So when we bought our house back in 2003, one of my favorite things about the yard was this gorgeous Japanese maple tree perched lovingly in the front of the Bay window. I have no idea of its age, but if I had to speculate, I would say it’s about 20 years old or so. Each spring I marvel at its transformation, from stark barrenness and limbs of almost charcoal with wiry cherry tips, to forked buds of deep forest green, yearning for permission to lunge forward and grasp the crisp pale yellow sun.
By this time of the summer, the leaves have begun their fall ensemble, and incredible hues of greens and reds line the tree from trunk to treetop. The visual unveiling is an emotional undertaking, and I feel blessed to have a front row seat each season to all of God’s bounty.
For several reasons, that tree has become the focal point of the yard. There are no other trees in our yard, and the children knew from an early age this tree was very special. ‘We don’t play on this tree,’ you’d hear the children tell their friends. Just about every single ‘First Day of School’ photo and every other special occasion photo centers around that tree. It’s like a member of the family, plain and simple.
In October of 2011 we had an early and extremely severe ice storm that wreaked havoc and devastation across much of New England. Power lines were dropped to the ground like threads; large long-standing oaks were snapped in half like twigs; roofs collapsed from the tremendous weight of this ice – the damage figures soared into the millions.
As you can imagine, my precious sole standing maple took a hit – one of its two main branches cracked under the weight of the ice it was forced to bear. The crack did not sever the limb, however, but left it crippled and limping…in need of swift attention. In my absence, the decision was made to sacrifice the limb in order to attempt to save the remaining tree. When I saw what had happened, and the choice that was made, I was initially destroyed. A flood of emotions filled me: anger at the destruction, mourning at the loss of such beauty, disappointment at the decision made.
It was a very difficult winter, and I could no longer bear to gaze out my window at my beloved tree that once held so much joy. Cloaked in my anguish, as spring approached, I missed all the little signs that were sent for my benefit – signs of new life, rebirth. That tree wasn’t just surviving, it was thriving. Even with the loss of half of itself, it was shining in the face of disappointment. It was staring its critics down, and being all that it could be, despite the odds against it.
And today, even though it remains one of the smallest trees on the block – it is missing its entire left side and it is completely devoid of leaves on its backside – it is still the most beautiful. Other bigger, taller, seemingly stronger trees have fallen despite their best attempts to the contrary. This tiny Japanese maple – it stands victorious – all because no one ever told it it could not.
I was looking at my dear tree this morning, and thinking just how parallel this tree is to my life lately. I experienced an ‘amputation’ of sorts a few years back, and though it might not have been my choice at the time, looking at my standing compared to the rest of the block, I am thriving and standing the tallest I have ever stood. I haven’t physically grown an inch, but my soul and spirit have surpassed Shaq for sure.
Pruning, though often not our first choice, many times saves the life of what is being trimmed. The process is painful, as dead or dying parts are cut away, without the benefit of anesthesia. We can be left bewildered, wondering why we have to experience trimming at all. But once completed, as new growth begins, we can see why the process was necessary, even critical.
John 15:2 states “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” God’s goal is to make us as fruitful as possible; to bring forth our best so that we thrive; most of all, to bring Him glory.
This is a picture of my tree these days:
And this is me:
We’re both a shadow of our former selves; lean, mean fighting machines; little engines that could. Just try and get in our way.