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?