Though God has not chosen to bless my garden this year (or any year), he has always provided my family with what we need. Let us not take our blessings for granted!
It’s mid-July here in New England, which means the gardens are groaning under the weight of zucchini, beans, and peppers. It’s still a few weeks out until tomatoes start coming out of people’s ears and the homegrown corn can be picked, but everyone’s got enough lettuce and second-sowing peas to tide them over.
Everyone but me, that is. My garden is legendary in its ability to fail. Even the three-year old, when asked about “Mommy’s vegetables,” will sigh heavily and shake his head sadly. Whole crops of lettuce, consumed in a single night by a posse of chipmunks. Pepper plants, one day lush and tall, the next day sheared three inches to the ground, courtesy of a single deer. Blossom drop. Blossom end rot. Hornworms. Cutworms. Moles. Rabbits.
Today I cut up a cantaloupe for breakfast. As the melon fell open, revealing that perfect palate of beige, green, and pink, I marveled not only at the fact that God made so much beauty, but that he created us to have the capacity to recognize and yearn for it. I thought about my neighbor’s garden, normally a source of envy in its pest-and-disease-free glory, and the solitary cantaloupe plant therein. This year, it was suffering mightily, yellowed and wan, slumped over the borders of the raised bed and looking like it could barely stay in the soil, let alone produce a fruit.
I looked again at that cantaloupe on my kitchen island; a fruit that took three months of warm weather, high humidity, and tremendously rich soil to come about. An impossibly delicate trio of needs, about to be consumed in less than 15 minutes.
We all sat down at the table, bowed our heads, and said grace: “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts…”
I’m always struck by how aware God is of our bodily needs. How the most common prayers in Catholicism either directly promise us food, or refer to God in food imagery, or remind us that food, like the cantaloupe gleaming in the center of the table, is a gift from God himself.
As a large family on a single income, our food budget does not have room for a lot of pre-made, convenience foods. But I don't mind, since generally speaking, food with its own ad campaign pales in comparison to anything we could make in our own kitchens. But it also means I’m much more aware of what’s going into our mouths.
We raise chickens, and ultimately, the goal is for our flock to provide our entire egg supply. Since the hens are not up and running at full capacity yet, our egg stores often are depleted in a single meal. Six growing kids, all of whom love eggs, means that we can consume a dozen at a sitting. This is fine with me, since it means they’ll be full enough to give me an hour before the “I’m hungry” chorus starts up again. But I’m always conscious of egg requirements in recipes.
The other day, my oldest daughter wanted to make pudding from scratch, for which she needed eight eggs. My heart stopped when she told me. “Eight eggs? For pudding?”
As I watched her make the recipe, I thought about how nothing is ordinary. Each egg she cracked reminded me of the amazing nature of chicken physiology; each egg she cracked was a little golden gift from God – a perfect protein source delivered every 26 hours.
There is a wicked cranky apple tree in our front yard that does not earn its keep. Some years, it doesn’t bear a single fruit. Other years, after pruning it so severely, I'd be led to think that I had killed it, and that it would put forth a crop of scabby, blighted apples that would serve no other purpose than to irritate me. I refuse to spray it with the dozens of chemicals necessary to produce flawless, gorgeous apples that you can buy at the store for two reasons: 1) because I don’t want to feed my family poison, and 2), because the squirrels usually get to the apples before I can, anyway.
The loathing I have for that tree is mutual, I’m sure. But every time I say that this is the year I’m going to cut it down, chop it up, and gleefully set it on fire, the kids all stop me, aghast.
“No! You can’t cut down that tree! It gives us apples!”
“God made that tree for us!”
“God has it give us apples; he wants us to take care of it.”
Oh, I’ll take care of it, all right. But I haven’t yet, mostly because of times like this morning. There I was, eating a (beautiful, store-bought) apple as I was writing this article. My four-year-old walks into my office, and gently places one of our tree’s gnarly, disgusting apples on my desk. He beamed radiantly as he did so.
“Look, Mama!” he said, “I brought you an apple!” I thanked him, kissed him, and off he went. I looked at those two apples, one lovely and juicy and nothing but a core, since I’d eaten it all, the other hard and gross and eaten only by worms, and I breathed a prayer:
Thank you Lord, for all your gifts: for my daily bread and my children and the grace to know that everything I have is due to your boundless generosity.
And if you want to smite that apple tree with lightning or something, I’d be ok with that.