On a warm, rainy afternoon we stopped at a local farm stand and it happened. They had a huge plastic bag, full to the top, of big, red, juicy tomato ‘seconds’ for $5. They were lightly bruised, a few with a couple of bad spots, but, still, about 15 salvageable pounds of tomato. I bought them. I hugged them. I told my husband I was finally going to get to do it.
Six hours later I was sweating heavily, had bits of tomato on my feet, all over my apron, and in my hair. The kitchen was filled with steamy air and the scent of simmering tomatoes. And there, on my kitchen table, amidst several splatters, were 22 pints of summer tomatoes that had been chopped, cooked, pureed, ladled into sanitized jars, cooked in a water bath, and, finally, left on the kitchen table to cool.
I flopped in a chair just as I heard a “pop” from the other side of the room – the spontaneous sound of lids sealing – and smiled. It was a dream come true.
One of my favorite books of all time is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. On sweaty days living in a dusty, desert, capital city, during epic downpours in Juba trying to be quiet so I could get a few minutes of peace from the sweet and ornery girls I was living with, and in the loudness of a second-floor apartment in a city that only seemed to operate at the level of chaos, I would open the pages of this book, flip to the summer section, and read about Kingsolver harvesting basketfuls of tomatoes from her garden, disguising green beans as guacamole, and pickling everything in sight.
I dreamt of grass, of a yard. I dreamt of seed starts, of going barefoot outside, of plucking fresh herbs, and of the summertime evening chorus of crickets, toads, and insects of my childhood.
And I dreamt of giant bags of local tomatoes in the peak of summer, chopped, simmered, and sealed in steaming jars, to pull out of the pantry in the depths of winter.
I ached to move overseas. I dreamt, obsessed, and planned with a single-minded focus. But in an alternate version of my life, I dreamt of a garden. Of asparagus in May, blueberries in June, and sweet corn and watermelon in July. I dreamt of a cabin in the woods, a root cellar, and walking barefoot in a creek.
The life I obsessed over and worked my butt off for, the life I thought would be mine until I was ready to collect social security, did not pan out forever. It was cut much shorter than I ever anticipated, and here we are. I am no longer in North Africa. I no longer speak Arabic every day. I no longer haggle over vegetables, or hang on for dear life in a rickshaw.
It was the life I wanted more than anything.
And then it had to end.
But the end is never just the end. Here I am, tomatoes in my hair, and all down my apron. Tired feet, sweat dripping down my back, and all my kitchen towels stained red. Finding myself in this alternate version.
Life as I knew it ended. And yet, somehow, it opened the window for another dream to come true. For everything, a season.
But what now? Do I get to pursue this life now? Or does Jesus call us, continually, to the broken places?
I think we know the answer.
I am torn between wanting a quiet life in the woods and a life in the hard places, on the margins.
I want a small ecological footprint, the opportunities for homesteading, having chickens, and foraging.
But I also want to desperately have friendships with diverse people. I want to be a part of the fight against white supremacy, racism, and the fear of immigrants. I want to shop at Middle Eastern markets and speak Arabic. In this country, I still want people who are homeless and refugees to be my friends. I want to have neighbors, and I want to be in community with them. I want to go to a church where not everyone looks like me. I have ideas for income generating projects for women, my eye on local chapters of “Food Not Bombs,” and the emotional fortitude to endure the awkwardness that comes with starting over, in a new place all over again, again.
But I also want to not live in a city. I want to grow some of our own food. I want to hear birds more than I hear cars. I want to touch the earth every day that it is not frozen. I want to run and not breathe in polluted air. I want solar panels and fruit trees and starry skies and and and and I..I…I…I…
After all this time, I should be better at this by now.
What is going to happen is that we will move to wherever my husband gets a job. And we will make it our home.
At every transition in my life the last few years (and there have been several) I have been filled with fear. It is my default. Getting married has made it both better and worse. Better because I have my favorite person with me wherever I go. Worse because I don’t get to control what happens to me and now him, either. I still get terrified about what I cannot control, what I cannot expect, if I will every do anything that matters, if we will ever get to feel a sense of stability.
And on the days I feel fear, where I get overwhelmed, when I look at the world and am not convinced things will get better instead of worse, I use my hands. I write, I draw, I weed, I bake. And I can tomatoes.
When I am scared of nuclear war, when I weep over the devastation of hurricanes, when I worry about finances, when I ache for fulfilling work, when I get angry that my body is still so broken, I take the abundance of the season, trust that not everything will come to a crashing halt tomorrow, and I can tomatoes for winter.
Feeling fear is not a sin, but making choices that limit our kingdom-building capacities in this world, is, or at least can be. Choosing to hunker down and keep the peace, generally affords those of us who have that as an option feel more stable, but it rarely makes for a more just society.
So I try to make my life choices, instead, in hope.
I hope for the days ahead. I hope for de-escalation. I hope those who hate will be called out. I hope the US triples the number of refugees we allow in, instead of halving it. I hope for Arabic speaking friends. I hope those friends feel safe here. I hope we’ll find employment and I hope we’ll find friends and I hope I can finally feel settled in a place. I hope for the coming kingdom.
Though, in my worst moments, I am so scared. But I have been scared before. I will be scared again.
So, today, I swallow my fears. I wipe my hands on my apron, and keep canning tomatoes for our tomorrows, trusting the good Lord will provide for our todays, our tomorrows, and that his kingdom is coming, however slowly, and he graciously allows us to take part.