February 17, 2015. The drive out of my neighborhood is landscaped with a long row of Bradford Pear trees growing in the middle of a grass filled median. It is an especially pretty drive, with the row of trees looking exceedingly different during each season of the year. The spring showing of the Bradfords has always stuck in my mind as an especially beautiful scene, so it was with that in mind that I noticed the trees sometime in mid-February of this year. I was heading out for work and, noticing the trees, thought about how it wouldn’t be too long before they started to show buds then break out in their glorious white, spring show…and I started thinking about how those trees are much like our cycles in life. That day the trees actually looked dead. Gray-brown trunks and gray-brown branches standing in stark contrast to a blue sky…yes, the trees were alive, but to look at them you couldn’t tell it. Occasionally, I would also see a smaller, less mature and less shapely tree, evidences of a storm a couple of years ago that knocked down trees with its strong, straight-line winds…just like the events in life that sometimes knock us down. The mature, uprooted trees had been replaced with younger, less shapely specimens and they stand out due to their lack of size. Driving down the lane, if you wanted to, you could focus only on the appearance and think, yes, sometimes in life, we see the evidences of the pain and brokenness and sometimes it is difficult to SEE the beauty that truly is contained in life. Sometimes all we see is the heartache…the financial difficulties…the child who is belligerent…the spouse who has betrayed us…the devastating diagnosis. Sometimes all we see if the dead, ugly parts. Yes, sometimes the beauty in life is difficult to see. That day an idea began forming in my mind…the idea of journaling the changes of the trees this year and sharing the changes and lessons in an article, so the next day I began taking pictures of the Bradfords as I drove past them. As you can see from these first pictures, the trees don’t look very alive…unless you look very closely. The tips of the branches have little buds on them…life budding out of apparent death. I would have to wait patiently, but I knew what would be coming next.
What I did NOT know was that I would soon be faced with a sobering example of life appearing dead when it really isn’t. The day following my first Bradford pictures, I would receive a phone call from my baby sister that I deciphered through her sobs to be the news that our middle sister had been found dead of an apparent suicide.
The world looking lifeless…our circumstances appearing to contain no answers…decisions made based on the appearance of current conditions…trees looking dead…trees appearing to have no future use…trees looking like they should be cut down…trees…people’s lives…empty branches…my sister…
I barely remember the immediate drive to Birmingham. Five whirlwind days later my husband and I were driving back home. We had spent time with family and friends crying and laughing, had attended to the first of many necessary details following a death and had listened while the pastor ministered to us all at Kate’s memorial service…and as we drove into our neighborhood, we passed the trees…THE trees. Yes, they still appeared dead…but they weren’t. Yes, they still had the appearance of used up, useless, ready to be knocked down lumber…but they weren’t. They were still full of life and barely containing the beauty that was soon to explode from their branches.
Lesson #1 from a Bradford Pear:
For a season, life may appear bleak, cold, empty and dead.
Don’t believe it.
February 27, 2015. Ten days following the first pictures, I take more. The trees still look bleak, but are they really? I know the truth because I’ve watched them for years. I know what is coming. The same is true for when we are in the bleak days of our lives. Every. One. Of. Us. has days that FEEL bleak. But we do well to remember, spring is coming. Even in the worst of times…spring is coming. Can I see the flowers yet? No. Can we see how all of our problems are going to work out? No…but spring is still coming.
Lesson #2 from a Bradford Pear:
Sometimes the bleak days continue on longer
than we think we can stand.
Do. Not. Give. Up.
March 9, 2015. Three weeks following the first pictures the trees still look lifeless…but wait! Look on the ends of the branches! Those tiny buds are larger. Yes! They are getting bigger and you can almost sense the anticipation of what is to come! Three months after the branches completely lost all of their leaves…three long months of appearing dead and useless…life is evident. Three months is a long time when life is painful isn’t it? Sometimes the pain can be much longer than three months too. Some of you reading this have faced difficulties that lasted far longer than three months. I know I have, but I also know that even the worst of our difficulties contain the seeds of healing and promise…seeds of beauty. The phone call from a friend at just the right time…our favorite song coming on the radio on the way to work…the pastor’s words seem to have been spoken just to you…seeds of promise…seeds of hope.
Lesson #3 from a Bradford Pear:
Even our most difficult days contain the seeds of something
far more wonderful than we can imagine.
Look for them.
March 16, March 20, 2015. This is what I’ve been waiting for! The beauty that I knew these trees contained. Driving past all 52 of them actually brings joy, partly because of their loveliness and partly because the anticipation has finally been fulfilled. Yes! This IS what I’ve been waiting for and I was RIGHT. It is beautiful. What about you in your circumstances? Have you been waiting for a very long time for something painful to be resolved? Sometimes the seeds of beauty do not grow into what we expect. Sometimes the beauty that grows from our painful and seemingly dead places is a different kind of beauty than what we expect, but if we look long and hard enough, we can usually find something of value to be thankful for and to take pleasure in. The danger comes when we focus all our attention on and desire on a very specific outcome. We think all our problems will be solved when we land THAT job. We think we will be completely fulfilled and happy when we meet just the RIGHT person. We just know that if we could only lose (or gain) those last pounds we would be happy. The problem with that kind of thinking is that the ability to be happy and satisfied in life is not based on our circumstances. It is based on our outlook and mindset. That’s pretty important, because if all my happiness is based on getting the one pretty goal I want…like seeing those Bradfords explode in white beauty…I WILL be happy for a little while, but I will soon be disappointed, because just like in life…the Bradfords, rather quickly, drop their white petals like snowflakes as the green leaves begin to push their way through.
Lesson #4 from a Bradford Pear:
As surely as life includes difficult times, it includes startlingly beautiful ones.
Train your brain to seek out the beautiful and be grateful for it.
Enjoy the beautiful moments. Treasure them. Take pictures, journal about them
and share them with everyone you can.
Celebrate the beautiful times.
April 26, 2015. Yes, the explosive beauty was breathtaking, but it is so short-lived. Just a few days and a little rain later, the flower petals began to be overshadowed by green leaves…the usual, normal days. Not especially exciting…not especially outstanding…just normal days. By some counts, they could appear rather boring…after all, most trees where I live DO have green leaves…or needles…year round! Isn’t that the way life is? Most days can appear rather similar, one to another. Sometimes our days can even seem vastly similar to our friends’ days. We get up, we go to work (take care of kids…fix meals…pay bills…wash laundry…watch a little tv…you fill in the blank) go to bed and repeat the process the next day. Sometimes it can be difficult to see the value – the importance – in our day and in what we do, but it does matter. It matters greatly. In fact, it is what happens during our regular, daily days that make up our big moments…our beautiful white explosive displays. You remember biology 101 right? Those green leaves, that don’t get much attention, are filled with chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is necessary for the plant to convert sunlight into energy. Without energy the plant (tree) dies. Dies! It’s that simple. So for about 8 months those trees stand there looking the same every day. They may appear to be doing nothing except standing there…nothing exciting…nothing out of the ordinary…nothing noteworthy…but they are, in fact, being their busiest. They are absorbing light and moisture, converting the light into energy (food) and absorbing much needed water. They are providing shelter for hot children underneath and small birds and tiny creatures in the branches and they are preparing for the next spring’s display. Like our daily work, the work of the leaves during most of the trees’ lives is unrecognized but is often our most productive. Spending time reading to your son MATTERS. Taking a few minutes to listen to the lady behind you in the check-out tell a story MATTERS. Loading the dishwasher again MATTERS. Giving a kind greeting to people you come in contact with at work MATTERS. How do I know? I know because while en route to Birmingham, hours after I had learned about my sister, Kate’s death, I stopped in a Flying J gas station in Pintlala, Alabama (yes, there really is a place called Pintlala) and the kind man checking me out was friendly and warm, just like he was with every other customer. He didn’t know what I was dealing with but his kindness warmed my soul and almost brought tears. His words mattered to me! I know because a week later, when I was en route to Montgomery to meet my little sister and pack up Kate’s apartment I stopped in a Firehouse Subs in Niceville, Florida (yes, there really is a town called Niceville – and it IS a nice place) and two grandmotherly-type ladies gave me a grandmother-kind greeting, just like they gave to every other customer, and again their unknowing kindness warmed my soul and threatened to bring me to tears. Their kindness mattered to me…and it made me wonder how many people I come into contact with are also suffering their own which has made me more conscientious about being kind…so their kindnesses affected me, which in turn has affected others. Our daily doings MATTER. We likely will never know the full extent and will likely never know all the people we touch along life’s journey…but our daily…green leaf kind of days…MATTER, and they matter greatly…to us…to others around us…and to those that are affected by the ones we effect.
Lesson #5 from a Bradford Pear:
The seemingly mundane moments in our lives, although rarely the most showy,
are often the most important.
You, your words, your thoughts and your actions…MATTER.
November 29, 2014. While looking through pictures on my phone to collect the spring pictures for this post I realized that I had taken pictures of these same trees last fall. I had completely forgotten about these pictures. In fact, I had been so focused on waiting for the spring showing that I totally forgot about how beautiful these trees are in the fall. It was almost like a delicious surprise to find them. In my humble opinion, the Bradford Pears are at their peak of beauty when their branches are ablaze in gold, red, yellow and orange. When the sun hits them just right, they almost appear to be on fire. What splendid, majestic beauty! Autumn is my favorite time of the year, with the colors, smells, tastes and beginning of the holiday season. How did I forget about what the trees are going to look like every fall? When thinking about all that I could learn from the Bradfords, how in the world did I forget about my favorite of their displays? Well, I know what I did, and maybe you do it too. I was so focused on the task at hand, so hyper-focused on watching what was unfolding before me and what lessons I might be able to glean and share that my vision became narrow. And how do we do that in life? We focus so intently on the goal we have in mind, the plan to get us there, the expectations we have, that we completely miss the beauty, the bigness, the meaning of the moment…the beautiful surprises in the moments.
We so focus on the “small picture” in front of us that we fail to see the “big picture.” We are so intent on getting our kids to school and their respective practices that we forget to enjoy their fleeting, child-like play. We are so focused on building our business that will help our family that we fail to take notice of…our family.
So, what are the brilliant, blazing, majestic moments in our lives? They are the moments when we see past the “small picture” and are overwhelmed by the significance of a moment. Those moments may come in the middle of something rather daily (See Lesson #5!), like when we see a father and son playing catch in their yard and we realize that, that is a son who will believe that his father loves him. When we see a mom and young daughter getting manicures and we realize that little girl is learning what it is to feel special and cared for. When a husband waits with his wife at her doctor’s office to hear a diagnosis they don’t want to hear, but, because he is with her, she knows she won’t walk this path alone. It is sometimes easier to see it in others, but those moments are in our lives as well.
I am reminded of the lyrics from the 2006 Emerson Drive song, “Moments,”
I’ve had my moments, days in the sun,
Moments, I was second to none,
Moments when I knew I did what I thought I couldn’t do…
When have you been there for someone else? When have you decided to forgive and be part of the healing in a relationship? When have you decided that it was time to be strong, walk away, and let the healing begin? When have you stood up for the underdog? When have you said the truthful thing even though you were scared to death? When have you done the right thing even though you knew you were going to suffer for it? When have you kept working when you were exhausted just because someone needed you? When have you stepped out to try a new thing even though you were terrified you would fail? Those are your moments…your blazing, majestic, stand-the-test-of-time moments…and you might be surprised at their beauty!
Lesson #6 from a Bradford Pear:
Leave room for the unexpected!
You just might find the greatest beauty there.