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May 22, 2019 121 0 Teresa Weider
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Lessons of a Sycamore Tree

Twists and Turns

Every morning for nearly 14 years, I have opened my kitchen blinds and watched a group of sycamore trees behind our property grow. Sycamore trees are common in California and the developer of this area planted a variety named London Plane, not indigenous to Sacramento County. This variety grows fast and very tall; at full height, they can top out at more than 130 feet! Although they thrive well in the hot dry summers of the Sacramento area, they need full sun to grow to such majestic heights. They will bend and twist to find the sun, which in turn can give them interesting shapes.

One of these sycamore trees had a rocky start when, only a few years old, it became badly infested with aphids. That weakened the trunk, making it droop to nearly a 90-degree angle. It could no longer seek the sun and looked like it was going to be removed. Fortunately, a local arborist—through pruning, nourishment and time— was able to save the little tree. It recovered yet had to twist to reorient itself for its upward journey to the sun. The misshapen tree is still angled quite a bit but if one can say they love a tree, I have to say it: I love this tree! This tree has a story and its very shape reflects my story and perhaps yours as well.

I am a “Cradle Catholic” born of Cradle Catholics. Having strong Catholic roots, I grew on a solid sacramental journey through my Catholic school years. The catechism of my parents’ generation seemed to focus on the “dos and don’ts” of the church but the “whys and wherefores” also intrigued my young questioning mind. At some point, when my questions could not be answered to satisfaction, I was told to “take it on faith.” It sounded like loving Catholic advice but to a growing inquisitive child, who did not quite understand the concept of faith, it equated to: “I don’t know,” “ Because I said so” or “Don’t bother me.” Those words planted within me small seeds of doubt.

Those seeds grew and weakened the faith I had, much like what the aphids did to the tree. Thus, throughout my young adult years I tested, stretched and ignored many of God’s and the church’s teachings. This led to sinful thoughts and behaviors that ultimately ended in painful consequences. My journey toward Christ had become weighed down by sin, and I had bent so far that I was no longer actively seeking the Son.

God loved me mercifully and unconditionally. Even though I had stopped seeking Him, He never stopped seeking me. “For thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick’” (Ezekiel 34:11, 16).

To Be or Not To Be

The years passed, I married young and had three sons before I was 30. We baptized our children and tried to make it to mass when we were not too tired or could not rationalize our way out of it. Although I was not actively seeking God, the roots were still strong enough to at least consider God as a sort of good insurance plan, sort of like a “get-out-of-hell-free” card.

In my early 30s, I questioned whether it was worth the effort of taking our kids to church. Our boys could be rambunctious and noisy. Sundays felt more frustrating than fulfilling. When I wearily fed, bathed and dressed the boys in their Sunday best, I weighed the pros and cons of such a decision. Thankfully, one Sunday forever changed my life. I packed bottles, snacks, books, toys, blankies and diapers, then our little family dutifully headed to mass.

For some odd reason, that Sunday I chose to sit in the front row. We never sat in the front. It only meant a longer walk of shame to the back of the church if one of the boys acted up. In retrospect, God had a hand in that decision. I had rationalized that perhaps they might behave if they could see what was happening on the altar. I surveyed their behavior after the Gospel … so far so good. The thought popped in my head, “Hey, I might actually get to listen to a homily for a change.” The priest began speaking on the topic of faith, which immediately caught and held my attention because its concept still felt elusive to me. Then he spoke words that pierced my heart. He said that faith is not a RIGHT. Faith is a GIFT. It is a grace given by God and we just need to ask for it. WHAT?

A Gift for All

I thought being a Cradle Catholic meant faith came with the insurance plan and I just did not understand the policy. I had a swirling mixture of emotions. I was mad that I had not been told this before. I was sad that it had taken so long to hear this information. Yet, I was glad and grateful that it was just as simple as asking for it! Boldly, then and there, I prayed. “God, if faith is a gift and all I have to do is ask for it, then I want it. I want the gift of faith. I want all of it and I want it now! I’ve lost my way. The weight of my sins is too heavy for me and I need faith so I can find my way back to You.” I sat there waiting. Nothing obvious happened, but somehow just asking brought me peace. Maybe I would keep coming to mass.

God works in His timing and although I did not immediately recognize what was happening, He began to bring His own arborists into my life. Through pruning, nourishment, time and love, He introduced me to people whose faith was strong and healthy. They in turn introduced me to God through their words and actions. Eventually, they introduced me to God’s word and that is when the real healing began. I started to read the Holy Bible daily and continued to ask questions. Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Every day I grew in a faith that led me back to the sacrament of reconciliation.

Like the little sycamore tree, I had to twist my thoughts and actions to reorient them toward Jesus. My life straightened out when I actively began to seek Him and the weight of sin no longer bent me away from His Son. I am still a work in progress needing God’s grace to grow upward. When I recently closed my kitchen blind, I noticed something for the first time; the sun was shining through the leaves and branches of that twisted little tree and the light it cast was interesting and beautiful. That became my simple prayer: ​May the Son cast His light through me to shine beautifully every day. Amen.

Teresa Weider

© Teresa Ann Weider serves the Church remarkably through her active involvement in various ministries over the years. She lives with her family in Folsom, California, USA.

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