This spring he put his foot down: “No more tomatoes.” Gardening in North Texas can batter your ego and empty your wallet. You learn what to plant by taking note of what withers in the summer sun. Tomatoes, for instance. Not many delights surpass that of a home-grown tomato still warm from the vine, lightly salted and peppered. But this year it was not to be. Tired of the futility, Jeff decided to leave vacant our raised bed next to the compost pile.
The compost pile: that glorious chicken-wire structure of rotting goodness. Patron saint of gardeners. Colossal eyesore. A steaming homage to our love of eggs, coffee, and the once-fresh produce we were too slow to eat, moldering three feet deep outside the guest room window. Welcome, guests.
For six summers Jeff patiently nursed my fledgling tomato plants, too kind to tell me that my eternal hope for a bumper crop (and my selective memory of the previous summer) was heading me once again toward disappointment. But August said everything he had not, in capital letters.
It’s been a hard spring for my family. The people I love the most have sustained deep hurt and loss. The kind you don’t blog about or tweet about or share on Facebook. “I’m tired of being sad,” I tell my stepmother. “Yes,” she says. One unexpected phone call is hard. When the phone keeps ringing, well, it begins to feel like August. We are withering.
I didn’t look out the guest room window the entire month of May. I didn’t walk down the far side of the house. I didn’t want to gaze on that vacant rectangle of dirt, dotted with decaying eggshells, where my hope of tomatoes used to grow. “Come out here and see this,” he said.
Mint, engulfing half of the bed. Two enormous pumpkin vines in full bloom, scaling the fence, breezily and brazenly trespassing the neighbor’s yard. And ridiculously, a tomato plant. Forbidden. Unbidden. Sometimes compost has a gardening agenda of its own. Despite our resolve to raise the white flag of surrender, to the west of the guest room the Lord God has planted a garden.
We stand there gaping, two quitters thwarted in our quitting, the seeds of our disbelief sprouting into uncontrolled laughter. We are shaking with it. He reaches for an abandoned stake and places it resolutely around the tomato plant. “Maybe I can build an awning to get it through that August sun.”
This ruling and subduing, this fruitfulness and multiplication - it is a tough business, punctuated with the losses of many Augusts. Gardeners know better than most that we reap what we sow. But the gospel gives a better word: we reap what we had no hope of sowing, a miraculous harvest of grace, sprung from the rot, grown in the shade of a good Gardener ever at our right hand.
"The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand." Psalm 121:5