Friday, February 28, 2014

The Battle Is Worth It!

            Well, this post brings me to the end of my “garden” series.  The last plants I’m going to talk about are my fruit plants.  Particularly about the raspberries and blackberries. 

            I also have strawberries (which I’ve already talked about), rhubarb (technically not a fruit), blueberries, currants, gooseberries, honeyberries and bush cherries.  But these plants are still young and haven’t produced much.  So the only thing that I can say about all these is that I pray (I really do pray for my plants) that they grow strong and provide us with a lot of fruit to eat fresh and extra to freeze.      
            I love the idea of growing fruit.  I would have an orchard if I could, growing apples, peaches, cherries, plums, etc.  (Oh, and I dream and pray for chickens and bees.  But our city doesn’t allow chickens right now.  But I have a feeling God is working on that.)  But we don’t have that much space.  And since I am committed to growing things organically, I fear that I couldn’t give the trees the proper care they need to keep them bug- and disease-free.  So small fruit plants are ideal for me.  Especially ones that grow up more branches from the base.  That way, if the plant gets ruined one year, it will still come back the next.
            This is why I love raspberries and blackberries.  I have 3 little patches of ground dedicated to these berries.  In one section, I cut off the bottoms of 12” pots and sunk the raspberry plants into the ground to help contain the roots.  This bed contains Caroline, Heritage, Anne, Killarney, Latham, Kiwigold and Red Thornless raspberries, and Ebony King and Darrow blackberries.  I used to have Autumn Britten raspberries, but the berries performed so poorly in the half-shaded spot (small, hard, barely ripening) that I tore them out.
            This patch is a little mish-moshed, I know.  I set the blackberries right next to the raspberries, mixed the summer-bearing with the ever-bearing, mixed the yellows with the reds, and set this whole patch right next to the second raspberry bed, the black raspberries.  It’s a no-no to plant black raspberries next to red because the red can spread diseases to the black.  But since we don’t have a huge chunk of land to keep them far apart and since the black raspberries were free ones that I took from our last backyard, I decided to take my chances.  And if I lose them, I lose them.  But they are so worth trying.
            Red raspberries are wonderful, of course, but I think the black are even better.  (Black raspberries are not the same as blackberries, though.  They are different plants and very different tasting.)  There is a deeper flavor to them, a more grounded flavor than the sweet-tart red raspberries.  Unfortunately, black raspberries don’t produce as much as red.  But I was completely sold on them the first year we had them in our last backyard. 
            I had dug them up from the far part of the backyard (they were creeping over from the neighbor’s yard) and I put them in a pot.  And as they grew, I tied them up so they would stand upright.  They eventually became this huge fountain of lush green leaves.  And then for weeks, they produced tiny little sprays of berries.  And every day, I would watch the kids (and us parents) walking around the fountain, picking and savoring the tiny blacks treats. 
            There is nothing as delightful as walking into your own backyard and leisurely picking sweet little treats like that, especially given that we hardly buy them in the store because these berries are expensive.  And we try to eat organically as much as possible, but organic berries are even more expensive and harder to come by.  And we just don’t have the money for those kinds of luxuries sometimes.  But growing them ourselves, well, that’s just right for us.
            If you were only going to grow one raspberry (red or black), make it Caroline.  A red one.  (It grows well in my zone 5.)  Of all the ones I have, Caroline is the best tasting and the best producer, even in the part shade that it gets, tucked back there behind the garage.  It tastes the way a real raspberry should.  And even though it’s supposed to be like Heritage, it grows better because it ripens a little earlier.  And in my area, along with the shade, those few weeks make a big difference between lots of berries and barely any.  I may end up taking out the Heritage and replacing it with Caroline. 
            Caroline actually makes up the whole third bed that I have for raspberries, a 4x12 patch.  It is my hopes that it will fill that space well and produce enough for freezing and for jams for the winter.  We barely ever treat ourselves to buying berries, so I’m hoping to be able to grow a lot for years to come in our own yard.  I just put this patch in last year, so I have to wait to see how it does.
            I’m a little nervous, though, because these plants are directly in the ground.  And if you’ve ever seen the thickets that raspberry and blackberry plants can grow into, you’d know why I’m nervous.  The neighbor behind our last house had a whole backyard of black raspberries.  They filled his yard from end to end, about 10 feet deep.  Just a solid wall of thorns that you were unable to pass an arm through without having it torn to shreds.  He let the brambles get away from him (or he chose to because, as I heard, he was a drug dealer and probably wanted to keep people off of his property). 
            But seeing the tremendous ability of berries to grow and spread and take over everything in their path, I was terrified of growing them myself.  I can only imagine how much trouble it would be to have to dig all that up and return it all back to grass again, especially with all the thorns.  (There are no worse thorns in the plant kingdom than that of the blackberries and black raspberries.  Ouch!)  This is why I sunk my first patch of berries in their pots.  I wanted to control their roots and their spread as much as possible so they didn’t get away from me. 
            And even then, the next year I found that they had sent roots out of the bottom of the pots.  And I found new shoots growing up outside of their designated area.  I dug those up and tossed them.  But I felt foiled.  My bright ideas and great efforts were for nothing.  These plants were going to break out of their boundaries and devour my yard.  I could almost feel their hidden roots, deep underground, stretching out in all directions under my feet, seeking to pop up in places I wouldn’t be able to find them.  Quiet, stealthy, insidious.
            I tell ya, I have an almost unnatural fear of these plants getting out of hand.  I fear that as they fill in and grow stronger, it will become an unfair battle: 8 million roots spreading out underground in all directions against one tiny woman armed only with pruners and a pair of gloves.  It’s not a fair fight.  And then, I went and planted the Caroline bed and black raspberry directly in the ground, no pots to contain the roots.  But I did edge the bed with landscape fabric and edging that I plunged down into the ground as far as I could to help keep some roots back.  And I think I heard the plants laughing at my pitiful attempts.  (At least the black raspberries don’t send out underground runners like the red raspberries do, so they are easier to contain.  As long as you keep the tips of the canes from touching the ground and rooting.)
            So why am I asking for trouble, planting these brambles that have to be watched closely every year and carefully controlled to keep them in line?  Simple . . . they are raspberries.  Some of God’s greatest creations. I think berries are one of God’s greatest blessings to mankind.  How sad it would be to go through life without access to these little gems. 
            I guess if I’m going to battle any plant, may as well be one that the whole family enjoys.  I mean, I’ve got oodles of weeds that I fight against, weeds that do nothing but aggravate us.  I have to fight against the bunnies and deer and Japanese beetles and funguses to keep the garden healthy.  I have to fight the heat and dryness and mosquitoes during the summer.  Why not fight against these vines?  At least they make themselves worth the battle with their little black, red, and yellow jewels of sweetness! 
            Life is a battle anyway.  And we all have to choose what’s worth fighting for, which battles we are going to fight.  Some things are just worth it, despite the problems and struggles.  I struggle often with wondering if what I do matters at all.  I do dishes and laundry every day, all day long.  Does it really make any eternal difference?  I serve my family and raise my kids, which doesn’t really contribute to society in any great way.  (Yet!)  I write things that no one reads, and I garden because I like to.  Does it matter?  Is it selfish? 
            So why do I keep doing these things, even though they make no great earthly contribution?  Because something inside me says, “It’s worth it!”  Something inside says, “Your mission field is your home right now.”  Something inside says, “Write and garden because it’s who you are.”  Something inside me says that the best way to glorify God and honor Him is not to be concerned with who other people are and what their jobs are, but to be concerned with my jobs, no matter how small, and to be okay with who I am and with how God made me.  And if I am a quiet, homebody who pours all my energy into doing my best at raising my kids, loving my family, shining with Christ’s love in quiet ways to my neighbors, and taking care of God’s creation in my own backyard, then that’s okay.  It’s who I am.  It’s the unique role God gave me. 
            This is why I stay home and raise my kids instead of going to work.  It’s why we struggle to live on one income instead of being a two-income family.  It’s why I homeschool despite the feelings of being constantly overwhelmed, never able to do enough or do it well.  It’s why I get up every day and do the same tedious jobs over and over again.  These jobs (cooking, cleaning, laundry) don’t mean much to the world, but they are the jobs that God gave me.  And I need to do to the best I can with them in honor of Him, because He is watching and He cares how I do them.
            But this means fighting the aggressive, thorny vines that seek to smother me – the vines of discouragement, feeling like a failure, impatience, frustration, longing for something more, etc.  But the thing is, I think these vines come with every job and role out there – great and small.  I think we all battle these kinds of feelings.  I cannot escape these vines by trading in my lowly “mother-housewife” role for something more flashy.  Those vines will find me there, too.  So instead of trying to escape them, I simply accept them as part of life.  They are something we all have to deal with, no matter the circumstances of our lives. 
            There will always be battles.  But we need to make sure that we are fighting the battles that matter.  Are we in the roles God wants us to be in?  Are we doing the jobs He wants us to do?  Have we learned to pray for, seek, and be content with His Will for us?  Do we remember that it’s the eternal things that matter, that we need to work for?  Have we learned to praise Him, regardless of what’s going on in our lives? Are our main priorities bringing God glory, letting Him use us as He will, and building His Kingdom?  If the answer to these is “no,” then we are fighting the wrong battles.  If the answer is “yes,” then the battle is worth it.
            It doesn’t matter if your job is doing dishes all day long or building skyscrapers, but it does matter the attitude you do your job with.  It doesn’t matter if you are home raising kids or running your own business, but it does matter the kind of heart you do it with and the example you live before others.  If doesn’t matter if you can’t do everything completely, but it does matter if you try your hardest today and then get up the next day and try again.  It doesn’t matter if you fail (because we know we will), but it does matter if we seek forgiveness, if we put our hope and trust in the Lord to cover our failures, and if we find our strength to keep going in Him.  And it doesn’t matter if others never notice us and what we do, as long as they see Christ in us and feel His love through us. 
            And I guess it doesn’t matter if I “waste” some time growing a garden and fighting for years to keep the brambles in line.  Because I think it honors God to see me enjoying, appreciating, caring for, and being thankful for His creation and His blessings.  Whether it be the children He has given me, the wonderful husband He has brought to me, the neighbors I come into contact with, or the raspberries that I have the wonderful opportunity to grow in my own backyard. 
            I don’t have to worry about making a huge splash on earth.  If I am doing what I feel God has called me to do, if I am being who God made me to be, and if I seek to glorify Him by pouring my heart into these little, un-noteworthy jobs and by touching the lives of people who I come across, then I think it pleases Him.  I think He is glorified.  Most of life isn’t about doing the huge things that make huge differences and have huge effects.  Most of life is about doing the small, everyday things with the same amount of passion and joy and praise and effort as we would do the big things.  Because God is watching.  Because it matters to Him. 
            I know that there will always be struggles and problems in life, especially when it comes to doing the tedious, everyday, lackluster kinds of jobs.  And so I pray daily for strength over the aggressive vines, over the things that seek to drag me down and make me feel useless and pathetic.  I ask God to cover my weaknesses and shortcomings in His grace, to take the little that I can do and turn it into something great for His glory and purposes.  I pray that He helps me be content with and effective in the role that He gave me, instead of seeking something more or different.  And I keep praying that I can touch the lives and hearts of those around me: my husband, my children, my family, friends, and neighbors.  I pray that they can see Christ in me, even if it’s just by sharing a smile, a kind word, or tomatoes and raspberries from the garden.  To me, these are the battles that are worth it!      
            Whatever our roles in life, there will always be battles with negative feelings, fears, and doubts, and there will always be struggles for our attention, affections, and hearts.  Are you fighting the battles that are worth it?  The ones that matter eternally?  If so, you’ll eventually hear the sweetest words we could ever hear, the ones I am aching for . . . “Well done, good and faithful servant.”