“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” My team could not believe how relevant those Biblical words would be in our life that week. Due to some governmental decisions, a ministry we partnered with could not safely allow their normal refugee friends to travel from the city to the rural camp that also served as an olive tree farm. So they called us to fill in as laborers for the big olive harvest. They use this harvest to make olive oil to sell to fund some beautiful projects helping people in really unfortunate circumstances. We had just been learning how life was looking different in Greece. Coming from America, it was culture shock to not have our plans solidified every day. We learned that we would have to be adaptable to the way of life of the people there. Meeting a friend at noon might end up being give or take 30 minutes or so. Paying our rent at the bank might take a lot longer than we could imagine. Having a normal American to-do list made us feel defeated when we came up against the normal cultural differences of our new neighbors. For instance, as is common in the hot Mediterranean countries, shops close for several hours every day and dinner is way later than our normal routines at home. We had to relearn how to live. So when we were invited to go olive harvesting, we said, laughing a little bit, YES. Of course, we were going olive harvesting in Greece. I even ended up inviting a new friend to come with us. A big ask for trust to go with a bunch of foreigners to the middle of nowhere with hardly any cell service. I’m so very glad to say we are still friends to this day, despite the fact that her family was scared we were going to abduct her and harvest her organs. Ha! No, in fact, we invited her to come and harvest the olives with us. I digress once again...
So, we arrive by bus and homemade barge to the little cove of the little camp with the little olive farm. We are oriented the next morning on how to harvest olives. Our new friend who helps run the camp joyfully and proudly acts out the process for us and then shows us. First of all, I’m assuming you’ve never seen an olive tree like me at that moment. It looks like a beautiful tree full of fruit that kind of looks like dark grapes. If you take one off that is a little green and purple and try to eat it right off the tree like I did, you will be quickly pursing your lips as the astringently sour fruit will make you wonder how anyone ever found value in growing this crop. Our guide tells us that it will take several weeks and months in a brine to be the olives we think of eating. These fresh olives will be crushed in a huge press to be processed into some of the most delicious olive oil I’ve ever had. I might be biased because I harvested them, but it’s hard to beat freshly pressed olive oil in Greece.
So to harvest olives, you need a few things. First pick your tree. We laid out a tarp around the tree to catch the olives. He gave us all these tools that looked like a rake kind of with a bent fork on the end that reminds me of a comb. In fact, we ended up reaching up with these and combing the olives out of the branches. I kept thinking of getting stubborn knots out of hair. And as the olives come raining down, they make the most wonderful noise hitting the tarp. I grew up with a metal roof and if you went outside my front door there was a metal turret. I loved standing there when it rained. There’s nothing like it, except maybe even better, is the sound of olives hitting a tarp when in the middle of a harvest. We partnered up and tackled each of the trees. Once we finished one tree, we were taught to filter out the sticks and any leaves and pick out the olives to be put into bags. Those bags would be taken to the place that processes them into olive oil. I remember my friends carrying big bags of olives over their shoulders. I remember laughing and telling stories and singing. I remember trying not to fall down some of the steeper parts of the hill. I remember our guide telling us not to fret if we missed some. “You must always leave some for the birds, and then move on to the next tree.”
At one point, an older couple joined us in the harvest. It seemed like they popped out of nowhere. I certainly hadn’t seen them come across the cove in the barge. I was too busy harvesting olives with my friends. This man and his wife entertained us with stories of how God met them when ministering to a community of cannibals across the world. They told us how these people initially responded to them. How friends of theirs had been eaten. They talked about the way these humans counted numbers with a different system that used their whole body. The couple told the story of how they first met. How letters and missed letters and traveling and miscommunication had finally brought them together right at the last minute before it seemed like they might not ever see each other again. I felt like I was in a dream. It was so surreal. Harvesting olives and listening to these stories.
After our few days of harvesting olives, our backs were tired, our spirits were revived, and my mind was alive with imagination of how God is so wonderful at connecting stories.
One thing that stands out to me when I think of that time is my first practical understanding of how pruning works. Again, I knew in part what pruning meant; I’d read in the Bible even about the importance of pruning. Sometimes I have to see it played out in front of me. At one point, our olive harvesting guide and friend showed us a tree that had gone wild. He said to not even bother with these trees. These trees have a lot of little black olives. They have little of the good stuff so are essentially worthless. Leave them to the birds, if they’ll have em. He said trees that aren’t pruned go wild. There were several that had gone wild; this camp had not been always taken care of so we were glad to have as many good olive trees that we did. It made me kind of sad that we couldn’t harvest those trees, and I thought of pruning in my own life. I prayed to God in that olive orchard that I would not go wild and fruitless. I prayed that I would have the courage to let him discipline me. That I would not be afraid of pruning.
As they say, be careful what you pray for, but actually, I would pray it again. God was doing a beautiful thing in my heart looking at that wild olive tree.
I wanted to be a tree that was trained that bore good fruit and made a beautiful noise when the harvest came. A noise that will be up there in my favorite noises of all time. A song of the olive harvest. I think of the little olives that are crushed to provide rich rich oil. Their story is one of death that brings a blessing in anointing the world and nourishing our life. I now buy big jugs of olive oil from Costco and find myself refilling my oil dispenser with a clug clug clug. It doesn’t quite sound like the harvest, but it has the rhythmic memory of the beat of the raining down olives.
A month and a half ago, I learned about tree training a bit more. I learned that trees that are not trained are more prone to disease, death, and failure to thrive. I learned about proper ways to plant trees (and that often trees are planted completely wrong) and I learned about proper ways to prune them. I learned about pruning hardwood trees and fruit trees.
Last year, I planted some fruit trees on a little bit of a whim. HEre’s the thing: I knew they took time to bear fruit, so I thought I’d start. I did the best research I could and then with the help of my sister and her fiancé, we planted three beautiful fruit trees. This year, it was time to prune. I was so nervous to cut off almost half of each tree after it was all said and done. I was assured by an expert on the proper shape and branch angles to cut the trees, but actually going out there and doing it took me a long time to muster the courage. It seemed dangerous. What if I killed the tree? I remember this expert looking at me and saying, “Don’t worry. I know it’s scary, but young trees heal quickly and actually will bear better fruit if you train them correctly. It’s good for them. Also no one is perfect at it, so just do the best you can. Nature is full of grace.”
Wow. So I did it. This week, I’m seeing some peaches on one of the trees. I know the fruit won’t be good this year, but I am excited to see some actual fruit of the process. Now when I drive by big trees in my neighborhood, I mourn the lack of tree training or even worse, really bad pruning jobs that hurt the tree. I see trees poorly planted in shopping mall parking lots. I am overwhelmed by this new knowledge of tree training.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by knowledge? I find it helpful to know that I just can’t make everyone do things right, but I can prune my little trees. And I can trust the Master Gardener of my life to prune the things in me when He shows me the way to go. And I trust He will continue training this fairly young tree that so desperately wants to make Him proud with some good fruit. Even, no especially, if that fruit is to be crushed to anoint Him in praise and thanksgiving. Or to give nourishment to somebody else.
Often, when I was younger, I would look in the mirror for a long time. Not to get all Narcissus on you, but it was a meaningful time of stillness and reflection. Sometimes, my face would distort in this weird way that scared me. I felt a gravity to the sin within me, a distortion that was a trick of the eye, but I knew that reality of my heart. Other times I would look and imagine the woman I was meant to be. I could see myself older and more at peace. I just knew that beauty could be a part of my story. I hoped for it.
I also had a lot of recurring dreams, take that as you will. One theme was fighting in a more Medieval like war. There would often be a hill and a large rock. Sometimes, I would be a coward and hide. Other times I would grab my weapons and charge at the enemy. I think you could take these weird moments of my memory in dream and stillness in different directions. I love thinking about how God is making sure that I am trained up to be the woman he sees me to be. He is outside of time but entered in. He will be the rock and the champion fighting the war. He will take the distortion of sin and make us beautiful.
Hearing and listening and understanding and knowing can mean different things depending on the experience. Something that encourages me is that God is so multi-layered. I will never reach the end of his treasure-like substance. I can look back through time at my own life’s moments and find treasure he offers to me now. And maybe in ten more years, I’ll gather more as my vision is more clear. I think of a video I watched explaining multi-dimensions. Eternal dimensions, we just can’t understand or explain. We get a little piece of it when we think of a person. There is so much to you and me. He is pruning things in my life in seasons. He is the author and perfecter of our faith, isn’t he? I hope today, that I would not run away from the beautiful work he is up to, even if it hurts or is scary. I hope today that we can stand firm in the good soil that he has for us and trust that he will make sure we are trained in the way we should go.
I do declare these words to you from Romans Chapter 11: verses 17-36
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
The Valley of Unrest
BY EDGAR ALLAN POE
Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sun-light lazily lay.
Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley’s restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless—
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye—
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!
They wave:—from out their fragrant tops
External dews come down in drops.
They weep:—from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.
Listen to this episode here. Thanks for bearing with me when I lose my train of thought a view times. This week was bananas.