Have you ever seen a tree that has a weird growth growing on it? It might look something like these.
I’ve never seen any this big in person, but these weird large growths are called “burls”. Burls are large collections of a specific type of tree cells called “callus tissue”. Callus tissue appears when a tree has undergone damage or stress. You’ve probably more commonly seen callus tissue when a limb is pruned off a tree and the tree starts to heal around the cut.
Similar to pruning, the growth of callus tissue for burls is caused by stress put on the tree. Most often it is from an infecting bacteria, virus, or fungus. The tree’s growth hormones get hijacked by one of these organisms and that area begins to grow quickly into unpredictable sizes and appearances. It is frequently quite difficult to determine what stress caused a particular burl because by the time a burl is big enough to recognize, the source of the stress may be long gone.
It is interesting to note that although the incitement of the growth is usually due to some invading species, the wood itself is not diseased. It is a healthy, functioning part of the tree. The xylem may be twisted and contorted, but they are still able to transport water and nutrients throughout the tree.
Looking at this picture… they just look gross. I wouldn’t want burls growing on any of my trees. It turns out, not everyone feels the same. When woodworkers see burls, they see something valuable. They see a unique pattern of growth that will make their work more unique and beautiful. These growths are highly sought after and even poached in the wild to create beautiful works like the two shown below.
We can often see our lives the way I see burls, but Jesus sees us like the woodworkers. He sees the hurt we have suffered, the times difficult stressors have been put in our lives, but he also sees the growth that we have had since then. He sees each of us, every bit of us, and sees us as valuable.
This can be difficult to see in ourselves, especially when we see others around us who don’t seem like they have gone through the trials that we have. Their lives seem easy and what our lives should be, but this is a lie that we tell ourselves. Our lives are beautiful and valuable just as theirs are. Each of us are unique additions to God’s kingdom.
The story of one woman on the path to sainthood seems to fit this message. You may have heard of St. Therese of Lisieux, but have you heard of her older sister Leonie? Her path was not as clear cut as Therese’s, with many frustrations and setbacks as well as the many sorrowful losses that the entire family suffered.
From a young age, Leonie knew she was called to be a nun, but she was a difficult child who refused to follow directions and caused her parents and teachers great stress. This behavior only increased when she was six and her 5 year old sister died, leaving her without her best friend. This restless child was kicked out of school at one point. At the age of 14, her mother died, and her family had to move, leaving everything behind. At the age of 23 Leonie entered the monastery of the Poor Clares but remained there only 6 weeks. A year later she joined the Monastery at the Visitation at Caen, but was only allowed to stay for 6 months before being asked to leave. Six years later she returned to this monastery and tried again. This time she stayed for two years, receiving her habit before having to leave due to poor health. Devoting those two years, she was not around when her father passed away, a difficult sacrifice for her. During this time she had been corresponding with her sister Therese who had easily joined the Carmelites in Lisieux and seemed to be doing everything right where Leonie was seemingly doing everything wrong.
This was so difficult for Leonie, but she remained steadfast in her belief that she was called to religious life. Before Therese died, she said, “After I die, I will make Leonie rejoin the Visitation Order, and this time she will stay.” With an amazing intercessor in heaven, Leonie was accepted into the Carmelites a little over a year after her sister’s death and lived out the rest of her long life with them, happy to be serving and to have finally found a place where she belongs. She was able to grow and to learn to be a better nun in those first few years with them so that she would no longer be dismissed. Her road was difficult, getting rejected so many times, losing so many loved ones, but she remained persistent and continued to serve the Lord, eventually able to do so in the manner that she felt called.
Those last 40+ years seem like the “good part”, but the Lord sees all that she gave throughout her whole life, even in the tragedies, and he sees her growth. He saw her life as valuable, and he loved her. The Lord feels the same way about you and I, even when we have setbacks or we make mistakes. He loves us and celebrates our lives. Today, let us thank the Lord for our lives, the ups and the downs. We ask that He helps us to see our lives for the beautiful gift that they are, to help us see that our lives are valuable in His eyes.