Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mulberry Blessings

As I deal with the snow each day here, I find myself recalling the days when I had no snow. My house was surrounded by beautiful trees that bloomed all year round. Soft, ripe dates littered the ground beneath my feet. Jasmine and frangipani petals perfumed the air along the driveway and permeated throughout the tiled walkway leading up to my door. Bougainvillea splashed pastel colors along the front passage.

Best of all were the mulberry trees on my property. I had two by the corner of the house and one large one in the side yard. These were not bushes. They were actual trees. I was astonished to discover mulberries grew on branches and not vines!

Over a number of harvesting seasons, I saw that God used the mulberry trees to minister to me.

We moved into our house the first year after our twins died. That’s when I saw my first mulberry harvest. The largest tree, laden double with mulberries, stooped down like an old street vendor carrying every good he could sell on his back. The tree, like the vendor, seemed to call out to those who passed by.

The berry's long, uniform "druplets" felt smooth against my palm. It cried out, “Eat me!” That I did. I’d never eaten a mulberry before so I plucked the longest, heaviest, deepest purple berry that I could find. It tasted sweet, much like the blackberries I’d picked as a child near my house. But my mulberries tasted better than those scrawny blackberries. These were firmer, sweeter and juicier. More berry to savor! Right away I envisioned a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with a bunch of mulberries. Wasn't I the luckiest person on earth to have these trees?!

I was only working part-time that year, and the berries were so plentiful that early morning and late afternoons would be filled with harvesting the berries. Soon I became an expert fruit picker. I got to know the amount of pressure I’d need to separate the berry from the slender green stem that held it fast to the branch. My berry-stained, sore fingers attested to the work I put into this task. But the ripest ones simply fell into my hands as I reached for the branches. I had to tend to these ones carefully so as not to mash or drop them.

“There’s many on the ground” my housekeeper observed, “Why don’t you put a sheet or tarp down to catch those that fall?”

“That’s a good idea,” I agreed. It gave me great pleasure to gather these up and add them to my booty.

I had a small wooden step ladder I used to reach the higher branches. I’d drag it from spot to spot under the tree and up the stairs and onto the driveway to get clusters of berries at the tops of the branches.

Stray cats and the squawking of excited birds overhead surrounded me as I labored. The cats lazed in the sun and kept me company. The birds had no business there. “Shoo! Hey, get outta here! Fly away!” I’d pause and wave my arms to scare away the birds; they seemed intent on swiping morsels from the sweet fruit on my trees. “You’re not gonna steal my mulberries!” I had plans for this fruit.

Every few days, the pungent smell particular to black berries filled the kitchen as I simmered pot after pot of mulberries on the stove. I added some sugar, and then stirred the lumpy mixture with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching. Soon I had a thick, luscious syrupy mixture that I spooned into cobblers and pies and baked in my American oven. I looked up jelly recipes on the Internet and attempted them, too. That year I became a favorite at the college with my “Amish” cobblers and ice-cream topped desserts.

As I threw myself into this work, I realized God’s plan was to distract me from thinking so much about the loss of my twins. God outstretched His hand, touched the sun and ripened a crop full of berries over and beyond what I’d ever dreamed of. People told me they had never seen a harvest so plentiful. I was astounded.

The next year, there were slightly fewer berries in the harvest and the birds found more of them. I'd gone back to working full-time, so I wasn't as driven to pick every single one of them. I started to think, "These berries are God's blessings and who am I to choose who gets them? Do I need all of them? Perhaps I can share with the birds.”

That also brought to mind the sharing of myself. Why did I choose who to give my friendship to? Why didn't I just let God open doors for me and embrace whoever God brought to the door, open it and receive them? So I prayed that I would be more open and accessible to others instead of limiting myself to those I felt most comfortable around. Again, God used the mulberry trees to show me how He desired for me to respond to His voice. I was humbled.

The following year there were fewer berries than before. The berries on the two trees by the corner of my house literally dried up. Now that I was adjusting more to my loss each year, I wondered if God was taking away my dependence on these physical blessings to nurture my faith in the unseen. I believe God used that tree to show me how to grow my faith and enjoy those fruits as much as I had enjoyed the berries earlier. I was grateful.

That next year a new gardener started to work for me. I pointed out the mulberry trees and told him how I’d eagerly waited for them to ripen.

"Now I just have one tree. I think it's dying though. It didn’t have so many berries last year. So many of them shriveled up." I remarked.

"Let's wait and see," he replied “I’ll do what I can.”

My gardener nurtured that remaining tree. He watered it every day and planted fresh dirt around its base. He cleared it of any weeds. One day he surprised me by picking some berries. We both got excited by the results of his careful attention to my favorite tree. I looked forward to fresh berries, pies and cobblers again. But by now, I was so busy that I rarely made the pies and cobblers that I used to bake. I gave most of the berries away. Once I even forgot to take a bagful of berries into the house. When I found them hanging on the doorknob the next afternoon, I noticed they had a funny smell. They'd spoiled. Useless fruit--along with the efforts of my gardener--all wasted. My intentions were sincere but I didn't use up all these precious resources.

It reminded me that I wasn't even close to appreciating God’s blessings in my life, or using them for His glory. I started praying about the wasted fruit and efforts, and God led me to see another area of my life where I needed to improve.

When I asked God to do His work, and the opportunities came, why didn’t I jump in and carry them out? Was it doubt? Or did I get too busy to see the opportunities before me? Once again, God used His mulberry tree--that day to convict me of my carelessness in harvesting His fruit. That rancid bag reminded me that along with our blessings came the responsibility of doing something with them. I was sorrowful.

God used the mulberry trees to minister to me throughout many seasons of my life in the Emirates. I will never think of fruit in the same way again. It shows me that God is imaginative and specific in the way He handles our hurts and develops our Godly character.

I now try to be more appreciative of God’s abundance and I make myself look around to become aware of the opportunities God places before me and to use them. I also ask God to help me have an open heart to share myself with others. Most of all, I ask God for His vision to gather the best of His fruits from my own mulberry tree - me!

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