Last weekend, Sharing Manna Garden was vandalized. Which means, in our case, that someone had mashed down the fence, pulled up stakes and thrust them forward in an angry heap, and sprayed a toxic chemical on the zucchini, green beans, and other vegetables and flowers that left them yellow and brown and full of holes, as if locusts had made a feast of it. Flower pots that had held happy things in bright reds and whites now held sprays of wispy stuff that looked like chewed-up paper. It was a sudden portrait of anger, or mischief, or maybe even hate.
When I found out what had happened to GreenTree’s garden, my first question—maybe it’s yours, too—was, naturally, “Why would someone do this?” The person whom this act probably had the potential to discourage most was Ely, our garden mentor. This cruel act could not have, of course, been meant for Ely, the cheerful, gentle Ely whose Portuguese accent soothes every conversation in which she engages….Ely, who leads a team of workers who quietly and happily dig, plant, gather, and bag up veggies for the community with unpretentious contentment, week after week. But the question still begs for meaning…why? Why would someone do something to satisfy some self-focused primal urge, and not, for one minute, stop to consider who is being hurt?
But Sunday morning, as I walked to the back of GreenTree’s property and surveyed the damage and used my trusty friend the camera to make some pictorial sense of the chaos in front of me, and as I trudged through the dry mess along the drooping fence that held the sad, bowed-down tangle of dead vines, I dropped my cell phone.
And my cell phone reminded me of something. Something about me.
Just days before, in an already testy mood, I’d gotten irritated at someone I hardly knew. I’d misunderstood something someone had texted me. My sensitive pride had been jabbed in a very bruised spot and I lost all rational thought—and do you know what I did? In a matter of seconds I held my breath and deleted the person from my contacts list. Then I stuck my phone down onto the table as if it had been exposed to something poisonous. My pulse was racing as if I’d just stepped on a big spider and barely got it.
I tore down. In a hasty moment, I did something very stupid. I tore something down.
(Minutes later that day, I got another text from the same person, and my wild misunderstanding vanished when I realized my fears were entirely unfounded. I laughed at myself, and I added the person’s contact information back into my phone. But not without some disappointment. I had been so hasty to wipe out a person’s name, as if it had never existed.)
Now, on a Sunday morning, I was standing in the middle of a garden, torn down by a hasty act of anger, or perhaps wounded pride, or a completely crazy and irrational act based on some horrible past. Another example of a very sad fact:
WE TEAR DOWN.
The very first garden in the history of mankind, extravagantly and infinitely more beautiful than this one, did not last, because two hasty humans did one thoughtless act. Now plants die, they become yellowed, bugs eat them, trees fall, we dig, dig, dig, and sweat, sweat, sweat, for a few measly meals that keep us alive before we have to do it all over again.
I went inside with enough pictures in my camera to mark a memory for a year, and I spotted, seated in the main room, Ely Wakefield and Chryl McWilliams—two hard-working and loving women who were a little quieted by the messed-up garden but not angry. I stashed my camera away and joined them.
“I talked to my sister on the phone,” Ely remarked. “She said, ‘God will take care of it.’ It’s going to be all right.”
Ely said that she wasn’t angry. Neither was Chryl. “What would we accomplish by retaliating?” she asked. And with the lack of surprise that comes with maturity, Chryl pointed out that, although the original plan for the end of the summer was to prune everything back in hopes of having it reproduce foliage (instead of starting again from seed), this setback came near the time set aside for re-working anyway (near the end of August). They have a garden work-day set for August 18, a day when the workers will start over and move forward.
Both women understand something important. Sin is not surprising, and we all do it. Maybe we don’t ransack property, but we can tear down one another with our words. Maybe we don’t destroy plants with chemicals, but we could easily kill a day of productive work with a bad attitude. Maybe we don’t mangle pots of tender flowers, but we sure can extinguish a friendship with an unforgiving spirit.
The conclusion of both women: God will work it all out. “It’s God’s work,” added Ely. “This wasn’t against us, it was against God.” Tearing down the garden is tearing down God’s work, and He will take care of His work. “God will work it out”—not because we at GreenTree are some kind of righteous, do-nothing-wrong group of holy people who wear the white hats and deserve special treatment as members of the God-Team. No . . . God will work it out because He is loving, and merciful. And the same God who forgives us daily for our bad attitudes and hasty words and short tempers is the same God who will restore the damage from an act of mischief or anger strong enough at the moment to enflame a vandalism storm.
“He will take care of it,” as Ely Wakefield’s sister said. He’s the only one who can be trusted to do so. We may feel torn, and we may tear down, but He will build up.
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.