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
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
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 doanything. 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
It may not stand proud, but our apple tree
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
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.
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.