I was teaching a class the other day and I was talking with the kids about how the leaves on the trees are now changing colors and that some will eventually fall.

They asked things like, ‘’Will the tree get cold?’’ ‘’Does it get sad when its leaves fall off?” And ‘’Do they think it is cool to see the leaves change colors?’’ It was such a fun conversation. I had some leaves in class and we pretended to be trees; we let our leaves fall off and then we stood there without our leaves feeling proud and tall.

After class was over, I sat down in the empty room, as usual, to take it all in. As I drank my water, I started thinking about our tree conversation. And it hit me: We are all like trees. We go through different seasons. We change, we grow, and sometimes we feel ‘’naked’’ or vulnerable. We go through life trying to control all of these things. Or maybe we feel shame or guilt for being different or for going through a difficult season. We like to hide, lie and pretend we are OK when we are not.

But here is the thing about trees: When seasons pass and they lose their leaves, change colors and stand naked, they don’t freak out. They do not try to stop the process or control it. They do not run and try to grab the leaves and glue them back together. They don’t live in fear. They stay grounded and tall. They may be crooked, they may be naked, and they may be different. But they’re still a tree. They’re still standing and still proud and still knowing and trusting the process.

You see, we are all part of nature. We all go through seasons. Some are painful, some are full of joy, some feel easy. Others make you feel like you may not make it out alive. But we spend so much time worrying — in fear of what others may think, comparing ourselves, trying to control the outcome — that we miss who we are becoming. The messy middle that feels so uncomfortable? That is what’s shaping you, changing you, stretching you. You can embrace it and allow it to shape you into something beautiful or you can allow it to destroy you.

I love this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘’Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.’’

How can we adopt the pace of nature? By practicing patience with ourselves and others. By being OK with setbacks, by staying flexible and reminding ourselves that we are part of nature, too.

I love to imagine I’m a tree. I love tall trees; they are so majestic to me and I am always in awe when I look at them. Whether they are full of leaves or completely naked, they are beautiful to me.

Something else that helps me set the pace is my faith, because I truly do believe we are part of nature and are all connected. I can trust in the God of the universe and the way he made everything to work perfectly together and how he is working all for our good. He is helping us build our resilience and character through the different seasons we go through, especially the hard ones.

It is easy to trust and feel joy when things are going well, when things are going our way. But what happens when the plan does not pan out, when everything goes wrong? When our marriage is falling apart, when the business fails, when our friend betrays us, when we lose our job, when we get a scary diagnosis or our child gets sick, when people we love get hurt? How do we keep the pace of nature? How do we still find joy and purpose? How can we trust everything is being worked out for our good and that trials are actually good for us?

Many times it does not feel that way. It feels hard, almost unbearable. When we feel hopeless, anxious and depressed I sometimes think is because we are trying to control things. We are attached to an outcome, we are striving, we are people pleasing or maybe we are trying to live up to expectations that are out of anyone’s reach.

Which category do you fall in? I have been all of these at different times and I have been all of them at once.

I want you to challenge yourself and see your trials as a gift, as the path to becoming a better version of yourself. Try to copy nature and practice her pace.

What if you made a choice to see the difficult parts of your life as an opportunity to grow and help others that may be going through similar situations? What if you made a choice to embrace the pain as a journey of discovery, so you could learn more about yourself?

I am not saying it will always feel good. It is healthy and necessary to feel your emotions but it is not healthy to stay in that space. There is light in the darkness. Be that light. My hope for you, and me, is that we can learn how to set the pace of nature and find beauty and light in all the different seasons of our lives.

Zaribel Clay is a small-business owner in Elizabeth City’s downtown.