Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Allegory of the Olive Trees

Over the past few days, I have been reading the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, and had some thoughts related to it. Since you like to hear what I am thinking about, I have decided to share. For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, you can read it here. If you don't feel like reading it all, it's basically an allegory about a man who owns a vineyard full of olive trees, and it's the story of how he takes care of his trees so they will produce good fruit for him. There are at least two ways to apply the story: first, it is a symbol of the Jews and Gentiles, and the scattering and gathering of Israel; second, it is a symbol of how God works in our lives individually. I haven't thought much about the latter before now, but when I read it this time, I learned a lot.

First I decided to note wherever the master of the vineyard said anything. This was interesting, because it turns out that most of the allegory is actually given through the words of the master himself.

Then I noticed a few other things.

After much effort to help the tree grow good fruit (as opposed to wild fruit), the master of the vineyard asks his servant, What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self? Did he ask because he didn't know what to do, or did he ask because he wanted to see how much his servant had learned in the process of helping him care for the trees? I think it is the latter. This is often the way earthly parents, heavenly parents, and mentors work in my life; they ask me to come up with solutions to problems they may already know how to solve, so that I can learn to make complex decisions like they do, gain confidence in what I know, and eventually feel comfortable moving forward on my own.

In this same phrase, there is another interesting use of words: what shall we do? Not what are you going to do?, but an invitation to work with the master in carrying out his stewardship. We never work alone when we are asked to join our leaders in the work they do, and when we accept the invitation, we receive the added benefit of the mentoring process we just discussed above. (As a tangential thought, this is an important principle to apply in management. I am of the opinion that cultivating trusting relationships and mentoring toward a specific goal are two actions that make a manager successful, because they make the employee successful.)

We can see the servant's growth and development a little later in the story, when the master of the vineyard is ready to give up and just cut the whole tree down, and the servant gives the most beautiful response: Spare it a little longer. I love this. It is full of mercy and compassion and love. It reminds me of my Savior. The servant saw the tree, in all its wildness, and realized that the roots were still good; they had just been overtaken by the wild branches that had been grafted in. He didn't want to give up on that potential goodness. In the same way, Jesus sees me as what I can become, despite what fruits I am currently bearing. He gently and carefully draws out the good from my roots by doing exactly what the master of this vineyard did: a little at a time, he cut off the most corrupt branches, and replaced them with the original branches that he had previously grafted into other trees. As the original branches were restored, they took strength from their original roots, and more bad branches could be removed. The result was that the good roots gradually completely permeated the tree with goodness, and it bore only good fruit.

Jesus sees us in our entirety - roots, trunk, and branches. He sees us as we were, as we are, and as we can become. And gently, carefully, a little at a time, He helps rid us of our corrupt and sinful ways, replacing them with better alternatives. This is the effect of His great Atonement. It is significant to note that He doesn't try to cut out all the bad at once, because that could overwhelm us, potentially damaging us beyond repair. Instead, He takes time and care to help us through the process of incremental change until we become someone who is "sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, ... holy, without spot." When I consider that this is the purpose of mortality, and that each of us is going through this same process of refining, it gives me more compassion for others and for myself.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Boston in Colorado

I have been banished to the other room while the three oldest nieces and nephews craft a blog post designed to make "the parents" laugh. Apparently I am now one of "the parents" (a designation I'm totally fine with, since I think of them as sort-of-my-kids anyway). So for lack of anything else to do, I will share my recent happenings with you. At least until they are done writing their blog post.

Things are changing. Boston the city is no longer my home. It was a good decade, and I have lots of happy and sacred and growing up-ish memories associated with my time there, but it was time to move on to more important things. So I have chosen to pack a few things, sell the rest, and migrate back west to where I can see the Rocky Mountains, where North, South, East, and West are still used to give directions, and where there is more sunshine. It's also, conveniently, a place where four absolutely hilarious children live, and they really brighten my life with their quirky humor.

In making these changes, I have left behind some wonderful friends and experiences, but so far it seems to be a small sacrifice considering what I am gaining. Family time is healing and happy. We write particularly bad poetry late at night, but we're usually so tired, it makes us laugh so hard we can't breathe more often than not. We have wholesome family activities - even the kind that go down in family lore as being particularly epic. Yesterday we hiked in the mountains above Boulder. (It was fabulously beautiful and the trees smelled like vanilla and the scent reminded me of going to girls camp as a youth.) The week before we tried to go to a wonderful sounding place called Serratoga Falls. (It ended up being a housing development, not a scenic waterfall as we had expected. Grr... We had to go get ice cream to make up for it.)

We also do fun random things. We experiment in the kitchen and try to make new treats. The older two girls give head pats to say goodnight. I get my fill of snuggling (and tickling) and I don't mind running kids back and forth to archery or swim team or whatever they need. I get to teach six 9 and 10 year olds on Sundays in Primary - which I love. It's a different life, but it's a life I've chosen and I'm glad to be living it.

At Batman's request, I will tell our latest random fun. Batman is my oldest niece. She's fourteen and wants to be able to drive. But she's not old enough. Even though she's Batman. The other day, she gave me a hug, and demonstrated the "proper" way to give a hug. It involves standing very far back away from the person you are hugging, wrapping your arms around their torso, and sticking your backside out enough so as to be ... um ... for lack of a better word, awkward. So awkward that it makes you both bust up laughing. If you want a demonstration, come visit. It will make you laugh. I promise.