Back to the Tree: A Different Perspective on Lehi’s Dream

I’m going out of my normal format on this post. It’s a poem…and a painting.

I have to be honest. I did not come up with this idea on my own. A lady, named Naomi, in a the ward I grew up in, through various circumstances, provided the title and the impetus. It was such a brilliant idea! The moment it was presented to me I felt immediately impressed to write the poem below after studying Lehi’s dream for an entire day. The inspiration and work for the painting followed last night and today. So, here’s a brief thought to preface it.

Lehi recounted a dream/vision he had to his children: Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, etc. We get Nephi’s summary of the dream in 1 Nephi 8, and the interpretation thereafter. I’m quite sure there was more to it. But, because Nephi was the mouthpiece, we are resigned to be happy with his particular perspective. Which, is an effective perspective.

However, did Lehi’s dream, in detail, include more information on what it looks like when we begin to feel the pull to come back? Does the original (which we don’t have) talk more about repentance and those who come back from the great and spacious building, or who manage to find their way back after wandering off and being lost?

When those of us who do falter for a while begin to feel the pull to come back, it can be a daunting view when we turn again to find that sweet white fruit. We are living “Lehi’s dream,” and it’s not the part of the dream that’s fun. That tree, which contains the fullness of God’s love (as available through His ordinances and covenants), seems awfully far away. It’s not a matter of simply grabbing back onto the iron rod after having taken a few steps away. It’s a matter of starting a journey full of peril and struggle simply to get back to the iron rod. Then, once we find the rod it’s another journey to get back to the tree.

I wrote this poem for my kids…all of them. My past seminary kids. My present YW. My step kids. My daughter (who is still a toddler).  I also wrote it for my family–all of them. I dedicate this to “those whom I love,” that they may know that when they decide to turn back to that sweet, white fruit, that they can make it. The Man-in-white will be there. Christ’s grace is sufficient.

Below, find the picture I painted and the poem I wrote, both titled, “Back to the Tree.” Any time you see a (…) it indicates a “pause for effect.”


Back to the Tree

©2020 Bethany Tolley. All rights reserved.

I’m standing on a balcony that’s way up in the sky

I sometimes can’t remember how I got up here so high

I look across a wilderness with shadows long and tall

Then chance a glance down toward the ground, it makes me feel so small

The balcony it trembles underneath my tired feet

Then suddenly I am pelted with dark rains and bitter sleet

I take a step back from the ledge to get out of the rain

And find that even inside there is emptiness and pain

I cast my eyes out to the field as backward I retreat

And see a small light flickering with continual repeat

It wakes a mem’ry in my mind, I know that tiny flare

It’s small white fruit that’s on a tree in the darkness way out there

My soul begins to rumble like the building that I’m in

I’m hungry for that fruit, but my head is in a spin

The cement beneath my feet begins to crack a little bit

I turn and run to find some stairs, then fall into a pit

The people all around me, I guess they’ve been there all along,

Take notice of my wretched fall but still won’t heed my song

“We cannot get you out—if we do, you’ll run away.”

“You’re better off here, trust us—it has to be this way.”

I cast my eyes up to the sky, but the building blocks my view

I feel no hope, I’m in despair, I don’t know what to do

I bow my head, hand on my heart, yet not sure how to begin

Then the building shakes, the ceiling cracks, and a little light gets in

My courage grows, I open my mouth and call out to the Lord

Then the building falls into an abyss, and I’m left hanging by a single cord

I get cradled by a warm south wind and it carries me to the ground

My feet touch down onto the earth, I don’t even hear a sound

My hungering soul leads me forward—into a deep dark night

But my feet trudge through some dreary waste and I lose the small white light

I walk and walk for hours and collapse upon the dirt

And when I wake, I find myself in red mud up to my shirt

Determined to press forward now that day at last has dawned

I cast my eyes fast forward where a dirty fountain spawns

I scarce can see a trace, of the white fruit through mist and trees

Unworthiness, it crushes me, and I sink back to my knees

And then, before I cast myself back on the filthy ground

I hear a glorious being say, “At last you have been found.”

“I have left the flock to seek you. Please rise and take my hand.”

“For I am here to lead you past the river and the sand.”

Before I can look up, I feel sore tears upon my face

Then the Man-in-white He wipes them with His robes and with His grace

He bids me take His hand, then pulls me up off of the sod

Then strangely now He places my hand on a curved iron rod

I take the metal in my hand, but I don’t want to cling real tight

And after walking just a bit, the Man-in-white soon leaves my sight

I panic now and stop and look to see where He has gone

And I only see the iron rod, it’s extended to my palm

Yet, it’s dark enough to see among the mists and all the fog

That seem to appear from nowhere, so I break into a jog

In my haste, my hand breaks free from the solid staff of metal

My feet twist up, I trip and fall through poison and through nettle

Into a thick and murky bog, its bottom binds my feet

And suddenly, the rain is back, as is the cold, dark sleet

My limbs go numb and I curse myself, for letting go the rod

Why couldn’t I have just slowed down and been satisfied to trod

Impatience was my downfall, and some carelessness, and fight

I was angry that I had been left by the Man I saw in white

Not ready yet to freeze to death I start paddling with my hands

I call for help… and there He is… to remove my selfish bands

“Hold to the rod, I promise you, it’s strong and bright and true.”

“Look to the tree and hold on tight, it’ll safely guide you through.”

I’m shivering now with cold, and I still feel a bit uptight

But I trembling grab the extended rod while mumbling about my plight

Yet, casting my eyes forward I see through the mists a hole

And through that hole I see the fruit, it’s flickering warms my soul

Clinging a little tighter, I walk forward next to the rod

It’s sturdy, and it’s iron, and I trod and trod and trod

I’m tempted very often to keep my eyes cast down and back

But as I trip and stumble, I notice my hand begins to slack

Remembering the filthy bog, to the rod I hold fast

I raise my eyes and find the fruit, I’m determined now to last

The mists are cold, the darts are sharp, it would be so easy to let go

And the building in the air is back, it’s in the sun and all aglow

I see its people laughing, clinking glasses, and poking fun

They are pointing at me and my sodden clothes, and I suddenly want to be done

One hand pulls free from the iron rod, and for a moment I feel the warm

From the sun, and the building up in the sky, seep into that one arm

I start to cast off, to join the group, they beckon with hands to me…

Then I see the building shake a bit and my temptation is wrested free

I remember how it crumbled and the treatment of its crowd

I remember how the Man-in-white heard my voice when I called out loud

I quickly grab back hold again of the trusty iron rod

But it looks a little more shiny to me, which I find a little bit odd

Holding fast, I pull myself, with my eyes fixed on the tree

The mists, they clear, and at last I see my family beckoning to me

A fire kindles in my soul and renewed hunger in my heart

I reach for their hands, and the offered fruit, and pull out a final dart

They pull me in, I feel ashamed, how had I forgotten they were here?

But they hold me tight and tend my wounds, and it’s suddenly all so clear

When finally fed and rightly healed, I feel a pounding in my head

It’s a mix of awe and gratitude and just a little dread

I turn my face toward the beautiful tree and see the Man-in-white

With arms outstretched, He calls to me, and I remember again my plight

I bow my head, in a mess of shame, as I think back on my past

Back then I didn’t quite understand what it meant to get off the path

Then feeling the pull of His powerful gaze, I slowly raise my eyes

He beckons to me, I swallow hard, wishing I’d prepared my weak replies

“I lost my way but I’ve come back. I never forgot the light.”

“I simply looked away too long, and doubt bedimmed my sight.”

“When mists of darkness hid the way, I sought the building in the sky.”

“And then once there, I couldn’t recall, how I’d gotten up so high.”

“It wasn’t until I found the courage to look back the way I’d come.”

“Then, I saw the little light flickering, and I knew it was time to go home…”

With measured steps, I close the space between His feet and mine

When barely there, I fall to my knees, and say, “My will is thine.”

The Man-in-white, He lifts me up, His hand beneath my chin

“Your will was all that I required so that I could cleanse your sin.”


19 thoughts on “Back to the Tree: A Different Perspective on Lehi’s Dream

  1. Wow!! What a beautiful personal story for each of us. I felt it was me in the poem as I read it. What a powerful perspective. Thank you so much for your talent and ability to share such beautiful spiritual things ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a trip that all of us make, perhaps many times throughout our lives. The miracle is, Jesus is always waiting and hoping for our arrival.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a beautiful poem! I cried while reading it and felt impressed to share it with my family and friends. Thank you for sharing your wonderful gift.


      1. It went well, people really like the poem. I printed out a copy and gave one to everyone in the class. I’ve also linked to this page from my website, I hope you don’t mind.


    1. It was a new perspective to me when the idea was presented to me. It took being asked for me to seek revelation on what it’s like coming from a different direction. So grateful for God’s grace!


      1. I use a power point in my Gospel Doctrine class and I love to show different art pieces that go along with our lesson. I showed the regular Vision art pieces and we had a great discussion on the symbolism in the vision, the rod of iron, the tree of life, etc. It was amazing. Then at the very end I put up your art piece (I took a screen shot, sorry!) and talked about how maybe there are some in the building that longed to be back on the path but felt stuck, or felt shame, or felt like the Lord wouldn’t forgive them. We had the most tender, spiritual discussions about this perspective for the last 10 minutes of class and I ended with challenging everyone to go and find those people. Help them come back to the path. Your blog post helped to turn my lesson into one of the most spiritual lessons I’ve ever done. Don’t be surprised if this post finds an uptick in visits from NC. Thank you. It was no coincidence that I found this after I had finished putting my lesson together. God led me to you. You were my tender mercy today. God bless you for it.


  4. Is there any way I can purchase this painting? It speaks to me on such a deep level. I was preparing my lesson for the itty bitties I teach, looking for images that they would easily understand and grasp when I came across the painting, which led me to your blog. I ended up forgetting about the lesson as I followed the rabbit trail I had found. I have been basking in the warmth of the tree. I have held fast to the rod. I have lost my balance and let go. I’ve been lost in the mist, and drowning in the river. I think we all ave. I see myself in this sweet woman, leaning into the railing, tilting my head with longing to return, but unsure of where to start. Thank you for this!


  5. Beautiful! Thank you for writing it and sharing it! I think most of us can relate to some part of this woman’s journey back to the tree. We may not always start so far away but most of us (or at least many of us) slip and trip along the way. Let us all cling a little tighter and always remember there is always hope, repentance and a way home (back to the tree).


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