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The fruit basket

The fruit basket

Lessons learned from changes of season

As far as my dad was concerned, father's day should have been in November rather than June. By June, temperatures in Texas are already in the '90s, and my father, who was not a hot weather person, used to say that the only good thing about summer was tomatoes. I'm beginning to take after him in that regard (summer hasn't much to offer sedentary types who enjoy hot coffee and fuzzy sweaters), but I would expand the "good" parts to include watermelon, blackberries, and peaches. Especially peaches-I could grow rhapsodic in the description of a perfect peach. It's like entering a kingdom of sensation, munching happily down streets of gold between welling fountains of juice.

Peaches were on my mind when I pulled up to the local orchard in mid-September. My mouth watered as I approached the sale shed, but instead of the subtle aroma of fuzzy-skinned nectar, I was greeted by the tart cidery scent of apples. "Are there any peaches left?" I asked the clerk, against all hope.

"'Fraid not. Just early apples and pumpkins. I always hate to let the peaches go. But we have some nice apple varieties."

I bought a small bag of "Jonalicious" apples, good for cooking and eating out of hand. This particular fruit does not usually inspire me to poetry, because it is always available: Familiarity breeds contempt. But the first apple of the season, finished off with unexpected delight, reminded me about the nature of God's gifts-general blessings to the world at large, and particular blessings to those He calls His own.

First, they are unearned. Certain fruits humble me as nothing else can-so bountiful, so wonderful, so direct from God's hand. My husband and I set in some strawberry plants last May and were able to harvest a few quarts of fruit from them over the summer. That first handful of red berries, picked off our own plants at the end of a hot day, overwhelmed me with their freshness and flavor: What did I do to deserve this? The answer, of course, is nothing. Nothing we do could earn even the simple pleasures of being alive, much less the eternal weight of glory for which God is preparing His people in their time on earth.

Second, God's gifts are particular and specific. We often thank Him generally for His "many blessings," and indeed they number far too many to name. But each blessing has its own character. Aside from being round, and being fruit, peaches and apples have little in common. The virtue of a peach lies in its melting softness, the virtue of an apple in its tangy crispness; if the qualities of each were reversed, the result would be very disappointing. The qualities of summer and fall can't be reversed, nor of triumph and failure, nor happiness and grief. To the child of God all things are blessings in their way, because all are used to conform us to the image of Christ. Each has its own flavor, whether delicate as a strawberry or heavy as a watermelon or sour as a lemon, and each should be appreciated for what it is, not denigrated for what it is not.

Third, no earthly blessing will last. Most of us prefer one season over another, but God accomplishes His purpose in all of them: in the vigorous, anticipatory changes of spring and fall as well as the long winters of discontent and the plodding days of oppressive summer heat. Pleasures are scattered on us like rays of dawn, and just as quickly fade. We hate to let the peaches go, but can no more hold on to them that the Israelites could store manna from heaven. Hothouse fruit offered in January may tempt, but it always disappoints. Seeking to indulge an unseasonable desire will pull the desire itself out of proportion and warp the soul.

Thanksgiving is a time for thanking God not so much for His last blessing, but because He is God who has new surprises in store for us. Rather than holding on to blessings whose time has passed, or seeking more where they came from, a Christian looks ahead to what the Lord brings next, with open hands and a sense of expectation. Let the peaches go, and enjoy the apples and pears. Let the harvest fruits wither, and embrace the warm tea cup on a cold winter night. Cherish happy moments, but accept sorrow with thanksgiving, knowing that in God's economy nothing is futile.

And hold to no gift but Christ, who holds you.