Some trees on her walk through the neighborhood were a glory to behold. Colorful and straight. Then there was that slanted evergreen. Why was it growing at an angle?
Lay Leader, Michigan Conference
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The fall months are my favorite time of the year. We are blessed to live in a wooded area where the beauty of the autumn trees was just magnificent this fall! My neighborhood walks involved keeping tabs on certain maples as their leaves transitioned from yellow to orange to a radiant red, reminding me daily of the beauty of God’s creation. Especially during this autumn season, the glorious colors seemed more vibrant and welcome than in years past.
During my daily walk, a regular occurrence is watching the leaves gradually pile up in the yards and accumulate on the streets. Since the time I was young, I’ve been fond of hearing the scrunching and swishing under my feet as I meander through the mounds of leaves. Searching for leaves of every type and hue while smelling that brisk fall scent keeps me smiling.
As October continued on its way, the leaves disappeared into leaf bags, woods, and tarps amidst much raking, blowing, and hauling. The trees became bare in their formidable stature, showing their true structure as they lift their branches to the now November sky.
This year after the colorful leaves turned brown and brittle, I became more aware of the outline of each tree’s inner trunk and branch formation. Their structure seems so stark in November, as does the month itself with that transition time between the awe of autumn and the glistening snow of winter. However, this year, one evergreen tree, in particular, holds my attention.
It is a tree that really cannot be missed, as it grows at nearly a 45-degree angle toward the sky.
In person, it is evident that the very tip of the tree has changed direction and begun growing vertically toward the heavens. While the trunk’s mainstay certainly slants in its unique way, the tree appears to now be growing upright toward the sun. As trees’ science is not my forte, a little “Google searching” suggested possible reasons for the slanted growth. Several explanations involve the tree’s accessibility to sunlight or the result of storms or constant wind, which cause the tree to grow at an angle.
As I continue to ponder this unique evergreen, the difference in the trees’ stature and structure reminds me of the upcoming holiday, and the call to give thanks. The act of praise can be a full-body experience, raising one’s limbs to the heavens, proclaiming the glory of God. We may even take this posture in worship, singing and raising our arms high. We look forward to this time of year when we gather with loved ones, share in traditions, and gaze ahead to the wonder of the coming of Emmanuel. Certainly, a time of reaching upwards in joy and gratitude.
But what about this year? Like the evergreen, the past nine months may have been experienced as more of a heavy effort to grow even at a tilt, rather than with an upward gaze. Unemployment, illness, grief, despair, deep loss, stress, and disbelief may be more the norm than an upright growth directly aiming toward the sun. This angled evergreen, weighted down by the heavy storms of the past, becomes an apt metaphor for much of 2020.
This verse from 1 Thessalonians 5, “Give thanks in all circumstances,” reminds me of the call to praise God no matter what. Although a challenge on many days, my autumn walks have repeatedly placed before me the beauty of God’s creation with the reminder that God is will, and forever will be. God’s grace, faithfulness, and everlasting presence will accept us wherever we are, and at whatever angle we are currently growing. What matters is that we continue to stretch and grow toward the Son-light.
This Thanksgiving and in the months to come, I will intentionally continue my neighborhood jaunts past the angled evergreen as it calls me to remain faithful and find the gratitude in a time weighed down by life’s burdens and storms. By the grace of God, may I continue to grow toward the Son while praising God with arms stretched high. May these months ahead be filled with a steadfast call to always give thanks, even at an angle.