There they stood - stark naked. All their lush, emerald green branches splayed outward, leaving bare centers totally exposed. In the nearly 30 years we’ve lived here, we’d never seen this. Not with these. But three times in as many years, these lovely tall shrubs that grace the entrance to our front driveway have “bared their souls”. Could be they weren’t big enough until now; perhaps these snows were heavier than usual. Whatever the reason, there they stood for all to see.
These were once small pyramids, only about a foot high. The previous owners planted them in the grass next to an old barn. We knew them to be Arborvitae or “trees of life”. Although we gave them no special attention they slowly grew and, true to their name, they did thrive. In time, the barn was torn down, a gravel drive surrounded them, and their little plot of ground became a flower bed. Not ones to easily give up on any plant, we dug and moved them - one on either side of the driveway out next to the street. As I guess they have been from the start, they were on their own. They continued to inch upward and now stand about eight feet tall. They maintain their pyramidal shape without pruning, are bright green year round, and produce small cones each year. They are beautiful and I judiciously snip their cone-bearing branches to use in Christmas arrangements.
As a new year dawns, I’m reminded that time and events, in human terms, can seem to move slowly. Life progresses as it will and brings its share of joy and fulfillment as well as pain, suffering, and sorrow. Failure, disability, poverty, estrangement, illness, disease, separation, death - it can be easy to dwell on the negatives. The storms of life may bend and break us, and they certainly bare our centers. For it is when we are most down and out, most discouraged and beaten, most at our wits’ end, that our true selves are revealed. We, too, are totally exposed - and just what lies at our core, for all to see?
I have discovered a truth I was not looking for. The center of the Arborvitae is not at all attractive, in the normal sense of that word. It is not lush nor green nor would I describe it as beautiful. It has no leaves nor cones and I certainly would not decorate anything with it. I might say it is flat-out ugly, but I would be wrong. For I am thinking only of the outer, decorative aspects of this tree. All of its height, strength, and support comes from that “ugly” center - and there, where it really counts, it is healthy and very much alive.
In the greater scheme of things, time and events that we experience are but a flash in the pan. The Arborvitae’s branches are again upright and dense, hiding that inner core. But I’ve now seen it and I wonder - how healthy and alive is my center, my very soul? And yours?
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.
Everything is uncovered and laid bare
before the eyes of him
to whom we must give account.