The large crown of low, sweeping branches; enchanted entanglements of delicate green offering shade and home to multitudes of creatures; the mesmerizing sway as a silent breeze filters through – a whispering sound. It’s a tree of the fairy tales, and yet here in the realness of our time. What a gift.
A most beloved tree, it became the reason I accepted buying our older home, despite the home’s much needed renovations. The sole redeeming quality of our kitchen, I was able to gaze out the window into our backyard as the sun hung low, radiant hues of pink, blue, and orange splashed across the sky, melting behind the wispy, undulating arms of the grand willow- the hidden grace amidst an endless flow of dish washing.
Until one spring when a heavy wind storm toppled it. I will admit the devastation was so real I cried. A physical image of strength, majesty, peace, and solitude… a constant reminder to me of the beauty that existed despite the darkness threatening my fragile heart. Now gone. The tree itself was technically positioned right at the edge of our neighbor’s backyard, and so they took on the responsibility of finishing the job- removing the downed limbs and sawing off half-broken ones; making piles of firewood to use the following winter. What remained seemed a weak skeleton, the willow’s magnificence reduced to the humblest state of frailty. I wasn’t going to hold my breath for a second chance.
What is incredible about a willow tree, though, is its resiliency and tenacity; the roots that aggressively expand and bury themselves deep underground. So although what the human eye beholds may appear feeble, in truth the roots are gripping and pulling and tearing and stretching. Below the surface, the surge of the roots’ power dominates, often disrupting lines and piping systems if planted near homes or building structures. And even though it develops best in warm, moist climates near water, this tree is able to withstand periods of drought as well.
That entire year I lamented the loss of that tree, often commenting about it to my husband, who did his best to appear sympathetic. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was a tiny cut on my heart that continued to bleed. That willow meant something otherworldly to me- a feeling that transcended the physical. I could gaze out at its soft, fluid, movement and breathe. A divine gift. The following spring, however, I took notice of it with fresh eyes. Although the large, flowing crown was gone, small bents of green were taking shape in its place. And I smiled.
I would speculate that I adore willow trees not just for their slow, graceful dance and ethereal qualities, but because they remind me in a way of my own bentness. The downward gaze of the branches hints at a melancholy that I myself understand so intimately. Even the name “weeping willow” feels so very apropos to the oft common condition of my spirit- not because I live in a constant state of depressed sadness, but because of the weightiness I feel, birthed out of the lost innocence, revealed ignorance, and shattered naivety of growing up.
Bringing children into this world then adds a whole new layer to that weight, being conscious of the realities that will face them as individuals and us as a family unit. And watching how quickly the world is evolving socially, economically, spiritually, emotionally, and physically… it can be overwhelming. Until I begin to consider the roots.
The roots of any plant are critical to its survival. Weak and neglected ones will last no more than a single storm or a day of intense heat. The plant will soon wither without the support of its underground network of veins. The willow tree, however, works quickly and assertively to develop its root system; persisting in acclimatizing itself to its environment, even persevering through drought.
While the world continues to evolve around me, I must learn to adapt and teach my children to do the same. My heart will split, my physical body may be broken, all the beautiful things I possess could be taken- everything that makes me a complete person to the eyes of the outside world has the potential to be stripped from me. So then, how strong are my roots? Where does my true power lie? If it’s in the above ground picturesque existence, one fell of an axe and that would be the end. But if I nurture the unseen spirit within, the invisible inner chambers of my soul, and develop a root system that drives deep into the heart, the destructive external forces of this life cannot fully destroy me because they cannot touch the roots. And soon I will begin to reconstruct and rebuild, budding new life in the midst of the broken places. I may bend and sway differently than before, since adversity tends to change the original design of things, but even still all the qualities that make me strong, capable, and resilient will begin to embrace the challenges of a new way of life and grow… and grow.
Nurturing your soul’s root system means recognizing that your inner self is far more precious and valuable than what coats the outside. Because if we live in fear of all the what-ifs that may challenge our physical life in this world, we miss the grace and peace of living with eternal vision. It is the hope of what comes next in the story that will keep us putting one foot in front of the other in the present.
“16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
-2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)
The apostle Paul who spoke those words was no stranger to affliction. For the sake of spreading the message and love of Jesus, he endured beatings, torture, imprisonment, exile, ridicule, hunger, homelessness… all the bodily harm we seek to avoid, he accepted and rejoiced in. How can this be? How did he continue to praise God when his body and mind were broken and spent in the worst, most unjust, grievous ways? Because the foundation of his existence was not rooted in the physical realm of his life, but in his soul’s eternal perspective – hope in a future yet to come.
This world is not my home. I repeat that to myself often when I’m in the thick of a difficult moment, reminding myself of a greater purpose and future beyond the present circumstances. So I adjust and adapt, accepting and releasing the things I cannot control. I dig my roots further into the security of Jesus’ promises- that his grace is enough to strengthen me; his truth is enough to guide me; his love is enough to sustain me- no matter what happens to my physical world. My life can be taken from me- perhaps become a mere skeleton to human eyes- but my soul will remain intact- unable to be touched… so long as the roots have been cultivated.
And come spring time, among the buds and blossoms of new life, small bents of green will begin to grow and take shape- a broken life rebirthed with stronger heart and sight for the grander vision. And a smile as wide as heaven will burn through the dark of winter’s death and give way to the reassuring warmth of sunlight’s embrace.
Peace & Love, Amy