Growing things out of the ground is not my best gift. I know, I know, I’m from a farm in northwestern Kansas so one would think that goes with the territory. My Grandma and Grandad Roberts had a million acre garden, that’s what it felt like when you were there in the summer and Grandma decided a good thing to do would be to work in the garden together. I think it’s where my volume started. Seriously, as big as that garden was, you had to yell when you saw a snake, or pulled worms off some produce, or were actually successful in pulling good-looking carrots out of the ground. And Grandma canned EVVV-REEE-THING! In their later years you really didn’t want to go to the cellar much because some of the jars might explode because of time and pressure build-up. Hmmm, that sorta describes me every now and again. Grandma and Grandad both grew up during the Great Depression and the dust bowl and were married during those difficult years. I try and keep that in mind when I get whiny about what we’re going through right now. As I remember Grandma telling it, they would go to town on Saturdays and barter and trade for the items they needed because having cash was few and far between. For as long as I can remember they had this kind of thick plastic that covered furniture in their home. And every now and again my parents or aunts and uncles would find towels or sheets or blankets we gave them for Christmas or birthdays still in the boxes with the tissue paper because Grandma was saving them for later. We are shaped by the times in which we live and often the struggles we face to make a life.
My Grandma and Grandy Crissman lived in Gove County as well but lived in town – Quinter. Next time you’re zooming, o.k., no longer the right term for driving fast, next time you’re racing through western Kansas headed toward the mountains, Quinter is on the north side of I-70 a half hour west of Wakeeny, you’re welcome. And as I recall, Grandma Crissman didn’t have a vegetable garden but had a huge flower garden in her backyard and she could grow any and every colored flower I had ever imagined. And then inside the house she had a contraption that held flower pots and she grew African Violets. It seemed to me and still does, that she could look at an African Violet plant, smile at it a little, and the most beautiful flowers would bloom in those pots. I can’t get an African Violet plant to have a flower on it to save my life!!! I can talk to them, smile at them, water them scientifically exactly as it says to do on google, set them in the exact kind of indirect sunlight they are supposed to have and not. one. bloom. The leaves are beautifully green, thanks Harriet, but not one bloom to be seen. I want them partially because they remind me of Grandma but also because the blooms are PURPLE! At least the ones she had were.
I was haranguing around one day about not being able to grow anything, vegetable or flower, and a very generous colleague suggested that maybe my particular gift for planting seeds and growing has more to do with the spiritual nature of life. Here we go with the theological metaphors again I suppose, but . . . Jesus does talk a lot about planting seeds, about nurturing the soil of our spirit, about being willing to be part of multiplying the good news of God’s grace 30, 60, even 100 times more than was planted. Maybe the spiritual AND vegetable/flower gardening question for our current time is how do we plant and nurture ourselves and one another in this weird and wired time? When we don’t see and communicate with one another in the ways we probably took too much for granted pre-seven months ago.
Maybe we ask ourselves what the strengths are that came out of the struggles that have happened in our past – globally, nationally, individually? Could it be that our grandparents came out of the struggles with perspectives that allowed them to receive the times when things got better, with a humility of where they saw, received, and nurtured that which fed into beauty, thankfulness for the simplicity of bountiful family meals, and the nature of a strength that brought them together rather than driving them further apart?
My two sets of grandparents lived very different lives located in the same sparsely populated county 90 minutes east of Kanorado on the Kansas-Colorado border. And yet I believe it took the same kind of strength to live through the pandemic of 1918, marry during the dust bowl and Great Depression, and have enough hope for the future to create families that are now facing challenging times of our own. Might we use our past history as a country as a way to remind us that we are stronger together than separately? That we can have vastly different ways of life and yet nurture a family that moves into a future with possibilities and promise? My Grandma Roberts could grow and can enough food to feed an army, my Grandma Crissman could grow outside and inside gardens of such beauty to lift the spirits of even the loudest and most ornery child. And between the two of them and their spouses, they gave the world a family that is vastly different in political perspectives and vocations but I believe have a unity in our shared appreciation of the strength of those two couples who made their way through a period of history not meant for the weak.
I’m going to keep trying with my African Violet here in my office. I’m going to keep enjoying eating produce from other people’s gardens. And I’m going to keep working my darndest to keep a spirit of unity in this place called Grace. Somehow my Grandad Roberts’ patience with my Grandma when she would get pretty stressed about relatives or the church or his behavior snort, and my Grandma Crissman’s patience for my Grandy when he had a stroke and was extremely disabled for the last chapter of his life, are reasons for me to receive their strengths as a gift to grow in my own life. If we can harvest that patience and kindness and spark of humor with and for others in the midst of this stress, maybe that’s a witness that multiplies 30, 60, even a 100 times over in the timeless spirit of the gospel.