A few weeks ago, a friend was telling me about her recent trip to Napa Valley. I’ve never been to Napa, but typically when friends are telling me about their trips to the wine country, their stories are colored with which vineyard had the best wine, the best vineyard tours, cute boutique hotels, etc.
Not so with this friend. She said one of the highlights of her trip was learning the far-reaching lesson about which grapes make the best wine. She was astonished to learn that the grapes that struggle – not grapes that are coddled and fussed over – make the best wine.
As any vintner (a Fancy Nancy word for wine maker) knows, the grapes that struggle to get water yield the best wine-making grapes. The beautiful rolling hills of a vineyard are no coincidence – the grapes are grown on slopes so the water runs off and the vine doesn’t sit in moist soil. The object is to stress the vine to “work” for water. Too much water and the vine gets lazy and the grapes get too big. The beautiful, plump juicy grapes, while engaging to look at, make terrible wine. Swill, if you will.
Struggle and stress as an intentional means to produce the best fruit? The goal for the grape is excellent wine, but we each have trials in our lives that serve a much loftier purpose. Our struggles often shape, for better or worse, the person we ultimately become. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must also finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
A trial should be considered pure joy? I’ve read that verse during some of my life’s trials and not been able to agree at that moment. At other times I’ve read that verse and found it down right insulting. Pure joy? This trial that is bringing me to my knees? No, there is nothing joyful about this trial. But just like there is a bigger picture for the wine grapes as they struggle, there is also a bigger picture for each and every one of our human trials.
The struggling grape has no idea it’s bound for greatness. And so often, we don’t see how the excruciating trial we are going through will yield anything past our current heartache. I see this so vividly in my own family. Both my mother and my mother-in-law lost their own precious mothers when they were teenagers. Neither my mother nor mother-in-law had their mothers with them at their weddings, at the births of their children or any other significant (or mundane) event past their teen years. My mother and mother-in-law have ached the loss of losing their own mothers so early in life. Both of their situations could easily beg the question, “How could ANYTHING good come from their significant losses?”
But the tears they’ve sown have reaped a bountiful harvest of multi-generational blessings. Where my mother and mother-in-law did not have their own mothers to help them navigate adulthood and motherhood, I’ve received a double portion. They know what it’s like to want for a mother and they’ve made sure I want for nothing. For my whole adult life, my mom has lived two hours away from me, yet, she has always acted like she lives around the corner. She can easily come over to help me with anything I might even just think I need. She’s there in a two-hour jiffy and she’s quite literally helped me raise my children. Likewise, when my three children were little, my mother-in-law would call me on Mondays and ask when she could come over that week to watch the kids so I could run errands sans children. Now she puts a call out toward the end of the week to see if we or any of her other adult children need a date night babysitter for the weekend.
Are you kidding me? Who is this wealthy with motherly love and support? And I could go on, and on (and still on) about the ways they have poured themselves out like a drink offering to me in my adult life.
It would be an embarrassment of riches, except I know what it cost.
I’m not grateful they lost their mothers. I’m not thankful they’ve had to bear the pain of missing their mothers for most of their lives. However, I will not waste their pain. I cannot be anything but utterly tears-at-the-mention grateful and thankful to be the beneficiary of their struggles.
Even so, sometimes we don’t get to see how God will work everything – even the most hurtful things – for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28) In that case, we need only turn to the back of the Book to see how every struggle will turn out:
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)
Whatever trial you are going through or have endured, He will address it. That’s what our God does with trials. He is in the business of redeeming and making beautiful stories out of tattered pages. And who knows, that heartache that is gripping you now may be just what He uses to beautifully impact future generations.
Written in loving memory of women I never knew, Florence Hawk Seeney and Mary Katherine Spencer Jamison. You would be so proud of your daughters.