Ancient Chinese Wisdom

the old oak tree

A few months back I was having a really hard time. I’d made a decision and taken action for something I felt strongly about. And then I had to live with the fallout of that decision. I struggled and beat myself up and waited for lightning from heaven that never came. I tried to keep my heart open for correction or change even though I found the strangest seed of certainty buried deep within me about the path I’d chosen. As Daniel watched my doubt and worry fester into anguish and fear, he struggled to make me hear his affirmations. Why is it easier to hear things from others than from our closest loves?

He said to me one night, Let me lay some of my ancient Chinese wisdom on you. He sat up straighter.


I responded with a Scooby-doo-ish head-cock and inquisitive What the hell is that supposed to mean? He explained that oak is one of the hardest woods, but oak is easily broken because it has no give. Although oak trees establish a deep root system, in a big enough storm–like the one we suffered on Wednesday–the oak trees will either break apart or they will uproot entirely because they cannot move with the storm.


He told me that bamboo has numerous fascinating qualities: it is adaptable to many environments; it is versatile; it is hard when needed, incredibly strong, and also highly flexible. He said in a storm, unlike the oak, bamboo can be beaten about and will bend and move with the wind. He was letting me know that my inner turmoil was not for naught, and that he honored my wrestling to keep my heart open. But he was helping me see something else, too: my ability to keep my heart open to all possible outcomes was what would keep me alive in this terrible storm. It is this flexibility that has kept me from breaking in many storms.

We have too often made life and faith a thing of final answers, of certainties, absolutelies and definitelies. Yes, those are not words. As I grow up into myself I have discovered that my nature is one of constant tensions. I’m fighting everything and nothing at once, always wrestling to know when to war and when to rest. It is these very tensions that keep me from drowning my roots too far beneath me; it is the nature of the struggle to keep me dancing on the edge of something, always moving, always listening, always flowing . . . but never knowing. (It is this never knowing that is truly maddening.)

I could picture Daniel’s analogy, but I didn’t fully understand it until Wednesday, when I got to see first-hand what it looks like for oak trees to break under pressure of the storm. I took the picture above just a few streets from where we live. I could nearly imagine a giant hand reach down from the sky and setting this beautiful tree upright again, but it is forever broken by that storm.

    • alltheseblessedthings said:

      I’ve missed them, too. I’m glad to be back.

  1. Jess said:

    I love you. And bamboo is so great – what a compliment. ; )
    I like the idea of bending with the storm, weathering it and growing, whether in spite of the storm or because of it. What a great analogy.

    • alltheseblessedthings said:

      I think it’s one of the nicest things he’s ever said to me. In our wedding vows he told me I was like the ocean-wild, deep, mysterious, exciting. Talk about compliments. :)

  2. Grace said:

    Your man has a way with words. Geez, since both of you do, your children are fated to be literate, thoughtful, well-spoken humans. At least there will be a few left!

    • alltheseblessedthings said:

      Haha! Awesome. Thanks, Grace.

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