The Prayer Tree
The Prayer Tree
There was no way it should have survived. Yet it had
SHERI FURMAN

THE FIRE THAT OVERTOOK MY little gift shop on Main Street that evening last June burned fast and hot. The spray from the firefighters’ hoses turned the air wet with steam. The street was blocked in both directions. Still, the streets were lined with friends and townspeople, all concerned for my staff and me.

A police officer guided me to a location where I could watch as the firefighters put out the last flames. I stood maybe 50 feet away. I was grateful my staff was safe. But everything I’d worked for was gone.

What are you doing here, Lord? I thought.

I looked to the right of the shop, to the leafy tree between my boutique, Take Heart, and the bank next door.

Its branches sagged from the weight of thousands of paper tags in plastic sleeves, each one with a handwritten prayer. The hopes of so many people… what if they went up in flames too? I thought of everything that had happened in the past year. So many blessings. God’s love, his grace, so evident. Was there room for one more miracle?

One night a year earlier, in July 2018, I was working late in the shop, when my hand fell on a bag of plain wooden hearts with string loops for hanging. These had been collecting dust for months, along with another three or four bags.

There had to be at least 100 hearts. I’d wanted the hearts to bring joy and hope to people, but something was missing. “Why aren’t you selling?” I said aloud.

Instantly an answer came. Put them in a bowl in the garden. That was the way God always talked to me. “That’s random,” I said. I just couldn’t make sense of it.

I’d felt distant from God lately, my mind distracted. I’d been selling gifts and decorative items for more than 20 years, and I’d always thought of my business as an opportunity to share my faith with my customers. I kept a sign in my front window that said “Free Hugs,” and people streamed in to get them. I wanted to feel as if I made a difference, that I was serving God. But what he wanted me to do with these hearts was puzzling. I left the bags in the store and went home.

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May 2020