Recently I was taken back to the house where I lived while enduring years of spousal abuse. It’s curious how some things that mean very little to others rivet our own attention. There in the front yard stood a stately, huge oak tree. I was amazed. I kept repeating to the reporter who was interviewing me, “That tree. I can’t believe how much it has grown.” I recalled the day we moved into the house. The tree was barely as tall as me, all 5’2” of me. It was not much more than a stick with a few leaves at that time. Yet, there it stood, now providing a canopy of shade over nearly the entire front yard.
Suddenly it struck me. All those years the emotional, verbal and subsequent physical abuse was taking place inside that house, the oak tree continued to grow. Not inhibited by the dysfunction going on inside the walls just feet away, it continued to grow. At first I was offended. How dare it go on as if nothing had ever happened, continuing to thrive while I was being abused! And how rude of it to carry on with its life after I moved away, forgetting me altogether! There I stood at the curb, having a sort of interaction with a tree. What was up with that? We finished taping and left the old home behind, but the mental picture of that tree stuck with me throughout the following weeks.
Then I got a call asking for old photographs to use for the upcoming spot. That meant I had to pull a box of pictures out of storage and sort through my past. It was a challenge at best. I don’t know about you, but I can’t simply flit through photos and quickly select a few. For each one that held a memory, good or bad, I stopped and revisited that time and place captured before me. I was looking for pictures of me as a child, and actually found several. But out of nowhere there was one marked 1973, and I was looking at my brother holding high over his head my toddler son. There beside them was the tree, the same tree that had been haunting me for weeks. It was exactly as I remembered it. We had lived there about a year when the shot was taken. The tree was, indeed, perhaps 6 feet tall with only a handful of branches, sparse of leaves. I knew that tree held a valuable lesson for me, and I did not want to miss it. In my first book I wrote, “Don’t let me miss the lesson, God. Please do not let me miss the lesson here.” That became an important part of my life long ago. Do not miss the lessons. You may fail the test and be forced to take it over again.
I paused for a moment―then I patiently waited―seeking the lesson from the tree. I meditated quietly, listening for the answer. Slowly it came to me, and deep within my spirit I heard God teach me “The Lesson of the Oak Tree.” It went something like this:
So, you remember me. Do you recall that when you first moved in there was talk between you and your husband about cutting me down? He was concerned I’d grow too big and damage the foundation of the house, but you? No, you insisted I should be allowed to stay and grow. I’d be a source of shade and refreshing some day. That was one argument you won. Do you think that was coincidental? All those years you were living each day in fear and abuse, I was standing right outside your door. I was there, looking inside your children’s bedroom windows, regularly checking in to be sure they were safe. As they grew, my branches grew. I was able to offer them more covering and shade with each year that passed. The growth of my branches was manifestation of the fact my roots were growing sturdy and reaching deeper, setting a firmer foundation. I was growing mighty and powerful, able to reach out further and touch more space. You were inside, lost and confused, desperately seeking answers, asking why you would be expected to endure such traumas. What you did not realize is this―we were both growing and becoming a bit more resilient during the same time. While you were being verbally and emotionally abused, I was standing through strong winds and even hurricanes. While you were being hit, I was being struck by mower blades. Both of us were setting our roots down, becoming stronger through our adversities. After much time and abuse, you finally realized the woman you were always purposed to be. It just meant a passage of time before you would finally be equipped to take what you experienced and use it to extend your arms to cover others, even as my branches grew to extend further and provide more shade.
You see, my friend, even though you never considered me as anything more than simply “a tree in the yard,” I was always there, standing by, determined to never leave or forsake you. It was a very sad day for me when you packed up your belongings and your children and left this house. I missed looking in on the children. But, this is where my roots will keep me. There are other children to oversee and cover. This is where I have been placed to serve. You, on the other hand, have a root system that has spread to greater areas, to encourage, inspire and motivate others who unfortunately are in the throes of their own abusive situations. So, let us both stand strong where we are planted―and always remember how we were there for one another.
All that from one simple little acorn.
Carolyn is an advocate for sexual/domestic violence and assault awareness, also focusing on child sexual abuse. She is a Life Direction & Empowerment Coach, working with victims and survivors of molestation, sexual assault, domestic violence or spousal abuse, and bringing training to organizations seeking to help victims. Listen to Carolyn’s interview with Cynthia Brennen, on “Help, Hope & Healing.” Visit her website: orangeblossomwishes.com.
- APS Shade Tree Program (greenarizonabroker.com)