Empty and Barren. Full and Bountiful.

During a recent walk at the park, I stopped to stare at these trees, contemplating how the two different trees reflect people’s lives. Or, at least resemble differing seasons in their lives.

One person can be the empty, impoverished, stark tree – yet, they work, travel, parent and operate in the world alongside other trees whose lives are abounding in growth, bursting with color and fullness. Sometimes we are the depleted, defeated one…other times, we are full, complete, abundantly blessed.

Why do some lives flourish more than others? 

Similar to the photo below, I also considered how siblings on the same original “branch” veer off as twigs in different directions – one blossoming and succeeding, the other empty and dry.

While God is Sovereign and guides our lives, He gives us enough free will to create or destroy-grow or become stagnant-give up or persevere. Yet, there are those who devote just as much positive effort as the next person but hit concrete walls at every turn. Their circumstances are real and it’s discouraging.

I was standing at my kitchen island last week, across from a beloved person in my life. Our relationship is a curious one as he is the husband of my oldest step-sister. I refer to him as my brother-in-law, because he feels more like family than my blood relatives. He and my husband have become deep friends over the years, bonding over muscle cars (which someday I’ll have to post on this site). He loves to talk, is very relational and covers a variety of topics, including politics. We all love him.

He is battling serious cancer and yet, refuses to bemoan his circumstances. He’s not in denial but he is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen walk through this. He chooses to redirect his thoughts away from the non-stop challenges including his limp, pain, inability to taste or even eat much. I can’t adequately convey the heart-wrenching injustice of this homicidal disease. It rips the person’s dignity away when they are the most vulnerable… they want to be seen as whole when all people see are the physical signs of their illness.

As we caught up on each other’s week, my three 20-something kids gathered around the kitchen island with us. They began bantering with me, pulling food out, asking him questions, and then began a series of everyday, regular chit chat with each other. I looked over at my brother-in-law and saw his eyes following the kids. His eyes spoke before his words emerged, he again reminding me how blessed I am to have these three. Reminding me that our parenting challenges over the years were really nothing. Years ago, I might have thought catching one of them in a lie was Armageddon (strong indicator of how I am as a Mom), but looking back, my parenting-teen troubles were indeed little ones.

His only son has been battling addiction since he was a young teenager. He’s 30. Legal fees drained their savings more times than I can recall. My brother-in-law speaks more openly now than ever before, and I have glimpsed their parental sufferings in new ways. They too set out to be strong parents, worked hard to give their child a positive life and my heart is broken for their plagued family history. Through this barren land they have walked, they have built treasures in heaven. Despite their own parenting difficulties, they took in three different adolescent children over the years when the biological parents had issues. There was sacrifice involved that made my husband and I admire them. They gave up their own comfort to bless others – even those who may never appreciate the level of sacrifice to their daily life, marriage and finances. 

We used to flip pages of magazines once a month and wonder why the glossy good fortune, perfect genetics and posh vacations laid before us couldn’t be ours. We had 30 days in between deliveries to get over ourselves. Now, we scroll. Hourly for some. Every 2 minutes for most. Social media makes it easy to assume that others’ trees are flourishing while ours are not. People tend to indulge in the ‘what if’s’ or ‘if only’s’ as they scroll. For those of us at mid-life and beyond, we are better at laughing now than coveting. We’ve been through some life and know the reality vs. the fantasy. Most importantly, we trust that the depleting times are usually followed by new abundance. Perhaps not in the same ways we were previously accustomed to abundance, but blessed nonetheless.

If we are going through an empty, stark, unproductive or sad season, let us persevere as best we can in our weakened state-allowing God to be our strength. If we are presently experiencing ease, comfort and few worries, let’s count ourselves deeply blessed to possess a free, uncluttered mind for as long as it may last.

19 thoughts on “Empty and Barren. Full and Bountiful.

  1. I think the casual and loving atmosphere was the best kind of medicine for your brother in law. You are right when you state that those with cancer want people to see them and not the disease – being able to have a normal interaction is a rare and welcome event. We are a very judgemental specise and we easily fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others, in that respect we are our own worst enemies. I believe that God smirks and sometimes nudges us to remember that we shouldn’t want for anything but Him… This post was my nudge!

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    • It’s very easy to get distracted by the world…many things entice us. Yet, He waits for us to reconnect, accepting us just as we are.
      You also are right that during a health battle, just a normal interaction with simple conversation is a blessing.

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  2. Your brother-in-law’s story reminds me of our niece’s husband. He died of cancer last year at age 51, living a vibrant Christian life until the end. His victorious living inspired everyone who knew him. I’m praying for your brother-in-law.

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    • I’m so sorry for your family’s loss last year. So young and heartbreaking for your niece. Thank you for praying for my brother-in-law. It means everything and I’m grateful.

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  3. My husband has a friend who is loosing his sight. He is now legally “blind”.But his attitude is still one of optimism . He has not lost his wonderful sense of humor. And he often says :” it’s just my sight. It could be much worse.” I know I am blessed and with the current situation with Pandemic I am even more aware of it. Thank you for this very thoughtful post.

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    • Your husband’s friend is extraordinary. To maintain such optimism through life altering circumstances is an example for all of us. I’m glad you have remained healthy throughout the pandemic.

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  4. What good thoughts for the morning; I think I will be pondering them all day. We are all blessed, but not in the same ways or at the same times or even as we wish we might be. Those magazines and now social media are the lies to make us believe that we don’t have enough, that we ourselves are not enough. But God made us in His image so we are enough and with His strength as a base we can even have enough to share. Your strong brother-in-law with his generous heart, neglecting his own problems to help others, is a wonderful example. Thank you for sharing your musings and his story.

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    • Thank you for the very thoughtful comments. You’re absolutely right about the plague of “not enough”. It’s a spiral from ‘I don’t have enough’ so that ‘makes me not enough’ as a person. Especially problematic for young children living life on social media.

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  5. Yes, “let’s count ourselves deeply blessed” every day … even on those days when we feel as if our branches are bare. Stay connected to the Source of all joy, and we’ll once again see and feel the growth of His love in our lives. Thank you, MamaDuck, for sharing so deeply from the soul about what’s happening with your family. My heart goes out to your brother-in-law. ♥️

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  6. Mama Duck- thank you for this reminder not to take the gifts in our lives & the gift of life for granted. Your courageous brother-in-law lifted my droopy heart today! 🙏💜🙏

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    • He enjoys lifting up others and being positive so I appreciate that it helped you today. Thank you for sharing your feelings with me this morning☺️🙏🏻.

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