by Nancy Tally with Vikki Williams
For several years, we walked through bright, golden autumn mornings together. Our routine was set: We would pile the twins into the red wagon, one twin so strong and robust that she would support her weaker sibling by wrapping her arms about her sister’s chest. Their eldest brother would pull the wagon while the other brother pushed from behind. Our procession would clatter over the quiet sidewalks, sunlight pouring down on us through a lacework of leaves.
Our destination--the yard of an elderly neighbor, where a harvest of apples awaited us. There were far too many for her to deal with, but by the time we were done, her yard would be apple-free. The good apples went in the wagon, and the bad ones in the trash can. Even little children know the good apple from the bad apple. You would know right away, too, if you smelled one of the bad ones. You'd know if you saw an apple with spots so soft that a finger could squish right into, not to mention the worms wiggling their little heads out of their very round holes.
When we got home, we’d process the apples. I would make some of them into pies and freeze others. All afternoon the apple aroma would fill our house and our souls. The best part came when we would have supper. Sometimes we’d pretend we had gone to visit Heidi at her grandfather’s chalet. We would gorge ourselves on apple slices with cheese, crackers and milk. A bulk-purchased barrel of crunchy cheese balls was a regular staple in our house. We would start eating those bits of fluff and pretty soon we would be competing, throwing them high in the air to see who could catch the most in a row without a miss. In later years, the game expanded to include throwing cheese balls across the table to the kids and having them catch them in their mouths. There was tons of laughter and never a clear winner.
I still love to see and smell the apples as flood the produce section every fall. It takes me back to these good memories from when I was still nurturing those living (human) plants God had given to me to harvest. My prayer for my children was always that they would come out of my home spiritually healthy so God could use them. I did not want them so messed up that it would take years of God working on them before they could function for his glory. The results have been mixed--both with regards to the amount of time before they were ready to do what God wills, and with regards to their apparent effectiveness.
The eldest brother still leads the way, not only in teaching his own three to love the Lord, but in leading his church in worship each week. The second brother always had to find out where the boundaries were for himself. While he spent years trying to push the wagon of his life, he eventually found out he could not steer very well from that position. Now he is pulling his family together from a leading position. The strong and robust twin is still supporting others from her role as an Air Force instructor. Wondering about the weaker twin? She keeps drawing the best out of people, giving those around her a chance to give to Jesus. How? Well, for "whatever you have done to the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.”
A Last Minute Post Script
Two days ago I thought I was done writing this entry. Then, I listened to Pastor Moody’s sermon, "Fullness of Riches," and was struck by verses 7, 11 and 12 in Romans 11. Was I really reading that God had hardened the hearts of the religious rulers of Jesus’ day? That God himself caused their inability to see and understand who Jesus was? That he did it because his plan called for his Son to be our sacrifice and as there had to be a Judas, there had to be hardhearted rulers to bring about the Crucifixion?
Romans 11:11-12 reads, "So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!"
For the first time the verses started to make sense. Seeing part of the plan behind it all made my heart leap with hope as I read the last phrase: "how much more will their full inclusion mean!" Do I understand it? No, not intellectually, but it resonates so strongly with my spirit. Inclusion may not be something most people think about often. As a mom of a handicapped daughter, lack of inclusion is something I live with every day.
I am constantly aware of it. I long for my daughter to be included. I long to be included into the lives of those surrounding me in the church, but I stand there, silent, not knowing what to say. I do not possess my husband’s easy way, his gift for gab or his memory that allows him to follow up on things others have previously told him. All those those traits that tell another person that you care about them. So I stand off to the side and know what it is like to be jealous for inclusion.
Although Romans 11:12 spoke about the value of the inclusion of Israel, it stirred up other, half-formed thoughts about the value of souls. Those thoughts followed me through my day. Soon I sat down to check this post for revisions. Suddenly, those half-formed thoughts leaped on me and pried the scales from my eyes. Shame on me!
I recalled all those years, I would cringe when I had to fill out a form that asked, "What can Becca do?" I never knew how to answer it! Like so many others, I did not see her value. I could not see that she had, and has, a real ministry and work God has prepared for her to do. Becca confesses that Jesus is Lord, and years ago sought out baptism to make her decision public, it would logically follow that God has prepared good works for her to do. When I wrote, "She keeps drawing the best out of people, giving those around her a chance to give to Jesus”" I only saw how others who interacted with her were given a chance to minister.
Today, however, I realized that harvesting fruit is the work and ministry prepared for Becca. Not only does her presence in a room allow us to give back to Jesus as we interact with her, but it allows Becca to harvest. She harvests some marvelous fruit: love, joy, sometimes peace, definitely patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control from those around her. Her presence is like sprinkling the fertilizer that causes us to produce more fruit. Finally understanding that God has included Becca in the work that he has prepared for us to do is worth more than all the inclusion programs in this world. Pain from her lack of inclusion based on her earthly limitations dims as I realize God includes her in his plans for his people’s growth every day.
We, here, at College Church are blessed. We have 60 people like Becca, many of whom know the Lord personally, all of whom can be harvesters, the catalysts for our growth into spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness. And if they are not enough, we can look around at the bumper crop of children born in this church every year.
So on the days when our blessings have us ready to pull out our hair or just sit and cry, let's view those precious people through a new frame. A frame that reminds us that not only has God put them here for us to help them mature into the knowledge of salvation but also that they have a ministry to harvest fruit in us, to help perfect us. Perhaps today their job is harvesting patience or endurance as we learn to rely on God’s grace.
Our blessings are masters at improving and strengthening our self-control and patient endurance. Those qualities which seem to bridge a life of moral excellence and a life of godliness and love. (Check out 2 Peter 1:5-8.)
Keep bearing fruit that even the least of these can harvest, that benefits their daily lives, and acknowledges that though they may be weak or tiny, they are fellow harvesters.