I don't know if I had ever tasted persimmons before. They showed up unexpectedly at our doorstep.
No, it wasn't a gracious neighbor dropping them by. They literally fell out of the sky.
Let me back up a bit. We live in a redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's beautiful but sometimes shade from the towering trees can be a bit overpowering. It starts getting dark pretty early at our home. A late afternoon drive into town, just ten minutes away, can feel like we've suddenly changed time zones, moving from the shadows into brilliant sunlight.
So earlier this year, being a thoughtful, problem-solving husband, I surprised my wife, Judy, by cutting down four large deciduous trees on our property while she was away---to help provide more sunlight and to create a better view of our 200-foot redwoods. (We couldn't see the forest for the trees.)
As you might already guess, this was one of those thoughtful surprises that wasn't appreciated to the degree I was hoping. Summer solstice and climate change teamed up for some unseasonable heat. Judy immediately began cherishing the good ol' days of more filtered sunlight.
Some of our shade plants also protested, making it clear they too weren't ready for more sunshine.
(Be patient. Don't lose sight of the big picture. We can plant some new trees that will grow back in twenty years to cover my mistake. What's the big deal!?)
Okay, enough of the downside and my failure to consult with the love of my life. We did have one occupant on our property that welcomed the new burst of sunshine. A sweet, unexpected surprise came in the form of a formerly barren fruit tree---now bearing persimmons!
Never Knew What We Had
We've lived in our current home for 17 years. One of our favorite deciduous trees stands right outside our kitchen door. Great shape, beautiful green leaves, lush, healthy. We never complained about it not producing fruit because it never even crossed out minds that it was a fruit tree. We just appreciated its other qualities.
But once the aforementioned tree-cutting invited more sunshine in, this particular tree surprised us with its deeper, unique, God-ordained purpose: producing persimmons.
Hmmm. It's not much of a stretch to make some spiritual applications. Know any likable, older someones who have yet to discover they were created to bear fruit? Are we as leaders quietly casting large shadows by acquiescing to low late-season expectations---also allowing former bearers of fruit to presume their days of harvest are over?
We hear a lot about the practicality of going after low-hanging fruit. "Go for the easy ones." But in this case I didn't really have a choice. The fruit was all hanging high. It took a tall ladder and a telescoping pole pruner to reach the fruit. I then played a quick-handed game of snip and catch. (For the record, I was 11 for 11 until my streak ended. Then a few plummeting persimmons slipped through my bare-handed grasp. Next time I'll use a baseball glove. :)
Truth is, some of our folks are producing fruit that we as leaders may not easily see or affirm. It may not be of the apple and orange variety that we're used to, and some of it may even seem a bit far-flung, out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Some good fruitfulness is getting overlooked beyond the carefully packaged fruit baskets of our traditional programs of ministry.
Celebrate fruit-bearing wherever it may occur!
We understand how going after low-hanging fruit builds confidence, critical mass and momentum, but let's be honest. There is a lot of high-hanging fruit that we're completely ignoring, and it won't necessarily be reached through formally sanctioned programs of our church.
Some of our adults are going after this high-hanging fruit outside the boundaries of our established programs, and they need to be highlighted and applauded. It counts for the kingdom!
We're told only 1.2% of new Christian converts are over the age of 60, also moving older adults themselves into this hard-to-reach category. This high-hanging fruit can cause some church leaders to wonder if it's worth the effort. But the rewards are eternal and can lead to much more fruit-bearing and life change than our feeble minds can fathom.
Surprisingly, our vine-ripe persimmons are perfectly ripe and very tasty---even though we waited until mid-December to pluck them. It's a strange time of year to be harvesting fruit, but there they were, still clinging to the branches after an early frost helped strip nearly every leaf. Waiting patiently after all these years and late into the season, they were finally picked and appreciated.
I confess that I had some doubts as I looked up at those high-hanging persimmons. Had I waited too long? Will the fruit still be good? Will the risk of climbing a tall ladder be worth it, or am I just pursuing dying, mushy, overripe fruit?
We know some folks in their later seasons of life seem destined to die fruitless, never discovering their greater purpose in life. Sadly, perhaps we and other leaders aren't expecting anything special to emerge from their lives. Their spiritual fruit-bearing potential hasn't even crossed our minds. But they, like our late-harvested persimmon tree, deserve our understanding of who they were meant to be and our enthusiastic support.
Their fruit may show up in higher branches, seemingly out of reach or out of touch with the mainstream. A bit more effort and ingenuity may be needed to steward this less common fruit---to keep it from wasting away on the vine and to avoid being bruised by indifference and unnecessary hard landings.
This can be especially true in the December of life when it's unseasonably late, cold, and difficult---when people are at risk of becoming overly ripe if put off too long.
Thanks, Lord, for this unexpected new gift of persimmons from an older tree we thought was barren! May it remind us of our urgent calling, as we trust You for more late-season December miracles.
These were his instructions to them: "The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields." Luke 10:2 (NLT)