My theme for 2023: Rooting my Touch Tree

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One of the defining reads of 2022 was Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. It was so defining that I read it 3 times at different times in the year. This book is the perfect illustration of a meme-like poster that does the rounds on Instagram stating that I should read books that had a profound effect on me at different times of my life. This is not because the book changes but I do. This has been true for me and this book. Untamed has been the different things I needed at each stage: an affirming call to breathe and survive; a relatable word-hug letting me know I would be ok; a womanifesto calling me to tell my story “with my full chest”; my untaming; and my “how to” guide for my own untaming. That’s a pretty tall order and this book filled it with some to spare.

The book is short-story-like and one story, in particular, came to mind when I picked my theme for 2023. I have been consistent about setting a vision or theme for each year since I hit 30. I learnt in my 20s that making many resolutions just doesn’t work for me. I make a long list and then I forget about it as soon as life does what life does. Yet, I firmly believe in vision, direction and intention. Setting a vision is more than popular culture or modern spirituality. It is also biblical.

Enter my annual reference to this particular bible verse:

“Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.

Habakkuk 2:2-3 NKJV

I have found that setting a theme for the year is something I can stay true to. It’s a promise to myself I can actually keep. A promise to make decisions that are aligned with the vision in every area. That’s all. 2021’s theme was “Be Still and Know.” This was one of the more difficult themes I have ever set for myself. 2021 was, consequently, a necessary but painful growth experience. I’m sure there is something about it here somewhere. 2022 was Year of Yes. The stillness and cleaning out of the year before had created fertile soil for growth. I said yes left, right and centre. What a year. I have enough of the wisdom of 2021 sitting still in me to know that sprouting is not enough. This new me with her new life needs roots. She needs very very deep roots so that when the winds of life come, and they will, she will stand firmly rooted in who she has become. Picking “Rooted” as my theme for 2023 was natural and easy.

Thinking about this theme a little bit more, brought me back to Untamed and the chapter on Touch Trees. In her characteristically witty fashion, Glennon explains that a Touch Tree is a reference to a wilderness survival technique. If you are lost in the woods, you need to find a large and distinctive tree that becomes your touch tree or home base while you wait to be found. You can wander away from it to find food or water but it is the place to which you always return to make it easier for those looking for you to find you and to anchor yourself so you do not get more lost.

In a short and yet remarkably incisive chapter, Glennon writes about how she can trace her lostness and losing touch with herself to making external things her touch tree: career, marriage, love, religion, other people’s approval etc. There is a chance I dropped a tear or three hundred here. You see God rises from within. As do we. When things external to you are your touch tree, you are not anchored. You are at the mercy of the owners of the touch tree you have selected. What happens when approval is not given? What happens when the church (because they are people) disappoints you? What happens when your marriage doen’t work out? What happens if you lose your career? You lose your roots and yourself? That can never be right.

“I’ve spent much of my life lost in the woods of pain, relationships, religion, career, service, success, and failure. Looking back on those times, I can trace my lostness back to a decision to make something outside myself my Touch Tree. An identity. A set of beliefs. An institution. Aspirational ideals. A job. Another person. A list of rules. Approval. An old version of myself.
Now when I feel lost, I remember that I am not the woods. I am my own tree. So I return to myself and reinhabit myself. As I do, I feel my chin rise and my body straighten.”

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

What I understood is that we are never done becoming. We are rooted in every moment, belief, choice and version that has gone before. Even the versions of us that have died serve to manure our roots. The roots of who we know ourselves to be. Only certain parts of the tree are visible to everyone. Only parts of ourselves are too. The things that keep the tree alive; the water and nutrients coursing through it, are not. Those are for the tree and its maker to know. Passing eyes will only ever see the result. My job is 2023 is nurture and root my newly grown touch tree. When December 2023 comes and these words not only ring true but are bearing fruit in my life, I will have achieved my goal for the year:“I am as ancient as the earth I’m planted in and as new as my tiniest bloom. I am my own Touch Tree: strong, singular, alive. Still growing. I have everything I need, beneath me, above me, inside me. I am never gonna lose me.”

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