Sunday, March 23, 2014

New Life. Mystery Fruit.

As part of my Lenten observation this year, I'm taking a break from writing new blog posts and updating and re-posting earlier material. Today's post was first shared on October 9, 2011.

Several years ago we said goodbye to a craggy crab apple tree that stood between our driveway and backyard. We had enjoyed its spring cloud of pink blossoms and the way they drifted down to carpet the ground below, but the trunk was rotting, it was a matter of time before it died, and we needed it out of the way so we could replace an old shed that was about to collapse around us.  

The tree was cut down, the shed was replaced, and the following spring I noticed that we had a new sunny corner, big enough for a raised bed of vegetables. I edged it with lengths from a trunk of a locust that came down in a recent storm, filled it with good dirt from our compost pile, and planted potatoes, lettuce, beets, swiss chard, and beans.

I missed the pink blossoms, and the birds missed the bugs, crab apples, and nesting places they’d enjoyed in previous seasons. But it was great to have just-picked beans, the robins were happy with the worms in the raised bed, and the backyard bunnies quickly discovered the lettuce.

Mid-summer I noticed something odd. There was a vine growing from the corner of my raised bed. It had huge leaves – some almost two feet across – and it was heading off through the shrubs and hostas that grew near my vegetable bed.

I pull known weeds and thugs, but I keep an eye on plants I’m not familiar with. Sometimes they turn out to be exciting additions: native trees seedlings, unexpected wildflowers.  My guess was that the mystery vine was some kind of squash, maybe from a seed in my compost? I watched with interest as it grew.

And grew. And grew. When it threatened to choke something I redirected it. When it headed off across the driveway I moved it to the new arbor I’d put up over the walk.

Eventually, it bloomed. Huge, yellow-orange blossoms. Then small green fruit began to form. Larger, then larger.

Squash? Gourds? First there was one, narrow on top, heavier on the bottom, hanging from the arbor. Then another, more symmetrical, along the driveway’s edge.

One of my daughters congratulated me on my watermelons. Really? I went to look again. Almost overnight they’d taken on a classic watermelon shape: long, fat oblongs, bright, shiny green. How do you know when a watermelon is ripe?

A few weeks later, my other daughter laughingly pointed out that watermelons are smooth. Very smooth. My mystery fruit were creased from end to end. Pumpkins. She assured me they were pumpkins.

Sure enough. While smaller green fruit formed, the green on the largest fruit slowly faded from green to a dull orange. The orange grew brighter. And there they were: two beautiful pumpkins. My first ever. The most spectacular fruit of my backyard season.

I was telling about my pumpkins when someone asked why I didn’t pull the vine out. Why would I let something I didn’t plant take over my garden? 

There are lots of things in my life I didn’t plant. Mystery seeds take on lives of their own on the edges of my well-laid plans. I find myself watching with wonder as life unfolds far bolder than I imagined, and spectacular fruit takes shape while I wait to see what it is.

When I pause to look back, I’d have to say that the most rewarding fruit so far grew from things I didn’t mean to do. I didn’t mean to stay home ten years with kids, but things unfolded and drew me in and there I was, waiting to see who they’d become. I didn’t mean to get involved with local school politics, but the time with my kids brought me into the life of their school and there I was, leading the PTA in a fractured school at a critical time, with rich fruit for everyone involved. I didn’t mean to do youth ministry, but seeds planted decades before spread into something new; that vine took over while I watched in wonder. I started a youth ministry network without even thinking: the soil was right, the moment came, and that vine jumped to life before I knew it was there.

Seeds start small. In fact, for a while, they’re invisible, somewhere in the ground, waiting for the moment when the cell wall softens and the soil is just warm enough. Some seeds wait years for just the right moment. Some seeds never start.

I just spent two weeks in Greece with my husband, a week in Athens as he met with Scripture Union staff and volunteers from around the globe, then two days traveling Biblical sites in northern Greece, and two days on the island of Santorini. It was spring in Greece, with almond trees blooming, and wildflowers everywhere, bold red poppies, purple malva, fields of yellow rapeseed.

That trip was the fruit of seeds planted long before, and even as we traveled, I could feel new seeds slipping into the ground: new relationships, new ideas, new possibilities. Some will need attention and care. Some will bear unexpected fruit. The terrain Jesus walked was much like the terrain of Greece, uneven and rocky, with hills dropping off to the sea. Seeds spring up in the crevices between the rocks, grasp whatever moisture they can before dying back in the withering summer sun. Some plants are husbanded with great care: grapevines wrapped into tight little circles, a method to conserve water in landscapes with little rain. Other plants grow with no apparent attention: ancient figs on the edges of barren fields, or growing in cracks of ancient walls.

Someone asked me recently, “Where does faith come from?”

Another question, from another source: “ Why do some people believe, and others don’t?”

Prompting my own question: “What is the role of human agency, in the mysteries of new life?”

And, today, this third Sunday of Lent: how can the season of Lent be a season of planting? How do we set aside our own tightly-held priorities and plans, to see what God is preparing for the season ahead?

I can plant seed, nurture young plants, water wisely, prune back the competition.

I can watch in expectation, and wait with patience. And pray.

But new life, fruit that will last, are all beyond my control: gifts received with gratitude.

Mysteries to celebrate when the moment of harvest comes. 

This post is part of the March Synchroblog: New Life. Other posts are below: