I’ve been thinking about trees. Some of you with a green thumb might be nodding in agreement. It probably doesn’t take much to convince you that plants are spectacular. Perhaps you’re even bold enough to garden without gloves. If so, I applaud you. You are one brave individual.
But this “enjoying nature” thing is surprising for me because of one basic fact: I hate dirt. And let’s face it, unless you live in a concrete jungle, dirt is an inevitable part of nature.
I’ve never liked playing in dirt or mud. I’ve never enjoyed the caked-on, gritty feeling on my hands. I can’t stand it under my nails. It makes me sneeze.
Those elements haven’t changed. But what has is the realization that creation is intentionally flooded with life lessons. And it just so happens that I love learning. So, dirt or not, nature and I are bonding.
Now, onto trees….
Did you know that the faster a tree grows, the softer its wood and the higher its risk of pests and damage? That slow-growing trees typically have fewer pest and breakage problems because the wood is stronger?
That the most serious pests of soft-wooded trees are borers, and they attack the tree near wounds, which in turn disrupts the tree’s ability to take in nutrients?
That woodpeckers can often be the first sign of a pest problem because they feed on the borers?
I didn’t. But now I find it fascinating. (Thanks to my friend and local green thumb expert Jana Dalke at Serenity Gardens for sharing from her wealth of tree knowledge.)
The parallel of my own journey with that of trees doesn’t escape me. I’m learning to be content in slow-growth—fewer pests and breakage problems are appealing benefits. I’m learning that healed wounds don’t attract pesky borers at the same rate as open ones. I’m learning that I want to surround myself with people willing to be woodpeckers.
Of course, part of growth is branching out. I did a little of that this past summer when I attended She Speaks writing conference in Charlotte, N.C. When I returned, I began sifting through mountains of words I heard over that weekend. (Obviously, any conference embodied around she+speaks probably has a lot of words to go with it.)
I heard main-session speakers featuring authors working for Proverbs 31 Ministries. I attended workshops. I had a publishing appointment. I met new friends. So coming home definitely required some thought-organization to break things down into manageable portions.
As I mentally sorted, I landed on one word in particular: Excellence.
Excellence was a word prayed over me during a breakout session, so I figured it would be a very good place to start.
After watching a bird take refuge in the tree outside my upstairs vantage point during that time of processing, and after realizing how much provision a tree gives without being anything other than “tree,” I was inspired.
A strong tree is life-giving.
It accepts its place and does its work.
It doesn’t argue.
It doesn’t complain.
It grows where it’s planted.
It is extremely good at what it does—an apt definition of excellence.
For the past several years, I have picked a word of the year. I have chosen “excellence” for 2017.
Do I know exactly what this will look like? No. And I’m not going to guess. My expectations always fall short of what actually happens anyway.
But I am excited to see where my God takes this. Life is definitely a grand adventure when paired with walking in obedience. It is written that God likes to do new things. So do I. So here I go into the great unknown of 2017 with inspiration from this explanation on the importance of excellence:
“Spiritual maturity is a quest for character for which there will be little progress without the pursuit of excellence. Without pursuing excellence, life will remain bland, very vanilla, lukewarm at best. The quest for excellence fuels our fire and keeps us from just drifting downstream gathering debris.” (bible.org)
Nature is sure declaring some glory and proclaiming some handiwork!
Malinda Just has been writing her monthly column for the Free Press since 2008. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org