I love to fish and have been accused of being able to catch fish from an empty 5 gallon bucket. I can’t drive past a stream or river without looking at it considering where I would cast my lure to fish it. I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours with a fishing pole in my hand. At points in my life I would fish from sun up to sun down and go without lunch so that I didn’t have to leave the stream or river I was on. I have learned to see things in the movements of the water that I can’t even explain to others yet they seem so obvious to me.
Passing on the passion.
I have fished in big rivers, small streams, and trickles of water that would not even seem to have fish in them. In each of those I have caught fish and have amazed those I am with. Where others have fished and caught nothing I can walk right behind them and catch fish. Nothing is more challenging to fish than a stream with trees that crowd the banks and overhang the water. These trees and their limbs give both protection for the fish from the flying predators above and a challenge to the fisherman trying to place his/her lure in that perfect spot.
In our family’s little piece of property in Wyoming I have often tried to plant trees, bushes, and shrubs that would enhance the fishery and add beauty to the scene. For the most part I have been woefully unsuccessful; while I may know how to fish I know little about getting trees to grow. I have tried starting them from seeds and saplings. I have tried to dig up native trees located nearby and moving them near the stream in the spring and in the fall. Rarely have I been able to get a tree to grow for more than a few years. Sometimes those trees get a good start and then the horses will decide that they are tasty and kill them by eating them. Other times the tree just presents itself as a tasty morsel to a wandering beaver who decides it is just the right size to cut down to eat a few limbs from the top of the tree. When it comes to trees, it seems I can’t win for losing.
Indisputable beauty, but I can’t grow a tree on it.
Because of my nearly complete failure to have success with trees I have watched with wonder as the Chinese transplant trees here. I am amazed at their success because of my repeated and frequent failure. I have learned much from what they do and how they do it. They have shown me things that I might never have learned.
When they transplant trees to the sides of the roads here, and every road that is not in the city here has wonderful landscaping along it, the newly transplanted trees are not much more than a tall stump. The tree has been trimmed of all branches and foliage and its root ball is barely bigger than a 5 gallon bucket. I have seen them put in trees with nothing but a root that sticks out less than a foot past the trunk and the trunk is just 6 feet tall with nothing coming from it. Those same trees within a year or two are filled with new branches and foliage that actually looks like a tree instead of just a trunk. Sure some of them die but they have thousands of times more success than I have or could dream of.
One Year New trees
In many ways when a foreigner arrives in China to live and work, we are much like one of these trees being transplanted. We have been stripped of everything that makes us who we are; we have little foliage and our roots and connections are left behind. Our roots are barely bigger than the space that our feet cover. We are transplanted into a completely different environment. Sometimes these transplants are successful and the foreigner is able to grow; in other cases, the only way for the tree (foreigner) to survive is to return to “normal”.
We had a storm here that reminded me of this challenge and it helped me to see something I might not have seen otherwise. This storm and its impact on some of these new trees planted is much like the storms we see in our own lives. The remnants of Typhoon Matmon disrupted my work with its winds and rain but it had a more severe effect here in Shandong province along the Yellow Sea to the new trees. The yards in our little compound and in the administrative areas of the nuclear power plant are very wet and have had a lot of standing water for a couple of days. Even with the trees being braced on four corners the winds have tipped over many of the new trees that were planted.
In most cases these trees had several branches that have grown and their tops are wider than the roots below them. They haven’t had the necessary time to spread out their root structure. They ground around them was just too soggy to keep them upright when the storm’s wind buffeted them.
Like these new trees our root system is not very strong or broad and we are not really attached to the soil here for very long. Expatriates don’t have the normal support system here like they are accustomed to; for me that means I don’t have the normal religious support that has kept me pointed in the direction I want to go and my connections to family and friends are exceedingly strained because of distance and differences in time zones. I am basically like one of these new trees with roots that are just a little clump of dirt doesn’t make it beyond the space my feet cover.
It is important to recognize this limitation when I look at what goes on around me. There are so many things in this culture that don’t make sense to me; things that don’t fit into the experiences of my life and it is easy to misunderstand the meaning and to become discouraged and depressed.
In comparing my experiences with the trees that were tipped over, I can see the importance of having something outside of my own “space” that is used for bracing and support. For the trees there are braces that are wrapped to the tree that are spread out against the ground to help the tree remain stable so that the root structure can mature and support the tree again. Similarly for the expatriate it also important to remember to have “bracing sticks” evenly distributed to offer a supplemental foundation while getting established.
I can’t tell you what will work in any situation but I can tell you what works for me. First, I need friends that will help me. Second, I need someone to share the adventure, in my case it has been my wife. Third, I need spiritual feeding, in my case this has come from prayers, scriptures, church attendance, and connections with those who are committed to living the gospel who will help me both near and far. And finally, I need family, my extended family of both my immediate family of my children and their children, and my extended family of my parents, my brothers (remember I don’t have any sisters) and their families. These four braces have helped me stay straight and to avoid the probability of being toppled by the winds that swirl around me. My bracing has helped remain true when the winds blow and the adversary tempts.
I think it is also important to remember that even if we happen to be one of those trees that tips over, it doesn’t mean that we are through. I am sure that by the time the weekend is over, the grounds team and gardeners will have already stood those trees back up, setup the “bracing sticks” and even driven stakes into the ground to tie them to that will make the bracing even firmer. When I pass them on my way into the office in the morning I won’t be able to tell which ones toppled from the ones that didn’t.
There is something to be learned from watching the transplanting of trees here in China. Some of the knowledge I gained from watching the Chinese take care of the trees. Some of that knowledge I gained from seeing something and then pondering what it means and hearing the Holy Ghost remind me of whom our Gardener is. My Gardener and yours is none other than Jesus, The Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of mankind.
When our lives have toppled and we have fallen, it is important for us to remember that we are not through. We have the blessing and advantage of the atonement and the power of repentance. We can have our Gardener stand us back up and brace us up and we will not look any different from the other trees around us.
In addition to our Gardener there are others around us that will assist us in getting back to an upright position. They can become part of the bracing that steady us during the storms that will continue to buffet us. They can help us understand and feel the power of repentance. They can help us learn of the Atonement and its ability to cleanse us. They can help us back on the straight and narrow path.
I hope that you never topple because of the storms of life. But I promise that when the storms come and life seems to be too much there is a Gardener that will be there to fix your “tree” and make it whole again. With His help you can and will become a better “tree” than you were before the storms. If want to know more about your Gardener and how his sacrifice can make you whole send me an email or message and I will ensure that you get the chance to learn about what I know. I can help you get those “bracing sticks” firmly planted around you that will help you through the storms of life.