Have you ever encountered something that was such a surprise, you could barely look at it?
Even now, as I sit down to write this, I’m awed by what happened and the way it has opened something inside my heart, training my focus in this barely broken in new year.
On Michael’s day off last week, we headed out to undecorate the R.Y.A.N. tree. The R.Y.A.N. tree is a tiny pine off one path at Quail Hollow Park that we first decorated for Christmas in 2017.
Michael made a sign we left beside it saying, “please sign here in memory of someone you miss this Christmas.” People wrote their names, the names of their loved ones, short notes, and new year wishes for us.
We ended up calling that action, Random Yule Action Now (R.Y.A.N.). I wrote a story about that little tree; it was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Wonder of Christmas: 101 Stories about the Joy of the Season.
This year, after decorating the tree, we took two copies of the book, wrapped them in Christmas wrapping paper, added a note about the location of the tree, placed them in Ziploc baggies and hid them for fellow woods walkers to find.
Thursday as we trudged along the crunchy trail by the creek I wondered what we’d find when we reached our tree. We’d had so much rain in December I prepared myself to find the decorations lying on the ground and the sign ruined.
We reached the part of the trail that curves towards the tree. From the path, we could see many of our decorations still clinging to the branches, but instead of our sign, a bag hung on the stick.
Pushing through the dense branches, we made our way over to the tree. Once there, I plucked the bag off the stick, “Oh look, it’s the baggie we used to protect one book we hid, and there’s a note written on a piece of the wrapping paper,” I said placing in the box for the decorations, “I’m too excited to read it.”
As we removed the mini mittens and angel wings from the branches, I said “I really wonder what happened to our sign. Do you think it blew away?”
While I walked around to see if I could see it anywhere, Michael dug around in the snow with his boot. “Look, here it is.” He reached down and wiped the rest of the snow from it. Right away we could see we had more names and wishes this year than we had the first year. I didn’t take the time to read them all, but I noticed one dated 1/1/19, our little sign had held up through the new year.
This morning I read the note inside the bag.
I wouldn’t want to violate the author’s trust, but I will share that the note said the couple had started off their walk on a new trail. The conditions were bad, and they became stressed and grumpy with each other and gave up. They returned to their regular trail and found the hidden book. They said finding the book lightened their mood and thanked us. They left the park holding hands. Someone meant them to be the “finders.”
It made me tear up. I held the gift of that note close all day. I keep it in my journal as a daily reminder.
Later, I read each handwritten name on our sign. Each name of a loved one who passed in 2018. Each wish for a Happy New Year. Then, I stood it up on our island so I could look at it each time I walked into the kitchen.
As I watched the snow filling up the yard from our window, I couldn’t help pondering how God worked through that little tree in the woods, offering us a soul blessing from strangers who cared enough to step off the beaten path.
In 2019 I want more of that.
I want to be the one willing to take a leap, loving on those who feel lost.
I want to make a big deal over a small moment.
I want to do and say things that have me stepping out of myself and into the vast unknown, bridging the gap for something bigger.
Because standing on the sidelines or simply scrolling through life isn’t brave.
And brave is my word for 2019.
I want to watch God use my small acts of bravery. Maybe to lift someone’s spirits. Maybe to change a life. God can choose to do either with our gifts. I’m humbled at the thought.
I want to give what little I have and watch Him make it more… Just like that tiny tree in the woods.