Un-Cultivated

some personal thoughts on the fruits of discipline

My mother, sisters and I rented an old farmhouse when I was 6 years old.  It became our family home for the next 30 years, more or less. It was established and solid in and out, but it had been left abandoned for a long time. My mother agreed to paint herself if the landowner would give her a discounted rent. He did and she did. It was really amazing how a little love and elbow grease transformed that empty place, into a sanctuary of peace, a vineyard of hope.

It stood faithfully, on three acres of beautiful, unused, virgin land.  When we moved in there was enough cleared land to keep us busy for a lazy summer day. We could run barefoot and dig dandelion greens when we were hungry, which was more often than greens were necessarily available, but dandelions weren’t the only food available on our small rented parcel of green earth.

Beyond the edge of our yard the grasses grew tall, untamed and wild, no doubt a haven for foxes and other small creatures who could easily hide behind nature’s elegant overgrowth.   I remember running through that field when ticks were simple bugs. I remember finding a rock big enough to climb, at the edge of the forest.  I sat there on my stony throne -set apart from ground zero- forgetting all beneath and behind me.

Eventually my mother convinced our landlord to mow it all down and to build four large riding rinks. Wooden fences were erected where horses could be domesticated.  We painted the old barn red with bright white trim and turned it into a stable for horses where it bustled with business.  When I sit real still, close my eyes and breathe deeply, I can smell the aroma of that old barn, where I spent so many of my days. The musty, damp smell of green hay, bundled and stacked against the wall, comforted me. The dry sticks would prick the back of my bare legs. I remember the familiar scent of manure, to me,nothing but sweet and welcoming. It was the smell of safety, the smell of my mom, the smell of living. There was dirt and dust and woody smells, which generated memories and fashioned ambiance. The sounds of flies buzzing, hooves clopping and pounding on the cement floor, was the background music in the barn.  Cross ties and leads lines, fresh shavings and tack hanging neatly on the wall. What life burst forth, when we harnessed the space and power of that old barn.

We had all sorts of people at the farm, “Mission Field Farm” was the name we had etched in gold on a sign in our front yard.  We had special needs people and sunset services, Jewish festivals, and Memorial Day cookouts. There were people camping out, and eating over. There was always people around, between the congregation and the riding school, our house, as my mother used to say, really felt like -grand central station, I had never been there but it seemed right.

In the midst of all this hustle and bustle my grandmother would stop by in her little red car, with her little bowl, and walk right out through the midst of the masses of people and activities.  She would head behind the barn to a wild patch of black raspberry bushes that grew just as untamed and undisciplined as that old field once was. She would fill up her little bowl, or pan. Her fingers would be black and bloody looking, and she would eat them with milk and sugar on top. But she could never quite fill up a whole bowl. we also had a large tangled mess of uncultivated concord grapes in the side yard where the border of the field had once been.

we could smell those grapes growing and rotting from anywhere on the property, on a warm windy day at the right time of year.  It is an unmistakable smell and even today when I smell that unique aroma I know there are wild concord grapes growing somewhere close-by; sweet and tart simultaneously, but hidden and fallow.

Our grapes grew in an extremely large brush.  Over 14 feet across in diameter, at least.  We could only ever access the outer grapes, unfortunately never even enough for a glass of juice or even a fruit salad, all those years it sat there untouched, unused and untended. Picked at by the birds. We couldn’t possibly reach the ones which grew inside, try as hard as we may the brush was just too thick. The scent would tease us, the taste of the flesh was sour and the seeds and skin bitter. No one ever cared enough to domesticate those grapes.

The bush that grew behind the barn was the same, it was so large and wild we didn’t benefit from it, we would get an occasional berry here and there Mim would occasionally pick enough to have a small bowl of milk and berries, but they were always beyond our reach – we never cultivated those vines. They grew wild and free but we never harnessed their fruit or their potential. Each year in fact, the vines produced less and less grapes.  They would sadly cast their grapes before they could ever be harvested.

There are a few more wild things that grew up in that old farmhouse.  On my best days, in my most prolific seasons – I am, at best as untamed and uncultivated as those vines.  How much of my fruit goes uneaten, cast and rotted.

Wild, native grapes have great potential, when they are disciplined, pruned down, tied up and given direction.  When they are trained and tended according to the knowledge and labor of the Gardner. The Gardner, upon finding a wild vine, will cut it down to its two strongest and best vines, no more than a foot off the ground. He will build an arbor for them. He will bind its branches, which spread, and those native grapes, trained and tamed by the Gardner’s hand, will produce twice as much fruit as when they were allowed to run the show.  Their skin is thick, their leaves hardy and resistant to disease and their wine is sweet and dry. The final stages bringing Joy and sustenance to the vine grower, otherwise no matter how delicious the grapes are if he cannot bring them to that stage they are nothing but nuisance in his vineyard, because they grow out of control without his discipline.

Discipline is not punishment. It’s an arbor, direction, tender care. Discipline is saying no to all growth and yes to the most important growth. It’s cutting away branches which sap energy from the fruit. It’s pulling down high climbing vines which had no limitation. Cultivation mean multiplication.

At times I am wild and untamed. Like an uncultivated grape vine I write when I want, as long as I want and I produce a lot of fruit. But it’s cast before its ever utilized. It never seems to go anywhere useful. I may have many branches, but little to be harvested on each branch.  I’m not in the habit of saying, “no” to my growth, it becomes unreachable, untouchable. It rots out of sight before it can be enjoyed by others.

I don’t put restrictions on my own time, or set goals for what I want to accomplish, and stick to them, I have no arbor. I grow in every direction instead of putting my energy toward one course. I set guidelines for myself and don’t stick to them, I spend hours and hours writing, without setting aside time to edit, polish and submit. I am cheating someone and its probably myself, but i can learn.

Perhaps it’s time to submit to the Gardner’s hand. If I can release my tendrils of fear which have fixed themselves dramatically around every neighboring tree, God might be able to use me for his purposes.

if I ever want to bring God glory with the words that have pierced my heart and burst through the soil I must allow myself to be tamed, and to discipline myself.  Without it I will grow uncontrolled and dissatisfied I will only ever be a bush and vine that takes up space.

A few years ago our old house was abandoned again. We each went our own way in life. Everything returned to its former state of overgrowth. It doesn’t take long when left to itself. It was sold, the entire lot leveled. Every uncultivated bush, every vine, every fence, it had all been touched by time and weathered with experience. The old bean tree in the back yard came down, large trucks and bulldozers without conviction or compassion, plowed everything over. Someone rebuilt several houses on the burial grounds of our childhood memories, our vineyard.

How will I discipline myself?  I am plenty hardy, disease resistance built up within me from years of hard ships. Many seasons of Unchecked growth has enabled my roots and base to be strong and deep,  stable and well grounded – now it’s time to be restrained, pruned, given direction so that I can bring Glory to the one who made me and joy to the one who owns me.

One comment

  1. This narrative was simply AWESOME! I’ve read many of your wonderful words before, but for the first time the words, “Daily Devotions” resonated within me with strong convictions. I strongly believe among many options at your disposal, you harness all the wherewithal, ingredients and God given abilities necessary to publish a book for daily devotions that would be disarmingly insightful, rivetting, compelling and most importantly, life changing to all saints, seekers and sinners alike by the inherent Spirit and Power of God who is exalted in your unapologetic raw, real and relevant reflections.

    Sincerely,

    Your longtime reader, longtime listener and sometimes responder

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