The Giving Tree: Simon's Tree

Once there was a tree…
and she loved a little boy.

My mom used to read Shell Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” to me and my brother and sister very often when we were growing up.  The poem is a beautiful modern parable of grace.  The boy (who has clear similarities to the prodigal son) takes as freely as the tree gives.  In his childhood, the boy’s admiration and appreciation of the tree keep him coming back to visit her.  He loved the tree and spent time with her because he understood the tree had a deep and abiding love of him.  She offered rest, acceptance and a safe place.

And when he was tired,
He would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree…
Very much.
But time went by…
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.

When the boy entered into the grown-up world, he realized the world could offer far greater pleasures than the tree.  Power, sex, money, and a good buzz - the tree was a distant memory during the good times.  But in his solitude - in his places of regret - he longed to rest in the cool, quiet comfort of her shade.  He desired nothing more than the simple nourishment of her sweet fruit.  And he would return to her over the years.  The innocence of his youth not so much represented a “distant memory” as much as it represented a different person all together.  He had made so many dumb mistakes, and he had the scars to prove it.  Never did the tree mention how different he looked.  And never did she say, “Where have you been? I don’t love you anymore, because you’ve been away too long.”  Not once did she say, “I’m going to need you to work to pay off all of the gifts I have given you.”

She loved him as he was - not for who he used to be - and not for who he should be.  She loved him no matter what state he was in.  He did nothing to earn it or deserve it.  She gave him all she had - including her life - and when she has nothing left but a stump he invites her to sit on her and rest. (Read the full poem here.)

This is grace.  Grace that says the tree would rather die than be without the boy.

Grace continues to show up in our lives in ways that are sometimes ambiguous, but often times ways glaringly obvious.  

In September 2013, we had the joy of attending the wedding of our friends Brian and Juli.  They were married near Valladolid, Spain at a beautiful estate.  The estate grounds consist of mature trees, gorgeous flowers, and lush vegetable plants.  Multiple structures, including a beautiful old Spanish farmhouse, provide architectural beauty and accent to the manicured green grass that covers the property.  When I think of this place the words from the Mumford song, “Not With Haste,” come to mind… “So as we walked through fields of green…was the fairest sun I’d ever seen.”  It is no coincidence that this song drums up visions of Heaven and God’s unyielding grace, because Brian and Juli’s actions do the same.

To commemorate our son, Simon Adam Balentine, Brian and Juli planted an olive tree at Finca Puentes Mediana in Hornillos de Eresma (the site of their wedding in Spain) on December 23, 2014.  Brian’s email to me and Amy describes the planting of the tree and what their hope is for it:
Much like our wedding, the weather didn´t cooperate too well for us, however despite the weather, the surroundings were still gorgeous and the finca owner; Juanjo, selected a very beautiful and prominent site for the tree to be planted and remain. It´s an olive tree, which can and will live for up to 1,000 years in this region.  We hope it to be a long and lasting tribute to Simon, something that we all can visit from time to time, and so can many future generations of Balentines.  Every year it´s always a possibility that we will be able to harvest the fruits from this tree, to enjoy with each other back in the U.S.  Juanjo is an amazing man and has offered to always be able to send pictures of the tree whenever you would like, and has given us blanket permission to always be able to visit the tree without advance notice.  Someday, hopefully we can all do that together.  In the interim, Julieta´s mother Cristina, has offered to help harvest the olives in the fall and send them to the US. 
Beneath the tree is a plaque that reads: 

Simon’s Tree
Simon Adam Balentine
May 14, 2014 to May 21, 2014
A brief but powerful and inspiring life.
Una vida breve pero poderosa e inspiradora.

As I read back through Brian’s email and look at the photos, I become overwhelmed.  It wasn’t easy for Brian and Juli to do this.  It took time and some money.  It took coordination and planning from the U.S. with Juanjo in Spain.  It meant they had to “give without counting the cost” to quote Saint Ignatius.  It was an act of grace and love that gives us a feeling that Simon is beloved and embraced - even on the other side of the world.  To quote what I wrote to Brian and Juli after they shared the photos with us, it is simply breathtaking.  Thank you, Brian and Juli.  

Simon’s Tree at the finca reminds me of “The Giving Tree.”  To me, The Giving Tree/ Simon’s Tree dares us to believe that God loves us as we are, not as we should be.  Our tendency is to think that if we change, God will love us.  No.  The tree tells us that if we believe he audaciously and furiously loves us, we have no choice but to change.  And then, perhaps we’ll become more like the tree.


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