The Tree of Sorrows, by Anna Johansen

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Today’s guest teen writer is Anna. Please welcome her and be her fan!

I’m a Christian and homeschooled girl (and still socialized, thank you very much). Gray days with very little happening in them make me depressed, because I like wind and sky and mountains and stars and forests and rivers. And waterfalls. I like words that are at least three syllables.

My Geek Test score was 22.69373%. That’s somewhere between ‘Geek’ and ‘Total Geek’; and I’m disappointed because my brother scored higher than I did. I’ve always leaned quite heavily on right-brained things like art and music and reading and writing. Ever since I taught myself to read at age four, I’ve been living out these words: “Life is short. Read fast.”

And this quote, by C.S. Lewis, explains a lot of me and my writing: “When I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The desire I have for beauty and to capture beauty in words– that I am beginning to suspect many people have– is achingly persistent. I know that both the desire and any talent I have came from God. And this is why I write. 

Recently I joined a speech and debate club. One of my speeches was an Original Interpretation, where you write a speech and basically act it out–you interpret it. That’s what this particular story began as. I’ve called it The Tree of Sorrows. 


It really began when I first read that verse in Revelation. Maybe you’re familiar with it– the one that says, “To him who overcomes, I will give a white stone, with a new name written on it.” With that began this story of a boy who has no name, and so must seek one–beyond the gates and streets of gold.

I guess you will wonder where the boy came from, or where he was going before he met the old man on the road, but I’m afraid that that’s a different story, and I do not know it.

Most fairy tales begin with the words, “Once upon a time.” And so, since my story is at heart a fairy tale, I will begin with those words as well.

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Once upon a time, a boy was walking through the woods. He carried neither pack nor staff, nor anything else; he had only the clothes on his back, and not even shoes on his feet. But easily he strode along the high road, with a light step and careless manner. And there, coming down the road towards him came an old man, stooped with age, carrying a curiously carved and gnarled staff in his hand.

Hello,” said the boy cordially, as the man approached. He stopped, rested his hands on his staff, and regarded the boy narrowly.

Many thanks,” he said finally, with a voice gruff and decisive. “I appreciate your kind wishes.”

The boy was puzzled. “I beg your pardon?

Yes, and you may have that as well! What is your name, boy?

Now the boy was quite taken aback. “I don’t know, sir. I have no name.” At this, the man’s eyebrow’s shot up. “What! No name! But that is preposterous– and appalling! Having no name is a serious thing, and not to be taken lightly. I hope, my lad, that you are doing something about it?”

Here the eyebrows rose to an alarming height as the boy shifted his feet awkwardly. “Err…well…”

The man sighed. Very well then. In the tradition of the thing, I will give you three gifts. One, indeed, I have already bestowed. My pardon. You may have it. Then the second thing that you need is a quest– for without one, I’m afraid that you will never find your name. Your quest is this: Find the Tree of Sorrows.”

Before the boy could object, he went on, raising a finger and shaking it. “Now for the third. My third gift to you shall be more tangible. You shall have my boots! Yes, three gifts. My pardon, a quest, and my boots. Very appropriate.”

In a trice the boots of soft leather were on the boy’s feet. They felt marvelous, and strangely enough, fit perfectly.

“Thank you, very much, sir, but don’t you need them? And what did you say, after I said hello? I didn’t– quite– understand…”

“Ah, you mean when I thanked you?” The man pondered a moment. “No,” he decided, “I’m afraid I’ve already given you three gifts. You’ll have to find someone else to explain that to you.” He leaned forward conspiratorially. “But don’t worry. She’ll come along. Just keep heading down this road. Keep straight ahead! And as for my needing those– well–“ his voice dropped and he looked more serious. “Well, you need them far more than I do.” With that the man departed; clapping the boy once on the shoulder, he was gone.

The boy stood– wearing crimson boots– in the middle of the high way– with a quest AND a pardon in his grasp. However, he soon set out again, wanting to find answers.

He’d been walking many days, down the ancient road in the forest. With each step he grew more resolved, that somehow, somewhere, he would find his own name. Down the road, the man had said. Very well then, down the road he would go! And there, sitting by the side of the road, was a girl.

“Hello,” she said, looking up at him.

“Hello yourself,” said the boy, stopping and gazing down at her.

“Why, thank you! ever so much.” She smiled and stood demurely.

The boy was somewhat miffed, and altogether bemused. “I’m sure you’re welcome, but whatever for?”

“Why,” said the girl innocently, “you wished me to be whole. You said, ‘Hello yourself.’ That means, or used to mean, anyway, ‘Be thou whole’. It’s a wishing of good health, used as a greeting.”

“Ah,” said the boy to himself, “so that’s what he meant.” Then to the girl, he said graciously, “And thank you, for your kind wishes.”

“Oh,” said she, somewhat mollified, “you’re welcome.” Then, “So what is your name, and where are you going?”

The boy shifted awkwardly. “Well,” he admitted, “I have no name. And I don’t know where I’m going. Down this road is all I know. But,” he said, realizing, “I was told that I would meet someone who could help me. I’m looking for my name, you see.”

The girl looked up, lips parted in surprise. “Why, I have nearly the same story. I too have no name.” The girl frowned thoughtfully. “But I did meet an old man on the road, and he did give me a song…it says something about a stone– and a man who would give me my name. ‘Beyond the gates and streets of gold.’ That’s where I’m heading. Because I have no name. And I so desperately need to know who I am.” Her voice dropped and her eyes were far away.

“Well then,” said the boy carefully, “I suppose we are heading in the same direction. Shall we travel there together?”

She looked back at him and smiled, then nodded once. And so they set out, the boy and the girl, to find the gates and streets of gold.

They had been walking many days, down the ancient road through the forest. They were travel-stained, and tired, but still they kept to the High Road, and journeyed ever on towards their destination. ‘Til there, in the center of the path before them, they saw a tall, white tree growing. They approached, and began to circle it, gazing up into its white branches.

“Look at the silver blossoms!” the girl marveled. “And the apples are so very red!”

The boy nudged her. “There’s a bird too. Look– up there in the topmost branches.”

This was true indeed– a magnificent bird, with scarlet feathered wings, a crest of saffron, and plumage of deep indigo blue. It regarded them with one bright eye, and smiled– as much as a bird can smile, anyway– before clearing its throat imperiously. “Ahahem. Hello! And welcome, travelers.”

“Hello,” said they. “Is this the Tree that we were told to find?”

The bird ruffled its brilliant plumage. Its voice was dry and croaking, and it trilled its Rs with evident pleasure. “You are on a quest, the two of you? Know then that this is the Trrree of Sorrows, and the apples it bears are the Apples of Sacrifice.” It stopped preening and regarded them sharply. “Have you received a pardon?”

The two looked at each other. “We have.”

The bird nodded once, satisfied. “Thrrough the Tree of Sorrows, then, you may pass, and the Parrdon you have received will see you thrrrough. But,” it held up a claw, “the Tree will open for one thing only.” The bird tilted its head very far to one side and gazed at the girl curiously. “You, my dear, know what that may be, do you not?”

The girl frowned and spoke uncertainly. “Would it– would it open for a Song?”

The bird smiled again, mysteriously. “Go ahead. Try it.”

The girl took a deep breath and let it out slowly– then closed her eyes and began to sing; a clear, simple melody: the Song of all Creation, that has been repeated throughout the echoing years. The boy listened, amazed, as on every side birds of every shape and color took up the Song, lifting it up into the branches of the Tree of Sorrows.

With a great, slow movement, the Tree began to sway and turn, and its branches weaved themselves into a great arch– a doorway, made of white boughs and shining silver blossoms. As the Song went on, the tree grew more defined, growing clearer and wider. And as the Song finished, the boy thought, only for a moment, that he saw dark stains on the pure wood– stains like blood. But he did not dwell on this, for through the arch they could see, rising level upon level, a City of many walls and high towers. And there, facing them, standing open, were the gates of gold.

With ecstasy thrilling through them, they stepped through the arch formed by the Tree of Sorrows, and ran to the wide-flung gates. Up the streets of the City they climbed, past walled gardens and wide terraces, shaded by many trees, rising ever higher. Until at last, they came to the Citadel of the Mountain– the heart of the City, where there stood a golden throne. And by it was a man, clothed in white lined, belted with gold. His eyes burned like fire, and on his brow rested a circlet of stars.

“Welcome,” said the man, his voice like many waters, “and be thou whole.”

Any trace of hurt or weariness faded from their limbs as he spoke, and they stood speechless in the electrifying presence. Almost they had forgotten what they had come so far to find– almost. But not quite.

“Oh sir,” whispered the girl, “will you give us our names?”

He smiled at her, and his voice was gentle. “To me, it is given authority to bestow names on those who ask. Yes. I will give you your new names.” Then in a loud voice, he proclaimed to all who were near, “To those who overcome, will be given a white stone, with a new name written on it. Nico– to Overcome.” He turned to the boy. “This you have done, my son, and thus shall be your name: the Overcomer.”

Then a shining white stone was given to the boy, pure and radiant white, with a silvery glow all around it. And there, inscribed in flowing lines of fire, was written the name he had been given– he was called Nico from that day forward, and was known as the Overcomer throughout all the city.

Then to the girl, the man said softly, “To the Singer, who yet repeats the Song of Creation, a new name shall be given, written on a white stone.” And he looked her right in the eyes as he gave her her new name– inscribed in flowing lines of fire on a shining white stone. “Lyrica,” the man proclaimed, “she who holds the Song in her heart.”

And so the two had fulfilled their quest, and received their new names. And, though this story does not go any further, you can be sure that they continued long and full lives in the City of the King– He whose Name is above every name.

Please comment on Anna’s story and visit her blog. Anna’s blog is Lark Leaves.

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  1. I absoloutely love this! I love your writing style, and I love how you incorporated your faith into your story!
    Great job!

    • Anna says:

      I hope that my faith comes out in all that I write– I want people to see God through my writing. I want to glorify Him.
      Thank you for your affirmation!

  2. Great story! Loved and appreciated it so much. You keep writing! Your name just may be “Faithful.” 🙂

    • Anna says:

      I can’t even begin to imagine! But I can’t wait to get my name– that’s one reason I wrote this. Just thinking about my own name, written on a white stone, gives me shivers…
      Thank you for your words; I’m glad you liked it!

  3. Vie says:

    Dear Anna,
    I love your voice! What a precious story. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Oh I appreciate that! Thank you 😉
      I can look forward to that too, can’t I? That means I’ll have written it <=)

  4. I had a very busy morning planned and thought I would just read the first paragraph or two. Needless to say, I was soon hooked into finishing the story. Beautifully written. As someone who greatly appreciates the natural world and the journey we each must take, I encourage you to keep writing.

    • Anna says:

      Aw, thanks for taking time out of your day to read it– I’m glad it was worth your while!

  5. Drew Carson says:

    This is incredible! Great words, great flow, great story – do you have a blog where you post more stuff like this?


    • Anna says:

      I have a blog, but it doesn’t have anything much like this– The Tree of Sorrows is really the only one of its kind so far, but I hope to write more soon.
      Thanks for your encouragement. I’ve read your guest posts before and really appreciated the tips!

  6. I really like this. Well done. And I have met people so tuned in and/or spiritually sensitive they “heard” and answered correctly before any questions were asked–delightful. May that increase among us. And keep writing!

    • Anna says:

      I most certainly will keep writing! Thanks for reading!

  7. Azaria says:

    Great story! I love your writing style, and your story line! And, it’s a plus that you are homeschooled So am I!

    • Anna says:

      Another homeschooler! I think you’re only the third one I’ve found since I started blogging! So glad to meet you 😉

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