Recently I gave a speech at my Toastmasters Club. I had planned to make it a self-evaluation speech. I was blank. I struggled with thoughts and ideas that ran the gamut from strictly Toastmasters goal-based to personal goals to my realization that I have an apparent “goalaphobia” run rampant! How could I possibly share anything of value? On the night before my speech I was desperate for inspiration. I decided to find things in my home that I could share stories about to fill my time and hopefully bring to some form of cohesive growth awareness. I didn’t hold out much hope for success. One of the items I chose was a pen, crafted from over 200 year old black walnut wood. This wood is a treasure my husband has carried with him for most of his life. Over the years he has preserved and protected these slabs of wood. I really didn’t understand them or why they mattered, but he did and that was enough.

When we moved from Kansas back to Raymond we were loading our U-haul truck. We had more possessions than truck space and it was apparent we were not going to get everything on the truck. One of the men helping us load our possessions was a bit frustrated by our apparent “too much stuff-itis” and when Tom handed him these slabs of wood he said, with barely concealed annoyance, that Canada had wood too. Tom’s reply – “not 100 year old black walnut they don’t”. These needed to move with us. Tom was adamant. We ended up with 2 full size U-haul trucks and trailers. The wood came to Canada.

Eventually Tom had the wood planed and began to use it to make items of love and history for our family. He made 3 beautiful keepsake boxes for our granddaughters and daughter-in-law. On the base of the boxes he had me inscribe the history of the wood. I finally understood. This wood came from an abandoned old home that Tom’s father, Lowell Thomas Needham, had torn down when he was a teenager, with his father, James Evans Needham, in SE Kansas. In calculating the age of this wood, we realized it was well over 200 years old.  It’s now become treasure boxes, pens and shelves. All beautiful, all loved. This wood began as a beautiful black walnut tree long before it ever became a home, before it ever became worthy to tear down, before it ever became a family heirloom and conveyor of love and life.

As I went over my speech in my mind, early that morning, I realized that this pen held the key to my speech and my message. Thus began my telling of my black walnut parable.

I wove my story of the black walnut tree through my speech starting with the tree, in its full glory, providing shade, protection and even love to those it sheltered. Majestic and eternal in its place. Then, in one fell swoop, the tree was no more, cut down and splayed with broken limbs and heart upon the ground. The tree couldn’t help but believe it’s life and purpose were over. How often do we have experiences that lead us to believe we have failed, our purpose is lost and we are broken. How often are we torn, limb from limb, and cannot see another bright day in our horizon.

Then, almost magically, the black walnut tree was shaped and cut to become a home. A place to provide shelter and protection, warmth, and a keeper of love. The tree was again a beating heart of beauty and grace. She didn’t look the same. She didn’t feel the same. She survived and served and blossomed in her new energy. The black walnut tree lived on. Do you view the changes and challenges you face in your life, where you’ve walked through fire and survived, beautiful, glorious but different. The beating heart still present and yet refined and changed. You live on.

Once again, the beautiful tree came down, not in the same manner, but in the same tearing down and ripping apart. What was a home was no longer. And the black walnut tree once again believed her life had ended, her purpose complete. She became strips of wood, no specific plan or purpose, no place to beautify, to build. Just chunks of wood in a pile of memories and she drifted off to sleep, certain to never awake. Her life was over. We too seem to go through fire after fire of refining and scorching, times of working and of waiting, moments where we are sure our purpose has passed, where we may have failed, given up, been broken. We drift into that place of waiting and simply pray for the release of expectation and the belief that no more could come.

And then the black walnut tree awakened to the sound of equipment whirring and saws buzzing, feeling her rough edges hewn off, torn once again in what must surely be her final parting. She waited with bated breath for the very end. She was a beautiful, brave black walnut tree. After the sound died down, she remained. And the beautifully smooth pieces of majestic black walnut emerged, triumphant and powerful in her story. She became the protector and home to beautiful memories and stories, of little girl fairy tales and love, of powerful energies of goodness and light. She lived. And the most powerful of all her pieces lives in the beautiful, carved and delicate pens. They write the story of her magnificent life. They hold within them words of beauty and love. They give power to the wielder to write their own story, to sing their own songs, to live their own purpose.

Like the black walnut tree I have been torn asunder, limb from limb, throughout my life. I have been given opportunities to live again and again. To be refined and honed, becoming stronger and stronger. To paring down the rough edges, to seeing the beauty within my heart and to allowing myself to forever keep changing, seeing beauty and grace in every place. I have learned. I have lifted. I have walked through the fire of my life and I continue to burn brightly. I am the black walnut tree and within me burns my story.