The two trees in the photo are growing just off my back patio; the tree on the left was planted by me. It is a Chinese Elm. I planted it about four years ago. It has been slow to grow, needs constant trimming, must be staked to survive Arizona's monsoon winds, its leaves fall bare for the winter and needs constant care. The tree on the right is my "mystery tree" Two years ago, it began to sprout from the ground and produced beautiful red, shiny stems and branches and arrow-shaped leaves that are glossy and lovely. It needs no staking support, has grown very quickly to surpass the tree I planted, holds all its leaf finery throughout the winter when the other trees are but skeletal protrusions awaiting the comfort and promise of spring. My mystery tree stands strong and proud, it's trunk wide and straight and is quickly surging past the other tree in half the time.
My mystery tree came as nature's gift and required no effort from me, except to water it and admire it. The tree I planted and wanted to grow has been disappointing.
One recent spring morning I sat on my patio drinking coffee and thinking that the story of these two trees is so much like our lives. In my life I've planted a thousand seeds that I expected to grow and flourish as I anticipated; the career I expected, the wife I would choose, the children I would have, the city where I would live and the home I would have and the talents I would pursue and those I would not. I was often frustrated that the seed that I planted did not produce what I had wished for. Many times I got so much more than I wished for.
One of the first "crop failures" was my desire to finish college, be accepted for Air Force Officers Training School (OTS)and become a commissioned officer. As an enlisted non-commissioned officer, I worked so hard to achieve that dream. I attended several colleges, taking classes during my off duty hours and completing my studies late at night and during lunch hours and whenever I could grab a few minutes to do so. After four years of really hard work I finally had a chance to pursue a program that would allow me to graduate and become accepted to OTS. Just as I was being accepted the program was cancelled. I was so shattered that a door had been closed to me that I vowed to abandon my dream forever.
But I remember one night, laying in bed with my wife and lamenting my bad luck. My wife said something that I will never forget. Somewhere from her Asian background, and drawing from some Asian philosophy, she said, and I parphrase "many times we humans want something to happen our way. But we are like kites, soaring in the sky, when in fact, we are tethered to the arms of God; he gives us room to soar but it is He that controls our flight. Although this idea did not alleviate my disappointment, even then I thought what a beautiful way to think about the relationship we have with our higher being.
Three years later, on His schedule, I graduated from college was accepted to Officers Training School and was commissioned an officer in the Air Force.
Our lives are always like that. We must always have dreams...and it is good to work to make those dreams come true....but in the end, there's someone up there tethered to your kite strings, ready to move you to where He wishes you to be.
When I look on those two trees they form almost a parable in my mind...left to human effort alone, that weak and sickly tree on the left is what we plant...the grand and lovely tree, strong and majestic, glossy with promise is what God plants. I've come to believe He's the better gardener.