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Julie VanSpall – Home Front

Strong roots help us weather the storms of life

Voices Jul 7, 2017

Just as roots provide trees with stability, water and nutrients, love of God and family holds us firmly in our Catholic faith. (© Copyright Stanley Howe and licensed for reuse: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

Recently, I accompanied my youngest daughter’s class on a field trip to Burns Bog. The outing was pleasurable, informative, and thought provoking. Surrounded by trees, I couldn’t help but think of them as imagery for my faith.

Early into the tour, the guide drew the children’s attention to the root system of a fallen swamp tree. The gnarled tubers hardly seemed long or strong enough to be the anchors for this large tree. Upon seeing its exposed base, it was really no surprise that a strong wind had overtaken it.

The guide asked the children to contemplate why, in a bog, such a tall tree would have no need for deep roots. A few of the children shared their guesses, until finally someone realized that since a bog is filled with water, the tree’s roots didn’t need to grow very far to reach it.

This basic “room-service” for nutrients gave the tree all it needed. It took what was required, grew in its place, and remained content. The tree extended up and out, for all to see, until a wind pulled its shallow roots right out of the ground, ultimately causing its demise.

The guide went on to compare this tree’s roots to those of trees growing further from water. Their root systems can stretch for miles underground, seeking the nearest water source, no matter how far away that source may be. Surprisingly, even a short humble-looking tree can be securely anchored by very long roots, spreading far and wide beneath the earth – away from public view. While wind can do damage to these trees as well, many remain standing in storms because they are so well-grounded.

Looking at the root system of the uprooted tree made me think of my children and how my husband and I have provided everything they’ve ever needed.

Looking at the root system of the uprooted tree made me think of my children and how my husband and I have provided everything they’ve ever needed. We feed them, clothe them, house them, and provide opportunities for them to have an education and extra-curricular activities. We have raised them in the faith and driven them to church each weekend. They haven’t had to look for the water of survival, in either the physical or the spiritual sense. They have grown roots, but a secure water source has always been right beneath them.

With our oldest child graduating from high school and setting out into university life, I know that I do not want him or his sisters to become like swamp trees. I want them to build upon the foundation we have provided for them, while also realizing that their young roots are not yet deep enough to weather the storms of life.

We have provided the initial “water” for them to begin their journeys, but in order to stay standing, they must extend those roots. They must grow beyond our family, keeping their roots in touch with home, as they find their ways in the world.

In my early twenties, I moved far away from home – far from the immediate water source of family, friends, and my home church. Yet I keep in touch with people and am drawn back to the place of my birth every year.

More importantly, I am drawn to my relationship with Jesus, in daily prayer and in Sunday Mass. My roots may have been shallow at one time, but love for God and for people have held me in place; the farther I’ve gone, the deeper my roots have grown.

My prayer for my son and his fellow graduates – my prayer for my younger children as well – is that, while they grow tall and explore their potential, they will never stop growing their roots. I pray that under the image they present to the world, there will be constant searches deep within for the nutrients their souls need to survive.

I pray that their roots will allow them to withstand the winds of life.

I pray that their roots will allow them to withstand the winds of life and grow into the unique people God has designed them to be.

I likewise pray that, when they are no longer with me on life’s “field trips,” they too may notice and embrace the hand of God in the imagery he continually provides along the way.