Harvest of Blessings

Our pastor used to say, “Look for the blessing in each day.” He liked to remind the church that God’s goodness is all around, and that God intends us to live joyful, peaceful lives, which is possible when we trust in him.

Some of the most reassuring words in all of Scripture are found in the beloved wisdom attributed to King Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

It seems that this wisdom is clearly understood by many farmers, whether or not they can quote the Bible passage.

We have enjoyed many a conversation with farmers who seem to be eternally optimistic. They know from experience that you don’t have to look too far on the farm to find a blessing or evidence of God’s favor.

If you don’t find it over here, well, it may be apparent over there. For us, the deep truth of this wisdom is not lost, but sometimes it is covered by weeds.

When our children were very young, we moved out to the “country,” which meant a small parcel just south of the Pennsylvania- Maryland line. It was April, and we were all excited to explore the space of our lush backyard.

The previous owners had left us a surprise. We discovered buried treasure when we first tilled the garden patch. To our delight, small red potatoes appeared in the dirt. They had never been harvested.

That afternoon, our young children filled two 5 gallon buckets with perfect little potatoes, and we were all thrilled. This was the beginning of our adventure in growing food — even though we had nothing to do with growing this food — and in particular our fascination with potatoes was born.

We started to grow potatoes every year, and when we moved to the farm several years later, it became a staple crop.

Since our farm is a nonprofit, dedicated to growing food for people in need, we recognized early on that the spud would be a valuable part of our production.

The potato crop promised good yields per acre. It is easy to store, popular and, best of all, it will wait until we have enough volunteers assembled to harvest.

Twenty years later, we look forward every season to a bumper crop of potatoes. The size and yield vary with the timing and amount of rainfall, but it remains a pretty reliable crop.

We have upgraded our potato harvesting equipment over the years, but we still need many hundreds of hands to pick up all the taters.

It can be quite fun. And we have discovered, too, that the heavy, dirty work of potato harvesting is best accomplished by 14-year-old boys who need community service hours.

Let’s just say we became a tad bit proud of our potato growing prowess.

Weathering a Change

Now it came to pass that this November we were closing in on the end of the harvest season. We had just 6 acres of potatoes left to gather, and the growing season would be complete.

We did not, however, factor in several days of cold rain followed by a record low of 18 degrees.

To our dismay, as we made our way out to the potato field with a host of eager volunteers ready to pick up what our digging equipment unearthed, the cold weather had wreaked havoc on the crop.

Most of the potatoes were frozen and no longer salvageable.

But wait!

That same cold snap had accomplished something amazing in another section of the farm. We observed some deep green coloring in the landscape that was otherwise brown at this point.

There was a small kale field that we had previously figured would just be plowed under because it was so overrun with weeds.

The same frigid temperatures that humbled us in the potato field killed all the weeds that had been choking the kale, and the green kale was now visibly triumphant and calling out to be included in the fall harvest.

Our volunteers regrouped in the kale field, and several hours later we had a beautiful harvest of many hundreds of pounds of green leafy vegetables.

We had found the blessing in the day, and we were filled with joy after all. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Maybe the lesson will stick this time. There is blessing in every day, and it is not too hard to find when your trust is in the Lord.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Every Person Has a Story

It happened one morning not too long ago. The driver of the tractor-trailer pulled into the farm and came down the lane to the barn area around 5:30 a.m.

He was picking up potatoes that had just been harvested the day before, and he would be delivering them to impoverished communities in West Virginia.

We have come to understand with some degree of clarity that the opportunity to cross paths with someone may be fleeting, but it may also be a valuable encounter.

For many years, we were so busy with the farm that we rarely made time for sharing life with others. We likely missed many messages from the Lord as a result.

After we finished loading the trailer together, we got to talking over cups of coffee before he headed back to West Virginia.

After describing some common farm experiences, he mentioned that he had served in Vietnam. We had lots of older friends who had served there, so we asked him to tell us more.

He said he was an RTO — radiotelephone operator — and he went on to describe his situation. As the RTO for the company, he was the hub of communications to receive instructions, get help and more.

He reported activity on the ground and worked closely with the unit’s commander. He said RTOs had an exceptionally short life expectancy. It was as if the RTO wore a large target on his back. Actually, he wore a large antenna on his back. It made him vulnerable to being spotted, our new friend said.

It was chillingly obvious why he would have been a favorite target of the enemy. If his unit were cut off from communications, it could not summon airstrike support or call for help with casualties. If the enemy could pick him off, the rest of the unit would be badly crippled.

Sure, snipers go after strays who are on the periphery. But taking out the communications hub has much greater impact.

So it is for us all. If our communications with one another — whether in the fields, in our families or in our churches — become frayed or fragmented, we are much more vulnerable to attack.

As Martin Luther so aptly said in his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” — “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe. His craft and power are great. And armed with cruel hate. On earth is not his equal.”

Yes, our ancient foe is clever. He knows he can destroy a Christian leader’s effectiveness by attacking the leader’s ability to communicate, encourage, teach and direct.

How often have we been rocked by revelations within our churches when people in leadership suffer “falls from grace” due to sin and corruption?

When that happens, their witness is tarnished.

What is our best defense? The hymn’s second verse gives us the answer — “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing. Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing ... and he must win the battle.” So we look to our fortress, Jesus Christ, for protection and strength.

In Psalm 46 we read: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar, and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress ...

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.’

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Our farm ministry is unusual in the number of people who help with the harvest or distribute the bounty to people in need.

Even so, there is a network of people in every farm operation, and good, clear, honest and reliable communication is a key to success. Put Christ at the center of your daily communication.

As our new friend got ready to leave, we asked him how he survived his tour of duty. He said the Lord gave him a sign when a rocket-propelled grenade directed at him and his best friend failed to explode.

As his truck pulled away, we reflected on our conversation and marveled that God had spared this man’s life in the jungles of southeast Asia for many untold reasons and purposes, but one of them was clearly so that in 2017 he would minister to people in need in West Virginia and bless these potato farmers in Maryland with his story — a witness of the goodness and power of God.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.