This is a true story. It is the story of a woman who fell in love with a man. She married him with a certain picture of what life would be like in the back of her mind. It looked like a garden in springtime. Everything beautiful was in bloom. Every bird was singing.
They were happy. They were making life work, braiding their lives in a chord that would never be untied. Between the demands of daily life, they were together as much as life allowed, and they were working toward a common purpose. They were trying to cultivate a quiet seed of meaning.
They thought they were planting one kind of seed. They thought it was a fig tree. They dropped it in the ground where fig trees grow best–with full sun and sheltered from the chill of the north wind. They imagined themselves a few years down the road, picnicking in its shade, eating homemade bread and fig preserves.
But it wasn’t a fig tree. It took them a couple of years to figure this out. Because neither of them had much experience in tending to a garden. Together, they looked at the small tree that was growing out of the ground. They scratched their heads, laughed at their naivety, and gave a little sigh about how figs were good but there were other fruits just as delicious. And wouldn’t it be a surprise to see what was going to grow there…
The woman and the man spent the next several years watering, adding compost, and checking the lifesigns of the little tree in each season. When they had time, they would scour the libraries for tree identification guides. They brought home armfuls of books. They looked on every page. They found similarities, but were never able to find an exact match for what was growing in their own backyard. They tried to piece together a way to nurture this little tree, which, despite their limited understanding of how to care for it, continued to grow taller and more robust day by day.
Meanwhile, there was normal life to be reckoned with. The day-to-dayness of life. Weathering storms and enjoying full days of sunshine. It became a different kind of picture. Not a garden in full bloom. But a garden in every season. The long-dayed yellow gold of summer, leaves of crimson and the cool-crisp autumn air, winter’s still and bitter cold, and back again to the rain and sweet green of spring.
And through every season, year after year, storm and sun after sun and storm, this little seed of meaning continued to grow into something that both puzzled and surprised the man and the woman. They could never exactly name it. They could never find a picture in a book and say, “Here it is. This is how we are supposed to feed and water it. These are the best conditions for this tree to grow. It will produce fruit if we do this…” Instead, they continued to watch for signs of flourishing. They tended to it in drought and in flood. It grew. It grew. It grew. It grew bigger and taller than any other tree in the garden. It became a home for a myriad of birds and small creatures. It became a shade from the scorching summer heat. The man and woman would sometimes put out a blanket and sit under the tree. They would laugh that they once thought this was a fig tree, as it had now grown taller than any fig tree they had ever seen.
“But will it ever produce fruit?” The woman asked.
With a trembling hope, in her soul, she heard a still and quiet yes. This tree was different than any they had ever seen. They expected one thing but grew another. And here it was, towering above them, something bigger and grander than they had ever imagined growing up out of their own backyard. It was alive and healthy. And it was growing, surviving, and thriving even amidst the natural disasters of life.
It was years. Years. Years. Years. Long years.
The man and woman grew older.
One day, the woman looked up and saw flowers. The flowers became fruit. The fruit was unlike any she had ever tasted. It didn’t have a name. But it was ripened to perfection. It was delicious. It was medicinal. It produced a handful of seeds which she scattered in the side yard. She made jam. She made tea. She and her husband sat in the backyard and enjoyed the fruit of the seed that they planted so many years ago.
The scattered seeds were carried by birds and wind. Many of them grew to produce fruit of their own, which in turn produced more trees which produced more fruit and so on and so on.
This story eventually comes to a close. But not in the lifetime of the man and the woman. They died long before they saw the orchards growing just down the road from where that first seed was planted.
They were forgotten. But together, they planted a seed, which grew into a tree, which grew into an orchard which continues to bear fruit.
The Parable Explained:
This story may be about you. It is also about me.
I am the woman. The labor of my life is the tree. I can only see the ending by faith, because even now, I am looking for fruit.
I used to think my life was about something else. Always the Kingdom of Heaven. Always for the glory of Christ. These were my deepest hopes–that my life would reflect his love and light. But I thought those themes would play themselves out differently. I thought it would be a bigger and bolder statement.
I have come to see that in this season of my life, being a mother is my calling. I say this humbly, because God knows that I have wrestled with a surrender of my own will and desires. I have asked God many times to give me grace to walk this calling out because, in all honesty, I feel unqualified. Every child is so different and comes with such a unique set of instructions for care. And they are all written in code. And you have to figure each one out as you go. Truly, raising our children is like watching that tree come up from the ground. Scratching our heads, wondering how in the world we ended up with this kind of life when we were so sure we were planting something else. But here we are with this grand and glorious tree, one of its kind. Beautiful, full of life and wonder, and yet there is always the question of the future fruit. Will this tree withstand all the natural disasters of life? Will these little ones grow up to be who they are meant to be?
I confess that I have sometimes thought of these years of giving birth and tending to the constant needs of young children as a season to pass through in order to get back to the real purpose of my life. It can feel like so little is actually being accomplished. I have wanted to “get on with my life.” God has gently and lovingly spoken to my spirit time and again, “This is your life.” Nothing has changed me more than the heart-and-soul surrender to the simple and wildly profound call of motherhood. I am humbled by his love and grace which has brought me here.I am finding new identity in Christ as I step into the role which he has set before me. I am humbled by the gentle wisdom and inexhaustible love of children. I am in awe of the life I have been given.
I am finding deep meaning within the walls of this house. We are raising a family. It isn’t the fig tree I imagined. But it is becoming something that only God could have brought forth from my life. A tree that only he can sustain and teach me how to water, how to protect in storm and drought, a tree that only he, at the right moment, can speak into flowering. It requires faith to look ahead and see where this is going. It isn’t just about this tree. This little family. But it is about the fruit of a life that is openly turned to God, a life that can bring forth the seed he is planting–whatever it looks like–and can water it and nurture it to fruition. When we turn our lives to Christ and willingly offer ourselves to cultivate the seed of meaning that he has planted in our hearts, the work of our lives becomes more than the tree we are planting. It becomes something that we, in our lifetime, may only begin to see. It becomes the full fruit of an orchard. Because a life that is surrendered to God will always yield exponential fruit.
This is my story. The story of a woman who, along with her husband, planted a seed, which one day became a tree, which will one day, by faith and through the grace and covenant of God, become an orchard full of good, sweet fruit.