Chopped tree
Divorce, Grief, Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions

TREES AS METAPHORS FOR LIFE, GROWTH AND DEATH.

My grandfather had a saying, ‘I am nearer God’s heart in a Garden than anywhere else on earth’.  In many ways I think this is true, God walked and conversed with the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden.  There is a peacefulness among trees shading you from the sun as you listen to wind rustling in their leaves. There are so many sayings and metaphors written about trees – poets, artists, writers and philosophers have sat and thought great thoughts under trees.

Author L M Montgomery has captured the essence of trees through the voice of Anne of Green Gables, ’I could not live where there are no trees, something vital in me would starve’; Anne named trees that delighted her senses. This probably rubbed off on me as I sat in my beloved tree house reading Anne of Green Gables and being entranced with the lovely purple tubular flowers of the jacaranda tree.

Oak trees have associations with death. At the Memorial Service for my late father one of our friends said, “A Mighty Oak has Fallen”. This was appropriate for my father, who had been well respected leader in the institutions in which he worked in Africa. Another tree that spoke of death was the tree upon which the Savior of the world died, the old rugged cross. People were buried under oak trees and David’s son Absalom caught his hair in the branches of an oak tree and died.

Trees have many symbolic and metaphorical meanings. A sapling needs protection from the wind and deer, it needs to be watered and nourished until its roots are deep enough to find its own nutrients and water. As children we require the protection and nourishment that our parents give us to grow strong enough to stand on our own two feet. Sometimes they overprotect us, and we don’t develop our own strength and become dependent on others to support us when the parental role has gone.  Sometimes they don’t protect us enough and we are stunted or get damaged by droughts or predators. This can cause difficulties in our adult life and in relationships and sometimes it takes a failed marriage to understand what needs to change and maybe a bit of pruning or reshaping is required to grow strong and healthy again.

Growing a heathy tree takes time and good practices. You will notice the growth rings on a tree that has been chopped down, these rings are year on year growth, emotional intelligence, mental capacity, physical strength and spiritual growth.  When the rings are even and close together the trunk of the tree is strong, when there are gaps, unevenness or damage, these are places when rot can set in. Protect them by renewing your mind, getting rid of old belief systems, choose actions that protect and not harm you, making you strong and healthy.

Once the roots of the tree are well established, they go deep down into the soil to find nutrients and water necessary to sustain the life of the tree. The sap runs up and down the tree, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing it as oxygen, keeping our environment healthy too.  The roots in a forest entwine with other tree roots making a stable tree community in the forest. We need to be kept accountable by being rooted in a community where we will flourish; a lone tree stands danger of being struck by lightning, eaten by deer or being chopped for firewood. If we don’t have a supporting community, we are an easy target for those who would harm us.

The trunk of an established tree stands firm supporting the branches and carries nutrients from the roots. It has some flexibility when the wind blows, its strength preventing the tree from being blown over; year on year it becomes stronger and stronger.  Our growth into maturity should be supporting all our activities (the branches) our relationships and our emotional intelligence. Each year a layer of wisdom added from our life experiences, we should be able to discern our places of weakness and attend to them so we become strong and not be swayed by the winds of other people’s opinions, but be confident in our decision making abilities with the help of our inner guide, the Holy Spirit.

Branches grow upwards and outwards, they provide shelter to birds and small creatures, they provide shelter from the storm and shade from the sun. The branches bear fruit providing food or beauty for the eye of the beholder. As we mature, our branches are our children, families, and relationships with others, providing for them, shelter, food and pleasure. We reach out to our neighborhood and beyond with the abundance of our excess. Some of the fruit remains on the branches, for the birds, animals and the poor and hungry.  This is mentioned as ‘gleaning’ in the Bible, people were instructed not to strip their fruit trees but to leave some fruit for the widows, aliens and orphans. Giving to those in need from your excess, to charities helping the poor and needy.

What about the leaves?  The colors of fall are a delight to the eye when the leaves are their brightest, before they drop from the tree. Leaves are seasonal, they sing and dance in the breeze, and provide a mulch for the tree where the leaves break down and once again enter the soil as nutrients the tree will take up in its next season. I love the metaphor of the seasons, at times we can be so busy doing, we don’t have time to just be. After a busy season of growing fruit and harvesting it is time to rest. We think we have to be constantly busy doing and working, but that is not the pattern God set for our lives, there are seasons of growth and seasons to rest and be still, there are seasons to bear fruit and seasons where there is little or no fruit.

When we go through transitions, we are like trees that need to rest, to conserve and renew our energy, it is the end of that season in our life. We may even be transplanted if we move to a new location, this will take a long time before our roots settle down into the new soil and find their food and nutrients.  Until we become stable again, we will be vulnerable. These are the times we need to be nurturing and taking the most care of ourselves, so our roots survive enabling us to thrive and bear fruit in another season. Take the time to walk and talk with God in your new garden, so He can infuse you with life and vitality as the sap rises again.

Retirement, Seasons of Life, Transitions, Travel

PEEPING THROUGH MY TREE HOUSE WINDOW – The Blessings of Trees

Oh how my eyes just drank in the sight of those beautiful colors! In fact, I copied a painting in the Queensland Art Gallery of people sitting under a jacaranda tree enjoying tea, so that I could keep this little snapshot memory for when I wanted to pull it out again.

On many of my travels I have gazed out of the coach window at mile upon mile of forests, whether in Finland, Scotland, Australia or Pennsylvania. So this month my theme is trees.

Trees have played a big part in my life growing up in Africa, where trees were abundant. As children, we could climb without restriction and soon learnt not to climb where we could not get down again, our hand, eye and foot co-ordination became fine-tuned to climbing up and down trees like monkeys. My grandfather built us a beautiful double story tree house in a jacaranda tree, where we spent many happy hours (it could be used as extra emergency accommodation!) We spent most of our days outside, playing in or under the trees or hauling a basket of textbooks up a fruit tree to sit and do our homework where we could enjoy the fruit while we studied. Our primary school headmaster would say to the class “Take your Readers and go sit under the trees”, we did not think we were deprived, we loved being outdoors. On Sundays groups of people could be seen gathered in the shade of trees holding their church services.

I checked my Bible to see what God had said about trees. They were right there in the beginning in the Garden of Eden, God created them, and they were good! He created a huge variety of trees for different purposes, food, beauty, shelter and decoration as well as having symbolic and metaphoric meanings.

When I moved countries or even towns that had a distinctive climate, I had to adjust to different trees. It can be something as simple as a tree that will bring back memories and longings for a place you once lived. My first move was to Port Elizabeth on the South African east coast, it was not called “the Windy City” for nothing; the few trees that grew there were bowed in the direction the wind blew, and after a few months of living there, I admired their tenacity to thrive in that climate!  I missed the jacarandas with their purple carpets and flamboyant trees with their flame-red colored flowers, I missed the wet and dry tropical seasons, when the Msasa trees would come out in their cloaks of different oranges, reds and greens against the granite hillsides. I missed that landscape, I had to adjust to my new landscape which was mostly windblown, but on a good day there were magnificent beaches where you could walk for miles and hear the waves crashing on the beach licking the salt spray from your lips, enjoying the sight of seagulls coming into land and fight amongst themselves.  It took a while to adjust from enjoying my old landscape to embracing my new landscape and feeling at home in it.

On a visit to Australia, once again I could enjoy the beautiful jacaranda and flamboyant trees, the climate of Queensland being close enough to that of Rhodesia to support tropical trees.  Oh how my eyes just drank in the sight of those beautiful colors! In fact, I copied a painting in the Art Gallery of people sitting under a jacaranda tree enjoying tea, so that I could keep this little snapshot memory for when I wanted to pull it out again. Memories of the good days and what I had left behind, but without the longing for being there, it was merely the beauty I had enjoyed that fed my senses. When we leave a part of our life behind, we know we cannot go back again, but we can have a little snapshot or window we can peek through from time to time to light the spark of joy we felt then. Treasure those memories.

Journeying through the forests of Finland was a new experience for me, I had never seen so many fir and birch trees before.  The Finnish culture is built around their forests and lakes and I was fascinated to learn that trees are planted when someone is born so that in eighty years’ time, they will be ready to be harvested to pay the person’s death duties!  They have a wonderful way of planting and harvesting the trees that does not deplete the planet, the trees fall into the rhythm of life. Sometimes it is good to realize that life has stages in it and we need to adapt and plan for those stages, what foresight the Finns have in planting trees!

Modern life has made us feel that we need instant solutions or gratification, but when you go through transitions it take  time, it takes understanding of where you are in your life cycle, it takes understanding of your roots, (mine felt cut off when I left my land of birth). Take those happy memory snapshots to keep with you, but also learn to plan ahead for your future needs, which like a tree need time to grow. Remember the provision of God and the beauty in the variety of your inner and outer landscapes, you can grow with them and mature like those beautiful trees.