What being a campus minister taught me about gardening…

Last year, my humble garden went crazy.  I had bounty aplenty from my three tomato plants, handful of peppers, and basil.  True to his word, since the garden went well my hubby made no objection to me expanding our gardening efforts.  One 5×8 bed became three.  Three tomato plants became five, accompanied by peppers, green beans, strawberries, cucumbers, carrots, peas, parsley, basil, oregano, romaine and spinach.  I wish I could say the season has gone just as well.

Early on I had some trouble with the cucumbers taking off – I may have planted them too early, but two of the three survived.  Then one morning I woke up to all my peas having been eaten to the ground along with one of my romaine lettuce plants.  Rabbits.  Up went rabbit fencing around two of the beds sans the tomato & green bean garden bed.  Then the basil suddenly died after having more than I knew what to do with last year.  I thought that stuff was “easy to grow.”  And then my second planting of peas died.  What was going on around here?

However the rest of my hard work seemed to be doing okay.  The tomatoes were growing…a little more slowly this year, the cucumbers were making progress (along with the additional 3 plants I added) The parsley and oregano took off like crazy and the romaine was doing well – but my green beans…they were the pride and joy of my garden.  They looked GOOD!

There is nothing quite as satisfying as fresh green beans from the garden.  I watched as the little buds turned into little beans and finally the day arrived where I could pick my first harvest.  I can’t explain the joy that welled up as I served up these green beans for dinner.  After all the frustrations with other veggies…these made up for them.  Two days later, I picked again…and two days after that.  And then it happened.

Overnight they were gone.

Savagely taken down to the stems.

The crown jewel of all of my hard work, gone.

To say that I was furious would be an understatement.  I was ready to break every village/township/subdivision law and ordinance that there was and go on a legit rabbit hunt.  I had noticed a couple clipped leaves a several days prior, but thought it was the deer since they clipped a couple high tomato branches too.  However, it wasn’t the deer.

It was the rabbits…Dan saw them.

I was quite angry, frustrated and depressed.  I spent all this time and energy, not to mention money on building the beds and such for nothing.  But I still held out hope…because I saw this beautiful brandywine tomato growing…about a week out from eating and I couldn’t wait.  Every morning I would look out my bedroom window to check it’s progress and anticipate biting into that juicy tomato.  The ones from the store don’t even come close to being as good.

And then it happened.

One morning, it too was gone.

Not only was the big green-but-ripening tomato gone, HALF of all my roma tomatoes were gone too.  This time by those destructively awful deer.  How to I know…because it looked like they had a party in my garden overnight by all their tracks.  The tomatoes were too high up to have been anything else.  All my hard work, being stolen away by a thief in the night.

At this point I was depressed.  No green beans, very few tomatoes and the ones left were disappearing nightly (we even spotted a deer one night as Dan shined his flashlight out the window about 11pm).  My bell peppers seemed to have stunted growth – they weren’t fully developing, my basil had died, my second planting of peas mysteriously shriveled up and died after starting to bud, I wasn’t sure anything was happening with the cucumbers.

I gave up.

My oldest garden bed started to become overrun by weeds.  I didn’t care.  My romaine lettuce started to bolt without me using it’s beautiful leaves.  I was too blinded by my perceived failure at gardening to care.  Have I mentioned that the rabbits and deer didn’t even touch my neighbor’s garden that they put in after seeing mine last year?  They are harvesting a bunch of delicious looking tomatoes…the deer ignored them, but showed no mercy on me.

BUT today was a turning point.  You see I just spend four days with a hundred-ish InterVarsity staff at our regional staff conference.  We talked about the ways the Holy Spirit worked among us this past year – even in times of grief and disappointment.  I reflected on some hard places in this past year – and how it seemed that all my work planting the InterVarsity chapter was being attacked and destroyed at the very beginning of the year.  I thought about how I let those set back distract me and blind me from what God was doing in other areas.  And then I remembered what God did do.  Theoretically I could have thrown in the towel after those first few frustrating weeks last year, but if I did I wouldn’t have experienced and seen all that God DID do throughout the year.  I would have thrown away the rest of the harvest along with was seemed to be stolen and destroyed the first couple weeks.  I had to keep my eyes open and still tend the chapter despite the challenges to reap the rest of the harvest.

I thought about that as I looked at my overrun garden bed today – in its deplorable state of neglect…and I got up.  I weeded, I pruned back and I tended.  The deer may still nab a few more of the tomatoes that have begun to grow and the romaine lettuce may taste a bit more bitter than I anticipated, but I still have food to harvest.  My carrots are looking great…not quite ready, but getting there.  I’m picking a handful of small strawberries every couple of days.  My little pickling cucumbers have taken off and have started to grow.  I have enough parsley to make a couple batches of tabbouleh.  I might try my hand at drying some oregano and there still may be some romaine lettuce to be eaten.  Not all is lost.  But instead of throwing away what good is left I have to choose to keep tending and working to reap the rest of the harvest…and it sure is a lot less depressing to look at a garden bed that no longer looks like an abandoned city lot.

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