I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Juan Carlos Alejandro Perez de Luna, but for some reason he prefers to be called Brian. Brian is a Spaniard who loves his heritage. You don’t have to be around Brian long to know that he hails from a Madrid suburb called Las Rozas, he loves Real Madrid, and he’s walked the Camino de Santiago twice.

Brian is also an artist – well, he’s not a very good one.

But being Spanish, he claims to have some direct lineage to Picasso and he keeps trying. I don’t know if he is telling the truth on that one, but I do respect his tenacity. Unfortunately, his art never paid the bills. So Brian had to get a job as a brick layer. As luck would have it, while he lacks artistic ability, he seems to have incredible skill at laying brick. Still, he never gave up on his dream of being an artist and wakes up before the sun every morning to paint, in the hopes that his brush will one day find its voice.

Years went by with more and more bricks and fewer canvases.

One day, Brain discovered something. It came to him unexpectedly but he recognized its value right away. It wasn’t the style or stroke that he had sought for so long. He didn’t dabble in surrealism or try his hand in the abstract. No, Brian found a new color – one he had never seen before. He called it Yamarillo.

When he told me about this new color, he looked slowly in both directions and said it softly as if someone might pilfer his very words. With his thick accent, I couldn’t understand and I had to ask him to speak up.

“Marco, es Yamarillo,” he whispered.

I laughed a little because when he says it, it sounds like an ad for a cheap perfume. But he gave me a look that told me he was deadly serious.

Brian painted with this new color and found that he enjoyed it very much. It was gentle and peaceful, but at the same time it clamored to be heard. In it, he saw joy and energy, youth and vitality; but also a deep wisdom that only the colors of the ages like purple and blue possess. He loved creating with Yamarillo. When he dabbed his brush in Yamarillo, everything was right. For the first time in his life, he felt like a true artist.

It didn’t take long before people began to notice Brian’s paintings. His work with color created some buzz among art critics and he actually sold a few – not enough to give up bricks, but just enough to make him feel like he had a hope and future.

Then, to his dismay, Brian found that he was running out of Yamarillo.

He searched high and low but couldn’t find it again. His supply was dwindling and he realized to his horror that he would soon be completely out. What would he do without this beautiful color? By this time, only one small jar remained and my friend, Brian, had a choice to make.

Day after day, Brian has studied that jar and tried to decide if he should open it and use its contents, or leave it on the shelf so he can enjoy it forever. On one hand, he yearns to paint with this color that brings him infinite joy and stirs the fascination of the art world. On the other, every stroke of the brush is like a stab in the heart because of Yamarillo’s finite supply.

What should my friend, Brian do?



(Image credit: Mark Burnett)

Straining against the Stones: The Story of the Little Tree

The sight of the sun peeking over the horizon gladdened the little tree. He stretched his branches in greeting and tried to rouse his cohorts, but they slept on. They always slept – their minds as captive as their roots in the tiny pots that held them.

But the little tree looked beyond the pot and knew its confinement was only temporary. He stretched his limbs higher and higher until he swallowed all the warmth the sun had to offer.

“Someday,” he thought dreamily. “Someday I’ll be sixty feet tall and I will reach up and touch the sun.”

Things began to scurry around him. Maybe this would be the day he was chosen – not that he truly knew what being chosen actually meant. There were whispers. Birds told stories. It was said by the cardinal that some left and were planted in soil without bounds. She had even perched on one tree that must have been a hundred feet tall! But dodgy squirrels spun tales of trees made into mulch after sitting for too many seasons. He tried not listen to the mocking of squirrels… tried to keep his optimistic bent. Still he worried a little because the squirrels were convincing.

He heard another tree grumble that it didn’t want to leave this place where there was always warm sun overhead, cool water from a hose, and good soil to nourish. This tree liked it here.

Others listened. They rustled their agreement. But not the little tree. Here was not where he was meant to be. He knew he was destined to be planted in deep soil, to weather dry times, and to grow. There had to be something better than water from a hose and life in a plastic pot.

Today would be the day – he was certain!

But the day left, as did several others and still he sat in a neat little nursery row as night fell over the potted forest.

In the twilight of another day, he drooped as he wondered what those who chose didn’t see in him. Was his trunk not straight? Were his branches not full enough? Optimism became difficult for the little tree as other trees were chosen and he was not. Yet even when he felt loneliest, he decided to push discouragement away. “Be positive,” he told himself meekly.

At his very lowest, a wren flew in and began building a nest in his boughs. She told of far off places called forests and meadows that warmed his soul. It comforted the little tree that this mama bird had picked him over others.

Then one day, it happened. The little tree was chosen! He and seven others were hoisted onto a flatbed truck. He was so elated, it didn’t even bother him that the grumbliest grouch was nearby with his worried talk. No, the little tree was eager to get on with this new life. The truck moved past fields dotted with houses and barns, rolling toward a distant city. Stops became frequent and the buildings high enough to block out the sun. Noise, traffic, and chaos swelling around him caused the little tree to doubt.

“What if I can’t see the sun?” panicked the little tree. “How will I grow?”

So far was he from his quiet little life at the nursery. So strange were his new surroundings. This became less an adventure and seemed more a punishment. Yet he had no control over where the journey took him, for he was strapped to the truck and unable to free himself. The only things in his control was the tiny light of hope flickering deep within.

“It will be okay,” he said sheepishly to the grumbly grouch nearby.

The grumbly grouch only humphed.

Finally, the truck stopped before a newly-constructed building. In front of large glass doors, the little tree saw eight freshly-dug holes around a pathway. He was to be a part of a city garden – a sanctuary, of sorts. He looked up at open, blue sky only interrupted by a circling pigeon watching the scene below and he felt happy.

The trees were slowly hoisted into the holes and fresh soil tamped into place around them. To be out of the pot felt nice and for the first time, the little tree stretched not only his branches but his roots, as well. All was good.

The city calmed around him and he drifted to sleep for the first time in his new home.

He was awoken early by another truck idling nearby. This truck did not have more trees or shrubs on its bed. This truck delivered bricks and stones that workers furiously ferried all around the garden and throughout the day they laid out a walkway that hemmed each tree into a little circle of dirt only slightly larger than their former pots.

And the little tree realized he was a prisoner again.

His roots were bound by bricks and paving stones. He was stuck and he moaned a woeful moan. The other trees rustled scornfully at him. Seven voices – lamenting their predicament and mocking his hope that was now but a distant memory.

The little tree sunk deeper and deeper into himself because he knew this was permanent. Stones were forever. He was stuck. Days turned into weeks. Rains came and went, as did his leaves. The little tree grew taller and, although stuck, he found some contentment in the city. Birds made nests, laid eggs that hatched, and fetched food for little ones who screeched day and night.

One day the inevitable happened – his growing root struck the paving stone and he felt that hard thing he could not change – his limit… his boundary. That immutable reality hemmed him in. His heart sunk once more. Even witnessing his baby birds fly for the first time didn’t ease his spirit. The cold edge of his limit ruined everything for a very long time.

Until… one morning he felt what might be a crack. Yes, it was definitely a crack – a tiny sliver of hope. It was a very small crack between the stones, but yes, it did exist! Since the tip of his root was quite small, he could wriggle it into the space. He wondered what lay outside the crack, but had to be patient. Only time would give him the answer.

Rains fell, followed by sun. Seasons rolled past. The little tree pushed at whatever opening he could find. Even when the winter winds howled around his bare branches, he pushed through cracks around stone after stone, buckling them as his roots grew thicker until one glorious day, he reached open soil.

Oh, the joy! All of that hard work… all of the years of pushing, poking, and prodding had finally paid off. He was free!

In his effort to grow, he had not thought of his neighbors. When he turned to share his triumph and urge them to do the same, he was dismayed. He was twice the height of the others and his canopy much broader. His straining against the stones had produced growth where their resignation proved to be their undoing. Some weren’t even the same trees that had arrived on the truck with him – they were replacements for those who had given up.

But the little tree… well, he wasn’t little any longer.

The physical limits blocking his way were never as much of a barrier as the inward restraint of discouragement. For where there is hope, there is always room for growth.