It’s 2006 in early spring, and I’m back from college on Easter break. I spend the week at my parent’s house and soak up time with them like soup in a bread bowl. The bookends of our days are long cups of coffee and late night movies. It’s been a year filled with change and I just need to be known for awhile.
One afternoon, my Dad digs a hole in the front yard for a Meyer lemon tree. My brother and my nephew Ben lower the new plant into the hole. Ben wears his own garden hat and his five year old knees stick out of black rubber boots.
In the ground, the lemon tree is two feet tall.
A few days later, I hug my parents twice and back out of the driveway to return to school. The rocks scatter under my tires as I throw a hopeful glance in the direction of the tiny tree. Hope for growth and health. Hope for change for me and for it. Hope seems to be all I am at the moment— but at the moment, it’s exactly enough.
It’s been eleven years since that week. I survived college; that season of crazy uncertainty gave way to surprising joys. Now when my tires spin those same rocks, it is with a car full of loves. My tiny nephew is now much taller than me, while the lemon tree towers over him.
Every November, the branches of the tree weigh heavy with bright yellow fruit. Between stirring cranberry sauce and baking pumpkin pie, dashing outside to pick lemons has become a part of our Thanksgiving tradition.
But in September of this year, Hurricane Irma blew through the south. My parents’ house was without damage but the slowly ripening lemons had nowhere to hide.
The next morning the drippy, cloudy, sun rose on the house and tree still standing and the front yard scattered with green lemons.
My mom brought a paper bag full of them and I laid them out on my dining room table, hoping for the best. They were green, battered, and imperfect.
Days later I walked past the table to see huge dots of sunshine all over its’ top. They all ripened, every last one. According to experts, lemons need their tree to ripen fully; instead of being picked gently at the proper time, these were hurtled across the yard in gale force winds.
Though every single one bears scars of a bad beginning; they taste like streamed sunshine.
Each time I make lemon zucchini bread or squeeze juice over my water, I know that the lesson is a gift to me.
Perhaps it’s just fruit— but I think it is more.
Because matters of growth and waiting and progress can be much like this. Sometimes we plant a tree and wait for fruit to come and it appears beautifully. Except when a storm comes hurtling from the ocean and scatters more than half of a not-quite-yet harvest all over the ground.
If you’ve ever found yourself kneeling in the midst of scattered disappointments, then you know the feeling of not wanting to try again.
It may appear that the planning season was an utter waste. It may look like the harvest has been cut in half because of circumstances beyond your control. It may feel like no matter what you do you will never get above a certain result.
But it’s just not true.
When we say it is God who gives the increase, what we mean is that the results are never up to us. We mean that results are not the currency of faithfulness. Faithfulness is measured by itself. What ripens and what is blown off the tree months before its’ time– that is not our business.
Still I know how hard this is, standing with my hands full and fit to dropping all the ways in which I need Him to be the increase. My marriage. My mothering. My service. My work.
I can labour every hour of every day in hopes to be the difference that only, ever God can be. I need Him— more than I need to see the fruit of progress.
I, too, am standing at the end of a year and though it is full of so much grace, its also labored with a few things I didn’t get to. Routines I didn’t master. Goals that are still in process, always in process. There are a even a few places where I feel I went three steps back. Discouraging is an understatement for that kind of inventory.
Perhaps we both need to be reminded— what God can do in a torrential downpour is far and away more than what we can accomplish in the glittering light of a sun-splashed day.
What He can do with a tiny offering of gifts, time, and talents— that is the true increase.
So if you’re here at the almost-end of a year with so much less progress than you hoped, take heart. If you’re dreading the ball drop because it means you didn’t accomplish what you hoped you would, or your progress favors slow, cactus- like growth— have courage. Not courage that we will all of sudden be super human in our results; not courage that says this will be the year that I finally… But instead the courage that knows we are not alone. The courage to trust God with the outcome. The courage that smiles with open hands at the future and the past.
In the midst of all our plans and goals, He’s the only One who recovers what has been scattered. He is the only One who brings the increase. And He often makes beautiful growth where all we have is scattered, unripened fruit.