But the Thorns!

What a beautiful tree!  It’s absolutely the perfect place to put a treehouse!

A few of us were spending the morning helping our friends move.  It wasn’t that big a deal—loading a U-Haul truck with furniture and boxes, along with a pickup truck or three—since we were only going a mile away.

Still, we welcomed a minute to stand in the cool shade of the stately tree and savor a long drink of cold water.  It had been a morning filled with laughter and joviality as we labored together, but hard work in the sunshine seems to be a recipe for sweat and thirst.  We stood under the branches of the flourishing tree and were refreshed—by the water and the shade.

Looking up, I noticed the configuration of the sturdy branches where they joined the massive trunk.  The branches all came out of the trunk at something close to a right angle before sweeping upward, where they spread out to the leafy extremity of the tree’s crown.

Ah!  At sixty years old, I would be stretching credulity to claim the title of tree climber, but in a past life, I would have been up that tree in a minute.

Perfection!  What a magnificent tree!

The children quite obviously shared my opinion; one of the taller boys was already giving the younger ones a leg up onto the lower limbs.  Within moments, the branches were teeming with youngsters above our heads.

What a delight!  What I wouldn’t give to have such a tree in my yard for my grandchildren to experience.  Why, if it were in my yard, I might give it a shot myself—when the neighbors weren’t around to see my foolishness, of course.

And, the possibilities for a tree house!  Although, it seems such dreams may actually be governed by building codes and city ordinances in this bureaucratic age in which we live.

Still.  A tree house!

What a perfect tree!

The teenaged young man who had lifted up the younger kids was still standing nearby as I expressed my admiration.  Even though he is just moving into the house, he had done his homework regarding the majestic tree.

Yes.  This tree is a sweetgum.  So are those next door.

He tossed the words out carelessly, as if they weren’t nearly the sternest denunciation he could make of the ancient giant.  Perhaps—in fairness—to him they weren’t.

What a shame.  How unfortunate that some uneducated homeowner had planted such an unsuitable specimen right in the middle of his front yard.

I looked around in the leafy ends of the branches.  Sure enough, hanging down, I spotted them.  Those spiny seed pods!  Horrible things!

I wouldn’t have that tree in my front yard!  Not for anything!

You’re laughing at me, aren’t you?  Go ahead.  Laugh all you want.  I hate cleaning up those spiny things.  They drop off the tree in the fall and the yard will be full of them.

Did you know, the sweetgum tree is often and vociferously named by homeowners as one of the worst trees to have in your yard?  It’s all because of those spiny seed pods, gumballs, some folks call them, which might even be dangerous.  They roll underneath your shoe and make you twist your ankle.  They hurt your head if you happen to be under the tree when one falls. And, don’t even think about going barefoot in the yard where one of those horrible trees is growing.

You’re still laughing.  You should be.

Moments before, I declared the tree perfect.  That’s right.  Perfect.  

As in, every good gift and every perfect gift is a gift from above, coming down to us from God, the Father of Lights. (James 1:17)

And now?  If it were gift-wrapped and planted in my front yard, I’d turn up my nose at the horrible thing.

Silly, isn’t it?  The tree is magnificent, with spreading limbs and foliage providing wonderful shade, growing straight up to heavens, fifty or sixty feet above my head.  Yet, here I stand, repenting of my admiration for it because of a little seed pod an inch and a half in diameter.

I think they call this incongruous.  It certainly demonstrates a lack of perspective on my part.

It seems to be a common trait for humanity.  My mind jumps to examples of our fickle approval or disapproval of other people and situations.  Yours will too, given a moment or two of introspection.

Perhaps, there is even one which hits very close to home, maybe even painfully so.  I know I have too many of my own.

And, even though I’m glad for the company in my foolishness, I’m disappointed in myself—and us.  I’m even more than a little embarrassed.

How is it we stand face to face with amazing blessings which we recognize clearly but, having noticed the tiniest of flaws, can see nothing else?

And soon, the imperfection becomes an annoyance.  As the annoyance grows, our sense of being blessed diminishes.

Before long, we have exchanged our blessings for curses, our joys for anger, our gifts for punishments.

It’s impossible to be grateful when one is critical of the gift they’ve been given. 

It's impossible to be grateful when one is critical of the gift. Click To Tweet

He gives good gifts.  They are gifts which bring joy.  They are gifts which build character.  Sometimes, both at the same time.

Our old friend, Job, understood it when He answered his wife, who wanted him to curse God for the disasters which had destroyed the life he once had known.

Does it seem right to accept good from God and not the hardships also?  That’s foolishness!  (Job 2:10)

I understand.  A spiny seed pod on a beautiful tree is not the same as having your entire family wiped out and losing all your wealth.  Still, the principle applies.

God is for us.  

He intends good.  For us.  

He does good.  For us.

If He is for us, what do the inconveniences matter?  

If He is for us, we can abide the testing, the hard spots.  

The apostle, for whom I am named, said he considered these passing hardships as not worth comparing to the glorious expectation of what will one day be ours.  (Romans 8:18)

I’m with him.  At least, I want to be.  

One day—on that day—all of the things we complained and griped about here will seem as a hazy fog blown away by the morning breezes.  Gone in an instant, leaving no proof that they ever existed.

He gives good gifts.  Good. 

And, we are forever grateful.

I’d still keep the rake handy for the spiny seed pods, though.


I beg your pardon.  I never promised you a rose garden.
Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime.
(from Rose Garden ~ Joe South ~ © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC ~ All rights reserved.)


But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.
(Job 2:10 ~ NLT Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

2 thoughts on “But the Thorns!

  1. Such a wonderful reminder, Paul, that we too often focus on the flaws instead of being grateful for the bigger blessings. Those sweet gum balls are a menace (we have a tree in our yard), but oh, the majesty of that tree!

  2. I agree about those spiny seed pods. What a mess they make. But, seeds are a true gift from God. He provided seeds on every plant. Good seeds, bad seeds. Without the seeds we could never plant a garden. Forests would never replace themselves. The people that walked the earth with Jesus, could not buy seeds at the local hardware store. They had to harvest seeds from their plants. Oranges have seeds, corn is a cob of seed, green beans and peas are a row of seeds. If you don’t mow your yard, you’ll have a forest in a few years. Seeds! One of the best gifts God gave us.

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