We are finding ourselves with more margin nowadays because everything has been shut down around us. Months without church services helped us see church is in people, not a building. Seasons without team sports and work conferences reminded us that we like having nowhere to go. Now, we are packing up offices to stay home indefinitely, or packing up homes to travel where we want to be since we are working remotely. After half a year spent wrestling with our priorities and with other people’s choices in our communities, and assessing what we will allow to remain after COVID-19 is gone, we aren’t blooming anymore. We are emotionally spent. Our stems even bent. But as Christians, facedown does not mean done.
We don’t always harvest what we plant.
I resurrected my garden last spring and spent a summer sharing about my #gardeninthemargin, about getting my hands back in the dirt where they belong. It was more than therapy for me, it was a million little acts of obedience to Him who called me to stoop low, to go slow while the world around me spun out of control. The countless lessons He taught me then still guide me now. One of my favorites came from the sunflowers.
I fought for patience, relief, and forgiveness in the soil last summer with God. And I danced barefoot in the thick and the muck and the mud of it each time fruit left its stem for my kitchen. But not every plant I cared for produced fruit. We don’t always harvest what we plant.
The particular spice of green salsa inspired me to grow tomatillo plants of my own. Three bright green, beautiful tomatillo plants grew as tall as my always fruitful tomato plants. Part of me could not wait to harvest the fruit and chop it and blend it and dress many a chip with it. The other part of me just wanted to leave it on the vine and admire them as they hung themselves like paper lanterns in a tree just for me. Either way, I was prepped and ready for lots of tomatillos.
I watered and fed. Still weeks later, no fruit.
I remember the morning one plant showed its first petals. Swaths of yellow swelling out from the leaves like a petticoat peeking out from underneath a hoop skirt. The bees came and cross-pollinated. I watered and fed. The soil was good. The sun shone. Still weeks later, no fruit. I could not figure out what had gone wrong. I had done my part and could only assume the bees hadn’t done theirs. So I resorted to dabbing each bloom’s pollen with a paintbrush to cross-pollinate them myself. Still, no tomatillos.
And then came the summer monsters I despise the most: tomato hornworms. They are devilish creatures, large green ferocious caterpillars with a giant spike/horn on one end, that hatch and swallow an entire tomato plant–fruit and all–before you can find them and relocate them. They blend seamlessly with the plant. Even if you do find them, it’s pretty disturbing to pry their sticky pads off the plant you’re trying to save because they are heavy and strong, especially for caterpillars. And I do want them to live, just not by killing my precious tomatoes.
Love each other as I have loved you.
But something unexpected happened when the tomato hornworms found my garden-in-the-margin last summer. They hatched, they ate, and they killed three of my plants–the tomatillo plants. When I found them, I was able to stop them just in time before they started on the tomatoes too. Twenty giant tomatoes were spared because the tomatillo plants were sacrificed. While my mammoth sunflowers shaded them all.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:12-15
The heavy bloom bends the weakened stem.
Sunflowers stand tall like a statue and dust the earth with bright balls of happiness. You can’t see a field a sunflowers and not smile. But, eventually, the bright yellow petals have signaled all the bees and they came pollinated the seeds. As each seed matures, it expands. The heavy bloom bends the weakened stem. And each bright ball of happiness takes a turn and dives down to face the ground. The flower tilts, the petals wilt, the color hides, and it looks like the plant is ready to die. You see it facedown and think it’s over. It’s no good anymore. But that’s not true.
Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it would leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
They don’t care what they look like.
Even a downturned flower can shade a friend. These mighty sunflowers and their giant leaves still blocked tender peppers from the peak of summer’s blazing sun. They don’t care what they look like; they know their job isn’t done yet. Facedown does not mean done. So they bend and bow, as we do in prayer when life brings us to our knees.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
And, because I believe in and plant according to companion planting, the tender peppers and timid basil flavored the precious tomatoes. The onions made the berries taste better and the peppers repel cabbage worms that love to feed on okra foliage. All beneath a canopy of drooping sunflowers.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
I wanted my tomatillo plants to grow tomatillos, not more tomatoes. I wanted physical fruit to eat. God fed me with spiritual lessons too.
Jesus answered, “It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4
I expected all the plants to work together, to be great companions for each other. I did not expect the sunflowers to teach me that shade and rest are vital companions for light and containers for life. And they know their lowest position is still playing a part in bringing things to fruition.
If you don’t like how you look right now, know that God can use any condition and any position to spread His love. If life is bringing you low lately, remember, you can still serve a friend by shading them from the heat, even if you can’t make it to your feet.
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