Tumbleweeds or Oak Trees

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Teresa Lund is a supporter, encourager, and fantastic writer in her own right. She volunteered to write posts for me this year while I struggled with loss, the resulting lack of words, and mild depression. She always reached out to strengthen just when I really thought I couldn’t take another breath. Her posts really touched my heart. She reveals timely insight for the future ahead based on a story from the past.

 As a child, everyone had a nickname for me. I was either “little mouse” or “kitten.”  My shyness won me the first, and the curiosity that caused my head to tilt as I listened or saw something interesting, was given by my grandfather.  During family gatherings I sought out my grandfather, who was a man of few words with a gentle smile. His eyes reflected a wisdom and kindness that made even a timid child feel warmth and acceptance.  

While everyone talked, he reached down and took my hand. He guided me to the library where we enjoyed quiet conversations amid towering bookcases. We shared the special bond of being orphans, disconnected from our origins.

While sunlight streamed through the large arched windows, he told stories of his early childhood before the cholera epidemic. Afterward, he wandered in sorrow for weeks after watching his father, siblings, and finally his mother die. He spoke tenderly of the kind widow who had lost everyone she loved and took him in. Grief, eventually replaced by the hope of new beginnings, left an indelible mark. Not of bitterness, but of compassion.

Grandfather told me his story, which few others knew, to give me a sense of belonging, and to let me know I wasn’t alone. He encouraged me to write and gave me a journal as a companion. Even today, when I touch the journal’s worn leather cover or yellowed pages, I feel his reassuring presence.

He taught me to learn from nature, to read the lessons of the leaves and the rivers, to understand the tumbleweeds and what tall oak trees share.  He taught me there are no coincidences, just a greater plan unfolding.

One day, I recounted the latest ego busting defeat.

“Are you a dam or a river?” he asked.  

I recall being speechless and perplexed.  

“Being offended by slights or depressed by failures is like damming a river simply to hold all the water and debris,” he explained. “A river can only give life if it flows freely. It is a life choice, to be a dam or a river.”

 I chose to be the river and understood the freedom his wisdom offered.  At times, I regaled him with my latest success or accomplishment. He’d be happy for me, yet cautioned me that it came with added responsibility.  

“Success is an opportunity to lift others.” He pointed to a tall oak tree. “It cannot give shade and have birds nest in its branches if it clings to itself. To be truly what it is meant to be, it must open its branches wide and stand strong against storms, protecting the life that depends on it.”

After university, I was at the point of choosing a career. I wanted to be a part of the exciting new advances and discoveries that seemed to be unfolding in every direction. Every job offered sounded amazing, but I needed to give myself space, and a little time to consider which path was right for me.

I headed home to spend time with my grandparents. Home was a fountain of positive energy. My grandfather had become ill the previous year. But while caring for him, grandmother was still baking her family-famous, chocolate chip cookies. He spent his time in the library or the garden enjoying nature.  Even as his strength failed, with my grandmother’s help, he rose early, washed, shaved, dressed, and greeted each day with a prayer of gratitude. Life was precious, and he wanted to live it fully.  

The morning after I arrived, grandmother told me that my grandfather wished me to join him on the terrace for breakfast. Wow, I would have loved doing this growing up! On the terrace, he sat at a small table with coffee and blueberry muffins. I took a seat. He caught my bemused expression.

 “Tell me, what troubles you?” he smiled. I took less than a sip of coffee before launching into my dilemma, explaining each job offer and explaining the possibilities. Then paused.

“Mostly tumbleweeds,” he said. I sat jaw dropped waiting for his explanation. “Tumbleweeds when they mature, detach from their root, growing larger as they roll about, tossed by the wind. Their spiked nettles attach themselves to anything that crosses the path, causing it to lose direction and eventually block any forward momentum,” he said. “Tumbleweed is destructive and useless by the very nature of its rootlessness. It drops seed but bears no fruit.  The sharp nettles, endanger gentle grazing animals.”

He compared jobs that paid large salaries and offered fancy titles to the large, rootless tumbleweed. “Do you wish to be a tumbleweed, or a tree that bears much good fruit?” 

Of course I wanted to be a fruitful tree.

“Then you must search your heart and find where you can best serve others; there you’ll find your passion and your peace. The fruit one bears, tells if the tree is good, so plant yourself in a career that nourishes and bears good fruit. You’re a young sapling searching for rich soil, in which to spread your roots. If you seek a meaningful life, make choices by the fruit you wish to bear.”

What does this mean for you?

A lot of us have taken jobs that really don’t feed our souls and might not be bearing the fruit we’d hoped for. Maybe you’ve been stuck in a tumbleweed trend for a long time, rolling with the wind and now you’re not getting anywhere. One glorious thing about the pandemic is that so many are re-evaluating their circumstances and making positive changes. And you can too.

By considering the kind of fruit you want to bear, you can search for a job that better aligns with the values and causes you believe in, and your life mission statement.

Do you have a story to share? I love hearing from you. Share your comments below!

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