Last year, I decided I wanted a lemon tree. My husband and I picked out the healthiest one we could find at our local landscaping store, carefully wrapped it in plastic and slid it sideways into the back of my SUV for the short trip home. Once there, we transferred the tree into the new pot I had purchased specifically for it, filled in the empty spots with dirt specially formulated for fruit trees and dragged the whole heavy thing out to the sunniest area we could find on our back patio.
I remember standing and staring at that new tree with great anticipation, certain I was just months away from years of effortless fruit picking.
I chuckled at that memory yesterday as my husband and I hoisted that lemon tree onto a dolly and wheeled it through the house back to its spot at the far corner by the pool. We were out of town for the past three weeks and had moved it to the front yard and wrapped a dribbler hose around its trunk so it wouldn’t die of thirst while we were gone.
That crazy tree has more miles on it than most people’s bicycles- I am sure of it. We have wheeled it indoors for at least three threatening hurricanes and changed its location dozens of times because of extreme heat, strong wind or too much rain.
And that’s not even the half of it..
There’s the expensive, organic fertilizer I use that smells like poo and drives our puppy insane. After getting a few face fulls of the stuff, we had to make a grate that would prevent the dog from continuously trying to eat that enriched, stinky soil.
There were the incessant gnat attacks that necessitated hanging those unattractive sticky strips from the limbs of the tree. When that didn’t keep the gnats away, I tried red wine traps, vinegar traps and covering the base with saran wrap. (Nothing worked by the way.)
As the tree got larger, it started listing to one side. My husband made a wood support that looks like a crutch, but it was so ugly I insisted that he spray paint it green to blend in better.
Then came the onslaught of white flies.
This was a terrible summer for those dastardly bugs and the toll was heavy, not just for my lemon tree but for my psyche as well. I was obsessed with fly-eradication and spent many, many evenings tenderly hand washing the leaves of the tree and its green lemons to remove the slime trails, white eggs and black soot that kept appearing. The worst of the infested leaves and branches had to be cut, eventually distorting the once beautiful shape of my tree.
Way too much money was spent on organic pesticides that probably were nothing more than shampoo mixed with water… (and didn’t work anyway) but I kept at it.. My tree had about twenty, perfect, unripe lemons on it and I was totally committed to the goal of getting those beauties lemon meringue pie ready.
And then came that fateful, October day..
My husband was outside for hours washing down the screened pool enclosure. “What a job that was..” he sighed as he cracked open a beer later that evening “glad I was able to get all that mildew off the metal.”
The next morning, as I sat out back drinking my coffee, I thought I noticed something odd out about my tree. I walked over and to my absolute horror, every single lemon had pock marks on it..deep, tan divots etched into the green skin of each.. and every.. fruit.
WHAT ON EARTH…???
..and then it hit me.
The detergent my husband had used to clean the screen enclosure had dripped onto my poor lemon tree and burned the fruit.
All the fertilizing,
the hand washing,
the moving of the pot here and there,
in and out..
after ALL of that,
my husband nuked my lemon tree.
And this is where the story of the lemon tree becomes a story about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the welcome mat that graces the threshold of every solid relationship. This is the spot where we are invited to wipe the slate clean of our misdeeds and mistakes.
But what about mud that is stuck to my boot you might ask, or pock marks burned into the tender skin of unripened lemons? What about damage that cannot be undone? How do we prevent that muck from being dragged into our relationships and creating a mess deep inside?
Even though I forgave my husband, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that every time I looked at my lemon tree I wasn’t reminded of his carelessness. There was a very big part of me that wanted to clip off every last defective looking piece of fruit, the sight of which kept dredging up renewed anger over what could not be undone. There was another part of me that wanted to be finished with it all- just wheel that dumb tree to the curb for some other starry-eyed, fruit loving schmuck to take home. I mean this tree was a lot of work..maybe too much work for me. It’s one thing to devote myself to caring for perfect lemons, but now I was working just as hard to care for lemons that looked awful with NO hope of being perfect no matter what I did!
As is often the case at moments like this, I think about my relationship with God. Forgiveness is the cornerstone of my faith and the bible tells me I am forgiven every single time I ask. Does that mean the consequences of my transgressions are magically undone, no. It just means that God continues to care for me in spite of the mistakes I’ve made. I am one seriously messed up lemon, I will NEVER be perfect, but still– He sticks with me. God isn’t distracted by my beat up outer skin, He is focused on the harvest. So I have decided to use my ugly tree as an object lesson of that beautiful truth.
Last night, as I rotated my lemon tree trying to find a “good side,” one large, ripe lemon fell to the ground and rolled to my feet. I picked it up, took that ugly thing into the kitchen, washed it off real good and sliced it right through the middle.
It was absolutely beautiful inside.