Words to Hallie about Sycamore Trees

I feel sorry for everyone who has never discovered the intense magic and utter delight of a soak in a hot bath. There is nothing for me this side of heaven that quite compares to the sensation that spreads as I sink down and let the water engulf me.  And then even after the initial sensation subsides, I feel refreshed as my adrenaline levels are reset and the surface worries of the day are washed away.  My mind begins to process all the burdens, conflicts, happinesses, and joys that have been keeping me rushing around. It is also a chance to focus on all the things in life that really matter…that is until one of the things in life that really matters come crashing into my bathroom with a new crisis that needs solved, a new creation that must be shared, plans that need approved, or just to ask me if I know where they might have left their shoes.  The same conversations will often follow.

“Mom, how many baths are you going to take today? Are you almost done?”

“5 more minutes, and I’ll be out.”

“Please hurry, this is important.”

And depending on how many baths I have already had that day or how many thoughts and worries need processed and washed away, I might respond with a bellowing declaration that “THIS IS IMPORTANT TOO” or I might grab a towel and tell you I am on my way even as you continue to knock.

Just yesterday you found me lost in my haven, and after I asked you to leave me alone, you once again reminded me that “baths are disgusting.” 

Oh Hallie, you of all my children could benefit from finding a haven of your own.  I say this because you of all my children are the most like your mother.  It is perhaps one of the reasons that we have such a deep understanding of one another, while at the same time such little patience for one another.

I admit that I am often harder on you than I am on your siblings. I do see so much of myself in you, for better and for worse.  Many of your personality traits, your gifts, and your passions I am beyond proud to claim as being passed down from my side of the family tree, but many of your struggles and weaknesses were no doubt also from my genetic line. There is something insufferable about seeing your own weaknesses and quirks reflected back to you in the form of one of your children, and there is something deep in me that longs for you not to struggle in all the same ways I continue to struggle even to this day. 

Yesterday when you interrupted my bath, I was in the depths of self-reflection.  And when you urgently demanded my attention only to once again ask a question that you had previously asked (hoping that this time you would get a different answer), I was moved to realize that I too was once again asking God questions that He has already answered for me.  We really are cut from the same cloth my child.

Of all the things that I should like to keep you from struggling with, I should like to keep you from struggling to believe that what God says about you is true. I want you to have a deep abiding knowledge that you are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, meant to be a gift to other people, and meant to reflect the glory of your Maker. I long for you to fully embrace your uniqueness from the tips of your toes to the tops of your nose.

If you ever do decide to try a bath, I don’t mind sharing the tub in my bathroom that Daddy had built just for me, as long as you clean it when you are done! As you lay there be sure to look out that small window that was perfectly placed to provide total privacy while also giving me a peek into our back yard. In that tiny frame is a world of treetops that I have come to know intimately.

Right there in the front is the Sycamore tree that your Daddy and I planted not long after we moved in. We were told by many that we would regret ever planting it as it is generally regarded by most as too large and too messy. In fact, the reason that we chose the tree is because of its extremely fast growth, promising that we would be able to enjoy its shade while our family was still young. And my how we have enjoyed the shade and the beauty of our Sycamore Tree over the last decade.

Those treetops I’ve explored during my baths have taught me many things, but most importantly I’ve learned that people are a lot like trees. I am still learning to accept and love my kind of tree, our kind of tree perhaps. 

I believe we are the Sycamore trees Hallie. For starters we are big (in personality and passion) and, we make a lot of mess (both literally and figuratively). Known to be one of the most identifiable and distinguishable trees means of course that we do not get lost in a forest, but rather tend to stand out in the crowd even at times when we desperately desire to fit in. And no doubt, middle school (that insufferable season you find your self in at the moment) is a place where there is no space allowed for those of us who do not fit in.

Sycamores are an unusual and quirky species. They change with the seasons and they change quickly. I think that’s what some would regard as unpredictable and impulsive, but I’d rather like to think of it as spontaneous and creative. Sycamores produce huge, beautiful, and interesting leaves and unusual pendulous fruit that hangs on barren branches through the winter waiting to drop in the spring. Once the leaves have all fallen to the ground, Sycamores may look dead for much of the rest of the year, especially due to the fact that they also shed layers of bark as they grow, magnifying their unique unkempt appearance much of the year. And to be certain, Sycamores are the only trees that shed. The flakes of brown, grey, and green bark fall off revealing what lays beneath the scaly peeling surface, which is a tender, smooth layer, white like ivory. Sycamores are actually known as The Ghost Tree because of the appearance of death in the winter against the backdrop of the rest of the forest.

But just as suddenly as our leaves and bark fall off, we will once again burst forth in rapid growth showing outward evidence of the life that has always been inside. We briefly produce inconspicuous flowers in the Spring, but no one remembers those in comparison to the unusual quality of our massive leaves, crooked branches, peeling bark, and hanging fruit. I do sometimes wish people would notice the flowers hidden beneath the mess, but I’ve learned to be content knowing that the Creator sees them; that He glories in them but no more than He glories in my leaves, branches, bark, and fruit.

There are not many climates that the Sycamore can thrive in or even survive in, and we deeply feel the impact of the wind and the rain in ways that other trees do not. We are soft on the inside becoming more and more hollow with age. We allow birds, bats, insects, owls, and even bears to burrow into our hearts and find shelter within.  Our sap can be a source of clean water for the passerby that needs refreshed, and many find nourishment in our leaves and fruit. The impact we have in the lives of others is significant, but as we give much of ourselves away, it can often leave us looking bedraggled by the end of the season (or even by the end of each day). But we are a resilient tree, often growing back after being cut or damaged, and surviving circumstances and situations that would kill others. Then we just go on creating magnificent leaves and fruit, shedding our rough edges and providing food and shelter to refresh and sustain others that God sends our way. 

You won’t likely find any fine furniture or wooden masterpieces created using Sycamore wood, but our wood has been used to make many useful things- a bucket, a cutting board, or even a canoe.  We are simply too busy tending to the needs of others or flitting between the next idea or passion to bother with the fancy things of life. I’d love to be able to wear mascara without it smudging or white pants without getting them stained.  I’d love to make it a whole day without throwing my hair into a messy bun, to have shoes that aren’t scuffed, painted fingernails without chips, or lunch without spills.  While Sycamore trees are both soft and strong, their most beautiful qualities lie far within their hollow trucks.    

If you look to the left of the barren Sycamore in my bathtub window you will see branches of the mighty Oak tree.  While its growth is certain, it looks much the same as it did the day we moved in- steady, stable, and faithful. I believe that your father is the mighty Oak. His foliage is much less messy than our own albeit much less interesting as well. His changes with the seasons are more subtle and he almost always shows signs of life.  He grows more slowly, but his roots are deep and his shade is refreshing both in and out of season. He is strong and the storms he endures seem to barely bend his branches if at all. It’s the best kind of tree to climb, and the tree in our yard where we have chosen to hang our backyard swing. While his leaves are smaller and more uniform than ours, they are predictable yet beautiful.  All year long the faithful Oak tree provides acorns for the squirrels, invites the children to play among the branches, and offers his shade to both friends and strangers alike.

Still further out the window towering over both the Sycamore and the Oak, you will see the Pine Tree from the neighbor’s yard looking down in wonder at the trees below. She looks mostly the same in every season and even as her needles fall new ones are taking their place. She thrives in much colder climates where the Sycamore trees cannot grow, but she survives in any climate because she is strong and determined. The Pine is also faithful, dependable, and mighty but in much a different way than the old Oak. She wonders at the shorter trees below- especially the Sycamore who is so easily tossed about by the wind and the rain, and who seems to look dead much of the year. She wonders why we don’t stay green in every season, and why we leave such messes in our wake. You won’t often find a tree swing or a fort in a Pine because they are so tall, and their leaves (usually called needles) might poke you if you get too close. 

I’ve managed to get close to a few Pine trees in my time, and for the most part it is worth getting poked to be close enough to smell their sweet refreshing aromas, touch their sticky sap, and marvel at their unusual cone shaped fruit.  I’ve also known some Maples, Weeping Willows, Elms, Birches, Pecans and Apple Trees in my time.  Each one beautiful in its own way producing a unique fruit in season, but each one also perplexed by my peeling bark ever revealing a bit too much below the surface for anyone’s comfort. Perplexed by my asymmetrical gigantic leaves leaving messes in my wake, and my dark winters followed by sudden changes with each passing season, strong wind, or torrential rain.

I admit that I too am sometimes perplexed by my too muchness and too messiness. I understand how the other trees might mistake my crooked branches and hollow trunk for flaws, as I have struggled at times to see the beauty in their purposeful design.  Like you, my teachers were always especially confused by the inconsistencies in my behavior and performance, and particularly annoyed by the distractions that I seemed to accidentally create. Daily I’d spill a drink, loose a pencil, or trip over my own foot.  Sometimes I’d get lost in an idea and completely miss the entire lesson, and even more often I would drag a classmate into my idea and again be scolded for talking too much.  While I knew in my heart how badly I longed to make my teachers happy and fit in with my peers, I was never able to quite figure out how to make my leaves smaller, my branches straighter, my bark tougher or my trunk more solid. I spent much of the first few decades of my life trying to be a little more like the Oak or the Maple.  I even consulted with some friendly Pines who’ve encouraged me to stand straight and tall, fight against the wind, and not be so easily moved. I’ve tried and tried to be a different kind of tree, believing the lie that my kind of tree was wrong.  But I finally learned that being someone else’s kind of tree is not only a miserable business, but it is also a fruitless one.  I was created to be too much and too messy for some people’s liking.  God meant to make my trunk hollow and my branches crooked, and every time I am tempted to ask Him to help me be more like the Oak, He reminds me once again that I have been fearfully and wonderfully made by Him just as He meant me to be. Sure He wants me to be the best Sycamore Tree I can possibly be, but He has no interest in me trying to become a Pine Tree or even a faithful old Oak.

Sometimes I am hard on you Hallie, because I forget that Sycamores are beautiful, but sometimes it is because I don’t want you to still be learning to love yourself when you get to be my age.  I want you to see the purpose and beauty in God’s design for you now, and I want you to be the best darn Sycamore around.

My bathtub American Sycamore tree is not technically a Sycamore tree at all, it is technically a plane tree. To be precise it is a Platanus Occidentalis, also known as the American Plane, the Western Plane or the Occidental Plane. Here is what God says about His purpose for all the trees- even the plane.

“I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the dessert the cypress, the plane, and the pine together, that they may see and know, that they may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” Isiah 41:19-20

When you interrupted my bath yesterday, I had just noticed the very first bud open on my bathtub Sycamore- the first tangible evidence of Spring. The first sign of life that this tree has shown in months.   It gave me hope that this long middle school winter that you have been stuck in, a winter full of isolation, fear, a pandemic, political unrest, injustices, racial tensions, conspiracies, divisions, and rejections- that this long winter has not killed you.  Perhaps us Sycamores really do feel the burden of the storm more heavily than most.  Perhaps this winter has seemed especially dark, cold, and long, but my child, you are not dead.  Indeed, you are very much alive evidenced by the fact that even is distress and trial you continue to refresh others with your flow of clean water.  In and out of season you give shelter and nourishment to anyone in need, and more often than not you notice someone else’s needs long before they ever need ask for help.

Perhaps you will one day find that you are not too old or too cool for soaking in a bath of your own, but if not I hope that you will find some means of processing and washing away each days thoughts and worries.  After all us Sycamores feel many things deeply even as we willingly carry the burdens of others.  No matter how long, dark, and cold this winter might feel, you are not dead, you are loved, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Go stand tall right next to the Pine, considering and understanding together that the hand of the Lord has created you just exactly as He meant you to be.

Love,

Mom

Words to Lacey about Teenagers

About six weeks ago you turned nine years old!  Almost double digits!  For months I had been planning to sit down on the 30th of September and write you a lovely birthday letter about how precious and unique God has made you.  I even started it at one point but never got past the second paragraph.   This should not come as a huge surprise to you since all nine years of your life you’ve gotten the leftovers and hand-me-downs, and you learned early on that it is up to you to keep up and make yourself heard!  So is the life of the baby of the family- especially an eccentric, creative, busy family such as ours.  Thankfully you have no problem keeping up or being heard.   

So here I am writing some words to you on Thanksgiving Day which also happens to be the week of your sister Hallie’s birthday- it is not at all the words I have been composing for you in my mind the last several months when lying in bed at night.  It is not the words that I have prayed for you over and over, nor is it the things I’ve treasured about you in my heart that my mind has not yet found words to express. 

Nope- sorry to have to tell you this, but it is a word about your siblings- Kori Jane age 16, Cade age 14, and Hallie who turned 13 this week!  And now that Hallie is a teenager, we are on our own kid.   There are now officially three teenagers sharing a roof with us.    That means we are surrounded!  Surrounded by a swirl of activities and events, football games, school dances, parties, friends, extra loads of laundry, theatre rehearsals, SAT prep, tutoring, and mountains of homework.  We are surrounded by competing sounds from various technological devices- tic tocks, youtube videos and Netflix shows- as well as the sounds of moods swinging, feet stomping, doors slamming and music blaring.   In many ways it is very similar to having a house full of toddlers except the smells and sounds have changed dramatically.  The music is much more tolerable for one, but the parenting hours are actually much expanded.  They do have a bedtime, but it’s more of a goal and not a rule which means that the last words I speak before I climb into my own bed are often- “go to bed.”  And the first words I speak are “get up- you are late!”  There are the sleepless nights too, however it is not due to teething, croup, a wet pullup or a monster under the bed, rather it is due to wishing you could mend a freshly broken heart, wondering if they are safe at that new friend’s house (while tracking them on their phone), knowing they will make mistakes but hoping it’s not a mistake of the lifechanging sort, and praying that they know how much you love them even though that very day you spoke a plethora of words you wish you could take back.

I know that being a kid surrounded by teenagers is not always easy although you must admit it has its perks!  Like the fact that Kori was not allowed to watch SpongeBob until she was 7 years old, but it was your favorite show at the age of 7 months!  And maybe you are exposed to more colorful language than I’d like with so many of your sibling’s friends coming and going, but how many kids get to have a bunch of teenagers dressed up like the Descendants show up to their birthday party.   So, you’ve never been to the weekly library story time (or been to a library at all for that matter) and you were not in dance, gymnastics, soccer and t-ball by the age of 3.  You have however always had someone to teach you how to do a cartwheel, read you a book, kick the soccer ball around the yard, play pretend with you, go on a bike ride or snuggle up with a movie.

One thing that has not been easy for you recently is that there are a growing number of times that you feel alone in our house which is always full of activity and people.   A growing number of times when you realize that being the baby is no longer enough to guarantee the attention and affection of your older siblings.  I distinctly remember a couple years back on your brother’s 13th birthday when you burst into tears at the realization that he was now a teenager.  One teenager was more than enough for you after watching Kori and her entire world grow and change.  Your exact words were, “he’s never going to be home anymore, and he won’t ever want to play with me.”    We tried to explain to you that your oldest sister has always been ready for the next adventure, and even as a child was always on the go.  As she was growing up and becoming more independent, being on the go meant being busy with friends and activities more often because she had more freedom to do so.  We assured you that while Cade was most certainly growing and changing, we doubted very seriously if your introverted brother would suddenly cease to be a homebody.  But still there were and are changes happening in your brother- his body is clearly changing, his voice is changing, his interests and moods are changing and there are certainly an increasing number of times that his bedroom door is closed and he is not ready and willing to drop everything to play with his sisters. 

The reality is that there are physical changes, chemical changes and emotional changes going on inside of all three of these complicated beings called teenagers that live in your house.  And believe it or not these changes are even harder on them than they are on you!     So, I have a few words to share with you sweet Lacey as our home is now being overtaken by teenagers.  Afterall, I have a feeling that we are both going to need each other to survive!

Have grace on them!  There are a ton of changes happening that we can see, hear and smell- we can easily observe them growing taller, stinkier and hairier all the time!  But these are nothing compared to the changes we can’t see.   Think about the happy caterpillar who is content to explore the safety of his little butterfly weed, happily eating aphids and leaves day after day while never once thinking about the world beyond.  That’s what its like being a kid content to explore the tiny world that has been set before you, and never bothering to question what lies beyond the safety and security of the home where you were born.  Then suddenly everything changes- the caterpillar finds itself in the most awkward and uncomfortable of circumstances- suddenly trapped in a cocoon and completely out of control, going through miraculous changes both internally and externally, having no clue what lies ahead or what they will be, and finally realizing that the world is much bigger than they had ever fathomed.  As much as you want to spend all your days on milkweed journeys with your siblings, they are no longer caterpillars.  It is not that they do not love us or the homes where they were born.  It is just that they are in that awkward and uncomfortable stage of life- a stage where they are rapidly changing, constantly feeling out of control, starting to realize how big the world is and wondering what they will be when they finally spread their wings.  True they are no longer caterpillars, but they are not quite butterfly’s yet either.  And just as we see Kori Jane fighting to emerge from her cocoon and open her beautiful wings – we see Hallie at the beginning of her transition.     I know it is hard to not take it personally when they appear to be ignoring us all locked away in their cocoons, or when they suddenly seem more interested in the world and the people beyond our cozy little milkweed plant.  It’s hard not to get angry and annoyed when they respond to us in unexpected, unusual or unkind ways.  And it’s hard not to be confused when they suddenly begin to question and contradict all the things that you continue to cling to with childlike faith.   But they will not always make you so sad, angry, annoyed and confused, and I promise you that they still need us more than they realize and love us more than they show. So have grace on them Lacey-lots and lots of grace!    

They’ll be gone before we are ready! Your nine-year-old brain can’t yet fathom how quickly years fly by.  Your nine-year-old brain is not thinking about the world outside our milkweed home, or where butterfly’s go when their wings are fully formed and strong enough to fly.   My 40 something brain is actually still struggling to fathom that in less than two years’ time the first of my babies will be taking flight.    I still remember with clarity the day each of you were born.  Kori Jane’s appearance into this world is one of only a few times I’ve seen tears in your Daddy’s eyes.  When Cade was born, I immediately fell in love with that cone-head even as Daddy whispered in my ear “you just gave birth to an alien.”   Hallie made her arrival 13 Thanksgivings ago and took us all by surprise when she came out a girl.   And Lacey, the looks on your siblings faces the first time they laid eyes on you will be forever etched in my memory.  It seems like only yesterday that you stole their hearts in a moment but in reality, that was nine years ago.  Yet in nine more years you will be the one spreading your wings and taking flight.  So let’s make the most of the years to come as together we treasure each moment- even the stinky, confusing, and frustrating ones- knowing that all of the moments are fleeting.

You’ll be a teenager before I am ready!  And as much as I’d like to believe that my sweet little Lacey Bug will never need deodorant, wear a bra, take drivers ed or the SAT, be embarrassed by her mom or roll her eyes in disgust at Daddy’s rules, the reality is that you will be one of those alien teenagers long before I am ready.   Before we know it, you will begin growing wings of your own.  You will feel awkward and out of control and you will need grace- lots and lots of grace. Ideally, we will have made most of our parenting mistakes on your siblings, but realistically we will just be too tired to reinforce all the same rules.  I just hope when that time comes that you will remember that you need me more than you know, and that I love you more than you can possibly imagine.

Don’t forget to have grace on me!  If you think that having teenage siblings is hard, just wait until you have teenage children.  You feel things you have never felt before- you hurt in ways you have never hurt and experience a deep joy you never knew possible.  Some days you want to kill them and the very next day you are begging God to keep them alive.   You helplessly watch them learn things the hard way and fight the urge to help them struggle out of the cocoon.  You find yourself saying and doing all the things you swore you’d never say or do when you became a mom.   And then you wish you could take half those things you have said or done back.  It’s hard and the very hardest part is yet to come.  So have grace on me Lacey as I watch your siblings learn to fly.  Have grace on me when they start flying away and have grace on me when I’m not quite ready to let you spread your own wings and fly away one day. 

I love you Lacey!

Mommy