That was the voice of Ely Wakefield on Sunday morning, after church, bags in hand, vegetables on the café table; she was doing her Sharing Manna Garden Mentor duty.
Well, not exactly. Really, Ely was just being a friend, at home in the garden, sharing stuff, the thing you do when people stop by and visit. It’s what my Grandma does when I drive to her house in Virginia (although Ely isn’t my grandma’s age). By the time I’m ready to leave, I’m loaded up with jars of Grandma’s famous pickles, plastic bags full of mustard greens, and some cucumbers for my salad. It’s not a duty; it’s love. It’s home.
This vegetables-in-the-café phenomenon has been going on lately, ever since the soil and seeds in Sharing Manna Garden started doing its springtime dance with the sun and the rain. Whenever we’re at GreenTree, we now see something green, yellow, or red on the café tables or counter, and we can’t help but pick up something and turn it over. Wal-Mart bags aren’t too far away, either. That’s because we’re free to grab some things to take with us, because it’s love. It’s home.
I got that feeling Sunday morning when I saw Ely talking with some visitors. A couple of new friends had come after being part of a chess tournament that one of our GreenTree friends had hosted Saturday. There was also a mom with a cute toddler-aged daughter.
“Want some green beans?” Ely asked her, grinning and arranging the beans in neat piles.
“Sure, that sounds good,” the young mom said. “How do I cook them?”
I can’t help but think I’m correctly speaking for everyone at GreenTree when I say that there’s something nice that happens when you see piles of green stuff—food—life—on the tables and counters of a place where people come to see what’s going on with “this church group.” It says that we’re home. It says that it’s not about some kind of program, or a race to see how “successful” we are based on our group numbers. It says that life happens here, that love grows here.
Home is where we’re not just polite and only offer customary smiles, or enroll people in fix-it programs and hustle them in like cattle to be added to our herd. Home doesn’t always match the ministry brochures of what a successful church is supposed to look like. Home sometimes looks messy. Home is a place where arguments come up, because the energy it took to be out in the world all day falls away in a big tired breath of relief, and our real selves emerge, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Home is where you rest so that you can face the world again. Home isn’t where you go to get a bulleted list that outlines your life; it’s where you get a hug and a bag of green beans.
If you stop by GreenTree any time soon, you can look directly through the parking lot to the back and see how lush and full the garden has become. Ely and her helpers have skillfully cooperated with God’s natural world and brought forth results as pretty as my Grandma’s ruffled rows in her back yard. It’s not perfect; no home is. There are a couple of groundhogs that are making a pesky nuisance of themselves right now, as a matter of fact. But we hope you’ll look at it and think of home. And please stop inside: we’d love to have a good chat over a bottled water or a Pepsi, and chances are that there will be some zucchinis or tomatoes if you’d like to bag up some to take with you.
When we think of that fancy word Discipleship, let’s not picture learned men in crisp suits, or bored hours spent bowed over a table with a checklist. Let’s think of Pooh and his friends. Do you remember the story of Pooh eating too much and getting jammed in Rabbit’s front hole? It’s the one with that quaint picture of a grassy hill and the top half of a yellow bear, who joins paws with a blond-haired boy who’s pulled elastic-tight by a long line of rabbits, squirrels, and mice.
Wait. That’s the way things are?
That picture doesn’t seem to match up with the time I lent someone an ear and got gossiped about a week later. I’ve taken on jobs I didn’t really have time to keep up with, I’ve acted stupidly, nursed bitter memories; I’ve been misunderstood, used; and frankly, I don’t know if I have the energy, nerve, or desire to try again. I see no lovely forest and cute animal friends.
But upon closer inspection, we’ll find something else in the tender Pooh stories. If we look, we can see ourselves in their Forest, and perhaps we’ll discover here what’s holding us back from the freedom and joy of giving Love.
If we walk with Pooh through the forest, the first thing we’ll see is a large hole in a grassy bank. Pooh bends over and calls, “Is anybody home?”
Do you hear the “sudden scuffling noise?” Then all is quiet. Sudden scuffling plus quiet equals—inconvenienced.
Then for good measure, Rabbit calls out, “No!” and tries to disguise his voice. Pooh prods, Rabbit pretends. Pooh prods, Rabbit hems and haws. Finally, Rabbit has to invite Pooh in, or else he’ll look rude. Pooh stays until he’s emptied Rabbit’s honey and milk. And Rabbit is polite. Rabbit is very polite. Rabbit is so polite that we can almost feel the pressure of his breath while he’s holding it in. But Rabbit tries his best.
Sometimes I do try my best. Or at least I try to try my best. Sort of. Then my daughter spills paint all over her favorite book and yells, “MOMMY!” Or my husband’s car breaks down and I have to go and get him. Just like Pooh gets himself jammed in Rabbit’s hole on his way out. And there’s a funny little picture in the book that shows Pooh’s round backside bulbing out of the hole from the inside, while Rabbit is still holding up his empty can of condensed milk with a very round-eyed and disbelieving look on his face.
Then we have the stuck-scene. Pooh fumes that it’s because Rabbit’s door isn’t big enough. My daughter laments that I should have reminded her to put the cap on the paint jar. A person I’m befriending asks why, why can’t I pick her up in ten minutes?
Then Rabbit hops away to get help. That wonderful word that feels like a sigh and a yell at the same time. Help.
We often slap that label onto our foreheads: We think we are the Help. The Savior. Is it any wonder that we expect so much of ourselves?
But Rabbit hops away and gets Christopher Robin, who makes everyone feel better, who croons to Pooh that he’ll slim up soon, who reads to Pooh from a Sustaining Book. And Rabbit? Rabbit is inside, hanging his laundry on Pooh’s dangling legs. He is making use of the situation. Is Rabbit really being a friend?
That question can be answered with another question: What about the guy in Jesus’ Story of the Talents, the one the master only gave one talent to? The others got more stock to invest than he did. He only had one unit of currency. And that was okay. But then he crept away from the others who had more to give, because he was scared to death of his master’s expectations, and he didn’t do anything with it at all.
And Rabbit? Rabbit was given the one small talent of Creativity. He doesn’t hide: he trades it in and gains Patience and Energy. His heart relaxes from his satisfied need to be industrious in his housework. And thus we see a bunny grow from a hesitant friend to a cheerful helper who calls his “friends and relations” to join Christopher Robin, in that well-remembered picture of the tug-of-war rescue effort which swells to a high and glorious POP! and a very happy, freed bear.
Maybe we only have one unit of currency. Maybe we don’t have much maturity yet. Maybe we have a selfish streak. Maybe we don’t have much time or energy. Maybe more than a half hour of picking through a Bible study booklet with an argumentative new friend would send us to the bathroom cabinet for a sedative. Maybe taking that younger guy for a ride every time he wants one would make us lose our already short tempers.
Grace and Truth says it is better to listen to a person for ten minutes than to not listen for three hours.
Jesus delights in reading to our Pooh, untiring, while we hang our laundry on those fur legs and accomplish little more than keeping our mouths closed. And that’s okay. Like Rabbit. Rabbit won. Rabbit passed the test. Rabbit, as well as our other dear friends in the Wood, got the blessing of participating in the most important gift in the world: Love. Without it we have nothing. With it, we have everything.
You can do it. Your Teacher is delighted with your ten minutes, your three-inch temper. Leap into the air, Rabbit. Your Christ will make you fly, and your friends will be many.