As I sit in my makeshift office early this Thursday morning, the sun not quite up yet, the silhouettes of the trees across my backyard catch my eye. They stand tall and bare. Some branches stretch straight for the clouds. Others forced to bend like elbows or arthritic fingers before they found a spot where they could see the sun too. Still others rest impossibly close to one another, nearly intertwined.
It’s cold. Too cold for the trees to do anything other than hunker down and wait for spring and the return of the sun. To hope that their branches are strong enough to withstand the wind and the weight of the ice and snow that will come their way.
One summer in college I worked for a large landscaping company. I edged, weeded, pruned, shoveled mulch and flung wheelbarrows into the back of big diesel pickup trucks. I knew nothing (no, less than nothing) that first May morning when I reported to work with my clean steel toed workbooks and my shiny new set of pruners. That summer I got stung by bees, found my way into poison ivy more times than I could count, and suffered through peeling sunburns galore. I was continually harassed and put down. Given the task no one wanted on every job. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. Instead, I put my head down, left it all out there every day and learned everything I could.
By August, I ran my own crew and could tell with a quick look around what needed to be done and how long it would take us to get our job completed. The jabs and side comments had mostly faded away and when I left to go back to school, they pitched in for a gift and begged me to return the following summer. Not because I was the strongest, or best (at any of it,) but because I had been teachable and I didn’t give up.
Today, in many ways, I feel like I’m back at that landscaping company. Beginning again. I have the shiny new computer and the big dreams, but I’m more than a little bit clueless when it comes to the rest. I leaped into this new adventure not knowing what I didn’t know. Naively optimistic and trusting that God had put this desire in my heart to be used, yet not sure how to get from Point A to Point B or even what Point I really want to reach.
Now instead of bee stings, I get writers block and anxiety that overwhelms and paralyzes me. Instead of put downs from the rest of the crew, I have the voice inside my head that tells me I’ve got nothing to say and won’t stop comparing myself, and coming up short, to anyone and everyone. Instead of poison ivy, I let my discipline slip and waste precious hours of productivity doing something, anything else, but working on my dream. Now, instead of external adversaries, I fight internal ones.
I’m 20 years older than that girl who showed up in the fresh boots that May morning, but I have a lot that I can learn from her. 19 or 39, when you attack a new adventure, you ALWAYS start at the beginning, or the bottom, but you bring with you the things you learned from all your other adventures. You bring the skills, the will to persevere, the support system you’ve built. You bring those things, but you must still start at the beginning. Age doesn’t give you a free pass, you still need to do the work.
Maybe you climb those rungs a little faster than you could at 19, or maybe you need to take your time so that you don’t injure your arthritic back. Either way, it’s the progress that matters, not the speed.
Maybe you didn’t shake up your entire life in search of a new dream, but maybe there’s a spark, a desire, an adventure brewing, that you can’t shake. Maybe you find yourself starting a new job or career that wasn’t part of your plan. Maybe divorce has split your world apart. Maybe it’s illness or a new, challenging stage of parenting. Whatever it is, I pray that we would both bravely seek opportunities to learn and grow, starting right where we are, asking for help and embracing the journey along the way.
With trees, there is typically only one lead branch that gets to take the straight route to the sun, the rest are left to discover other ways to reach upward. Their paths aren’t direct, and sometimes the end result looks like it was more than a little painful to achieve. Yet I’m willing to bet that if trees could talk, not one of them would tell you to give up if you can’t be the lead branch. The sun is worth it, no matter the fight it took to get there.
May we all fight a little harder each day to find our way to the sun.