By Savannah R. Watts
What started as a bowl of hearts and a pen has since blossomed into nearly 1,000 notes displaying the prayers, hopes and wishes of people in Blowing Rock. The result of this small, outreaching act became what owner Sheri Furman calls The Prayer Tree: A Healing Vine of Hope. Residents and visitors alike over the past few weeks have been pausing to hang their prayers in the tree or pray over the others there as they pass by the wonder of the Holy Spirit overflowing from the vine and branches into the hearts of many.
Just under three weeks ago, the cozy little lavender shop on the corner of Main Street and Maple Street, Take Heart, placed a bowl of 50 wooden hearts and a pen outside their shop beside the tree—no sign, no instructions, no example heart. The bowl of hearts and pen were merely an invitation for people walking by to use. The hearts could have been left alone with no reference for their use, or they could have been written on and stuffed into other shopping backs as a token of remembering the day.
However, within a short time, Sheri rounded the corner to the shop and saw people had been writing their prayers, hopes, or wishes on the hearts and hanging them on the vine and tree beside the shop.
It was the simplest, purest form of an invitation to see what would happen, and soon enough the employees at Take Heart were ripping up sheets of paper just so people could continue writing down their sincere prayers to hang on the tree. Since then, Take Heart has ordered and used over 500 white tags for people to continue writing their heart’s deepest desires and leave them among what is now nearly 1,000 others.
“I wasn’t sure what people would write or even if they would,” says Sheri. “It was just waking up that morning and hearing the still, quiet whisper of God to put a bowl out, to give people an invitation into their own hearts and what they are carrying, and to leave it here.” Take Heart employee Jillian Sykes says of The Prayer Tree, “It’s something private, but vulnerable and powerful.” The tree invokes the Holy Spirit’s calming peace in nearly everyone who passes by, as people stop and allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to leave their life’s heaviest burdens on a street corner.
The Prayer Tree has enveloped this corner of Blowing Rock with faith as strangers stop to lift up others, offer encouraging words, or pour out their hearts to the tree. It’s a place to reflect, to connect, to cover each other in prayer. Men and women, elders and children, healthy and sick, are each stopping to write, to hope, and to pray whether they are going into Take Heart or not. “Some people stop just to pray over the tree or individual cards without even writing their own prayers down,” says Sheri. “It’s not just for the heavy-hearted or for one person. It’s for all of us.”
At first glance, it is easy to just notice the tree standing tall beside the shop. Yet, if you take a closer look, you can notice that most of where the tags are hung come from a vine growing on the tree and around a small, metal entrance to the garden. In John 15:1, Jesus proclaims, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper.” The Prayer Tree is giving people a space to write their hearts on a white tag and place them on the vine—on Jesus—and have the Father keep them. Later in John 15:5a, Jesus declares, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” The Prayer Tree fulfills this verse as the branches of this vine outside the little lavender shop are filled with authentic, vulnerable prayers of the people, yet they are all rooted in the vine of Jesus.
Roots are defined as the source of something. The Prayer Tree is rooted in courage of the hearts of people writing, in emotions of each word written, in passion for others, and deeply in God and truth. Despite the busy nature of a beautiful day on Main Street in Blowing Rock, around The Prayer Tree there is a peaceful hush as people quiet their hearts and absorb the authenticity of the prayers and the healing of the Holy Spirit embodied through the tags on the tree and vine. These roots are deeply grounded beside the shop, but they continue to stretch into the hearts and lives of every passerby.
When pausing to look at a few tags on the Tree, remarkable integrity is found in almost every prayer. Sheri describes the Tree as what’s needed, what’s honest, what’s true, as many people seeking wisdom pour out their hearts onto a small tag. “People are carrying so much,” says Sheri, “but, if they feel safe here, they will leave their burdens.” The Prayer Tree carries out words of the gospel still, as in Matthew 11:28 when Jesus says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” When watching people place their tags on the tree, one can see the weight of these prayers being lifted off the shoulders of many as people cry or smile and find rest in the Spirit wrapped over The Prayer Tree.
The prayers on these tags are relevant and relatable. If you touch just a few, it’s likely you will find one that speaks to your own heart or even moves you to tears. Prayers for healing, for guidance, for families, for friends near and far, for the nation, and for peace, are all hung on the tree and vine together. “I think it’s showing that we’re not all that different,” says Sheri as many of the tags display a commonality of concerns and hurts in various handwritings with similar words.
As the response to The Prayer Tree has multiplied much like the five loaves of bread and two fish Jesus used to feed the five thousand, the Take Heart staff has covered every single tag in prayer. Every morning before the shop opens and every evening after they close, the employees at Take Heart gather together in the Prayer Garden tucked beneath the tree and vine and pray over the prayers, hopes, and wishes of others hanging above them. “It’s not of us, but for us,” says Sheri. “We invited people to leave their hearts here, and we have a stewardship and responsibility to pray over them.” Every tag is touched by a member of Take Heart to be laminated from the rain and covered in prayer from their heart.
Though Blowing Rock is home for some, many of the people passing The Prayer Tree are visitors and tourists. Sheri hopes that people visiting Blowing Rock will take the idea with them back to their home so that the Holy Spirit might continue pouring prayer and love into other communities. As for now, to extend this love in Blowing Rock, Sheri plans to string lights throughout the tree and vine so that people can gather in prayer at night as well. The shop’s sweet notes of encouragements placed in a bowl at the store’s counter will also appear on the table next to the tags so that people can give their hearts and take encouragement with them.
The Prayer Tree is not for Take Heart—it’s for anyone who needs a prayer or a place to lay down their burden and rest. The tree and vine are growing every day, and Sheri says none of the tags will be taken down as each prayer is as significant as the one is hangs beside. The tree and vine have no discrimination—no prayer, hope, or wish is too small or too big. It’s simply an invitation to come to The Well of prayer and of hope to find rest.
The response to The Prayer Tree: A Healing Vine of Hope has been so loved by the Blowing Rock community that it now has a Facebook page so that people who are not in Blowing Rock are still able to find a place of rest and be covered in prayer. You can find the page at https://www.facebook.com/ThePrayerTreeBR/.