“Look here,” my wife said, pulling back the thick vines growing in our backyard garden. I saw a flash of red deep in the shadows. Reaching in, I gave a gentle tug and pulled out our first tomato of the season. It soon became the centerpiece of a fresh salad on our dinner table.
Homegrown tomatoes, fresh off the vine and warm from the sun, may be summer’s greatest gift to the world.
This was the summer of our garden. It was built with sweat, planted with hope and tended with love. Peas sprouted but were devastated by June’s heat wave. The lettuce was ravaged by the local rabbit population. The zucchini did fine. The tomatoes were the stars of the show.
Planting a garden requires hope. For seasoned professionals, that hope is earned from years of experience. For those lacking the proverbial green thumb, hope may be more akin to wishful thinking. In the end, one plants a garden not for today, but in hope for what it will become in weeks, months or years.
This garden was a new project. Our first years in this place were filled with other projects related to the ongoing maintenance of a home. The idea of a garden had always been pushed aside for more pressing needs. This year, however, in the second summer of COVID-19, building something that would supply our needs and give hope for the future seemed necessary.
A tiny seed becomes a fruit tree. A kernel becomes a food-bearing stalk. An act of hope and love becomes a space that pleases the eye, nourishes the body, and heals the soul. Labor in April leads to a bountiful table in the fall and preserves to carry us through the winter.
Last year a friend and mentor encouraged me to start a new hobby, to do something, anything, to break out of the doldrums wrought by a pandemic, political division and the sense of hopelessness infecting our nation and world. The past is gone, he reminded me, and the new day ahead will require new ways of being, thinking and doing.
Since then, I have paid more attention to people who are finding new and creative ways to bring life, hope and healing to their lives and to the world. I have been encouraged by men and women who, in both large and small ways, have refused to give up or give in to the malaise of our time but have instead embarked on new adventures, new work and new ways of serving their community.
I have been in meetings with faith leaders and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and seen fresh collaboration in sharing the message and work of community health. I’ve witnessed our local social service agencies develop new methods of delivering food and supplies to their constituents. Churches have found ways to creatively worship and serve during times of social distancing.
On the other end of the spectrum, a friend of mine built a flight simulator in his shed. An acquaintance went camping for the very first time. A colleague quit their job and went back to school in pursuit of a new career. A woman I know signed up for an art class.
In response to my mentor, I enrolled in graduate school to pursue a second master’s degree. Oh, and my wife and I planted a garden that, while it wasn’t completely successful, has given us plenty of zucchini and fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes.
In my pastoral work, I’m drawn to the scriptures that speak of new wine skins for new wine, or the stories of farmers planting seeds and preparing for a healthy crop. In this liminal time of so much chaos and uncertainty, we can all plant seeds. Seeds of kindness, of forgiveness, of new friendships or new projects. Or literal seeds that will feed us in days to come.
Planting requires hope. In spite of all I see around me, I still have hope, and so I continue to do the work now that will build a better future. I hope you will join me.
Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.
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