Goodness Still Grows
by Diana Gruver
That spring, I desperately wanted a baby, but I planted tomatoes instead. We were midway through our infertility journey at the time, sorting through our grief over something we’d never actually possessed. Little did I know that in just over a year, I’d find out I was pregnant. We were still in the throes of uncertainty and pain in those days, and I needed something to nurture.
We did the first planting of the season at our kitchen table. Every day, I would inspect the black plastic tray on our window sill, willing the little seedlings to live. As the weeks passed, I stared at their fresh green leaves, gently running my hands across the tops of them.
A few weeks later, we got into the dirt of our friend’s garden, which he was kind enough to open to us since our housing situation at the time didn’t give us the chance to have one of our own. My hands plunged into the soft earth, breaking the clods apart between my fingers, as we nestled those delicate plants into the dirt, along with a few seeds I now no longer remember.
As we walked inside, our friend quipped, “Well, I hope something grows.”
My husband smiled. “It has every other time, hasn’t it?”
Gardening really does take some faith—to do all the dirty work, to put those little innocuous looking seeds or fragile plants in the ground, and to trust that, in time, they’ll grow. The only proof is “they have every other time,” but you don’t really know until you see the tender green tendrils emerge from the earth. They’ve grown every other time, but while you’re still in the midst of the weeding and pruning, pest-fighting and watering, you can’t be sure how much your efforts will be worth, until, that is, you hold the harvest in your hands.
Ironically enough, that year, we had nothing to show for our efforts. Those little tomato seedlings grew strong and healthy. We went one day with bowls, anticipating plants laden with ripe tomatoes. Instead, where only a few days before there had been dozens of green oblong fruit, the plants were stripped bare. The deer ate well that year.
Sometimes life is like that. I poured my heart and soul into those plants. They were a means to seeing something grow and bear fruit, even while other parts of my life, namely, my womb, remained void and futile. I may have cried over tomatoes that year.
And yet, in spite of the wildlife rampaging through my crops, year after year since then, I eagerly await the warming of spring, counting down the weeks until I can once again bend close to damp earth, pinching seeds from my cupped palm and sprinkling them carefully into indentations in the soil. Year after year, I hold out the hope that something will grow. (I’ve also wizened up. We have a fence around our small backyard garden to keep the rather abundant neighborhood bunny population at bay.) Year after year, I come back because I’ve found that, if I need to be anchored in hope, if I need to be reminded of goodness, I go out to my garden.
I suppose you could say gardening is one of my coping mechanisms. But it’s more than that. It is an embodied metaphor that cultivates hope and perseverance and faith in my heart. It’s a place I meet God.
When my mind is inundated and overtaken by news feeds of crises and controversies I have little or no ability to influence, I pull up weeds, creating space for my little crops to thrive. When I’m overwhelmed, stuck in a mental swirl of what-ifs and anxiety and grief, I find my jittery system still and my muscles begin to relax as I focus on simple, tangible tasks in the little plot of earth at my feet. When I’m plagued by besetting mental health struggles or interpersonal conflict or prayers of heartbreak, I reach my hands into the dirt and breathe deep, anchoring myself in a moment that is good.
I’m hardly what you would call a master gardener, and I wouldn’t dare to suggest that gardening has been the secret to solving all of my problems. And yet, when I bring my open heart and my mediocre gardening skills to that space, I find a place to catch my breath. I am rooted in a place, just as the seeds I’ve sown have done. As with the rest of life, there are no guarantees of the harvest, but I work and cultivate and wait, and, also like the rest of life, defying odds and chaos and occasional neglect, seeds germinate and take root and grow and bear fruit. I look at that little garden plot, with its rows of carrots and lettuce and, yes, tomatoes, and I am reminded: goodness still grows.
Diana Gruver writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. She is the author of Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. You can often find her singing in her Pennsylvania kitchen with her husband and two ever-curious children. You can find more of her writing at www.dianagruver.com or on Twitter @dianagruver.