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  • Writer's pictureSam Danforth

On Becoming Beautiful From Stress

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Spalted wood is the result of a fungal boundary war.
Spalted Wooden Bowl

I couldn't take my eyes off of a wooden bowl at the feet of the woman sitting near me in the restaurant that night. It was the most beautiful wood pattern I had ever seen. I had to ask her where she got it.

"It's from the restaurant's curio shop. Go quick and look because there was only one left!"

I was delighted to find the last bowl, one of unparalleled beauty. It was exotic and held my attention like fire. I had to know more about this type of wood. I asked on our community FB page, scoured the internet, and reached out to a few artisan friends. A potter wrote back, "I know a woodturner. He says that the markings are called 'spalting'. It can happen after a tree has fallen".

I drove the hour out of town to meet this woodturner and see his wares, a few of which bore spalting. Over the next two days, I read as many articles as I could find on spalting. My curiosity only grew when I read that this beauty is a direct result of stress, death, and a war between fungi defining boundary lines.

"When a tree dies or has otherwise been stressed, it becomes vulnerable to fungi ready to consume it. The fungi infiltrate the wood in waves of primary and secondary colonizers. The first wave captures and controls the wood’s resources even changing the pH of the wood and its structure. This first wave of invading fungi then has to defend against the second wave of colonizers. What we see as beautiful lines in the wood are actually boundaries drawn by different fungal colonies defending their territory. These fungal boundaries are the reason that there is no regular pattern or logic to designs, unlike features such as a tree’s growth rings."

-The Secret Behind Spalted Wood Some of Nature's Most Beautiful Designs, Vermont Wildwoods

Beauty started with death. Stress. Invasion. War.

At the time that I was pouring over these articles, I was fighting my own version of death. It was the death of a ministry project into which I had invested the last 7 years of my life. Death. Stress. Could I, would I be willing to see what beautiful thing God might make out of this process? Could it, would it be something new and beautiful that required the uncomfortable process of loss and stress?

"Although spalted wood is highly prized and sought-after by woodworkers, designers and architects, spalting is a form of decay and poses potential risks to the wood’s structural integrity, affecting weight and strength in particular."

-Spalted Wood: Beautiful, but is it Safe?, Simon Smith

The fungal war has to be interrupted and introduced to oxygen at just the right time to harvest the beauty before decay threatens the structural integrity of the wood.

For spalting to effectively take place, the wood has to be cut and exposed to oxygen at just the right time, which is after the coloring has started but before too much decay. You have to catch it at the perfect moment. In an environment of stress and war, the right element is introduced at the right time for a harvest of unparalleled beauty.

What is my oxygen in the process of the death of my vision? What "thing" will interrupt the stress to cause beauty instead of decay? What agent will God introduce to purify, sanctify, and redeem the environment of my heart that could be ripe for decay?

I asked myself, "What are evidences of decay of the human heart?" Entitlement. Pride. Withdrawal. These were the first words that came to mind. So, what elements can be introduced to the heart during stress to produce beauty instead? What are signs of life, transformation, and beauty in the human heart?

I can't help but wonder if it isn't God's timing that I'm reading Richard Foster's Learning Humility. What would turn on the lathe of my life if I were to practice and pursue humility in an environment of stress? Humility calls us to love this whole hard world so that it may know softness. It calls us to lean in like we've only got this one life to do it. It calls us to interrupt the decay of our hearts with an open mind and a student posture. With open hands. Ready. Trusting God with the outcome.

This week, the study of spalted wood and humility cause me to examine my heart in an environment normally ripe for decay. It beckons me to invite the Holy Spirit to introduce the right element in this perfect time so that I may someday look back and be glad for the work that was done. This is a time of invitation. That I may someday more clearly reflect the one who did not count equality with God something to be grasped but emptied himself to become a servant of all.

Could my eyes be fixed on Acts 20:19 right now, at just the right time? "I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested." I'm curious and ready to see what God is about to do.

Let not the stress, death, and loss be wasted. Let it beautify.

Spalting is the result of a fungal boundary war in fallen wood.
Spalted wooden bowl from my new artisan friend.

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