I’ve been gardening for decades, but this summer was a first. We harvested next to nothing. We picked one fully-formed and ripe tomato, yesterday and one cantaloupe, just today. Well, we DID get peppers. Evidently rats don’t like peppers. And, yes, I confess I titled this “catch the foxes” because I just didn’t think you’d get this far if I had started off with rats.
I went out to pick the first of the cantaloups back in June. It looked lovely, and I had been anticipating it for weeks. But when I grabbed it to pick it up? It was light, too light. I twisted it off the stem and turned it over, quickly recoiling - it was completely hollowed-out. Only a thin, 1/8” rind was left as a shell, with a chewed hole in the underside about the size of a …well, of one of the tomatoes I also never got to harvest.
That was the next thing. While we were battling the critters over the melons, I thought, well, at least there will be tomatoes and zucchini. There are ALWAYS tomatoes and zucchini, right? Not this year. As the green tomatoes turned yellow, they disappeared. It took me a while to realize what was happening. Wait, weren’t there green tomatoes on this branch last week? I thought for sure there would be some squash ready by now. What about the cucumbers? Didn’t this plant have a bunch of baby cukes? They were all devoured whole, including any remnant of stem, leaving only a barely discernable scar on the plant branch.
Thus the battle raged into August. It involved nightly trappings and every-morning emptying of traps. Suffice to say that in Southern California we have citrus and avocado trees in backyards, and those trees attract tree rats, and those tree rats evidently had quite a year this year. It’s not that “we” had rats; it’s that our town did, and I was feeding all of them. We were the rodent restaurant of choice this summer. And yes, I have a cat. She was out-numbered and frankly not of size to battle this horde.
After over 90 days of battling vermin, very little is left of either my garden or my desire to garden. I pulled out much of what was attracting them, tried to save two tomato plants, replanted a zucchini in hopes that maybe it wasn’t too late - because is it ever too late for zucchini?
But the sweet pleasure is gone. I don’t even want to touch the plants, much less run my fingers through the soil. The joy of watching tiny green marbles puff up into my luscious lunch fare became a tragi-comedy, a farce. I’m repulsed by the memories of rats longer than their traps, and the thoughts of them scampering around my garden leaves it with little appeal. The strong temptation is to turn the whole thing over and never touch it again, because I am not exaggerating when I tell you that is exactly how disturbing this has been. I stood and considered ripping out not just the garden, but my carefully constructed garden beds. I wanted to burn the whole thing down.
Have you ever felt like that? That something you have poured so much time and effort into has been a total waste? That you just want to rip it out, burn it down, have nothing to do with it ever again? I think we all have, and I suspect many of us have given in to that temptation at least once in our lives.
Perspective-wise, this little garden in my backyard isn’t that important, but it reveals something about my heart - my humanness, that is.
When things get hard, frustrating, repugnant, and there is no end in sight…when there is no harvest and the seeds sown seem to be a waste…when the devouring horde has taken it all and there seems to be nothing left …What then? What happens if I sow and do not reap? When I didn’t take the cue from Song 2:15, and I didn’t catch the little foxes before they devoured the tender grapes? Where is the promise of harvest then?
The answer has to be seen with the eyes of faith. The harvest always has really belonged to the Lord. It is mine to be faithful, but it is His to bring the harvest. Farmers know this; their faithfulness can be wiped out by a change in the weather, yet they don’t have the luxury of giving up. Often all is not quite as lost as it first appears, if they wait and don’t give up. And then, the working of the soil, the tending of the field, the tilling, and manure, and all that seems lost for one season still builds into the next.
And so with me. When I have worked, and prayed, and reasoned, and poured my love into a spiritual work that is suddenly, starkly, fruitless? There will be mourning and grief, and understandably so. But my vision is so short – on this season, this field – while God’s vision encompasses all time. I know I need, at that moment, to remember that the harvest is the Lord’s. I must focus on my own faithfulness, trusting that the seeds that have been sown, the tilling and working of a heart’s soil, are not in vain.
Do the promises of the harvest hold, even when I don’t see the harvest? I think we all know they do. God has promised that His Word will not return void, “…Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the purpose for which I sent it.” (Is 55:11) We are told, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up,” (Gal. 6:9) yet we forget that the season we are in may not be the “due season,” the appointed time.
We do grow weary of the battle with the devouring horde, sometimes, don’t we? We pace in front of the microwave of life, thinking surely it should be due time now! Yet clearly in Scripture, God lifts our eyes to a time beyond our own calendar to rest on His plan.
So my friend, join me in taking a deep breath, releasing the frustration and the sadness and the regret and the done-ness to Him. Let’s keep being faithful sowers, waterers, and tenders of that which He has given into our hands. Our lives are part of the soil of the Lord's vineyard. It all belongs to Him. And as for me and my garden? Well, I’ll try to take my own advice! – but I’ll be keeping a weather-eye out for those, um, “little foxes”!
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