Tuesday, February 25, 2014

He's got the Whole Asparagus Patch in His Hands

            There is almost no worse garden job than putting in a bed of asparagus.  The first spring we were here, I found myself at dusk – on a cold, wet day - standing in a muddy, 8” deep trench that I had dug out, trying to get over 60 asparagus roots to lay flat so that they would be facing up when I shoveled the dirt back on top.  And I had to watch my one-year old son at the same time, trying to keep him out of the piles of mud. 

            I had told my husband that I was going to plant the asparagus that day, before it rained the next.  And he went and fell asleep after dinner.  And when he’s out, there’s no use trying to wake him.  So I dragged my busy one-year old outside with me and very huffily planted two 4x8 foot beds of asparagus well into the dark.  It was not a fun job, and not one I would want to do again. 
            However, that summer things grew slowly because it’s too shady back there.  And so the next spring, I found myself having to put in some replacement roots.  And then I decided that there was still too much empty room back there, so I added another 4x8 bed.  
            I never want to plant asparagus again . . . EVER!  It is a horrible, physically-demanding, shoulder-destroying job.  But considering the fact that an asparagus bed can last 20 years or more, I think it’s time and energy well spent.  And to help it grow better, we trimmed away some branches to give it more light.  And since I fear that there may be a few more roots to replace before the bed gets good and established, I have seedlings started in my indoor greenhouse right now.  I won’t dig deeply again, not now that I risk damaging the roots that are already in.  So I’ll take my chances with adding tiny seedlings instead.
            This will be the fourth spring for the asparagus beds.  And I should have been able to start harvesting lightly last year.  But due to the weak growth the first summer and the drought the second summer, I decided to put it off for a couple more years.  God-willing, I’ll be able to pick a couple spears this year.  And maybe by next, I’ll be able to harvest a normal amount. 
            It really has been quite a job, a huge investment in time and energy and waiting.  But I’m hopeful that it will pay off in the end.  It’s hard to put so much effort and waiting in, and not be sure if it will work out or not.  But it’s the hope that it will eventually work out that keeps me waiting and watching and tending that bed.
            Isn’t that how it is with life?  At least it is with my life.  Raising kids – and schooling them – is like that bed of asparagus.  All the work and energy and effort now.  Tons of waiting.  And the eternal hope that it will all work out, that they’ll turn out to be well-functioning, responsible adults with strong faith and morals. 
            I wonder at times if I’m doing alright as a mom.  I know there are too many things that I fail at - just look at my messy house and the toys strewn across the yard.  But as a mom, I can only do so much.  Like everyone else, I only have 24 hours in a day.  But 24 hours is not enough to do all that a mom “should” do and do it well.  The dishes 3 times a day, loads of laundry, 3 meals, snacks, breaking up arguments, taking the kids for a walk, correcting math, checking on their other work, reading with the little ones, cleaning up the house, tending the garden, doing bills, grocery shopping, taking a shower if I ever get to it, spending time in God’s Word, etc., etc., etc. 
            And I feel guilty if I take time to do things that I enjoy, simply because I enjoy them.  Because that’s time away from what I “should” be doing.  I could be cleaning out a closet instead of typing right now.  I could be reading another book with the kids instead of planning the garden.  I could be picking up the toys instead of researching my genealogy online. 
            Where is the balance for a mom?  Are we allowed a little delight, delight that serves no other purpose than to make us smile?  Is that God-glorifying?  Did the Proverbs 31 women ever do anything for herself?  Is it selfish to spend time and energy on things that don’t impact the world in a big way, like putting in an asparagus bed that will probably only be a blessing to my family?  Do the hidden and unappreciated things – like just doing the “mom” things - glorify God as much as the highly visible and inspiring things?    
            I was just at church this past week and I was thinking about the guy leading worship.  He’s a medical professional, has a bunch of children, been a missionary overseas, and still finds time to lead singing at church.  He’s up in front of everyone, glorifying God and encouraging others to glorify Him, too. 
            I, on the other hand, stay at home to raise my kids.  I wasted good money on an education I am not using.  I only see a very few people all week, so I have little time or opportunity to minister to others.  I write posts about my spiritual life that no one else reads.   
            My ministry is so small compared to others.  No one but me, God, and my family see the things I do, and even then I’m not so sure if my family notices.  And then, I go and waste more time on my biggest passion outside of family and faith - tending to a garden.  Does any of this really glorify God, especially if no one else really sees it or is touched by it?  Is it selfish?  A self-gratifying waste of time? 
            As I was thinking about the singer at church, I wondered if my struggle was one of wanting to be noticed.  Did I want attention and appreciation from others for the things I do for God?  Would it make me feel better if others praised my writing and I became a big name in the blogging world?  Is that what I was after?
            After considering it for a moment, I realized that it wasn’t that I wanted attention (I am too much of a private, introverted hermit for that), but it’s that I wanted to know that God was pleased, that what I did brought Him as much glory as possible.  And I was afraid that if my ministry was so small and invisible to others then maybe God wasn’t getting as much glory as He should.  If He is the only real audience that I have for the things I do, is He still as pleased and honored with my efforts and my work and my heart as He is with those who affect and inspire lots of other people?  Is gardening in my own backyard glorifying to Him?  Is putting in many years of unappreciated, unnoticed work as a mom glorifying?
            Guilt and never feeling like I do enough and never feeling like I do everything else well are a part of my Everyday.  They are always there, hounding me, sucking life and joy from my day.  How do I balance it all over the 30+ years that I will be raising kids?  How do I keep going, day after day, doing the same small jobs, feeling the same guilt and sense of failure?  Feeling like I am letting God down? 
            I used to be a confident overachiever, believing that I could do it all and do it well.  And I planned on being a part of something big for God.  I got the expensive education.  I went on a couple short-term mission trips.  And I had big plans for reaching and inspiring many. 
            But over the years, God seems to have cut my mission field down, smaller and smaller, until it consisted of my husband, four children, and my neighbors.  And as the demands on my time and energy at home grew, I’ve had to learn to accept the limitations: God’s limits on my ministry and my limits as a human.  I’ve had to learn to accept that I am human and I can’t do it all.  That being a mom means years of menial, tedious, daily, unnoticed work.  That ministry comes in all shapes and sizes.  And it’s not “if I fail,” it’s “when I fail.”  I will fail in many ways.  I will do things wrong and never feel good enough. 
            But that’s where God’s grace comes in.  I don’t have to “do it all.”  I don’t have to know what I’m doing all the time or where things are going.  And I don’t have to have a big ministry to make a difference for God and to glorify Him.  It’s all in my heart’s attitude and in my relationship with Him. 
            If I keep centered in the Lord daily, . . if I run after an authentic, transparent, close relationship with Him . . . if I place my concerns and fears and doubts in His hands daily, admitting my weakness to Him . . . if I am faithfully obedient to do what I know He is telling me to do, even if it’s “invisible” work . . . and if I my desire is to see Him glorified in all the things I do, whether it’s doing dishes, spreading kind words, growing vegetables for the family, keeping a blog that no one will read, or taking care of His creation in my own backyard . . . then my life will be glorifying to Him.   
            The two cents that the widow put into the church treasury were more valuable to Jesus than the bigger, more obvious donations by the richer people.  It’s not the size of the gift or the ministry that matter, and it’s not whether other people see it or not.  It’s our faithfulness in doing it, out of a heart that desires to honor and glorify Him. 
            Whether we sing at church or wash dishes, whether we have a job outside the home or inside the home, whether our mission field is a mega-church or our own backyards . . . when we do our best with the job that God gave us, for His name’s sake, we will bring Him glory.  Whatever our job, we should do it knowing that He is watching, that He is our Employer, that His grace will cover our shortcomings, and that He judges the attitudes of the heart. 
            And as long as He sees our efforts and is pleased with them, it doesn’t really matter if others see them or not.  If God is the only one in the audience of your life, then everything you do is valuable and worth it.  And if there’s only going to be one person that sees and appreciates what you do, it can’t get any better than knowing it’s our Heavenly Father.  Pour your heart and soul into it simply because He is watching and because it matters to Him.
            In my own life, I’ve learned that the “real, meaningful, God-glorifying work” isn’t out there somewhere, waiting for me to finish the housework and finish raising the kids.  The real, meaningful, God-glorifying work is doing the housework and raising the kids.  Because that’s the season of life I am in right now.  That is the job of the day, of the next few decades.  Raising children and caring for my family.  And in His eyes, there are no little jobs.  No insignificant roles. 
            I am in this season of life – “the digging trenches and planting roots” season of life - for a reason.  And my focus should be to work at these daily jobs with all my heart, to the best of my ability, seeking to glorify Him through them.  I need to learn to be content with this season of life, to find Him in it, and to praise Him for all the good blessings.  And I need to trust that even if I don’t know how and if and when my efforts will pay off, He does.  He can see all that I can’t see and He can handle all that I can’t handle.    
            And so, I am learning to daily rest in Him and to trust Him for the things that I am not in control of – the future, the results, the fruit.  Like with the asparagus bed, as a mom I have to put my best effort into the job He gave me, and then I wait and trust and pray that God will turn it into something good.  I don’t have to do it all or know it all. I just have to trust and rest in the One who can and does.  I just have to try to be the best mom and wife that I can be - for His glory – and let Him take care of the rest.  And despite all that I can’t do, I pray that He blesses my efforts with much fruit.      
            And you know something else I am learning?  This life isn’t all about work, work, work.  I think that it’s far too easy to be critical of ourselves for all that we are not doing, to feel like we can’t really stop and smell the roses because there is too much work to do.  But I believe that He has given us gifts in this life that are meant to be enjoyed.  Life itself is a gift and is meant to be cherished as such. 
            And so I am learning that – as long as I am not neglecting my work - it’s okay to take some time to do the things that I enjoy.  The things that make me feel closer to Him, closer to who He made me to be.  And I am learning not to feel guilty about it.  Because I think He is glorified by both things: when we do our work to the best of our ability and when we gratefully and fully enjoy the extra blessings He has given us. 
            If gardening makes me feel closer to Him, more thankful and alive, then I can accept it as a gift.  And I glorify Him when I appreciate it as a gift instead of feeling guilty for it.  When He sees me enjoying His creation, I think He smiles, just like when He sees me working at my mother-wife job to the best of my ability.  All of life – work or play – can be done for His glory if we do it with a thankful heart and draw near to Him through it. 
            I don’t know if my asparagus will grow into a nice patch or not.  I don’t know if we’ll ever taste a homegrown spear from our own backyard.  For all I know, the roots might have been too weak to handle this extreme winter and will simply vanish.  But what I do know is that I did my best.  I gave it my best effort and I prayed over the garden, asking God to provide and make it bountiful.  And that’s all I can really do, in gardening and in life. 
            And if I am successful in anything I do – big or small - then the glory belongs to Him.  Because He is really the One in control of it all.  He is the One who holds the future in His hands, the One who takes our efforts and turns them into something good.  I know that my efforts – in the garden and with my children and with all other areas of life – can only do so much.  It really all comes down to God’s Will and His help and providence.  He doesn’t have to bless my efforts with a fruitful harvest.  But if He chooses to let my efforts be productive, then I will praise Him for it.  He truly is the giver of all good things.  Whether it be success, children, successful children, a home, a job, a spouse, or simply asparagus. 

The Best Way to Eat Asparagus:
            Keep it simple, silly.  All you have to do it rinse it, place the spears single layer on a pan, and bake at 350 degrees (I use my toaster over) for about 8-10 minutes, until you can pierce with a fork but it’s not soft and mushy or shriveled.  Then pour on some melted butter and sprinkle on some salt.  This is the best, most purest way to eat asparagus. 
            I used to think that I had to do all kinds of fancy steps to make good meals.  But as I’ve gotten older and began using fresher ingredients, I’m learning that simple is better.  Great produce doesn’t need a lot.  Just a little butter and salt, maybe some pepper, is the best for a lot of things.  This allows the freshness and the subtle flavors of the vegetable to shine through.  And a fresh asparagus spear is near the top of the list when it comes to fresh, green flavor.  Don’t smother it. 
            Funny thing is, I didn’t know if I liked asparagus until I already planned to put the bed in.  I just knew I wanted this plant that would produce for many years, and so I decided that I had to like asparagus.  Even before I tried it.  But I was greatly pleased to find out after trying it for the first time – after the bed was planted that first spring – that I love the green taste of it.  Coming out of a long winter filled with heavy foods, nothing is better than light, fresh green plants.  My body craves it as it gets to the end of winter. 
            And so, looking out at the snow, I’m praying that God has carried those asparagus roots through this long winter and that I will see them bursting into life soon.  Just as I pray that He carries me through my long emotional “winters” and that He carries my children through my years of parenting, helping them burst into the life they were made for when they move into adulthood.  I can’t do this without Him!