Friday, February 28, 2014

Reprint of "Hunting for Tomatoes"

            Okay, I’m going to admit it . . . just say it out loud honestly . . . “It’s not fair.”
            It’s not fair . . . it’s not fair . . . it’s not fair! 
            My whole summer has been ruined by a careless neighbor.  The neighbor’s garage is right behind our property, just five feet from our lovely garden.  And every year, we have noticed a smell, but we never could figure out where it was coming from.  Well, this year, my husband finally realized that it’s the neighbor’s garage.  The windows are broken and it’s piled up with rotting, “hoarder” garbage.  Old appliances and boxes and papers.  And it reeks of mold so bad that we haven’t been able to go out in the garden for the last six weeks.  And since they are directly west of us, the smell (and spores) blows all over us almost every day.  And so we haven’t let our kids outside except for a handful of times in the last six weeks.  (This was written in late-September 2014 and originally posted in July's posts, but I have reposted it in the gardening series since it relates to gardening, too.) 
            The kicker is that we came from a very moldy rental that was making us sick.  And my one big prayer was that God would bring us a healthy home.  Well, the home He brought us is fairly healthy, but now we have to deal with someone else’s mold.  And although I have called the city twice (they only told the people that they have to clean up the outside of the garage and replace the window) and I emailed the owners twice (God-willing they do the right thing and clean it up properly), no one has done anything about it yet. 
            So every day, I look out into an un-used yard . . . and at the weedy garden . . . and at all the vegetables that I left to rot because I can’t be out there for more than a few minutes before I have to cover my face with my shirt (and I don’t want us eating mold spores) . . . and my heart breaks and I sigh.  The only thing I have been able to harvest is a bunch of tomatoes and some parsley.  But all the kale, chard, beans, peppers (which didn’t grow well anyway), strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries have been left to rot. 
            I’ve been so frustrated because I don’t know what I can do about it.  It’s not my property and the city will only do so much and the owners (who don’t live there) couldn’t care less because they are not around it all the time and have no idea how bad it smells.  It’s not blowing all over them all day.  It’s blowing all over my family.  It’s not going to affect their health.  It’s going to affect ours. 
            For weeks, I have lamented about these things to myself and to the Lord.  And one day, as I was standing in my kitchen slicing up a bunch of tomatoes to dehydrate for winter, I was mourning the loss of all the other veggies.  Of the joy of gardening for the summer.  Of the opportunity to play in the yard.  I know that winter is right around the corner, and we barely got a summer. 
            “Lord, it’s not fair.  I lost a whole summer outside and a whole year’s worth of home-grown veggies and a whole year of my favorite hobby, gardening.  Lord, it’s just not fair.  Didn’t I ask for a healthy home, and now I have to deal with a neighbor’s mold?  Why do all the blessings seem to fall apart somehow?  Why can’t I ever really just be happy?  All of the kale and chard that we could have used for salads is wasted.  All of the beans that I could have frozen for the winter.  All of the rotting berries that the wasps are enjoying because we can’t.”    
            And this opened a floodgate of other frustrations and “unanswered prayers” and un-fulfilled longings.  Same old song all over again.  Loneliness, failure, never being able to do enough, always feeling overlooked, waiting on God for answers to simple prayers that I thought He would grant but hasn’t yet.  How long do you hang in there in faith?  Can you ever really be sure about an “answer” that you thought would come?  Why do so many prayers go unanswered?  Why do things come so easily to some people while others have to struggle all the time?  Why do so many hardships and disappointments come with the blessings?  Or is it that the blessings come through the hardships and disappointments?  Why do I still feel like God is so distant and silent and like my faith is so dry despite the fact that I desperately seek Him daily?  What am I doing wrong?  Why are so many relatives still unbelievers despite the fact that I pray and pray for them?  Why can’t Jesus just come back now and right all wrongs? 
            And as I complained, God drew my attention to the tomatoes that I was laying out onto the dehydrator and He whispered to my heart, “You have enough tomatoes to dry a bunch of them for winter.  You could have lost all those, too.  I didn’t have to let you keep the tomatoes, but you have enough for a lot of stews and soups and to share.  That’s a blessing.”
            I literally stopped in my tracks, humbled by God’s goodness to me.  Goodness that I was slicing up by dozens and drying for winter.  Goodness that I overlooked as I complained about all that I lost and all that I wasn’t getting.  And my heart softened and I prayed, “Lord, Thank You for the tomatoes!”  And I meant it.  I really meant it!
            How many other “tomatoes” do I miss out on while I’m busy complaining about all that’s not going the way I want it to?  There will always be trials and disappointments.  There will always be hardships to bring us down.  But we have to hunt for the blessings and set our minds on those so that the trials don’t swallow us whole. 
            Yes, I have almost no contact with family and friends, but I do have one friend that I am getting closer to every week.  That’s a tomato. 
            I have loads of laundry I can’t get to and piles of dirty dishes to tackle every day and a house full of undone repairs, but we have clothes and we have dishes and we have a roof over our heads.  Those are tomatoes. 
            I might have lost all the garden beans I could have saved, but we have enough money to buy food from the store.  Tomato!
            I’m always afraid that I’m going to fail my kids when it comes to homeschooling, but I have healthy, happy children who have committed their lives to the Lord.  And I do my best to raise them in the Lord and to grow their minds, even if I can’t do it as perfectly as I wish I could.  And I have a wonderful husband and a secure, safe, enjoyable marriage.  And I know that, for the most part, when I stand before the Lord, I will be confident that I prioritized well and that I poured myself faithfully into the job that He wanted me to do: raise my children, love my husband, and serve my family.  Tomatoes!
            Despite the fact that I shared these blogs with many people that I know, no one has bothered to read them or to encourage me in them.  [I had it in my heart that before I gave up on sharing these blogs with people I know, I had to give it to my church.  It seemed right to make a point of sharing it with my home church.  And then I could be done.  So I posted the blog address in the comment section of my church’s blog.  And someone from church actually looked up two posts, one was the intro to the Bible Study.  But the very next post on the church’s blog was about the “dangers of doing Bible study on your own, without input from other godly sources.”  It seemed to be in direct response to what they read on my blog.  The thing is, no one even bothered to read the Bible study or other posts and to see how “on track” the stuff I write is.  (At least, I think it's on track.  Hope, hope!)  I felt so misunderstood.  But I have decided that this was my last attempt to share my blog with people I know.  I’m done.  The most embarrassing part was that I sent a comment to that post saying that I agreed with them, that I know someone who studies the Bible without any input from other sources and they come up with some wild, off-base ideas.  I hit "send comment" just moments before I realized that the post was most likely in response to what they read on my blog.  How humiliating!  I'll be hiding my head and my blog now.]
            Anyway, so no one I know wants to read it, but it fills my heart to write anyway, and it is godly stuff that will hopefully be a light to others who are looking for encouragement online, and it is there for my children when I am gone.  I do not feel like I have wasted my time.  I have done my best to glorify God and share His love, healing, and Truth.  (Even if this whole experience greatly broke my heart.)  Tomatoes!  Tomatoes!  Tomatoes!
            And as long as I’m counting blessings, I may as well add in there all the things that haven’t happen but could have.  I have never sliced a finger off in all the years I have chopped vegetables.  Every fever in my family has eventually gone away with no lasting problems.  We’ve never been in a tragic car accident.  We’ve never been attacked by wild animals.  We’ve never run out of gas on the side of the road at night in the middle of nowhere.  We’ve never had a life-threatening illness or wound.  I didn’t get tetanus or slice a major artery when I shish-kabobbed myself on my trellis.  Despite my constant warnings that it’s going to happen if they’re not careful, my kids have never fallen off of anything and cracked their heads open.  We’ve never had our teeth knocked out.  I can’t even begin to count the tomatoes that have never happened and that I so rarely remember to be thankful for!      
            Besides bringing to my attention all of these blessings, God also reminded me of how life isn’t fair . . . and that I should be thankful for it.  Why do I get to live a healthy life in America while others are dying of Ebola in South Africa?  Why do I enjoy certain religious freedom (although those are quickly being eroded) while others are losing their lives and heads for their faith under intense religious persecution?  Why do I have a roof over my head while others are homeless and have no family to go home to?  Why do I have a husband I love while others would give anything to be married or have a “safe” spouse?  Why did I get four healthy children? 
            If I want to talk about fair, I need to think of those who are really suffering and how hard it must be for them, how they would give anything to have the problems I have.  Someone always has it harder than us.  And this should always be at the forefront of our minds.  It should humble us and drive us to our knees in thankfulness.  The problem is, though, that we are too busy looking at people who have it better than us.  And this makes us ungrateful, indignant, whiny, envious, and discontent. 
            The only way to really be content with our lives – even with the trials and disappointments and heartaches - is to compare our situation with those who have it harder than we do, not easier.  And to look for the blessings that God has given us.  Because they are there, even in the midst of pain.  This makes us humble, thankful, and more content.  And it softens our heart toward those who have it worse, prompting us to pray for or reach out to those in need. 
            It’s a good thing that life isn’t fair . . .  because it wasn’t fair to Jesus that He had to come to earth and die for my sins so that I could live.  But He did it anyway.  If life were fair, I’d have no chance of getting to Heaven.  We all deserve hell.  So thank God that life isn’t about what’s “fair.”
            I have been blessed in so many ways, so many basic “easy to overlook” ways.  But I am making it my goal to “hunt for tomatoes.”  I know that winter is going to be rough in many ways.  I am prone to depression and loneliness.  I get really hard on myself and really stir-crazy during these long winters.  And I am often frustrated that things go so wrong and that others seem to sail through life.  And so, in my kitchen I have posted myself a little reminder: a picture of a child with his arms full of tomatoes.  Every day I look at this picture and smile. 
            The garage is still sitting there uncleaned and my yard is still empty and the kale sits untouched, but I am going to count the blessings instead of the losses and struggles.  I am going to be thankful that life isn’t fair . . . that despite being a sinner, God loved me enough to die in my place so that I could live eternally with Him in heaven.  And I’m going to say, “Thank You, Lord, for the tomatoes!”  It does wonders for my soul!