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Saturday, March 13, 2010

pruning has its place

Gardening is one of my favorite things. When the sun shines bright and life is good, gardening allows me to get outside, work with my hands, and tend to a little slice of God's remarkable creation that I have been entrusted with. And when life is tough, amidst those moments when storm clouds gather without warning and unleash their fury, gardening still allows me these same opportunities while also giving me a productive escape and time to process. (Note to self: Blog more about gardening...)

Last Saturday, my parents drove out to Newberg to help me with some yard work. I needed time to think and also a heady dose of the love and support that come from ones family. When they arrived we jumped right into the primary task at hand, pruning my plum tree. This is a task that we had tackled once before, in the spring of 2008. It was a necessity then, just as it was this year. With sucker branches exploding high into the air and the sheer density of the branches in the interior, the tree needed some attention. And with our unseasonably warm weather, tiny tight buds were forming, accentuating the need to complete the task soon.

Since moving in two and half years ago, my plum tree has steadily produced an incredible amount of delicious fruit each year. I've made plum butter (family Christmas presents in 2008) and plum crisps, while also giving away, freezing and eating a ridiculous number of fresh plums. In spite of this impressive annual yield, I know that by pruning it back, the tree will actually become more fruitful. For sure, this year's crop will be smaller in quantity, but the fruit itself should be noticeably better - larger, juicier, and more flavorful. In time, the branches that we pruned, or cut out all together, will grow back stronger and more fruitful.

For three hours my dad and I pruned sucker branches and thinned the tree's core, thoughtfully considering the tree's ideal shape and ability to produce fruit before each cut. And for three hours, my mom stood with hand clippers cutting the branches into smaller pieces for the yard debris container. For all her efforts, she even got a blister on her hand. (Is there any question where I learned to demonstrate my love for others by serving them?) In the end, the tree looked better than when we started, but it was also rather evident that a significant portion of it, even that which was fruitful, had been cut out.

The next morning, I sat alone at church distracted by life and completely oblivious to Chuck's message. I knew that I was supposed to be there, despite my own objections to going. For lack of attention, and perhaps to appear somewhat engaged, I picked up my Bible and, without thinking, opened it to John 15. The chapter begins like this:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." 
When I opened the blinds on my bedroom window Monday morning, the sharp rays of the sun had just crested the house behind me and was illuminating the plum tree. What I saw was remarkable. In just over a day, a handful of those tiny tight buds adorning the pruned branches had fully blossomed into clean white flowers. The new growth had already begun, and the promise of a more fruitful tree was already being realized.

I can't help but think that this is the reason that I spent three hours pruning on Saturday (despite having other more pressing projects), or that I was at church on Sunday (despite my fervent objections). God spoke to me in terms that I could understand, even if I don't yet know how this truth will play out in my life. As we walk through our lives, God will sever things from us, some of which bears incredibly delightful fruit. It is not an easy process, and it can certainly involve significant sadness, anger, and fear, but he is merely pruning us so that we may "be even more fruitful." This may come in the strengthening of other fruit in our lives, or it may come as that which was pruned from us grows back even stronger to produce an even more abundant fruit than before. And perhaps both of these options can happen concurrently. I see a glimmer of hope in this truth.