I am not very good at gardening. Good gardeners know about acidic levels and potassium. Good gardeners fertilize every month and water regularly. I am, what you would call, a very mediocre gardener.
Gardening is something I enjoy, though. I love sending our kitchen scraps to our compost pile (or, as my parents used to call theirs, the “compost heap.”) I love finding earthworms and giving them the great good work of turning the sandy soil of my planter boxes into something better. I love releasing ladybugs to eat the aphids that eat my crops. And I love how fresh and delicious food is straight out of the ground.
One of the best parts about gardening, though, are the surprises. And when I say that, I mean the good surprises; the bad surprises of gardening are evil incarnate. Anyway, good surprises. Like the time I grew sweet potatoes: digging to harvest them was like a treasure hunt–where would the next one be hiding? would it be big or small? normal looking or completely funky? And like the time that my dad and I planted strawberries, and they actually grew (unlike my previous attempts at strawberries) and produced more little red bits of joy than I had ever expected.
One of my favorite surprises about gardening is the “volunteer.” I didn’t really know that this was a thing until I had a garden of my own, but often, seeds that get mixed in with compost or that drop from last year’s plants just begin sprouting up on their own. They volunteer to grow without any planning or preparation on the gardener’s part. One year, Romaine lettuce sprouted in one of my planters completely by accident, and we had fresh salad leaves for months! This year, my volunteer has been an enormous cherry tomato plant. It began as just a tiny sprout back in May. I had purposely planned on NOT growing any tomatoes this year, because our family had a long summer vacation planned. But this little plant didn’t care about my plans. And honestly, I practically ignored it. This little plant didn’t care about that either. It just kept right on growing.
Somehow it survived our long summer trip, getting watered occasionally by a friend. (My prized strawberries? not so much.) Somehow, it kept right on growing. Somehow, it kept right on producing sweet, round, red tomatoes. I kept right on mostly ignoring it, giving it water only when I felt really guilty for not. By September, its searching branches had become two feet tall and close to five feet wide. It gave us handfuls of delicious, ripe tomatoes anytime we wanted them. And, thanks to the long growing season in California, it still is flowering, and I’m still watching the little lycopene producers change in color from green to yellow to orange to red. It is giving BOUNTIFUL fruit!
Well, just last week, I asked my seven-year-old, Zeke, to help me get things ready for dinner by going to the backyard to harvest some tomatoes. I gave him a Tupperware container and reminded him to pick the red ones. He gladly accepted the task. I went on browning the taco meat, and clearing the table. Then I realized that Zeke had not returned with his harvest. I peeked out the sliding glass door to see him intently picking tomatoes off of the plant. A bit surprised that he had not yet been distracted from his task, I went back to cutting onions and slicing bell peppers. I had almost finished all the preparations for dinner, so I headed toward the back yard one more time. Zeke met me at the door with this:
He had been in the back yard for at least 10 minutes, focused on the task of picking good tomatoes, and this is what he brought in: five perfect red tomatoes. Internally, I said, “That’s it?!” Externally, I said, “Thanks so much for your help! It looks like you were really good about picking just the best ones.” Zeke quickly skipped off to something more engaging than tomatoes.
Since I’ve had the privilege of watching Zeke over the past seven years, I could guess two things about his tomato harvesting adventure. The first: he is quite a perfectionist (and a literalist), so he searched for the tomatoes that were truly red–not a hint of orange to be found. The second: he is skittish around spiders and spiderwebs, and since there are quite a few wispy webs on our tomato plant, his options for harvesting were limited to only part of the plant.
I took the Tupperware container and headed out to the backyard. In less than 20 seconds, I was back in the kitchen, with enough tomatoes for our tacos for the night:
What a difference our perspective makes. While Zeke was focused in on just getting the very best, and with the least amount of discomfort, he was only able to see very few opportunities. Since I was focused on “very good” instead of “perfect,” and willing to have the discomfort of spiderwebbing on my fingers, I was able to see boundless opportunities. In fact, I left many, many red tomatoes on the plant that evening, for the sake of getting food into my hungry tummy sooner than later.
Oftentimes, in my life, relationships and work, I tend to be like Zeke. I disregard things that are less than perfect, or anything that has potential to make me uncomfortable. And when I have that mindset, it seems like the opportunity–the fruit ready for harvest in front of me–is very limited.
But, Jesus has been challenging me on this. When he says, “Come, follow me” to his disciples, he’s bringing them into a life that is full of opportunities–BOUNTIFUL, if you will. He has placed that same call on my life. Like Zeke in the above example, I can look through the stories in the Bible and can see people struggling with their own ideas of “perfect fruit.” Jesus almost always challenges it. One of my favorites is when the disciples return to Jesus after they had gone into town, and they find him talking to a Samaritan woman: uncomfortable because of racial and cultural tensions. She was definitely not perfect “fruit,” in their opinion. And yet Jesus shows them that “perfect” and “comfortable” are not his highest priority as he sets about his work.
How are you looking at the opportunities before you? I’m going to guess that there is at least one area of your life that is BOUNTIFUL. Perhaps it even grew up out of nothing you planned, like a volunteer tomato plant. How are you looking at it? Are you spending lots of hours, trying to figure out which pieces are perfect and most comfortable, and only going after those parts? I challenge you today to see the bounty that lies before you, and to be willing to go after the harvest before you there, especially to the uncomfortable and the imperfect.