My neighbor called me over to the fence, her hand open and outstretched. There are pecans, she informed me. I've got a whole pocketful of them. She squeezed and the pecan shell crunched, cracked. She peeled off the mottled tan pieces and revealed the prize: a large, wrinkly pecan.
We moved into our home a few years back, and our neighbor had excitedly told us about the pecans that would fall from our tree. How some would fall in our yard, some would fall in hers. How the outer shells would fall away like flower petals. As the days grew cool that year, I eagerly looked at our tree. I noticed the broken brown shells that littered the ground, and the whole shells-pecans intact. Those aren't good, my neighbor would tell me. When they're ready, they'll come apart easily.
We didn't find any good pecans that year....or the next. Earlier this year, I glanced at our tree with my husband. We mused on how we haven't received any pecans from it. About how many leaves the tree dumps down onto the grass. About the long branches that fall off and pile up-a pile that steadily grows before we can completely remove it. I thought about Jesus cursing the fig tree that didn't bear fruit (Mk 11:12-14), and pondered how the tree provides excellent shade in the summer-but it doesn't bear pecans. Maybe we should just get rid of it.
Over the past few weeks, people would ask me if our tree had yielded any pecans-pecans had begun pouring down in some places around our area. No, I'd tell them. We haven't seen any. I'd look out the window, at the tree, and watch squirrels scamper across the branches, stopping to nibble and munch occasionally. No pecans for us, it seemed.
Until that evening, as we raked the yard and played in the quickly dimming light, when my neighbor called me over. Joy burst forth from our hearts as my children and I began a new game, one of hunting pecans. Every time we stepped outside, we'd scan the ground, Our toes would slip between leaves, our eyes would move back and forth. My oldest child would lose interest, and instead pick up the rake to move piles of leaves and sticks around, but I would continue walking, scanning, searching.
Slowly, steadily, a pile began amassing on our kitchen table. One evening, as I waited for the laundry cycle to end so I could put it in the dryer, I watched a show while I peeled pecan after pecan. We may not have found as many as some of our friends, but we found enough. Enough for our Thanksgiving dishes, and enough to share with some neighbors.
Empty pecan shells hang from our tree now, with a smattering of good pecans baiting us, waiting to fall down (unless the squirrels eat them first). I had given up on this tree; I hadn't expected anything good to come from it. But, in an unlikely turn of events, it surprised us with pecans that filled our hands and towered on our table. As my fingers run over the ridged, rounded shells, I think about how some people are like our pecan tree. Seeing how far they've gone without doing anything good, observing how far they are from God, we may want to give up on them; proclaim them to be a "lost cause." But, as a deciduous tree reminded me, we must always have hope-because no one is beyond God's reach.
"Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?" (Ps 139:7)