In Search of Perfection

It’s always fun when we get to connect with other farmers, increase our agricultural knowledge, and network with suppliers and vendors.

One of the annual events we enjoy is the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention. At events like this we find new ideas, build relationships with old and new friends, and stimulate our thinking about how we can improve our processes and practices on the farm.

Last year, we were excited to learn about a variety of potato that might significantly enhance our production.

For many years, we have been devoted to the sturdy, reliable and tasty Kennebec potato. It has been a mainstay in our crop lineup, and it has served us well.

However, we have noticed that depending on weather conditions, the spuds are prone to growing into weird shapes, sometimes with multiple protrusions coming out of them.

There have been times, especially when we have worked with young people in the fields, that the queer-looking shapes of the potatoes became the focus of attention and basis of a contest to find the most comical looking tuber in the land.

Alas, this would unfortunately descend into less productive potato picking because the youths became preoccupied with examining each potato for its humor value.

We would have to work to steer the competition back to quantity of yield rather than uniqueness of shape discovered in the dirt.

So last year at the convention, we were delighted to be introduced to the Eva potato. The Eva is beautiful to behold — consistently uniform and almost perfect in shape, easy to process and an overall good-looking spud.

The Eva was so attractive, we found ourselves looking down in judgment at our old friend, Kennebec, ready to turn from or even deny our longstanding association with it.

We were sold on Eva. It wasn’t until harvest that we learned about a weakness we had not anticipated — Eva potatoes are prone to bruising, especially when handled by the hundreds of 14-year-old boys who come from schools all over the region to help with our potato harvest every year.

The tradeoff was not worth it.

Heart of the Matter

It’s easy to find a spiritual truth in this humbling experience. We too often judge others, even within the church, by appearances.

We may be in search of the perfect Christian, or worse yet, we may be tempted to portray ourselves as having it all together with an external display of spirituality — church attendance, Bible study, prayer.

But we know there are no perfect people, no perfect disciples. And God has made it clear throughout Scripture that he knows the heart of each person and it is the condition of our heart that matters the most, not how we look on the outside.

We learn this in the selection of David to be king. When Samuel the prophet is preparing to anoint God’s chosen one, he is guided by God in 1 Samuel 16:7: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ ”

Many generations later, in Luke 16:15, Jesus addressed the Pharisees, who loved money, image and power: “He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.’ ”

Just as with the produce in the fields, where one genetic trait may be favorable but comes with a less appealing characteristic underneath, each one of us has imperfections that we may try to hide or worse yet, that we may be oblivious to.

One person is hardworking but also judgmental. Another person is full of grace and mercy, but doesn’t always follow through on commitments.

We are called to serve one another and serve with one another in unity of the Spirit. We are to approach each one of our brothers and sisters in love, and to see them as God sees them — precious and the object of his great and unfailing love.

There is no perfect potato and no perfect person, but there is perfect love.

Our search for perfection can be satisfied only when we open our hearts to the perfect love of God the Father, expressed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and made available to us through his Holy Spirit.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

Hiding From the Shepherd

We kept sheep for about 10 years. Total joy!

There have been several books written on how the Bible portrays sheep as metaphors for humans. A favorite is “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller.

This book is highly recommended for the author’s personal and spiritual understanding of sheep in relationship to the good shepherd.

Yet, even beyond these explanations, we easily saw ourselves in the sheep we tended, and years later, the lessons continue to ring true.

It is hard to forget those times we would corral the sheep in barn stalls so that we could trim their feet or administer worm prevention by “drench.”

It was comical to watch these animals perform a predictable move called “hiding from the shepherd” by which they thought they could escape the unpleasant tackle, trim and drench.

A ewe would withdraw to a corner of the stall and put her head down, pressed into the wall in a maneuver clearly intended to fool the shepherd.

She seemed to believe that if her head was tucked down and pressed firmly into the wall, we couldn’t see her. It was hilarious.

Yet, how many of us think we can hide from God? We do not want his preventive medicine. We reject his snipping of our overgrown flesh.

We dare to pretend that among all the sheep in the stall, he won’t see us if we do not incline our face toward him. Maybe he thinks it is comical too.

Or maybe it breaks his heart.

Chew On It

There is a different characteristic of sheep that is actually worth emulating in a metaphorical sense.

Sheep, like cattle, are ruminants. Suffice it to say, without getting into the science of four chambers in the stomach, that after the ewe eats grass or hay, she enjoys it again by chewing the cud — rechewing, reswallowing and redigesting that which is good nourishment for her.

Ah! Now we are on to something. Suppose that when we receive the good nourishment of truth — when we read the Bible or spend time in prayer listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit — we allow ourselves to ruminate on it.

We ponder it; consider it again, let it digest more completely.

In our culture, there’s an emphasis on speed and consumption — even speed of consumption when it comes to things like fast food.

How many of us take time to consider deeply, to meditate on how the Spirit has spoken to us, to reflect on where that still small voice of God is leading us?

In John 10, we read, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. ... I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. ... My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

It takes time to learn the voice of the Shepherd. If we are in a hurry, we may miss his call; we may miss the gentle leading of his voice. But how important it is to recognize his voice amidst all the noise and chaos — or worse, to listen to the voice of darkness masquerading as light.

We must tune into the frequency of the Holy Spirit — the way of righteousness, the truth of Christ.

How much of a difference would it make in this new year, in the newness of each day, to not just seek his leading, seek his truth, seek understanding in the white noise of the messages we are bombarded with every day — but to spend time ruminating, chewing it over again, seeking discernment about how truth applies in each of our lives, really allowing it to be fully digested into our souls?

Resolving to Ruminate

Many of us have made promises for 2018. We promise to do better, to be better, to spend more time with those we love on what matters most.

Perhaps among those pledges, we should add the step of rumination, not just reading the Bible or committing time in prayer — but adding the step of pondering.

What does God have for me in this bit of truth? How can I apply it in my life more personally and more meaningfully?

As described in Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.”

Thankfully, the verse does not end there — “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” — and neither does our comparison to sheep have to end there.

Perhaps we can all, like sheep, ruminate on the nourishment of truth, its beauty, reality and application to our own way.

This post was originally published on Lancaster Farming.

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.