Saturday, June 8, 2019

A Garden of Hope & Futility

I love gardening.  And I hate gardening. I love the harvest, until it becomes too much, and my days are spent canning and freezing and pickling when I’d rather be sitting down with my swollen feet up and a book in my lap.  I love the time spent outside, until the sun gets so hot on my neck that sweat forms under my shirt collar and runs down my back, but I can’t quit just yet because rain is coming tomorrow so the seed must get planted today.  I love watching my children push seeds into the ground and teaching them where some of their food comes from, until they decide to bicker over who gets to plant the watermelons, and whine about the gnats around their eyes.  I love watching my plants grow and bloom, counting each head of cabbage, and imagining plates full of fresh broccoli, crunchy salads and sweet corn ready by the 4th of July, but then the rain stops, the bugs come, the plants struggle, and I hate watching my hopes wither and die.

Hope.  If gardening is anything, it is an act of hope. But as with most of my life, what is often an act of hope more often plays out as an effort in futility, and this year has been no exception. What began as a great gardening season in April and early May was beginning to look like a lost cause by mid-May, when the rain stopped for three weeks and temperatures hit ninety day after day.  It couldn’t have come at a worst time, when the plants were still young and tender, just forming their roots.  The heat gave the insect pests the advantage as squash bugs, cabbage loopers and potato bugs arrived ahead of schedule, and took their toll on the already stressed, young plants.  

Each morning, I tended my garden and watched the scenario play out.  Sweet potato vines that hadn’t had rain since I’d set them out drooped and dropped their leaves.  Last year, I grew 40 pounds of sweet potatoes, a first for me, and our family ate them throughout the winter.  This year, I’d hoped to grow at least that many or more, but by the end of May, that hope was gone.  Our sweet corn, which I’d planted early enough to produce a crop by the 4th of July, only had about a 20% germination rate, so I replanted, but the lack of rain left the seed dry in the ground for weeks.  The onions flowered before setting on bulbs, and the broccolli bolted and was riddled with cabbage looper holes, along with the Brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.  Strawberries, which had been doing well, stopped producing and in only two weeks, the strawberry season was over.

On the last day in May, I went out to the garden to replant the corn for the third time.  There was a 30% chance of rain the next day, more than had been forecast for the past two weeks, and it was my last chance. If the rain came, the garden could be saved, or at least most of it, but if it didn’t, that was it.  There’d be no saving most of it, other than the tomatoes and peppers.  My rain barrel was empty and we’d done as much as we could with a watering can.  What the garden needed now only God could provide.  It was all out of my hands.  “I did my part, God.  Now, I need you to do yours.  Please don’t let me down.”   It’s a prayer that I’ve said hundreds of times, but probably haven’t said nearly enough.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I love gardening.  And why I hate gardening.  It’s also why I love being married.  And I hate being married.  And why I love parenting.  And hate parenting.  So much in my life feels like a love-hate relationship because I have bought into the idea that if I do my part, if I only work harder, pray harder, try harder, change this, change that, do this, do that, then I can produce my desired outcome.  My marriage will be happier, my children will behave better, and finally, the garden of my life will not only grow, it will thrive.  And when it doesn’t?  When I see those relationships struggling, withering, slowly dying, my response too often has been, “I did my part.  Now, you do yours.”

But just like God, my family will not be bullied.  Doing my part, no matter the level of effort and sweat and determination I put into it, does not guarantee a certain result.  Whether it’s planting the corn for the third time, or getting a little too firm with the toddler who still refuses to pee in the potty after 10 days of potty-training, doing my part will only take me so far.  And when I hit that limit, when I crash full speed into that wall that is all too familiar, I want to just nurse my wounds and run away.  “I did my part!”, I’ll scream to myself and to God, and every part of my heart and soul is ready to call it quits.  

Yet, each year, I plant a garden.  Each day, I get out of bed, hug my children, kiss my husband.  I planted the corn three times, and this last time, it rained the next day.  And the next, and the next, and today, we are into our fourth consecutive day of rain and cooler temperatures.  The broccoli, which was all but lost, is almost ready to harvest, the lettuces are giving us more salads than we can possibly eat, the sweet potatoes are starting to sprout new leaves, and in the middle of it all are five rows of single blades of green, all lined up neatly pointing to heaven, reminding me that God always does his part.