When the sun shines brightly to warm the earth, on what would normally be a cold January day, I am beckoned outdoors. As I walked through the wooded trails near our home with a friend, I was chattering on about some trivial thing when I stopped short, realizing my friend 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 (spikes) protruding, not only from the branches but in clusters from the trunk as well. 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. The image of the tree stayed with me. Birds flew near but never landed. It became important to know more about this thorny tree that seemed to be speaking to my heart.
I learned that the tree 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’ 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. 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, making more aesthetically pleasing, yet the danger from the thorns persists.
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. 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.
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.
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. I think that describes me too. At least I hope it does. 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.
Remember, it’s amazing what fresh eyes can see.
Check out Gina’s blog here.