A few years ago, I landscaped my backyard and spent quite a bit of time and money on excavation, trees, plants, a fire pit, boulders, and all that good stuff. Since my yard faces west, I picked out two willows and put them in the middle so that they would grow to someday provide shade. They weren’t puny saplings; they were about 30-40 feet ‘teenage’ trees. Although sparse in the branches and leaves department, my landscaper assured me they would grow fast, and in not too many years they’d touch and create a nice canopy of shade.
The first year was pretty disappointing. Not much growth. But the landscaper had warned me that after being transplanted the trees would need time to develop a root system. I tried to be patient.
Another year passed. They pushed out a few more branches, but still weren’t growing as fast as I wished. But I had faith that they would eventually kick into gear and look like real trees–not “palm” willows with their scarce branches.
One day a windstorm blew through. I wasn’t worried since I’d seen worse. A tornado strength storm had happened right after my trees were planted and swirled around and shook the foundation of my house all night long and eventually pulled up my favorite Frost Peach tree and threw it across the yard in a tangled mess of sorrow. But my willows had survived, so I figured they could survive anything.
I was wrong.
My daughter heard a loud CRACK and screamed. I rushed to her room and looked out her window and saw a sight that nearly brought me to tears.
My heart was broken…and so was my tree.
The tall, graceful willow now looked like a stubby dwarf from Lord of the Rings. The most beautiful part of it that had all the new growth—the main stem going straight up—had snapped in half and hung pathetically from a few sinewy threads to the ground.
I went to my room to be alone. I wanted to weep…and wail…and gnash my teeth. Stupid wind!
It seemed the end of my poor willow. I was sure we’d have to dig it up and throw it away. I mourned; I was bitter toward wind in all its forms. I had been so patient as I waited for my trees to grow…and now one was half its size with a jagged scar right on the main trunk.
My husband didn’t dig it up and throw it away. He said, “It’s still alive. I bet it will grow back.”
But it was ugly and didn’t match its sister. The other tree was twice as tall now. The broken one had lost almost all of its branches and looked dismal.
I asked my brother (a landscaper) what I should do. He told me that it breaking was probably the best thing that could have happened to my tree. He encouraged me to trim off half of the other tree to match the broken one so that another wind storm in the future wouldn’t do the same to it.
AGH! That wasn’t the answer I wanted.
But my brother explained that little trees are able to put more energy into growing a strong root system to support their tops. Large nursery trees don’t have that stabilizing root system to support such a large top.
It sounded bizarre, and I rebelled against cutting my beautiful tall tree. My landscaper verified what my brother said (I did ask for a 2nd opinion). She told me to trim off the jagged scar to keep insects from getting into the trunk, and then to watch it grow as it gained a strong root system.
So that’s what I did. I left that poor whacked down tree alone…and it looked like the ugly duckling tree in my backyard next to the beautiful tall one.
But within a year, the broken tree began shoving branches out like crazy, putting the past two years to shame. When it didn’t have to feed its great height with its limited root system, it actually began to thrive, whereas before it had just been surviving.
It’s been over five years now, and if you came into my yard, you wouldn’t know which tree had been broken. One is a little taller than the other, but they both have thrown out a vibrant canopy that has made my yard very shady and cool.
That experience got me thinking about life. We are willows. Sometimes we get tall and feel glorious and vain. Like the willow, our head might get bigger than our root system…and we act shallow because of it. But then WHAMO! Some terrible gusty trial blows through and breaks us in half, crumbling us to our knees and making us wonder if we can go on.
Like the broken tree, those rough (perilous) times are when we have to dig deep and throw out our roots. Tragedy forces us to question our foundational core. Is it strong enough? What could we do better? Where are we weak?
God knows how deep and strong our roots are, and sometimes He knocks us down or lops off prideful branches for our greater good. He doesn’t just want us to SURVIVE this life—He wants us to THRIVE and have JOY!
He knows that, just like my willow, if he whacks off the fluff, we’ll have to (if we’re smart) thrust our roots down deeper—to Him—the Giver of all strength and nourishment. Then when our roots are strong, we will be able to sustain greater growth—greater depth, empathy, satisfaction, and knowledge…greater JOY.
When I walk under my willow and feel its wispy branches caress my face, I feel a connection that is almost spiritual. I remember how scrawny, puny and worthless it seemed after the wind broke it. It had seemed unsalvageable. Yet, it recovered…and now thrives. It fills my yard with quiet dignity, and the scars it carries are beautiful to me…because I know what it had to overcome.
I think that is how God will look at each of us someday. Those trials, challenges and afflictions that almost broke us and gave us the most spiritual and emotional scars in this life will be what make us beautiful and glorious to our Father in Heaven…because He will know what we have overcome to be like Him.