But a thornless variety occurred in nature and at least made the tree friendlier. And then, in the late 1940’s, a mutation occurred which made the tree flowerless and—more importantly—podless. This new variety sparked a national craze and now millions have been planted in yards, parks, malls, and churches in the past half century. Our grand tree is one of those thornless, flowerless, podless kinds that were planted in the last seven decades. It has grown tall and beautiful, giving enough shade to cool us off in the summer but no so much as to block out the grass growing beneath it.
However, despite its beauty and utility, the tree was not raised well after it was planted all those decades ago. Its growth was left unchecked and untrained. The horizontal side branches weren’t trimmed as it reached early maturity. And its main trunk forked out into four nearly equal branches that have weakened its structure over time. This trunk bears the spreading weight of four huge limbs—each growing like an independent, sprawling tree that leans away from the other three.
Over time the resulting strain has caused a complete tear, which separates of one huge limb from the other three.
I have thought a lot about this tree and the expense and work it will take to save it. I’ve worried about how odd it will look with a huge portion cut away to save the rest. How much easier it would have been to raise it right in the first place! To train it up, prevent its double bifurcation, and trim away its excess limbs.
Today in church, we read a brief thought shared by our late prophet, Gordon Hinckley. It was about raising children, and he used the analogy of his own backyard honey locust tree:
Not long after we were married, we built our first home. We had very little money. I did much of the work myself... The landscaping was entirely my responsibility. The first of many trees that I planted was a thornless honey locust... It was only a wisp of a tree, perhaps three-quarters of an inch in diameter. It was so supple that I could bend it with ease in any direction. I paid little attention to it as the years passed.
Then one winter day, when the tree was barren of leaves, I chanced to look out the window at it. I noticed that it was leaning to the west, misshapen and out of balance. I could scarcely believe it. I went out and braced myself against it as if to push it upright. But the trunk was now nearly a foot in diameter. My strength was as nothing against it...
When it was first planted, a piece of string would have held it in place against the forces of the wind. I could have and should have supplied that string with ever so little effort. But I did not, and it bent to the forces that came against it...
I have seen a similar thing, many times, in children whose lives I have observed. The parents who brought them into the world seem almost to have abdicated their responsibility. The results have been tragic. A few simple anchors would have given them the strength to withstand the forces that have shaped their lives.
This year, we’ve tried to involve the kids more in family councils and we’ve started making decisions together as a family about fasting, temple attendance, diet, exercise, and even finance. We’ve been extremely candid with the kids about our financial goals and have asked them to participate with us in meeting both short-term and long-term benchmarks.
As a family, we are getting very close to an important financial milestone—we’re just a few hundred dollars away from it. We discussed this and asked that everyone think of ways to lower spending and increase income so that we can meet our goal this month. I was reminded of Dave Ramsey’s advice when you’re tackling a single milestone along your big journey toward financial health: “Twist and wring out the budget, work extra hours, sell something, or have a garage sale….do something radical. Deliver pizzas, work part-time, or sell something else. Get crazy.”
And we’ve done lots of crazy stuff these past few weeks. Wendy has worked as a school substitute while running multiple small operations selling jewelry, photography, handbags, and refinished furniture. Olivia has babysat. Isaac has mowed lawns. And we’ve lived stringently—to the penny—on a food budget.
Now we just needed a couple more crazy things to reach our goal this month. Fortunately, Isaac found us one. He got a job removing trees from a neighbor’s house and offered to split it four ways if everyone came and helped together.
We went yesterday and it was a glorious time.
It was a whole day of digging, pushing, pulling, cutting, splitting, raking, and hauling. The kids got to use chainsaws, which they LOVED.
I know we’re not perfect parents. Far from it. And I know life will continue to surprise and strain us. But as I look at the pictures of my smiling kids as they are cutting down old, dead trees—it does make me feel like the two of them are like our young apple tree: staked and anchored, training straight to grow into beautiful, strong, and giving adults.