Among the Soil and the Seeds
My love affair with gardening has been a long time developing. If you were to have asked my fifth grade teacher if I’d ever be a gardener, she would have laughed in your face. She’s the one who used to take my books away and make me go outside to play at recess. My parents were and still are avid gardeners. Much of the food I have eaten throughout my lifetime has come from the huge garden plot they have cultivated for years. I now think fondly and gratefully of that garden and their work in it. But as a kid whose main experience of the garden was the “rock parties” that my dad would organize, where we kids would not so gleefully follow along behind the tractor to collect the hundreds of rocks he turned up in the soil, I harbored no love for gardening. Remember, I’d rather be inside with a good book. Over the past five years or so, though, gardening has become one of my passions. And it’s not just because of the food. Don’t get me wrong, a home-grown tomato with some fresh basil and some salt and pepper on it is heavenly in ways that I can’t begin to put into words. One plateful of that nearly makes all the season’s effort and attention worth it. And it’s nice to have an abundance of produce to freeze, can, and save for later in the year, supplementing our more dreary winter diets with an affordable, delectable taste of summer.
But as wonderful as those things are, perhaps the main reason I have come to love gardening is because of the things God teaches me through it. It seems there is always some lesson waiting for me in the midst of the soil and the seeds.
I remember vividly the day a few years ago when God showed me through the emergence of teensy tiny seedlings and my joyful response to them that I was entering into a time of new growth myself. I could see that, like these little “plantlings,” as I fondly call them, I too was emerging from a long winter. And it had entailed some significant dreariness, yes, but it had also been a long winter of rest and of preparation for something new, beautiful, and productive to emerge in my spirit.
Three years ago, our first major garden was an invitation to experiment, to joyfully try new things and not worry too much about whether or not they succeeded. How greatly I need that reminder in my daily life! Things will grow as they will, careful attention can help them along, but in the end it’s not about doing it all perfectly but is rather about the joyful experience.
Two years ago was the summer of squash bugs galore and the hail storm of the century. Rosten and I also happened to unexpectedly be out of town for two months straight, and our friend Bonnie stayed in our home and cared for our garden while we were absent. That year’s gardening adventures were an exercise in letting go of control, for so much was out of our hands while we were a thousand miles away. It was also an opportunity to both give and receive hospitality, welcoming Bonnie to make our home and our intentions for the garden her own, and gratefully receiving the altered plans, plants, and many pickles we returned home to.
Last year God taught me through our gardening exploits a great deal about self-care, taking on too much, and humility. At about 700 square feet of actual planted space, our garden was no small undertaking. Initially I thought the fact that planting time came when I was 8 months pregnant was a challenge—and then I attempted to care for this massive, weed-filled garden while also caring for a temperamental newborn. Ha! Still, though, an escape to the garden was just what I needed from time to time, even if we grew more weeds than harvestable produce last year. And just as taking the time to step away from the demands of a crying baby now and again was essential for my sanity, taking the time to step away from the demands of a busy life is essential for my relationship with God.
Then came the bindweed. This harmless-looking little vine can take over a garden plot in 60 seconds flat, it seems, winding itself around everything in sight and establishing its presence so fully that you’d have to kill the earth to kill it. Because of this nuisance of a weed, our garden this year has been relocated to some raised beds in front of our house. This year, gardening has been about connection. It’s been about seeing my neighbors more often and offering them a taste of the bounty. It’s been about teaching the 8-year-old next door about onions and about joyful, loving relationships at the same time. It’s been about presence and how much of a difference that can make, both for my neighbors and for me.
Gardening this year is also about faith for me. There are a lot of daunting unknowns in my own life right now, as well as in the future of the faith communities I am a part of. This year I’m trying things a little differently and trusting that they will succeed because of what I’ve learned in the past. This year I’m choosing to believe that even if my own efforts fall short or fail that I will still move forward and will be better as a result. This year I am looking at the tiny mustard seeds I plant and am wondering what on earth God might do with them. Because they certainly seem so small, powerless, and inconsequential, but I’ve been told there is promise and potential in them.
So yes, gardening is certainly about the green beans and the watermelon and the endless supply of baseball bat sized zucchini that accumulate on the kitchen counter. But there is so much more to it than that. For God connects with us, speaks to us, and teaches us in a variety of ways, many of them seemingly mundane. God is beckoning to us at the center of all our pursuits, in the midst of the day-to-day rhythms of our existence. We only need ears to hear the lessons being graciously shared among the soil and the seeds.