Many times when you plant a young tree you stake and tie it, so it has a support system for growth, but a Chestnut Tree shouldn’t be staked and tied when it’s newly planted unless it has an immature root ball. A Chestnut Tree needs the movement to grow. When a Chestnut Tree sways in the wind, it stimulates its roots to grow, and also allows the trunk to become thicker at the base. This movement creates a healthy tree.
This brings us to the third thing the Chestnut Tree wants to tell us:
III. When planted if a Chestnut tree is tied and staked tight, it will never grow roots and a trunk that can weather the storm.
My son Nick came home from FSU for Christmas break, not looking healthy. He’d lost weight, and his eyes sunk deep into his pale face. Each morning, he headed out the door and didn’t return until late. Everything in my Momma body screamed something was not right. One afternoon, I received a text from his roommate’s mother, who was hosting a brunch for all his high school friends.
“Nick brought me flowers but didn’t stay for the brunch. He didn’t look good. I hope everything is alright.”
That night, I texted him demanding he come home immediately. I met him outside and he followed me in.
“Sit” I pointed to a dining chair across from me. I leaned over. “What’s your GPA?” I said.
His eyes teared up. “I don’t have a GPA, Momma. I received a call on the way to the brunch. I’m on academic suspension for a semester.” He spilled the whole story. He couldn’t handle the 16 hours I made him sign up for in his freshman year. He found himself buried after the hurricane when a week of makeup work was piled on top of his regular week, which started a cherry-picking of which class he’s doing well enough to skip, in order to catch up in another. He’d always been good at school, and now he sat across from me with his tail tucked between his legs. He was having an identity crisis.
“I stayed up all night studying and vomited on test days. I panicked and then I made stupid mistakes, like forgetting to email my speech to my professor, which earned me a 0 on the whole project.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
I recalled a conversation with my husband Jay, during Nick’s senior year.
“I’m concerned life’s been too easy for Nick,” I said. “He’s never failed at anything. He’s always been a good student, good at computers and editing, he’s talented in art, he picked up a guitar and learned how to play. Everything he touches turns to gold. I’m scared when he does fail, he’s not going to know how to recover.”
“He’ll be fine,” Jay said.
I’ve gone over and over in my mind the picture of my boy. I think of mothers who have heard worse news from their boys, like the parents who showed up for parent’s weekend only to find their son died the night before from alcohol poisoning. This could be so much worse.
He hung his head and promised to pay us back. “Maybe I’ll just quit college and work for Dad, I can learn the business.”
“No, you’re not. You’ll untuck your tail and try again. Look, I can handle bad grades. I’m not happy about it, and we did lose money, and I’ll admit I’m a bit embarrassed to tell family and friends, but that’s just my pride and money can be replaced.” I reached for his hand. “To be honest, I’m relieved it’s not something worse.”
Life is messy. Sometimes, we have to flap in the wind to learn how to weather the storms.
My son is flapping in the wind like those Chestnut trees on the farm. He’s learning how to weather the storms of failure, criticisms, and a confidence beating, but the roots of humility, perseverance, and faith will spread. His trunk will strengthen. Too often as parents, we tether our children too tight to our aprons strings, and they never learn coping skills. The best lessons we can teach is how to turn to God when they’re in trouble, and how to learn from failure.
Nick is reading Discerning God’s Will, by Richard Case and journaling. It is a crash course on hearing God’s voice. He is on academic suspension until summer, when he will start again with a clean slate.
“I’ve been praying about my degree. I pray a lot in the car. God will show me what to do, for now, I volunteered to work for a guy starting an oyster business,” he said.
He also has an interview with the city of Tallahassee to volunteer for several organizations this Friday and is re-thinking a business degree.
“Would you guys be okay, if I just pursued my passion in Marine Biology?” Something, Jay and I talked him out of. (Momma has had to take some responsibility. No judging. I’m a work in progress.)
Nick is spending a semester spreading roots and growing a thick trunk so he can bear fruit no matter what storms come along.
What about you? Do you see failure as hopeless? Or do you see it as an opportunity for growth and change? Next week the Chestnut tree wants to tell us what protects them until they are ready to nourish others. Have a great week!