After entertaining the idea of moving last year, Dad and I decided to settle in and get you and your sister graduated before leaving our beloved home of 15 years. Then the first week of March, just after my sycamore tree finally sprang back to life, a house came on the market tempting us to change our minds. We made an offer and went under contract that weekend. Three weeks later our own house was packed and purged, and a for sale sign was placed out front.
Two months after that we handed off our keys to the new owners. I said goodbye to my sycamore tree while you said goodbye to the house where you’ve lived your entire life. As we drove away one last time, you asked me if I was ok. Of course, this is not the first time you’ve asked me if I was ok lately, and chances are it won’t be the last. And this is because change is hard and transitions are messy, and these sudden changes are always the hardest and messiest of all. Even when they are for the better. Somehow (like your Momma) you always know when someone is not ok, and your tender heart has been burdened for me these last several months, even as you are processing your own changes and losses associated with leaving the only home you’ve ever known.
The hardest part of the last three months for me has been the weight of every sudden change and transition we’ve lived through over the last 15 years feeling as if it is all crashing down on me at once. As I’ve gone through long forgotten cabinets and closets overflowing with boxes of our family’s collected memories, my heart and mind have overflowed with more joy and grief than I am able to hold in. I realize my emotions continue to spill all over the place, splashing everyone I love, and while my grief makes me feel a little crazy and a lot guilty, I’m thankful for the way you notice and are determined to make sure I am ok.
Fifteen years ago when we first moved in, life looked very different. I was in my late 20’s with three adorable children four and under. I was married to a man I loved, worked at a school I loved, served at a church I loved, and was raising a family I loved with the help of two doting grandmas. Two grandmas who adored us and regularly fought over whose turn it was to get the grandchildren.
Then suddenly, just as we were moving into our new home, my mom (your nana) was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 49. This began a long journey filled with trips to the medical center, surgeries, chemotherapy, remission, scans, and eventually hospice. Somewhere in the remission stage of Nana’s journey, you were born. But when Nana’s cancer came back with a vengeance just before your first birthday, instead of my mom helping me keep my children alive, I was daily passing my four children off to others- desperately hoping and praying the doctors we were visiting could help me keep my mom alive.
It was almost twelve years ago now when your Aunt Kellie had a spontaneous wedding in the backyard of our beautiful home days before your Nana took her last breath in our dining room. That was the same year your other grandma suddenly got sick and took her last breath, making us primary caregivers for your deaf grandpa suffering from severe dementia. I remember that first Easter standing in our kitchen boiling eggs for coloring (something Nana had always done) and realizing at the ripe old age of 33 I was the lost and lonely matriarch of our family. I now understand why you would cling so tightly to me as a young child. It was your way of making sure even then, I was ok.
One of our backyard trees also died the same year as your grandmothers, and that too broke your Daddy’s heart. Little did I know the new tree we planted would not only mark the number of years we have lived without your grandmas, but it would also mark the seasons of my survival, growth, and healing.
Without Grandmas around to take care of us, and with a Grandpa needing constant supervision, I had to significantly cut back my hours and eventually leave that job I loved. We settled into our new normal which included lots of homework help, dance parties, game nights, and family dinners during the week. And theatre performances, soccer games, and birthday parties on the weekends. You were an expert at just being along for the ride as we incessantly chauffeured your older siblings around town. As you kids grew, the house seemed to shrink, so we eventually decided to add on a playroom hoping to contain the many friends over the years that have made our house their second home.
Then suddenly, almost 6 years ago now, right in the middle of our major home addition, Hurricane Harvey dropped by and left behind six feet of stagnant water inside our house for a full 14 days. We were rescued by boat and then our family of seven (including your grandpa) couch surfed for weeks until we found a house to rent. When the water finally subsided, friends and neighbors came to help us throw most everything we owned onto our front lawn.
Recovery from the storm was impossibly slow, painful, and messy, and looking back I realize I struggled to get back on my feet mentally and emotionally for much longer than the 11 months it took to get back in our home. It was during this season you faced your own mid-elementary school crisis.
I distinctly remember the parent teacher conference halfway through second grade that led to pulling you out for the remainder of the school year. Ms. Cooper gave us a glimpse into the intensity of your school days as she described a child longing to do well but consumed by absorbing every emotion in the room. She would let you stay in from PE or lunch with her on your hardest days, so you did not have to endure the chaos of the cafeteria or gymnasium. You would amaze her with the depth and intensity of your intuitions, questions, and observations. Ms. Cooper described you daily seeking out students who needed an advocate or extra help, and then on days when she was struggling (as all adults sometimes do) you seemed to magnetically be drawn to her side eager to somehow help her as well.
I know all too well how easy it is for us intuitive and empathetic types to lose ourselves helping others, and how hard it is for us helpers to notice or acknowledge when we need help ourselves. During that season, I knew you needed help, but I had no idea I needed help too.
All of a sudden, I was crisis homeschooling you. And then shortly after that COVID-19 hit, and I was unexpectedly crisis homeschooling all four of my children. Now three years later, your two oldest siblings are technically adults, Hallie is halfway through high school, you are in middle school, and the sycamore tree we planted the year your grandmas died is now over 40 feet tall- providing shade to more than half the back yard.
This tree has also provided shade for my soul as I’ve intently watched it survive and grow through some of the harshest storms and seasons we have ever had in Houston. Hurricane Harvey of course, but also Snowstorm Uri. I never even knew snowstorms were named until this one shut down our city for weeks. Despite harsh droughts and hard freezes, the sycamore continues to burst into life each spring, reminding me, even when winter lingers and I look like I am dead, the spring will always return.
Every fall, once the large asymmetric leaves of the sycamore fall off, a loblolly pine tree just over the neighbor’s back yard fence comes into full view. The evergreen needles remind me all through the winter that things are not always as they appear. Some trees look dead half their lives, and others seem to flourish all year long, but really, they are all just doing their best to survive the current season and grow wherever they have been planted with whatever resources they have been given. Last spring, I discovered my sycamore had not only survived another brutal winter, but a sycamore sapling had spontaneously sprouted in my butterfly garden right near a brand-new pine sapling.
A friend once told me the real miracle is not when full grown trees survive harsh conditions and changing seasons. The real miracle is that a seed becomes a sapling at all. I looked it up for myself and it turns out less than 1% of all germinating seeds survive to become seedlings in natural conditions. And this says nothing for how many seedlings survive to become full grown trees. This miracle of two saplings surviving in my butterfly garden was discovered not too long after I’d stumbled across Isaiah 41:19 which tells us the Lord places the plane and pine trees together in the desert. The plane tree (which happens to be the technical name for my backyard American sycamore) and the pine tree are of course not the kinds of trees you usually find in a desert. The very next verse says it is created this way on purpose so “that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this.” I love how the spiritual, the natural, the human, the statistical, the relational, and the scientific parts of life all mirror each other. And if that was not enough, the Lord still gives us His living Word connecting all these reflections in more complete ways.
At the beginning of May, when we first got the keys to our new house, we invited some of our closest friends to celebrate with us by taking a dip in our new pool and ordering pizza to our new address. Sitting there surrounded by our new forest and our closest friends, I was only half engaged, dazing off into the night, trying to make sense of all the “suddenlys” we have faced in the last 15 years now packed in boxes waiting to be loaded onto moving trucks arriving the following morning. Nana’s wigs I could not bring myself to throw away, Grandma’s wedding dress our dear friends rescued from the refuse pile after the flood and then paid to have cleaned and restored. All the board games and puzzles begging to be reengaged, and way too many legos, costumes, and American Girl doll accessories begging to be donated to children much younger than you. And then there’s the fifteen years of artwork, poetry, writing, notes, and math equations (your brother’s of course) found filling notepads, journals, and sketchbooks throughout the entire house. You were swimming in our new pool when you noticed me lost in these memories. You quickly dried off and came over to ask me if I was ok. You and I both knew I was lying as I reassured you.
The moving trucks came and went, and then Daddy headed to the old back yard with a shovel and wheelbarrow to pack up one last treasured possession- my sycamore sapling which has quickly grown to over three feet. I knew this was the wrong season to transplant a tree, but I also knew this tree’s chance of survival was much better coming with us than staying put right where the new owners are planning to add a swimming pool.
The transition did not go so well. By the time we loaded her up into the back of Dad’s trusty old truck and drove the half mile to our new home just on the other side of the bayou, several leaves had withered. As we lifted the tree into its freshly dug hole, all the dirt fell away leaving her roots vulnerable and exposed. For the next several days, no matter how much I watered or prayed, every leaf started to brown and my pile of leaves around her base began to steadily grow. Death by transplant shock seemed inevitable.
I recruited your brother to help me do some research and look for signs of life as I continued to water, watch, and wait. He assured me it takes a tree as much energy to shed a leaf as it does to sprout a leaf, so the falling leaves should encourage me more than they discourage me. He pointed to the wilting, discolored, wrinkled leaves still clinging to the branches and assured me they too were not evidence she was dying, but further evidence she was working hard to stay alive. It has been a month now and she still looks pretty awful. I have resolved myself to the fact she is going to look like she is dying until next spring, but I no longer need your brother to see the evidence of life and growth in my young sycamore. This week she sprouted a tiny new green leaf to accompany the three large lonely multicolored leaves she has held tightly to through her transplant.
The pine sapling, which has grown ever so slowly and still measures less than a foot in height, was planted just on the other side of the fence in the front yard behind the bench swing. I have diligently watered him as well, however he has never shown any signs of shock or stress giving me no way to really know if he is also just surviving this transition, or if he is already thriving. I tend to think it’s the former.
A friend noticed the tiny pine in the yard and asked if I was planning to pull it out or let it grow. I did not mention to her I had planted it there myself on purpose, because like the rest of the world, she would never understand why these baby trees are so important to me. Especially when our new home is literally surrounded by a forest and our front yard is already home to two holly trees, a full-grown loblolly pine, two sago palms, a fig tree, several crepe myrtles, two large oak trees, and two full grown bald cypress trees. Oh, and miracle of miracles, one tiny bald cypress that has beat the odds and made it from seed to sapling in natural conditions far away from a water source.
All that to say Lacey, I know it does not always look like it, and frankly it does not always feel like it either, but I really am ok. Yes, I promise! And thanks to a few saplings growing out on the side and front of our new house, I can tell you why I am so confident.
- I am ok because things are not always what they seem. Sometimes we look alive while we are dead on the inside, and sometimes we look dead just before we burst into full bloom. While things are not always as they seem, if we look hard enough we will find signs of life and evidence of growth and grace in every season or storm. Even when the grace looks like just barely surviving another day.
- I am ok because even on days or in seasons when we do not have the strength to search for grace, we can rest assured the seasons will again change even as we continue to grow. That’s what it means to be alive- facing constantly changing seasons along with unexpected storms interrupting the predictability of those seasons. Droughts, freezes, and floods are difficult, but no matter how long the harsh winters last, spring always comes. And then summer. And then fall. No matter how long we stay dormant or how dead we look or feel, we know we are ok because we, like the trees, are slowly growing just as surely as the seasons are slowly changing.
- I am ok because it is normal, that like trees, people also wilt, wither, and shed when they are in shock, stressed, or sick. They suffer when they are faced with unexpected storms and harsh seasons that linger. Your momma still struggling as she processes all the sudden losses and changes she has faced in this last year as well as in the last 15 years, is not evidence she is dying, but evidence she is working hard to stay alive. Evidence she is ok, even if she sometimes looks and feels like she is not.
- I am ok because I know shedding and letting go takes as much energy as growing and grabbing hold. I know my falling leaves can be messy, but the falling leaves are simply more evidence of grace as I continue to let go of the past and embrace new seasons of change and growth.
- And I am ok because I am assured the Lord holds my life in His hands in the same way He places trees together in the desert. Last week when your brother was helping me search my transplanted plane tree for evidence of life, I felt the need to defend my sanity by explaining to him why these baby trees were so important to me. I pulled out my Bible to read him Isaiah 41:19, but was unable to speak as I noticed for the first time a third tree had been planted in the desert alongside the plane and the pine. A tree abundant in swamps, creeks, and rivers. So not native or abundant in Houston, and certainly not ever found in a desert. The exact words read “I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane, and the pine together that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” The tiny cypress tree that has made it from seed to sapling in natural conditions spontaneously sprouted almost equal distances from the plane and pine we transplanted from our old house, forming a triangle of baby trees. The cypress, the plane, and the pine together.
Life is hard Lacey, and no doubt one day you will find your self in a season or storm that has you convinced you are not ok. But hang on, because the seasons will inevitably change, things are not always as they seem, and remember that the Creator holds you in His hands and has planted you right where you are meant to be. I sure am thankful you have been planted as the Spaulding baby sister, and I’m thankful for all the storms and seasons we get to continue to go through together in our new home.