It’s tomato season.
I’m not sure I can convey the physical weight represented by those three words.
The eight Roma plants in my backyard garden, which seemed a small commitment in early June, grew steadily until each required not just one cage, but two. Now they sit, a squatty mess of tangled stems and leaves sagging with fruit.
I went on vacation, and when I came back, I found the oblong orbs tinged crimson. I waited two more days on a hope and a prayer (we’ve had some problems with squirrels in recent years**), and then I went out to pick the first day’s harvest.
Reader, I filled my biggest stock pot to the brim, plus a strainer and one more basket as well. Then I did the same thing two days later. And two days later again.
There comes a point each summer where I second-guess the merits of home-canning.
Last year, that moment came with peaches. I got a brutal August head cold and missed the window, the one-day when all my hand-picked fuzzy fruits of summer joy were perfectly plump with just the slightest give. By the time the fever receded, they were too far gone for canning. I mashed them up and gave the jam to anyone who would take it.
This year, I swore off peaches. But tomatoes? They’re a staple. All of next year’s salsa, the pizza nights, the chili, the spaghetti dinners hinge on me taking the time now — right now — to cut and mash. Heat and stir. Ladle, wipe, twist lids, and boil. Day after day. For hours and hours. Over and over again.
Reader, as I look ahead to some far-off winter evening, where I sit curled up with a book by the fire, I know I’m going to be thankful for the jars lining my pantry. On that day, I will praise my Maker for the many blessings of my garden, my pressure canner, and for a flexible schedule that affords me the space it takes to preserve food and eat locally. And today, as I look around at all my Mason jars and strainers and brush the sweaty hairs from my eyes, I want you to know that I’m so grateful.
But, friends, right now, I’m also tired. And, though I’m grateful, I am overwhelmed by the task that’s before me.
I feel that way about a lot of things, come to think of it.
I’m relatively new to the Reformed church world. I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the RCA on March 8, 2020, right before the world shut down in a global pandemic. At my first General Synod in 2022 we said farewell to a staggering number of churches, and Zeeland Classis, of which I am a member, has dropped from 28 congregations to 5 in a few short years. In the midst of this profound loss and upheaval, I’ve experienced fear in myself and in others about the current state of the church and our future. The task before us — to restructure a denomination, to grieve our losses, to plan for what’s to come — that’s overwhelming.
But, can I tell you why I’m grateful? I’m grateful that I’m here. I’m grateful that I get to be part of the conversation. As a girl growing up in small-town Iowa, I didn’t know that women could be pastors, or elders or deacons for that matter. I had no concept of a larger community of churches beyond the one I attended, and as I looked to the future, I certainly didn’t envision being where I am today, connected to deeply committed church leaders in a diverse and vibrant denomination that can trace its roots back to the earliest days of European settlement in America and that continues to proclaim the sovereignty of God in the midst of a world that desperately needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ for all people.
Friends, the task before us is overwhelming. But, can you see the abundance too?
Praise be to God for the good gifts of garden tomatoes and our adoption into Christ’s body, the church. May God grant us wisdom and perseverance as we continue with the work that is before us.
**On squirrels: did you know those little buggers wait until the tomatoes are perfectly ripe, and then they snake through the garden and take a bite, just one bite, out of each otherwise perfect tomato? Jerks.