Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winter Grapes

Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.
2 Corinthians 4:17 MSG

When Kelly and I were little kids we would go stay with my father's parents, Leona and Tom, and the world would smile on us. Onie was born a grandmother, a playmate, a partner in crime. She kept our secrets secret; our indiscretions forgotten and our dreams at the top of her prayer list. Their house and yard were as magical as they were.

At the far back of the house a spruce lined driveway fell away to a wooded area snuggled in between raspberries and rhubarb. There was a lovely shaded spot that was always cool even in high, humid summer. A Beatrix Potter patch of wonderfulness that drew us to it.

Next to a massive oak there was a grape arbor that sheltered a large green wooden glider. That old swing was a treasure. It was a train, a plane, the pumpkin coach from Cinderella. It was also covered with large dark grape leaves and blue-black concord grapes hanging in thick bunches.

The taste of those grapes is a memory that remains with me half a century later and has the power to raise my spirits by just mentally taking a ride on the old glider. Grapes squeezed out of thick skins and swallowed whole. Purple fingers, full hearts and a grandmother as full of stories as we were full of grapes.

There were other grapes growing near the arbor. We gave those a wide birth. They looked beautiful on the outside but set your teeth on edge. They were a wild sort of grape and they were real climbers. Up the tree and over the top of the garage that vine was like some fairytale beanstalk. Pop would attack it with the hedge clippers but it proved a worthy opponent.

One year when my mother had become very ill after Sherry was born, I went to live with Tom and Leona not just to visit. The following October the leaves were mostly all down, the arbor was bare and the days getting colder. Pop threw me out of the house and told me to go play. An ambition I did not have under the circumstances.

I found myself in the back yard looking for colorful leaves to make a picture for my father to take to the hospital and I saw it, that "I dare you" grape vine all regrown and wrapped around a tree. There were late grapes wearing a light coat of frost.

To this day I do not know what impulse made me eat one but it was a revelation. It burst on my tongue with the most wonderful sweet and spicy surprise. Where had this goodness been hiding itself? How did something so sour become such a blessing and at such a needy time?

The neighbor who owned the raspberry bushes Kelly and I raided without permission and without mercy, was out in the garden dropping a blanket of straw and he saw me up the tree with grapes in hand.

"Winter grapes," he offered. 
"Excuse me?" I answered.
"Frost grapes," was his comeback, "The frost don't kill 'em like other grapes. Makes 'em sweet. So sweet if ya don't pick em' the birds and squirrels eat em' when they turns inta' raisins." 

I liked raisins but raisins without sunshine? Was that possible? I knew I liked the frost grapes. I would just trust him about the raisins.

Years later I would know of people (myself) what I learned about Vitis vulpina, a little frost makes grace work magic. It produces a sweeter fruit, a more patient bounty in unexpected ways. Like Jacob who became Israel and limped under the hand of the Almighty into a sweetened old age, winter grapes improve, thrive even, when circumstances are challenging.

Sometimes in my life I have been almost frostbitten by failed relationships, illness, debts, dashed hopes but every time and without exception the Gardner-God knows just how to use it to make me better, sweeter, stronger and more like Christ. Then He causes it to feed someone else who is famished. At the time if feels like anything but a blessing.

My friend, Rebecca, was sharing this very wisdom with me today out of her own life. It is a hard truth sometimes that crushes the grapes and fills the cup and bids another to drink encouragement. It is the Jesus way. Ours too.

If this day finds frost on your ground or a hard winter blast breaking the last of the tender fruitful stems you depend on, let that go for the moment and trust the One who calls the snow a treasure.  

"God is making new life" from our winter grapes and frost never keeps spring from coming. 

...they will bloom like a vine, and they will be as famous as the bouquet of a prized wine!

Do not look for my replacement. I, the Lord, am the one who answers your prayers and watches over you...Hosea 14:7-8 condensed

May our days be filled with His "unfolding grace."



No comments:

Post a Comment