Parable of the Grape Tree

The shock on her face was visible. My oldest daughter (age 5) burst into the kitchen shouting her discovery. “Mom! We have a grape tree in our backyard!” I looked at the delicate bounty dangling from her fingers and sure enough, it was a cluster of perfectly round concord grapes. Her twin sisters, hot on her heels, bounded up the stairs to thrust their own prize under my nose. I stopped swiping food from the boys’ high chairs and followed them outside to our unruly backyard.

Two months ago we moved into a new (very old) house. The backyard, along with everything else, spoke neglect. But I loved the ornate brick wall, the long stretch of grass for kids to run on, the winding perimeter of a garden. It was a weedy garden but I hoped to reclaim it – turn it into something colorful, maybe even fruitful.

The girls ran to the wall, jumping, pointing, picking and plopping. One grape after another disappeared into their mouths as they chattered about this splendid surprise growing outside their bedroom windows.

Even I hadn’t noticed the vine. But there it was – tall and tangly, bent by the weight of lip-puckering grapes. I let the girls pick their own stash, rinse them in the sink and put them on the table for dinner. In a world where children can grow up believing all food grows in grocery stores, the “grape tree” (inappropriately named for it’s soaring tree-like structure) was a novelty at our house for days.

A week later while washing dishes in the kitchen, I looked out at the grape tree and noticed a fleck of pink. No orange. Wait – maybe it was red. I squinted and leaned forward. Handfuls of sunset orbs hung from the vine. They looked like peaches. But how?

I hurried out to the tree and sure enough – awkwardly perched in the highest branches of the vine were peaches in threes. “Girls! We have a peach tree growing out here!” I lifted them up one at a time to feel the unmistakable fuzz of a peach.

Then I bent down to inspect the root system. A bunch of slender trunks were clumped together. Two appeared to be the vine, one I traced upward to a lonely peach limb, and another, to my surprise, was a gangly old plum tree. Over time, it seemed that the vine had slithered its way up both trees, wrapping and curling, until both plum and peach were almost completely disguised.

Two weeks after our grand discovery, the grapes sweetened and neighbor children carted them home in pails. Tonight, we cut into our first peach and savored every slice.

How can nature go so boldly against the law of the harvest? No pruning, thinning, training, or attention. Nothing deliberate or sweat-inducing. Yet the tree bore fruit. Delicious, generous, and without price.

One look at my own spiritual vineyard and I see a similar neglect. Birthing our second set of twins this last year has been more than intense. I haven’t made it to the temple, haven’t fasted regularly, haven’t been able to stay for an entire block of church. My scripture study has been less than stellar and my sleepy personal prayers seem to fall short.

I am immersed in my children. It is that season. But maybe there is a parable at work here. Maybe I am like the grape tree – still bearing fruit (although disguised to most), still growing, still reaching for light.

I can feel the Lord of the Vineyard nearby, pruning and digging about. So I kneel weary and make my meager but best offering. To my surprise, He presses fruit into my palm – delicious, generous, and more than enough.

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

What spiritual metaphors come to mind when you envision our grape tree?

When have God’s gifts surprised you?

How do you maintain your spirituality when life circumstances don’t allow for the more outward expressions of our faith?

About Catherine A.

(Blog Team) is a mother of five small children including two sets of twins. She and her husband spent nearly eight years in Northern Virginia, but now call Utah home. She reviews books for Meridian Magazine, writes for Power of Moms, dabbles in poetry and works on the prose editorial staff for Segullah. She blogs about her wild and precious life @ www.wildnprecious.com.

23 thoughts on “Parable of the Grape Tree

  1. These times, raising children, or being a care giver of any kind, when the “conventional” acts are many times left out – are a time of constant Communion instead. What could be sweeter or more sustaining? Revel in it!

  2. This was a gorgeous post, Catherine!

    I remember well that season of intense mothering when my children were little (although I didn’t have two sets of twins!). I did often worry that I wasn’t nourishing my spiritual side enough; I was often too tired and preoccupied with the physical work of nurturing to focus intensely on spiritual things. But now I can see that I was growing in ways I’d never anticipated, and that that intense season of serving and caretaking and nurturing was also expanding my soul, and bringing me closer to God in many ways.

    This was especially beautiful and profound: “I can feel the Lord of the Vineyard nearby, pruning and digging about. So I kneel weary and make my meager but best offering. To my surprise, He presses fruit into my palm – delicious, generous, and more than enough.” I feel this even more keenly, now that my children are older and I see more clearly my imperfections as a mother. Though my “meager but best” efforts have been flawed, I know He can make the fruit of those efforts sweet.

  3. This is beautiful. The Lord compensates. When we are giving all we can, He makes up for the rest. This is a beautiful illustration of that principle.

    (P.S. Is Catherine A. your real name? I have a friend who just had her second set of twins . . . )

  4. I loved your post! I agree with Traci that raising children (whether it’s one or 10) is a time of constant Communion with the Lord, in every thought, in every deed, in every wish or hope. Sometimes the “works” part for ourselves takes a second seat, yet we still receive delicious spiritual nourishment as we give to our children. You should feel no guilt for what you aren’t doing but rather sheer joy for what you are doing!

  5. Tracy – “constant communion” – beautiful concept. And I believe in it – that it does sustain us (even when we don’t have eyes to see it). Sometimes I forget this – that the heavens are always open and flowing. Thanks for your encouragement.

    Melissa – “growing in ways I’d never anticipated” – this is so true! In the middle of it (as with most growth experiences), we don’t recognize how God is helping us shed layers that are holding us back. Not until we measure the distance from where we’ve come do we see the progress.

    I love your vantage point – as a mother with older children. Even then we can feel our efforts are meager! How merciful (as you point out) that the Lord can sweeten the fruit of our efforts. Wisdom Melissa. I appreciate your understanding, as well as your wonderful thoughts.

    Stephanie – Yes – Catherine A. is my real name. I’d love to connect with your friend. I blog about our “wild and precious” life at dcarvys.blogspot.com.

    So do you see any other metaphors at work in the grape tree? I’d like to hear your insights.

  6. Roberta – I just have to say thank you. On occasion, the guilt creeps in and I think – if only I were more devoted to the things that fill the soul and replenish us, maybe I would be more patient, more in tune, an overall better mother. (I probably would!) But the more I think about our neglected, yet growing vine, the more I feel God hovering and aware. His little ones are in our care. Of course He will nourish and fill us!

  7. Lovely. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. And, I think you’re right…”tis but a season..” and who better than our Heavenly Father who knows this and what we can offer!

  8. I actually thought of another metaphor for it just now.

    Often our long forgotten for bearers have put a lot of effort into the vineyards we inherit. Just as someone long before you must have cared enough for your “trees” to make them survive when they were small plants, we often unknowingly benefit from the efforts our ancestors put in.

    Maybe when your twins are grown their children will eat from your “grape tree”–if only in a symbolic sense.

  9. DeniMarie – Sowers and reapers of different generations. Yes, what an insightful metaphor! Your idea of my grandchildren eating from the “grape tree” brought to mind the vibrant images of 1 Nephi 8 and 11 in which Lehi desires for his own children to partake of fruit. The fruit = the love of God which actually is Christ himself. What sweeter fruit do we hope for our children to taste? Your comment was comforting to me. Thank you.

  10. Your second set of twins????!!! Wow.

    I think there is nothing more spiritual than raising children. You are in partnership with Heavenly Father. This is a very sacred (and busy!) time of your life.

  11. The metaphor I thought of – the vine was able to flourish because of the support hidden underneath it, that gave it support and room to grow, so much so that the trees were hidden by the vine’s bounty.

    I’m seeing that become evident in so many areas of my life at the moment. I know the scars of what I have gone through are able to be seen by those who come close enough, but there is such an astonishing profusion of unexpected blessings that have come as a result of those struggles, that right now I’m happy simply standing still and enjoying the beauty and diversity of riches, instead of focussing on the pain that got me to this point.

    And whatever happens to the vine, the trees remain, able to bear more weight and beauty than they thought possible.

    Gorgeous post!

  12. Thank you for this post! My husband and I had twins of our own over a year ago, and we have felt similarly overwhelmed. Reading your post gives me hope that we will emerge from the suffocating fog breathing.

  13. Although I have no twins (I have two sisters each with a set of two year old twins, so I can appreciate the depth of the fog), I have gone through periods like this–where I called it living on my spiritual food storage–I was moving along based upon stores I had laid up in previous periods of my life. I always live in fear during these times that I will exhaust the storage before I am able to get to a better place, hasn’t happened yet, but I still worry.

    The other thought I had was similar to DeniMarie–the idea of sowing seeds that others will reap. Missionaries do it all the time. I think the mothers of Helaman’s stripling warriors were definitely sowing seeds, reaped by those who were protected by the bravery of the sons years later. I believe the pioneers did it as well, literally–putting in crops and then continuing on their westward trek so that others who passed on later would have crops to harvest when they needed to winter in those places. Always makes me wonder if I am sowing wheat or tares for my descendants to reap.

  14. Jill – You’re so right. I feel the sacredness (as well as the brevity) of this time.

    Kellie G – What a fabulous metaphor! I never considered the fact that the vine was able to grow like it did BECAUSE of the trees. You got right at the heart of survival – how we can weather deep sorrow and suffering. To me, you spoke beautifully about the Atonement. Somehow – He sustains us, holds us, bears us up. My favorite line: “whatever happens to the vine, the trees remain, able to bear more weight and beauty than they thought possible.” I see dual meaning in your words: The trees are not only Christ himself, but also us. Sometimes we are surprised at the weight we’ve been able to bear. You’re an inspiration to so many. Thanks for your thoughtful words.

    Amanda – I hope you are surfacing. That first year is the hardest (and foggiest). I understand. Hang in there! There is SO much joy ahead.

    Michelle – That’s the surprise isn’t it? Looking back as Kellie said and seeing we were able to “bear more weight and beauty than we thought.” I think you’re doing remarkably well!

    Angie – Loved your inclusion of the stripling warriors, as well as the pioneers. There are patterns of sowing and reaping everywhere, aren’t there? Thanks for drawing our attention to that beautiful truth.

  15. This was beautiful — and brought to mind our sweet missionary, out there reaping fruits from many of the labors of others, and planting seeds in hearts for those who will labor in the vineyard after he is gone.
    Tender moment!

  16. Lovely post. After my first baby I felt like all my quiet time to read my scriptures and pray suddenly vanished. I felt really guilty that I was barely hanging on to the habit for awhile–but then realized that this just wasn’t the time of life for me to sit around and ponder the depth of eternity in the written word :P

  17. Beautiful! I love the thoughts others have shared about reaping the fruits of others, feeling support and strength beyond our own.

    My first five were born in five years and now all of them are in school full-time (with “only” three at home during the day). Things do get easier!

  18. oh i just luv your post, your writings, and your pics!
    i’ve luved the metaphors given…relatable and true. what kept popping out at me is possibly kinda generic (but then so am i sometimes :)…
    in life, you never know what you are gonna find, until you take a look yourself…
    until you study it yourself, until you “bend down” or get down on your knees and pour through those branches & vines (or perhaps your soul) and really find the strength and source you are looking for or that you need.
    the older i get :), the more i realize that such is life…when dealing with people, family members, co-workers, my testimoy, my outlook…its always best to look inward before determining exactly what i will and will not believe to be true.
    grapes and peaches…lucky girl, they look delicious!
    *cami

  19. Cath, you are my hero. What a fabulous metaphor, and I love those that others have seen in your story as well. I don’t think the Lord expects more than loving his little children right now. All too soon, they’ll be in school and you won’t know what to do with yourself! (okay, you might figure it out pretty quick!) But life is going at hyper speed for me right now, and I sort of miss those days when my kids actually pulled out every pot and pan and set up a whole town of action figures in my kitchen. Those days will be over before you know it. You are doing exactly what and all that you should be. Feel no guilt. I love your writing. I love ya!

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