Lessons from my wood
We have a wood near our house where I often walk. It’s a small wood, managed brilliantly by a group of volunteers, and I love it!
I suppose if a child drew a wood it would be just like this one. It has a small shallow stream that winds through a little valley, clear water perfect for splashing through with wellies. There’s a pocket-sized hill covered with tall beech trees that grow perfectly straight upwards to the sky. There’s a tiny waterfall where water rushes out of the hillside. There are crooked steps climbing back out of the valley to a meandering path which leads to a wooden bridge where children sit, legs swinging, daring each other to jump into the pool of water below. There’s a lake with ducks and geese which twists and turns around the marshy ground, full of rushes and marsh marigolds, that surrounds it. In the spring there are snowdrops everywhere. As you walk, you can hear woodpeckers drumming on the trees above and if you are here at dusk, bats swoop to and fro seeking their evening meal of insects. And somewhere hidden in the trees are foxes, badgers and deer.
A couple of winters ago there was one of those great storms, with howling, powerful winds. The next morning I got up, put the lead on the dog and set out for the wood as usual – and my heart sank. It was so damaged. Trees had crashed violently to the ground, tearing branches off their neighbours as they fell. Habitats had been torn apart. The crooked steps had been crushed under the weight of a great tree. The path by the little stream was completely blocked, tree after tree lying across it, creating great gaps where they’d stood. One had fallen leaving behind a section of its trunk standing apart, jagged and sharp and painful, its raw white inner wood sharply contrasting with the dark foliage behind.
“Unexpectedly I found myself transported back to 20 years earlier, when my marriage ended”
I was gutted. My beautiful wood, ruined. And unexpectedly I found myself transported back to 20 years earlier, when my marriage ended and I was left a single parent with my daughter. And my overwhelming memory of that time is guilt. Guilt because I’d let her down. Guilt because she wouldn’t have the life she should have done. Guilt because she’d seen and heard things she shouldn’t have had to. Just like my beautiful wood, my life had come crashing down, ripping into the good things, devastating our world.
And that’s the thing. In my head I had constructed this perfect world I was going to create for my family. Mum and dad. Security, peace, joy, encouragement, everything my multiple children would need to grow up happy and well. I had planned it, prepared for it, done all I could to make it happen – but had failed. My daughter and I were homeless and penniless and I had lost control of our lives. I didn’t feel worthy to parent her, let alone parent her for faith. So I grieved.
But through my beautiful wood, God gently showed me that it was OK. Over the next few months, as I walked, he pointed out what he was doing. Trees that had fallen across the stream had become bridges for small animals to cross. Some of the big branches had been pushed to the side to create guidelines for the pathways. A curious bird hopped out from under the shelter of a broken bough, and piles of rotting branches provided feasts for insects. And there was new life too – fungi and small ferns growing from the stumps, the old wood full of nourishment. In the marshy ground, a robin, head cocked, stood on a branch that provided a safe foothold. In the upturned roots of a fallen giant, spiders wove intricate webs and tiny mammals made homes. My wood, no longer squeaky clean, was breathtakingly beautiful, full of opportunity, life, shelter, creativity, sustenance.
“God showed me that out of what we see as devastation, imperfection, failure, he brings so many good things”
You see, there’s no such thing as a perfect world our children need to inhabit. We are sucked in by the stuff we see and read – how to furnish your baby’s bedroom, 50 books your kids must read, how to create the best summer holiday, ways to grow a happy family. I wanted that for me, for my family and somewhere deep down I believed that I needed it to be like that so that I could parent for faith. But God showed me that out of what we see as devastation, imperfection, failure, he brings so many good things, things that make us richer and stronger as we let him nourish and grow us. From our brokenness, so much can come. And far from stopping me parenting my daughter for faith, God showed me that my imperfect life is the perfect place to show her all that God has for her.
Not long ago, I heard that a friend’s marriage had broken up. They looked like the perfect family, loving and serving God together. This is for you, my friend, and for all of you in that place. You may feel like a storm has ripped open your life, crushed your dreams, taken away the possibility of doing things properly, destroyed your ability to parent, let alone parent for faith. But remember the wood.