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Lessons from a Tree

For this post, I want to share a beautiful story I read a few years ago "The Tale of the Three Trees", a traditional folklore.

The Tale of Three Trees

Read the story retold by Angela Elwell Hunt.

Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.

The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds above him, “I want to hold treasure." it said. "I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”

The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. “I want to be a strong sailing ship." it said. "I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the strongest ship in the world!”

The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and busy women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all." it said. "I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they will raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”

Years passed. The rains came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain.

The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell. “Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest." thought the first tree. "I shall hold wonderful treasure!”

The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell. “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship fit for kings!”

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. And with a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.

The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought it in to a carpenter’s shop. But the busy carpenter was not thinking about treasure chests. Instead his workworn hands fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, nor with treasure. He was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.

The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took it to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ships were being made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. Too small and too weak to sail on an ocean, or even a river; instead, it was taken to a little lake. Every day it brought in loads of dead, smelling fish.

The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut it into strong beams and left it in a lumberyard. “What happened?” the once tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountain top and point to God...”

Many, many days and night passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox. “I wish I could make a cradle for Him,” her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and the sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said. And suddenly the first tree knew it was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

One evening a tired Traveler and His friends crowded into an old fishing boat. The Traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. It knew it did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and the rain. The tired Man awakened. He stood up, stretched out His hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew it was carrying the King of heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. It flinched as it was carried through an angry and jeering crowd. It shuddered when soldiers nailed a Man’s hands to it. It felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth tremble with joy beneath it, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything.

It had made the first tree beautiful. It had made the second tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.

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