My husband gripped the tiller’s handles and passed over the patch once, twice, three times, turning up as many rocks as dirt. Our son gleefully collected all the rocks in a bucket, and with every bit of dirt turned up, a dream began to take shape.
We could almost taste the cucumbers, see the bright red tomatoes hanging from the vines. A once-ordinary piece of land would become something extraordinary.
Now maybe a garden is nothing extraordinary to you. We come from a land where farms stretch as far as your eyes can see, where backyard gardens aren’t unheard of. Even where we live now, the land yields a bountiful harvest. Gardening, I thought, was nothing to write home about.
This summer marks three years since we moved into the farmhouse. We only inhabit the first floor, and there’s no “farm” left. We are surrounded on all sides by houses and businesses. Only my imagination can conjure up images of what it used to be.
It is a partial dream, this rental home. The L-shaped porch is the envy of every new visitor and the only real reason I even considered looking at this property in the first place. We have license to care for the property as if it is our own, though it will always be someone else’s and eventually, someday, we will leave.
Maybe these are all reasons to not turn up the soil and plant a garden. We can’t take it with us, after all. Why should we bother settling in and planting when it will all be someone else’s?
I think of the words often attributed to Martin Luther about if the world were to end tomorrow, he would plant a tree today. And the ones from a prophet who spoke to those in captivity:
Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. … Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.“
I have never been one to settle down easily. Though I long for a place to truly call “home,” I find that my heart, my mind, my feet begin to itch for wandering if I stay too long in one place. Too often I think that a new location will lead to a new me. If only we had our own house. If only we lived in a neighborhood. Then we could do the things we dream of.
The last house we lived in, we stayed for five years. I was sure our stay would be a year or two at most. When I got my first job out of college, I thought maybe I’d stay for a few months. I was there for seven years. For whatever reason, my spirit wants to go, to move on, to find the next thing, yet God gives me reason to stay.
The earth turns on its axis and takes its turns around the sun. Days and years pass, each one different than I expected. I am still longing for a home of our own, a place we can plant ourselves and begin doing the work we believe God has called us to do.
But I’m beginning to see that the work is always in front of us, no matter the patch of earth we might inhabit.
As we turned the soil, we drew attention. Our neighbors to the southwest offered us advice about putting a fence around the garden to keep the rabbits out. They watched as we toiled.
In the process of turning up the grass for the dirt below, our spade broke. Our gardening tools are limited at best, and as we dug and raked, another neighbor stopped by.
Three years, remember, we’ve lived here, and this man, I believe, runs the business behind our house. We have waved in passing, but I have never approached for conversation because that’s not what I do. It takes me months, years sometimes, to work up the nerve to talk to strangers, even if they are neighbors. It’s not because I’m stuck-up. I’m just terrified of making conversation, of being awkward in my attempts at friendship.
So it shocked me when this man crossed the parking lot behind our house and offered an array of gardening tools for us to use. We could keep them as long as we needed to. He told me his name, gave me his business card so we could call if we needed anything. We thanked him.
When the soil was ready, we shopped for plants and spent another evening putting them in the ground. Our neighbor to the northwest noticed and brought over a tomato plant, offering it to us to put in our garden. I don’t know if she doesn’t like tomatoes or didn’t have room in her garden or even if she has a garden or not. This neighbor we at least talk to and know her name. She enjoys our kids and makes conversation with all of us. We hadn’t planned on another tomato plant, but we made room.
That same day, I think, some kids showed up from the apartment building nearby. One of the girls is a classmate of our daughter. We had no idea she lived there. They saw us outside and wondered what we were doing. They helped us water the plants and unroll the fencing. One of the girls said that she had a small plant she brought home from school.
“What are you going to do with it?” I asked.
“Would you like to plant it here and come visit it and see how it’s doing?”
Her eyes widened and she ran home to get her little bean plant in a plastic cup. We planted it in the ground and watered it. It now has its own corner of the garden.
When the plants were all in the ground and the fence was all in place, I sat inside the house in awe of what had happened.
We planted a garden. No big deal. But for some reason it sparked something in our neighbors. We didn’t set out to plant a community garden but somehow planting a garden has fostered a sense of community.
We can’t wait to share the bounty of the garden with anyone and everyone.
I struggle with wanting to do GREAT BIG THINGS for God. My husband has a degree from seminary. He manages a cafe. I’m a professional writer with two kids in my care. We have a heart to serve/encourage/minister but are not yet clear on what shape it will take.
Maybe we make it more complicated than we need to.
Maybe we just need to plant a garden. Show up. Stay. Invite people into something seemingly ordinary.
I don’t know what God is going to do with this garden. It’s growing without much intervention, and the communal feel of it has worn off a bit in the meantime.
So, we actively wait for the fruit of our labors.
Maybe there is something holy in all of this staying and waiting.