"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
September 19, 2012
The Little Apple Tree
by Marian Stoddard

A year or so after we moved into our house, there was a knock on the door. The man who knocked had a question, because our homes had been rehabbed on the same program, the same year, and he had had serious problems with the work.

We had had a different contractor (the city picked the bids, we had no say), and had to tell him that although our outfit was not the most competent, they were not crooks, and we couldn't help him with his case. He was very pleasant, we chatted a while, and he went his way.

A couple of days later, he came back. He was a master gardener and had noticed that we had put in some fruit trees inside our back fence, and he wanted to know if we would like to have a new, dwarf apple tree for the side front of the yard. We accepted that kind offer, and it was planted and tended; we anticipated delicious apples, knowing that it would have to grow at least a year or two, possibly three, before it could bear any fruit.

Then one day in its second season, a couple of neighborhood boys were roaming around and showing off, and one decided to play Jack-be-nimble with our little tree. He took a running start, leaping as high as he could, and utterly failed to clear the top of it; in fact he broke it in two, leaving the upper portion, which included every tender branch it had, dangling by a thin strip to the ground. 

When my husband came home, he was very angry, and his first impulse when he saw what had happened was to storm over to somebody's parents. I hadn't seen the action, or I certainly would have intercepted this kid and sent him on his way before he could take that flying leap.

Our only witness was a child, and I'm not sure we even knew which house to go to because the boy didn't live on our block. This little tree had been a gift, and we looked forward to having apples that would be used for pies, cakes, and applesauce through many years to come. Now it was destroyed through a childish, thoughtless impulse.

However, on careful inspection, there was one little nub below the break -- not a branch, but a possibility.

We agreed to watch and see. My husband carefully trimmed the devastated top off clean and watered the remnant of the little tree, and hoped.

One of our daughter's friends came by a few weeks later, and asked her why we were growing a stick in our yard. Our daughter replied that it wasn't a stick; it was her dad's baby apple tree. The friend reacted with complete disdain.

"That's not a tree, it's a stick! It will never do anything. You should get rid of it. Your yard would look much better without it. It's just going to die."

That remnant did not die, and the little nub began to send out shoots of green. They were very few and small that first season, but they gave us hope. They steadily increased, and multiplied, with time, and though the nub was only meant to be a branch, sending out to one side, it became the support of everything that grew out of it, and tilted the little tree-that-came perilously towards the ground with all the weight.

We were afraid that its lopsided growth would cause the roots of the tree to pull out from its other side and topple it, after everything that had happened, so we found a cinderblock and placed it on the ground, wedged beneath that branch-trunk for support. We couldn't allow it to overbalance and uproot, losing the fight after all our patience and faith.

That block pushed up against the trunk held it in place till its own increased strength could bear it up; we had it pruned so as to encourage growth through the almost empty center so that it would become balanced in its structure, and now it thrives. We lost a year's harvest by that move, but gained a good, thick tree. Near the ground, it still goes on a twist sideways, but it is well-rooted and stable.

It may not stand proud, but our apple tree is cherished.

It has been pruned and picked, and cherished. Our formerly-little tree gives delicious apples, huge ones, in abundance, and feeds our family happily all winter. The best year we put up thirty-eight pints of applesauce and four gallon bags of dried apple slices, not counting what we cooked in pies and crisps and ate as we went. The "stick" did indeed do something. It just needed care and time.

Our Heavenly Father likewise keeps hope in each of us, and patience, knowing we can grow. He takes the long view, even when we can't see the hope of results from what we are going through, or any outcome better than the immediate, imperfect one. When our lives are damaged and broken, he still sees more than a doomed, barren stick. He knows whether our roots are still strong, and if he has to work from the level of the roots, he will do that too. He is a much better Gardener than we ever are.

Sometimes his actions are temporarily hard to bear, like the drastic pruning we had to do for the long-term good of our apple tree. He knows what we are capable of, and what we truly need, and guides and prunes our lives to increase our ability to bloom. If we will trust and follow him, he promises we will bear abundant fruit in time.

Like the apple tree, we will eventually bear abundant fruit.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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