Thursday’s Thoughts: Why I Grow Purple Beans (Finale)

Resuming the continuing saga of my gardening adventures:

We were married in 1975. The only year we didn’t have a garden was 1987. The following year, my interest in growing things began to develop into a near-obsession. Or at least, a strong preoccupation. Even though we no longer participated in a farmer’s market, a significant portion of my year was centered around gardening. I tried new things, new varieties, new techniques.

Since Craig was always busy, most of the gardening work was left up to me, except for using the rototiller. (If I were to use the tiller, I’d probably cut off my foot. We both prefer to leave the use of dangerous machines to Craig, who speaks their language.)

But I was happy to take ownership of the garden. It was a creative outlet (I wasn’t writing in those days) and gave me an escape, as I could sometimes leave the younger kids in the care of the older ones while I went out to weed. Even when the babies were no longer babies, I seldom had voluntary company in the garden. If they came out when I worked, it was because they needed me for something, not because they wanted to help.

Our three daughters, September 1993. I call this shot “Children of the Corn.”

Which is not to say I never enlisted their services; they always cooperated when I asked. They just didn’t go out of their way to offer.

Having no garden in 1987 gave me a new attitude on the whole thing. But another event later shifted my perspective again. I don’t remember the year, but all four of the kids were still living at home, so it must have been before 1996.

That spring started out rather dry, as I recall. I remember Craig and me – and possibly the kids as well – hurrying to get everything planted one weekend in mid- to late-May. We wanted to get everything in before a predicted rain arrived. The skies grew cloudy, and as if confirming the forecast, flies kept biting me on the ankles (which is supposed to be a harbinger of rain). We put in the various seeds, then planted and watered all the tomato, pepper, and other plants we’d purchased. (Nowadays I start all my plants from seed, but we were still buying them then.) Our job concluded, we went in and cleaned up, waiting for the skies to open up and give the earth some much-needed moisture.

But the rain didn’t come. Not that weekend, and not the whole next week. I went out every day and watered the new little plants we’d just put in, to keep them alive. But we couldn’t water the whole big garden.

This went on for two weeks. Thanks to my watering efforts, the little plants survived. But though gardens can survive with watering, they can’t thrive without rain. The seeds didn’t come up, and the existing plants didn’t grow. Everything just sat there. Except for some hardy weeds, which found enough moisture to sprout even though the veggies couldn’t seem to.

I can’t explain my response to this situation, because it was completely illogical, and completely not “me.” As I briefly mentioned Monday, I struggled with severe depression before I came to know Jesus, and I’ve never had a problem with it again. But I came close that summer the garden didn’t want to come up.

By this time, a large part of my identity in the garden; it was what I did, and I was proud of it. Having done all I could do, but without result, I took it extremely hard. I felt like an utter failure.

I knew I shouldn’t feel that way. It was irrational! But I couldn’t help what I felt. For no real reason, that was a very low point in my life. I quit watering the tomato and pepper plants. I quit caring about anything. If not for the fact that I had a family to feed and keep in clean clothes, I might have just curled up and slept all day. I mean, I was seriously bummed.

Then one afternoon, three or four weeks after we planted the garden, it rained. And it rained. I don’t remember how long, but it was a long time, maybe a couple of days. It cheered me, but not much. I hadn’t checked on my little plants or my seeds for so long, I figured the plants had died from neglect and the birds had eaten all the seeds, and nothing would be in the garden but the weeds that I’d allowed to grow for fear of disturbing the unsprouted seeds.

However long it rained, by Saturday morning it had quit. In the kitchen preparing to make my usual Saturday morning breakfast of pancakes, I glanced out the window, and something caught my eye. “Hey!” I said. “There’s a heifer on our hill.”

Craig came to look. Sure enough, a young Holstein ambled across our property.  Then another appeared, and another. A whole herd of young black and white bovines was passing through, apparently having escaped from whatever pasture they’d been in.

The next neighbor in the direction the heifers were headed had a fenced pasture. So we called the neighbor, explained the situation, and asked if we could round up the cattle and herd them into her pasture and hold them there until we could locate their owner.

So that’s what we did. Craig and I and the neighbor, and possibly some of the kids, I don’t remember, went running around, up and down the hill, crashing through brush, waving our arms and shouting, getting the obstinate creatures through the gate into the fenced area. It was an exciting time. Thanks to all the rain, we were soaking wet and covered with mud, but we’d had our work-out for the morning (before breakfast, yet!) and had done our neighborly good deed.

Isn’t exercise supposed to boost your mood? In that case, it didn’t. Not much, anyway. As I walked back to the house from the neighbor’s, I saw the garden sported a pattern of huge holes from where a couple of the animals had galumphed through the mud, sinking in deeply.

Grimly curious what sort of damage they might have caused, I stopped to take a look. After a little searching, I found the neglected tomato and pepper plants. To my surprise, they were rather perky, boasting fresh new growth – and they were untrampled. I looked elsewhere. What’s this? Row of little bean stems unfurling. Bright green pea leaves peaking through the soil. Were my seeds coming up? I looked further.

Cucumber plants spread their smooth seed leaves in the sun. Dark shoots of beet greens, little spears of sweet corn, delicate, ferny carrot leaves, all emerged from the wet ground. My seeds were up! Hallelujah! I had a garden! And by some amazing happenstance, every one of those gargantuan hoof craters was between the rows. They didn’t trample a single plant!

I sank into the soft mud almost as far as the hooved visitors, so I didn’t linger long. But as I made my way out of the shoe-sucking mess, amazed at the unexpected appearance of all those wonderful little veggie plants, I was awash in a flood of warm emotion, as if God said to me, “Of course they’re growing. You planted them, didn’t you?”

All in an instant, I recalled passages in the Scriptures about sowing and reaping, about planting seeds then stepping back and letting God do the rest, and especially, Isaiah 61:11: “For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”

What sprouted from that wet soil was not chance. It was not delayed inevitability. Nor was it validation of my worth as a person (which was very near to the terms I’d been seeing it in) or vindication of my skill as a gardener. It was a gentle reminder of the eternal transcendence of the Almighty God.

For as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth without my manipulating a thing, so will God cause the seeds I sow in prayer to spring forth and bear fruit. I have His holy guarantee on that. My purple beans are an annual testimony of this unalterable truth.

Or, as I learned in my childhood, carrots grow from carrot seeds.

Amen.

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