article described the prickly protrusions) cause damage to people and wildlife. When left unattended, the roots will grow mangled and knotted, choking out waterways; an essential for their existence, causing their lifespan to be shorter than most trees.
While the trunk (the heart of the tree) is an excellent wood because of its resistance to rot, the tree itself is considered undesirable to the untrained eye because of its destructive qualities.
Though not widely known, the most skilled and patient of hands recognize the value of the thorns as well as the wood, painstakingly removing them and using them to hold things together.
In Spring, the tree blossoms with creamy white, fragrant flowers that turn to lacy leaves, like those of a fern.
Yet even these beautiful qualities of the tree grow carefully, seemingly between the thorns, to avoid damage and tears.
When the tree is in full bloom, the rich green foliage provides a disguise for the thorns beneath. While they do not minimize the danger of the thorns, they do make the tree more aesthetically pleasing.
OK. So, by now I’m sure you’re wondering:
“What’s the deal with the botany lesson?”
I’m glad you asked.
You see, this beautiful, awful tree held a lesson for me. A picture of a journey that has often been two steps forward and three steps back. The more I read about this tree, the more I realized at times in my life I have been much like it. Sometimes, I still am.
Many times in my life, I have found myself covered in ‘thorns’, evolved from a need to protect myself. Although most of the time they’ve been positioned incorrectly to do so.
Many times I have called those thorns by some sweet name to justify them or minimize their potential for damage.
Many times in my life I have convinced myself it is better to stand alone; not get too close to others for fear of being hurt, or hurting them.
I’m certain people came close, but couldn’t quite find a place to land, for fear of the damage my thorns might do.
Many times have I covered my thorns with what looked good and beautiful to the world around me. And even allowed for healthy things to grow in my life, but only to cover my thorns, not to replace them.
And how many times had the tangled mass of my trauma and hurt choked out my ability to reach for a life-source?
Countless, countless times.
But the metaphor doesn’t stop there.
In God’s mercy and grace, I have been blessed by the most patient and skilled of hands (and hearts) who recognized the value of my heart, and even of my thorns. People who, I am convinced, God placed in my life to unearth the value in me, and help me see it for myself.
I am eternally grateful that when my thorns protrude, even today, those precious individuals are there, reminding me of who I really am.
Now, you might be thinking “You got all of that from a tree?”
Like I said, it’s amazing what fresh eyes can see.
OH! You know what my favorite quality of the tree is?
When the thorns are old, having been exposed to light and air, they become brittle and break off rather easily. The slightest touch in just the right place will remove a thorn, and usually, they don’t grow back in that same space. How cool is that?
I think that describes me too. At least I hope it does.
THAT is some sweet Redemption.
So, what about you?
Can you relate to our ‘tree-friend’ here? Can you relate to me?
If so, my prayer for you is that you find ‘patient and skilled hands’ (and hearts) who can see the value in you and help you see it as well.
If you’ve already experienced that like I have, then let me encourage you to come alongside someone who needs that it their lives.
You might have to brave a few thorns, some of theirs and some of yours. But I promise it’ll be worth it.
Whether its asking for help or giving it, I believe you can do this.
Now that you’ve seen the tree, perhaps you’ll see yourself differently.
Remember, it’s amazing what fresh eyes can see.