Monday Musings…. From Burl to Beautiful

You meet incredible people at times you least expect it, and often at the times you need it most.

During our camping trip this summer, we connected with a variety of people we had never met before in our lives. We found some early risers and though we knew nothing about each other, we found common ground as we spent time in deep reflection and prayer. It was a great way to start each day!

One of the couples we met, who must have been in their seventy’s, asked us to come to their site one afternoon. How do you describe these two seniors who were so full of life, radiating joy abundantly, and whose weather-worn faces beamed as we sat with them and heard the story of their lives? Words can’t do justice to what we heard sitting in their presence.

She was very proud to have grown up on a farm, as she delighted in telling us how she could keep up with all the male labourers. She had tremendous satisfaction in that hard work and the grit that was needed to keep the farm going. She met and married her beau who interestingly didn’t share the same love for farming. He was a carpenter and it was through his labour that he built several homes for their growing family to enjoy. They had two wonderful children and were pleasantly surprised with a healthy third child several years later. Perhaps what some people would refer to this arrival as an “oops”, but for them, this was anything but “oops”.

He then handed us a wooden bowl that he had made. He was obviously an incredibly skilled craftsman and now he was going to take us on a crash course not only in woodworking, but also in what it means to truly live.

He explained to my husband and I that this bowl was made from a burl. A burl is tree growth where the grain grows in a deformed way. Most of us have seen one on the side of a tree. I just thought it was where a limb had broken off. But in actuality, it’s like this huge knot, covered in bark. I didn’t know that the bark had grown over the burl to try to hide the suffering the tree had gone through in its life. Burls, you see, can be caused by an injury, a virus, insect infestation, or other type of stress. Sometimes the burls aren’t visible, but when the tree falls over or dies, you can see a mass of them attached to the roots, the foundation of the tree.

He then told the story of his third child, a daughter, so vibrant, so smart. Shortly after entering high school, she was diagnosed with cancer and she was told she wouldn’t live. Chemotherapy and radiation, treatments we take for granted today, were in the infancy stages of development and not an option. The doctors tried various options but could offer little hope. His eyes started to tear up, not because of the desperation for healing, but because he said his daughter, who knew she was going to die, had only one desire. And that was to graduate high school. This was an unlikely achievement. Cancer doesn’t wait for milestones to be achieved. But she was determined. She worked on her studies from her hospital bed, and then loaded her mother’s arms with the papers. The mother faithfully plowed through the two hour traffic to the high school to drop it off and pick up the next bale.

She made it to her grade 12th year! Just a few months before graduation, the school granted her an honorary diploma. It was one of the happiest days of her short life. While she was dying, she was living!

And so, the burl that designates the pain and suffering a tree has gone through, he told us, is actually the most valuable part of the tree for the craftsman. In His hands, this highly deformed wood, becomes something of rare beauty. It is exceedingly difficult wood to chisel with hand tools or work with on a lathe. The craftsman must take His time with the twisted and interlocked grains, threatening to chip or shatter His tools. But the end result, and indeed this bowl showed, is a work of beauty unmatched in its density and resistance to any future damage. Nothing cannot split this wood. That is in the past when it was part of the tree. Now it is beautifully unbreakable.

The tremendous pain and loss this family endured shaped them into beautiful vessels who carry the message of hope and resilience to teenagers in their community. They shared with us their dream to tell their daughter’s story, so it may reap a harvest of hope for those who are struggling and wondering if they have any purpose. They want to bring them out of the darkness and into the Light!

Maybe you needed to hear this today. Perhaps, you are very aware of the burls in your life. They may be secured to your roots; they may be hidden from sight; or they may obvious on your trunk, or where your branches have been ripped off from the storms in your life. You wonder how long this stress, mold, or insect infestation can keep eating away at you? Well, there is a Craftsman willing to take that burden and carve you into something beautiful and help you see that there was purpose in the pain.

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© 2020 Connect the Thoughts: Charlene Mahon