No apple left behind

IMG_2504Miluška is 87 years old. She has the lightest blue eyes I have ever seen and little red boots that she wears when she works in the garden. She walks to our church every Sunday even though it must be at least half a mile for her. She also owns an apple orchard and today we got up at the crack of dawn to help her harvest.

I feel like I start every blog with something along the lines of, “So, I had a tough week.” Comparatively, my life is not tough at all. I love my job, I love the town I live in, I love that Jerry keeps buying pear flavored yogurt. God has put me in a great place.

However, I am struggling with stuff too boring to post about (and I am sick again), so instead of doing the mature thing and getting plenty of rest last night to prepare for our long day, I stayed up till 1:30 a.m. talking to my sister via facebook chat. She’s good at listening to me when I have boring emotional stuff to vent and she has pretty decent advice which I don’t listen to nearly as much as I should. And it reminded me that I don’t live across the hall from her anymore and so instead of feeling better, I went to bed at 1:35 feeling lonely and confused.

Like many Czechs, Miluška owns a cottage in the country. The 45 minute drive out of Prague is a scenic one. Honestly, there were so many cute, postcard-perfect homes and hills and rivers with little red bridges that I thought we might be driving through a huge Hallmark factory and not a corner of Eastern Europe.

The purpose of the trip was to pick the apples in the orchard and get the garden ready for winter (this is something most Czechs do, I’ve discovered. Getting their gardens ready for winter is a huge deal). Last year Jerry and Marilyn brought in 2,000 apples from the handful of trees in Miluška’s overgrown, under-cared for orchard.

We pulled up next to her gated property and I followed Miluška through the calf-high grass to the back door of her cabin. She slowed her steady hobble occasionally to look up at the trees and I could tell that something was troubling her. A look of concern dressed her soft blue eyes and I heard her mutter, “žádné jablka tady…” – roughly translated, “no apples here…”

I too was expecting to see more apples than the sparse fruit clinging to bare limbs. When Jerry and Marilyn showed up behind us they were upset as well.

“Mary,” Jerry told me, “Someone’s stolen the apples.”

“All of them?” I asked stupidly. Picking apples is still a foreign concept to me, so I was having trouble wrapping my head around the idea that people might come into someone else’s garden and steal their apples. What is this, the Dark Ages? Who steals apples?

“People do that,” Marilyn explained. “Can you believe it? They must have spent a whole day in here – there aren’t even apples on the ground.”

We spent the morning trimming back weeds and pruning trees. We mowed the walkway which had been completely engulfed in grass. Miluška puttered about her cabin, making us coffee and setting up a lunch spread for us.

I was tired from my long night and frustrated by the unresolved issues in my life. I wanted answers and I wanted them right away. I mean, c’mon, God, what are you waiting for? I may not have been the merriest of workers this morning.

Around noon we stopped our heavy labor (by that point I had already sawed down one small tree and figured out how to back the wheelbarrow out of the compost pile without it tipping) and took a coffee break. We ate wonder bread sandwiches of cheese and butter and drank coffee with old sugar cubes. Do you know what old sugar cubes look like? Sugar amoebas.

The sun had peeled away my jacket and sweater and I had left both by the gate, so I shivered a little in the chilly cabin as I listened to Miluška talk with Jerry and Marilyn. In Czech, she explained that her cottage used to be beautiful when she and her husband were able to visit more often. I looked at the floor falling in under the table we sat by and thought of the forest of weeds and grasses outside. I wondered how she must feel watching time change her life.

After lunch we decided to comb through the trees and the ground to look for remaining apples. With food on my stomach and perspective in my head, I reluctantly felt myself shifting into a better mood.

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Jerry climbed into trees and used a thingy-ma-jig to drop apples to the ground. I was supposed to catch them or fetch them. I wasn’t exactly batting 1000. I was hit by no less than four falling apples. I think that should be noted. I was hit on the head by an apple. I am a survivor.

“You’re not very good at this,” Jerry told me in his ever-cheerful voice.

“No, I’m not,” was my truthful reply as I let another apple fall to the ground without interception.

Once within my clutches, they were brought to either the “good” bucket or the “bad” bucket. The good apples had no holes, no breaks in the skin, no sign of damage. The bad apples were anywhere between slightly worm-eaten to half rotten. The redemptive qualities Marilyn and Miluška found in apples on the ground were more than I ever would have attributed to the damaged corpses of the used-to-be-fruit.

“We’ll just cut the bad parts off,” Marilyn told me as I tossed an apple back at her with a mumbled, “Disgusting.”

“We can turn them into koláčky [cake pastries],” she told me, rolling her eyes at my prejudice against fruit she viewed as very valuable. I kept a careful eye on how she sorted the apples and did my best to follow, separating perfect specimens from not-perfect.

Conversation rose and fell – usually we just worked in happy silence. Because I was too sick to hum this morning without sounding vaguely like a foghorn (I flatter myself – I always sound vaguely like a foghorn), I had a lot of time to think. And by thinking, I really mean I composed this blog pot in my head. Pretending to write to an audience in my head makes me feel less like a psychopath just talking to myself… In my head. I call it sanity control. It’s what I do.

So here’s what I came up with:

  1. Bad apples get used too – I don’t know if obsessive self-criticism is a common infliction or if I’m the only girl in the world with mildly low self-esteem, but I do know that it’s easy to get caught up on my own flaws. I’m impatient when waiting on God’s will, I’m kind of a control freak, I’m emotionally all over the place, I’m a selfish friend, I have no self-control and I still haven’t learned how to keep my room clean. But God will use me anyway. He will use all of us. Just like he used the broken people of the Old Testament – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses. They lied, cheated, murdered, etc. But if you read their stories from beginning to end, you can see God changing them. Actually, stop there. You can see God. Isn’t that all we want? To reflect God’s glory? To so clearly be his workmanship that people can read his truth in our lives like a trademarked brand? Yes, that is what I want.
  2. The bad parts need to get cut off – We are not perfect. None of us would end up in the “good” bucket. I found myself looking over apples and saying, “Well, you look okay but I don’t think you’d get into heaven.” (Yes, I talk to apples). Then, whoomp, into the “bad” bucket. Those apples will be chopped, gutted, sliced, split and cleaned under sanitizing hot water. Imagine you’re an apple. THAT WOULD REALLY HURT. And it does hurt. We go through that. Loved ones die, families move away, friends disappoint, heck – we disappoint ourselves. We fail and fall and watch life unravel and think, “God, where are you?” When really he’s just standing above us with a paring knife, turning us into koláčky.
  3. Harvesting sucks – Picking apples is really hard! I got hit on the head, I was scratched to the point of bleeding, my personal space was invaded by arachnids on multiple occasions! That was difficult work. But we did it because it was good work.

Without going into boring detail, a lot of what I have been struggling with involves the question of good work. Where and how does God want me harvesting? Right now, it’s here in Prague and I’m so grateful that He has made his will so clear. But I’m an impatient planner and I want to know where he’ll take me in two years and in twenty. I want to know what his purpose for me is – I want the whole blue print!

But I can’t know it, just like Miluška could not know that her garden would one day be an overgrown mound where rotten apples collect. All we can do is continue showing up for the harvest.

Marilyn, Miluška and Jerry in front of the orchard gate.

Marilyn, Miluška and Jerry in front of the orchard gate.

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