Nested Among the Thorns

The last of the leaves have finally fallen from the trees.  Actually, a late November rain brought them down and they are now mixed with the snow that has begun to accumulate on the ground making it quite difficult to rake and bag them one final time.  As I enjoy the first signs of winter where the freshly fallen snow is still pristine and the bare tree limbs provide perches for the crystals, I am able to see bird's nests scattered throughout a few of the trees.  Most intriguing to me is a tree that I've set my sights on for removal.  It is an ugly tree, filled with thorns.  The tree is difficult to trim and has caused me more than my fair share of pokes, pricks, and drawn blood.  Next spring I was prepared to win the battle and hire someone to cut it down completely.  That was until I saw the bird's nest.

Nestled snuggly in the top branches, the nest and all its inherent summer activities brought to mind my grandfather who died many years ago.  He was very much like this thorny tree.  It was difficult to get close to him, if not downright impossible.  He was, as they say, "old country."  Having worked in coal mines as a young child, he never lost sight of how difficult life could be and did everything within his power to make sure his children were prepared.  He and my grandmother sacrificed material possessions throughout their entire lives so that their children (my father being the oldest) could go to parochial schools and then attend college debt-free.  My grandfather and my grandmother lived with relatives as they saved for their first house, never, not once, living beyond their means.  My grandfather was a proud man and cherished his family.  He just did it from a distance.

When my grandfather died, I can remember wondering if anyone would come to his funeral.  As a young teenager, I saw his ways as being mean.  He was never interested in conducting himself in a politically correct way within our family or even at work.  He viewed his role in the family as one of "provider" and he worked long and hard, often taking extra jobs to make ends meet.  I didn't remember him smiling much and felt a bit sorry for my father to have been raised by such a man.  How foolish was I.

 The day of his funeral, and in documents and photos unearthed in the days thereafter, revealed to me the beautiful bird's nest of my grandfather's heart within the thorny tree of his daily life.  Men my grandfather bowled with regaled us with tales of his antics.  Co-workers told us how often my grandfather talked of his children and of his immense pride in all they had accomplished.  Documents exposed his generous nature to family and his community.  His eyes twinkled in photographs where he was teaching me how to catch baby frogs.  He was an amazing man; so committed to his faith and his family. And as I get older, and my own thorns begin sprouting, I thank God for having given me such a grandfather.

[Editor's Note: Please invite a friend, daughter, sister, or mother and join Cheryl Dickow as she moderates the Catholic Exchange Woman's Study in celebration of the 20th anniversary of John Paul's Apostolic Letter on the Dignity of Women.  The ten week study begins January 7th and includes three components:  The book, Renewing Your Christian Self: Wisdom From Old and New Testament Women, access to podcasts, and access to online moderated discussions.  The cost of the study is $35.00. Registration forms will be available soon on Catholic Exchange.]

Cheryl Dickow


Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Womenwhich is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl’s titles also include the woman’s inspirational fiction book Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. Elizabeth is available in paperback or Kindle format. Her company is Bezalel Books where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith and is located at To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, write her at

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Guest

    Ahhh, the memories!  Thank you, Cheryl.  In spite of having my favorite photograph of her on the side of my refrigerator, I rarely think of my grandmother.  Born in 1886 of partly-Scottish heritage, she was a "fiesty" woman.  She rarely let a criticism pass unspoken (to the point that at least one of her 4 children was always "on the outs" with her).  It makes me laugh, now, to remember her "prickly" personality.

    Over the years–and mostly from her youngest daughter, who is still alive–I've learned some details of her life that make that "prickliness" certainly understandable.  And yet, she loved her family deeply (fiercely).  I miss her.

    Suggestion: don't take the tree down.  Have a good tree expert come and remove the bottom branches that trouble you.  Then, hang a feeder and/or bird-bath from a remaining branch, and bless your grandfather every time you see the birds using it.

  • Guest

    We have those thorn trees on our place — black locust trees. The thorns also have a resin which can cause very nasty infections.  It makes you really understand what our Lord suffered when a crown of these was pounded into His innocent head.

    I'd recommend Cheryl save this wonderful article and get rid of the tree. Birds are quite adaptable and she can make a good family activity to identify and monitor where they relocate.

  • Guest


    Thank you for such a beautiful suggestion! And may your grandmother be resting in the peace and presence of Christ.  God bless.

  • Guest

    Protect the Rock,

    I am delighted that you enjoyed the article!  Thank you for sharing that.  God bless.

  • Guest

    Dearest PTR, I got "clocked" by both a tree and a mailbox while trying to mow the yard one year.  I didn't take either one out (it was a rental–I couldn't!), but I did learn to be more careful.  One can always find a compromise (and I love the birds).

    Yes, those 2 incidents (and others of banging my head on cupboard doors!  I'm terminally clumsy!) remind me what Jesus suffered for us.  It occured to me that that was exactly the point.  ???

  • Guest

    Thanks, Cooky,

    More to bring to mind when we contemplate the third sorrowful mystery of the rosary.