What Kind of Tree Are You?

Some might be disappointed, but this is not one of those quizzes like I see posted on Facebook. (There actually is one of those quizzes with this same title, but I didn’t take it because I was afraid that the results would show that I was Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree).
tree-onlyTen or twelve years ago, let’s just say eleven, Mary and I were shopping at Home Depot. After finishing our shopping in the store, we wandered out to the garden department to look for some small trees. It was November, and most of the plants were marked down because they were making room for Christmas trees.

Mary got hung up looking at wreathes and other boring items, so I cruised my wheelchair over to go look at trees. As it turned out, there were not many trees left, and I didn’t see anything I was interested in. Just when I was about to return to Mary and tell her not to bother coming over there, I spotted a tiny tree that was hidden behind two huge trees. With the footrest of my wheelchair, I pushed one of the large tree pots aside so I could get a better look at the little tree.

The tag on the tree identified it as a Bald Cypress, but it just looked like a two foot high vertical stick that sprouted a few tiny horizontal twigs. Other than a few yellowed leaves, there was no foliage on it at all; it was pitiful. But, it was marked down to only five dollars.

About that time, Mary walked up and assumed that I was looking at one of the large trees in front. Before I even noticed that she was there, I heard her voice, “That won’t fit in the van.”

ALS had already robbed me of my ability to speak, so I kicked the pot of the scrubby tree in back so she would know what I was looking at. After bending to see beneath the foliage of the trees in front, she rolled her eyes and began to walk away, thinking that I was joking.

When she finally figured out that I was serious about buying the tree, she dug it out and put it in her shopping cart. Couples (hopefully) learn to pick their battles after years of marriage and I’m sure she figured that a five dollar tree wasn’t a battle worth fighting. But I’m also sure that she felt vindicated when the cashier joined her in laughing at the tree.

After getting home, we looked for a place to plant the pathetic little tree. We finally agreed to plant it between the shed and our neighbor’s fence (I don’t remember, but Mary probably chose that spot because it was kind of hidden). After planting it, I had her place rocks around it so the men that mow our yard didn’t run over it thinking it was a weed.

He (Jesus) presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven (the Christian life) is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree…” (Matthew 13:31-32)

I didn’t have the ability to voice it at the time, but I was in total agreement with Mary and the cashier that the tree was pathetic. But I wasn’t focusing on the tree itself, I was looking at the picture of a mature Bald Cypress on the plastic tag that was attached to the stick-like trunk of the tree.

As Jesus said in the parable above, the walk of faith begins so small; like my tree, the beginning of our spiritual life is often pathetic. There will be storms that batter us as we grow, but if we remain focused on Christ and on the picture of what God designed us to be, we will conform to that image – just like my tree conformed to what I envisioned it to be:
cypress tree

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10)

About Bill Sweeney

In 1996, Bill was diagnosed with ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) and the doctors told him he had 3-5 years to live. He is now completely paralyzed and unable to speak, but by God’s grace, he’s still alive and through his blog shares a message of hope in Christ - Unshakable Hope!

Posted on June 12, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 196 Comments.

  1. Bill you are an amazing man and I am very proud to be your brother.
    Love to you and the family,

  2. Bless you my blogging friend…I loved this story! 🙂 Amy 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Hooked on Heaven and commented:
    Okay this just made me laugh and it made me happy seeing his tree! Gives me hope that God can even grow me! Yay! Lol

  4. Thank you for this post as I really could relate to it when you talk about our faith being “pathetic” when we first start out. I’ve been at this faith thing for a few years now and I still feel pathetic about it at times but I also try and stay focused on the person I believe God is molding me to be. What a beautiful tree you now have!

  5. LOVED this! 🙂 If we would only have eyes to see God’s potential in everything around us…

  6. This made me cry! How many times in life do we pass over something wonderful based on an initial judgment. Blessings to you for seeing and believing what your “tiny tree” was on the inside!!

    • Thank you, Lorrie. I think it’s human nature to judge by outward appearances –
      “…God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

  7. Thank you for this truthful reminder. I don’t know how or why I missed it earlier. I reposted to fb so other friends could be blessed also. God Bless you abundantly Bill.

  8. Bill, I thank the Lord for you, your writing, and your blog.

  9. Oh, how we all need to remember this! What an inspiring story and so apt for me, too. Blessings!

  10. Reblogged this on verawrites and commented:
    After attending a Christian Writers conference earlier this month – feeling like the scraggly little tree – I was encouraged to hope that, in time, I might grow into the lush mature tree pictured here. Thanks for the inspiration, Bill. Your physical body may be withering but your spirit IS becoming that full mature tree.

  11. Excellent post; wonderful hope in Christ.

  12. Awesome post!! What a little faith can do! God can take us in our weakness moments and make us strong! Praying for you. God bless you!

  13. thanks for sharing bill’s story, blessings

  14. great story, we are often stuck on images, and ignore the fact that everything started as a seed, same way an encouraging word can change a life, a day, even the world. blessings and thanks, i have encountered miracles and many blessings, and your story was a real lift, thanks, and blessings

    • Thank you for your comments. It’s true, everything begins with just a tiny seed – even a thought is a kind of seed that can end up yielding good or bad fruit.

      • my mother was diagnosed with Als, her spirit was drowned out, once she began to realise that her spirit needed a boost, she started to recover, blessings, if we believe what were told, we cut out the wonder of the divine mystery

  15. Reblogged this on Telling the Truth and commented:
    My blogging friend Bill was diagnosed with ALS in 1996, the same year my sister Diane was. His journey is different, yet his spirit has the same razor-sharp focus on what’s really important. This recent post is for all of us. Enjoy it! Then go to About Bill and read his story. You won’t be disappointed.

  16. A beautiful post Bill. All about seeing ourselves and who we can become by the grace of God through the eyes of our heavenly Father and not through the world’s eyes. Blessings.

  17. I loved hearing your sense of humor through this post Bill. And I love how God speaks so beautifully through nature to encourage our faith. I had something similar while choosing a bald tree and this gorgeous orchid. I found myself asking a deeper question as if the bald tree represented depth, and the orchid represented the superficial beauty… so i chose depth. Thank you for writing. I want to do a better job of reading and engaging!

  18. This was really great – thanks so much, the timing was perfect for me!!!

  19. Dear Bill,
    I’m so happy to see you’re still writing! I happened to look at one of my earlier posts today, saw your smiling face and clicked on it! Voila! This wonderful piece was right there waiting. Thank you for putting yourself out there and helping me see myself differently. This post is a gem. I’d like to reblog it later this week. Is that OK? I’m so grateful our paths crossed, and that your hospital crisis wasn’t yet your last call.

  20. Your story reminds me of my introduction to perennial plants. I always “envied” in a good way (I wanted what they had) my neighbors’ flower gardens. They took me under their wing and taught me about gardening with perennials. I had doubts when I bought my first stick on clearance. But I had seen their gardens and trusted their words. Ten years later, I can’t imagine life without perennials. I have divided plants many times with the beautiful blessings multiplied!

  21. I have one of those Charlie Brown trees and I love it. It reminds me that all the ornaments and trappings of Christmas aren’t what’s really important. Good for you, picking out such a tree. Sometimes little things go unnoticed but they can all become glorious when God intervenes.

  22. Reblogged this on Wings of the Dawn and commented:
    This post has spoken to me in more ways than I can even express. Thank you, Bill!

  23. I have often shared this principle/truth with my art students. It seems to lift their hearts and give them courage. Thank you for reminding us all of this… we all need to remember to let small beginnings “be enough”, and inspire us to greater faith.

  24. Wow, Bill, this is one of my favorite post of yours—and I love all of your posts. The last picture truly says it all. Gotta love the power potential of faith. And I agree $5.00 is not worth battling over. You and Mary have beautiful hearts.
    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  25. My husband plants trees like that, Bill. After many years with the Lord, sometimes I still feel like a scrawny little tree, even though I am not. Thanks for taking time to share another encouraging post.

  26. I really needed to hear that today, Bill. Too often I forget to look at the “tag” of a certain situation and even people. I make assumptions on what it all looks like today, rather than seeing it all in light of what God has intended for them.
    “Lord, teach me!”

    • Thank you, Heidi. It’s so easy and natural for us to judge books by their cover, especially when it comes to people. It’s more difficult to see people and situations through the eyes of God.

      • Bill, you have no idea how often I think of the picture you gave in this post. It speaks so deeply to my heart and soul. God is using it to burn an eternal truth into me. Would you mind if I re-blogged this?
        We have three teen-age boys at our house (19, 16, 14) and three little ones we are looking to adopt (8,9,10). My fear over their future and worries on some days seem to overwhelm me. Your post came as such comfort to my heart. God spoke such peace though it, saying “Child, look at their “tag” and my plan for their lives. Don’t focus on what you see today, but see them for what I have brought them here for!” Again, THANK YOU, Bill for your faithful witness and planting in faith into our lives. It’s taking root!!!

        • Thank you so much, Heidi!
          Adopting kids is a huge responsiblity, a lot bigger than “adopting” a scrawny tree 🙂 But, like you, I believe the metaphor still works. I was raised in a family with 10 kids and the older kids are a big help with the younger ones so your boys will help you shape their new siblings into the picture on the “tag” you see in your mind – the vision God’s given you.
          They will be blessed to have you as their mom.

  27. This is such an incredibly beautiful post, for so many reasons. It makes me think of the beauty of heaven and all that awaits God’s children and reminds me to keep my eyes focused on that. It also makes me think of the story of Gideon, and how, when he was hiding in the winepress, the angle of the Lord addressed him as “mighty warrior.” Another verse I love is Eph. 2:10 which says (NLT version) that we are God’s masterpiece. I really don’t feel like a masterpiece 99.9% of the time, but like you did with that tree, God sees something greater–the me He is, at this moment, forming.

    Blessings to you, and thank you for this post.

  28. Wonderful devotional! Oh that we would see future outcomes through the eyes of faith, as you saw that little tree. God bless!

  29. Reblogged this on Sue's Pen2PaperBlog and commented:
    No matter how scrawny our faith the Lord will grow it if we trust Him.

  30. Such an important message for those, at least I did, start with practically nothing faith wise and the Lord is faithful to grow us regardless of how scrawny our faith is. What an inspirational post you have here. I shall reblog with your permission and become a follower. I look forward to more of your articles. Blessings to you and your family.

  31. We have a 30′ tall bald cypress that I almost uprooted as “hopeless” when we moved here 10 years ago!

  32. Bill, Such a beautiful visual! Thank you for sharing this blessed spiritual truth. And thank you for allowing God to grow you because your growth has certainly blessed me. God bless you, dear one.

  33. I found your story very moving, Bill. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when you bought the little tree. (Personally, I love the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.) But the outcome is a testament to faith and perseverance.


    Your friend Anna

  34. I also had a few trees like yours that my next door neighbor laughed at! And now
    they are so big I can’t see my neighbor. Funny how God works. 😄 Keep up the good fight! Say I to the family for me! Doug

    • That’s funny, Doug! 🙂 Now that you mention your neighbor’s not being able to see you, I remember why we chose that spot.
      It’s great to hear from you. Tell your girls we said hello. We’re praying for Kathy.

  35. He calls the things that are not as though they are. Thank you for this post, for the reminder that He does not see what I see.

  36. Excellent. My July devotion will be this story for my Bible study. Thanks

  37. Reblogged this on Karen Jane.

  38. Plants can often surprise us. I like to pick up the wilted pathetic plants and nurse them back to health. A few times I wasn’t successful, but most times I am.
    Have you tried taking a magnesium supplement for your ALS? I started taking it to manage my epilepsy, but was totally surprised at how much it helped my muscle weakness r/t Myasthenia Gravis, and my fibro pain is totally gone. There’s a lot more, but I plan to do another blog on Mg and will put it in the blog. The Mg dose I took was approx. 1000-1200 mg/day. Look it up. You will be surprised.

    • It’s rewarding to help anything that’s dying back to life.
      I used to take magnesium, but I quit taking suppliments when I got my feeding tube about 8 years ago. I do have it in my “food,” but I’ll have to look how much. My wife takes it.
      Thanks for the suggestion.

  39. Awww… what a heartwarming anecdote! Perfect scripture references, too!

  40. very good read!

  41. God bless you for such an inspirational piece. Left me thinking. You’re still here for a glorious purpose, as God continues to use you for His Kingdom. He has great things in store for you and family. Grace and peace to you my dear brother.

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging message, Gertrude. Regardless of our station in life or the state of our health…, we must continue to believe that God can still use us.

  42. Thanks for this wonderful picture of growth and hope, Bill! The picture of your beautiful tree–after its quite pathetic beginnings–so reflects the challenge of my walk with the Lord–seasons of consistency and growth, seasons of draught and barely holding on. Thanks for your willingness to be so vulnerable–and wise.

    • Thank you, Dayle. I know what you mean about different seasons and storms and drought… But all of these work together for good if we always return to what we know to be right, good and true.

  43. Love this story, Bill. Bless you for sharing it.

  44. Perfect story for me right now. Just came back from my first ever Writers’ conference (a Christina one) where I felt just like that pathetic little tree amid a forest of lush leafy writer-trees. A friendly smile, an encouraging word, positive feedback – were like your love for and faith in that little twig, Bill. Here’s hoping I grow into a fruitful writer just as yours grew into the beautiful tree! Thank you for sharing this story with us!

    • Thank you, Vera. I have never attended a writers conference, but I know that I would feel intimidated. But I’m also sure that most of the people there felt just like you.

  45. I am blessed…thank you

  46. Powerful truth. Thanks for passing along the story.

  47. Lorraine Shellhaas

    I am so that small, stunted tree this morning. As Mike’s cancer progresses I find myself with so many questions. The only question I have not asked yet is where was God when Mike became ill with this terminal cancer? Because of your demonstration of faith and trust in our Lord when you became ill, I finally at understood that God does not cause evil, harm, pain. Only Satan can take the credit for that. To say I loved this particular blog more than others is true..I really can apply this to our life right now. So spot on!
    Thank you Bill for sharing your faith, trust and hope in our Lord. We don’t know what the future holds for Mike and I, but we do know that God is in control and loving us every moment.

    • Thank you, Lorraine. Mary and I are so sorry that you and Mike are going through this difficult trial. You are so right about God not causing our trials. He obviously allows them for reasons we can’t fully understand. but I know that He will help you through this difficult time just as He’s helped us.
      You and Mike are in our prayers.

  48. I love this blog and so remember the story of that shopping day. I think you should have included the story of the tree that got away courtesy of a golf cart (ha!). Love you!

  49. Reblogged this on The Duncan Story and commented:
    I am so inspired by this post, and how perfectly it describes our growth in God. Read this to inspire your walk with Him!

  50. This was just perfect! I love it!!!!!

  51. That is a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!

  52. Reminds me of something said by a good friend of my Dad’s as I was starting out on adult life. Remember the acorn. Very small. Develops underground and un-noticed for a considerable time. Patient. Feeding on deep quality. Becomes the mighty and unbendable oak.

    • That’s good and so true. We have an oak tree in a coffee can out back that was started from an acorn. It’s ready to be planted in the ground now. Maybe I’ll take a picture of it in the coffee can and write a post about it in 20 years 🙂

  53. What a wonderful piece this is! I live in bed – deteriorating spine and joints (pain!) – but am still able to write, but not at your level. I look forward to each of your posts, but this was particularly great. KISS (you probably know what that stands for). Being simple, uncomplicated, living in the present is the best! Thanks in all kinds of ways. I needed that reminder.

    In Christ,



    • Thank you, Steve. I’m so sorry that you’re confined and in pain… I suppose that’s the only good thing about ALS, I’m paralyzed, but there is little pain. God bless you, Steve.

  54. Beautiful story and you my friend Bill are one of the most well watered and rooted tree I know ~ a flourishing Oak. ~Amen :Y

  55. Yes, yes, yes!! What a great encouragement and timely reminder. Thank you for this!

  56. What a wonderful, tremendously encouraging, picture of our ongoing transformation! God is a great gardener!

  57. Wow, amazing story. I think I need to save this so I can re-read when I am feeling like that ‘pathetic’ little tree.

  58. Awesome reminder! great post!

  59. Reblogged this on Aletheia_Word and commented:
    This is a story that has inspired me as I struggle with having faith and confidence in the Lord. I hope it encourages you too. For more encouraging and challenging lessons, check out other posts by Unshakable Hope.

  60. I love this 🙂 I have a hard time envisioning what could be. I tend to see what things are right now even though I know God has helped me grow quite a bit over the years. My faith still needs to grow. When I saw the picture of your tree now after how pitiful it was I couldn’t help but tear up, hoping that I can be like this tree one day. Thank you for the encouragement.

    • Thank you, Lauren. I know exactly what you mean. Looking at the unseen is what faith is, but to do this we have to be able to see right through the seen – that’s tough when you’re going through a difficult trial.
      “…we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

  61. It’s incredible that after nearly 20 years with ALS, your life and ministry has bloomed and flourished much like your Bald Cypress. What a gorgeous tree! And what an incredible life you share with all of us. Thank you, Bill – when we meet in Heaven, I’ll be able to thank you face-to-face for all the encouragement you’ve given me. Your words have lifted me from despair more than a few times. I also have an incurable, debilitating disease that threatens to bring me down, but the battle in my mind is made easier with people like you speaking into my life! Many blessings to you and your family – you have my support and prayers, brother.

    • Thank you for your encouraging words, Dennis. As you’ve sadly discovered, living with a progressive disease is a great challenge. The temptation to give in to despair is waiting by your bedside every morning. I don’t know how people who don’t know Christ battle this monster. It’s so good to hear that my simple blog posts have helped you fight the good fight.

  62. Hey Bill, missing you so much, and nobody’s fault but ours!!
    This made me smile and then cry!!
    You are so amazing!! Thanks for taking the time and effort to share!

    Love to Mary!!


  63. I almost cried when I scrolled down to see that magnificent tree, grown from not much more than a stub. What an inspiring metaphor you’ve given us, Bill. As we plant ourselves firmly in the soil of God’s Word and allow Him to water our souls from His fountain of life (Psalm 36:9), we can indeed grow strong and fruitful (Jeremiah 17: 7-8). Praise God that he guides us to flourish! And praise God for your posts, Bill–each one so very meaningful. Thank you for pressing on!

  64. What a great reminder, and what a beautiful tree. I am really enjoying following your blog. Thank you for sharing this. ~Rita

  65. What an Ebenezer for your children. Do you have a specific list of needs I could pray for you? I would think you might get fearful at times at the progress and course of the disease. Just signed up to get your posts.

    • Thank you, Maria – for your comments and for your prayers. I know a lot, too much, about the kind of fear you’re referring to. I don’t have that so much anymore. I think diseases like ALS are harder on the spouse/caregiver. So praying for Mary would be my number one request. Thank you for asking.

  66. Ha! Great story! We have a 30′ tall Magnolia tree in our front yard with a similar story.

  67. Wow — it is beautiful. I needed to read this today. Thank you.

  68. Reblogged this on And Everything Else and commented:
    As our faith grows in our Christian lives 🙂

  69. I love your story. Beautiful metaphor!! 🙂

  70. A beautiful vision of hope, when we cannot see it.

    Thank you for your insight and faith not to give into what is seen, but what could be in deeply planted roots to grow and flourish.

    Our roots planted deep in the Lord produce the same results. May we not forget.

    God bless you!

  71. I never knew the ‘back-story’ on that tree, but notice now how it points sharply to heaven! What a great-write brother! Roll-on!

  72. Always love reading your words!

  73. Thank you for sharing your story. So simple and yet so significant. What a great comparison to our Christian walk. What an encouragement! Psalm 1:3 has been my life’s verse and it has proved so true over the years. God is faithful, merciful and patient to help us bear the fruit He desires to see in us. God Bless:)

  74. Absolutely beautiful and inspiring, dear friend. You melt my heart today. Thank you!

  75. Sometimes things have to be believed to be seen. Amen? God bless you…wonderful story!

  76. This is a wonderful encouragement, Bill! Thanks!
    ( and your pathetic Charlie Brown tree is really beautiful now)
    The verse that came to mind when I was reading this was Philippians 1:6……
    “being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” We are going to be completed projects! Isn’t that great news??! 🙂

  77. Loved this post!! Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Thank you, Dabney. I hope you’re feeling okay. Praying for the surgery next month to go well and for you to have a quick recovery… You are an inspiration to Mary and me.

  78. Reblogged this on Rose with Thorns and commented:
    Beautiful post! I love trees and found this a helpful metaphor.

  79. That tree is absolutely beautiful! Thank you for reminding me that “the beginning of our spiritual life is often pathetic.” At times I become concerned that I’m not becoming what God designed me to be fast enough. I know He has his hands full with me and He certainly is giving me plenty of storms/opportunities to grow, but I need this reminder (DAILY) to remain focused on Christ.

    Thank you for this post.

    In His love,

  80. I love this! I happen to be a big fan of “Charlie Brown” trees 🙂

  81. Oh Bill I loved this story for so many reasons. I kept wondering okay what happened to the tree? And then saw your photo! What an amazing metaphor! We see the twig, HE sees so much more.👍😊
    💖 I needed this today 💖

    • Thank you, Diane. I didn’t mention this in the post, but that poor tree has survived a severe drought, two hurricanes and flooding rains… I’m sure it has deep roots by now 🙂

  82. What a beautiful tree! I love how Jesus can see past our pathetic state to what we will become, like you seeing what that little tree could be with the proper care. I usually feel like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but I trust that under Jesus’ care and pruning, I will one day be as lovely as your grand cypress!

    I hope you’re doing well, Bill. Grace and peace to you today!

  83. This made me cry…tears of joy that is. I needed this Truth today 🙂 (Oh, and by the way, we used to let our kids pick the tree every year . One year, our Josh picked the most straggly little pine tree amidst full and tall trees grown on a mountainside in NC. It was my favorite, favorite tree.)

    • Thank you. That’s a good idea/tradition letting your kids pick a tree. As I mentioned to someone else, we’ve planted many trees, but most have come from a tree farm, not on clearance from Home Depot 🙂

  84. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. I have a deep connection with trees…each one has something different to teach us!

    May God continue to bless you and your family:-)

    • Thank you, Bernadette. I wouldn’t clasify myself as a tree hugger, but, like you, I really value trees. We have about two acres and have planted many trees over the 15 years we’ve lived here.

  85. Awesome, Bill. Love the story and the analogy! And BTW, the tree is GORGEOUS!!

  86. Really beautiful. Thank you for sharing this story. I love the tree aspect for what it means to you and your journey, and I also associated it with my dad, who is with the Lord, and his deep love of creation (trees, plants, everything). So that was a good moment this morning. Thanks, dear brother.

    • Thank you, Jennifer. I’m sorry you lost your dad. I appreciate nature much more since being ill. One of my favorite things to do is go outside and listen to an audio book and watch the horses behind us and the birds… That would seemed like such a waste of time before ALS.

  87. Yes, God can work miracles with just a little faith. Thank you for sharing this! Look at the tremendous witness you are! God bless you!

  88. Awesome Bill! I would have been afraid to be the Charlie Brown tree too. Love you, Ellen

  89. Thank you very much for the re-blog.

  90. Thank you for the re-blog, Bruce.

  91. Thank you very much for the re-blog, George.

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