I met a man named John about ten days ago at Lowe’s. My school day had been one of ups and downs, mentally. I had self-metered my brain’s state of clarity at a 75% in the morning, a 50% in the middle of the day, and by the end, I had reached what I thought was 90%. So, I thought, “‘You know what? I’m going to run some errands! I’m feeling pretty good…”
…and about 45 minutes later, I was still wandering around in the same sections of Lowe’s trying to make just three simple decisions. I stood, staring at the trellises (for supporting winding sweet potato vines), and I just kept pacing back and forth, back and forth, looking, puzzling, fighting for my thoughts to be clear, pacing, checking my list again… and I shook my head at myself as my thoughts were interrupted by a man next to me, muttering to himself as he looked for just the right trellis, too.
“I know how you feel!” I found myself saying.
I chuckled and looked his way. “I do that all of the time…”
“Yeah…” he said, “I just need to find a good trellis for my wife. She described it to me, but I’m not sure if I’m getting the right one…”
And the conversation began.
I found out that John, a 5’10″ish black man with graying stubble on his chin, wearing cargo khaki shorts and a grey T-shirt that hugged his somewhat round belly, was a gardening helper. His wife was the gardener, and he was learning from her, giving her all of the credit for a green thumb, and he was just trying to do something to help her out. He laughed as he explained that gardening was relaxing for them. It got them out of their normal routine and “crabbing at each other.” They felt good there, together, in the garden, and though he mentioned multiple times that she was the one who really knew what she was doing, this man John knew quite a lot.
So, we wandered through the section again, back and forth, like ebbing tides, going in and out of this Lowe’s aisle, passing each other and turning to chat every few minutes again, and he began to inquire about my garden. What did I need the trellis for? What else did I grow? How about tomatoes? (Their tomatoes were doing REALLY well! Hence the need for more trellises to support their growing stalks and fruit.)
And that’s where he came of great assistance.
See, my tomato plants have been struggling… and it’s odd, because last year, at least with my Sun Gold tomatoes, I felt like I couldn’t pick them fast enough. The plant grew, the tomatoes burst at the seams, fell ripe on the ground, spoiled on the ground sometimes, twisted vine-y stems over and around and under and through the fenced areas, and I had to hold the thing back; it was that prosperous! We had Sun Golds for days… months… in plenty.
But, this summer, though I thought I really prepared them well, they’ve been struggling. I put them in pots for more protection, I watered them every morning, I had tomato cages in their soil ready to go before they even got big (which they never really did), I put spikes of organic vegetable fertilizer in them, I….
John interrupted me.
“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” he said. “That’s too much for them, in those pots. The fertilizer just sits in there, releasing continuously, and it’s too much. You probably over-watered them too. Were the leaves yellow?” (Yeah… I’d figured that out halfway through the summer and started changing my watering methods.)
“Well, here’s the thing,” he said. “You want to drop in fertilizer as needed. It’s best to just add it little by little. Those fertilizer spikes that just stay in the soil are too powerful. It’s like they make the plant work too hard for too long, and it can’t just do its normal thing.”
I sat, amazed, at this man who said he didn’t know much about gardening.
“You also want to put the pots on soil. Mine are in pots too, but I set the pots on top of the dirt so they’re close to the ground. I don’t know what it is, but they perform better that way. The like to be close to real earth.”
“Okay, so not planted in the ground, but potted and just set on the ground?” (I’m always looking for things to be re-explained to me in different ways.)
“Yeah, actually on the ground in the pots. They just like to be close to the source, you know? They need that. And then they do really well. And, I water mine every day. Every day they can’t get enough water and sun, and they do great. I mean, look, I’m here buying trellises because they’re getting so big! […] I mean, I just learn all this from the gardener herself, right? She teaches me! But, it works every year.”
I stood, puzzled. It’s that easy? That’s all I had to do? Put the pots on the soil… Geez, I’m thankful for the advice, but I was feeling a little dense! 🙂
So, John and I finished our conversations as I had savored those moments of seemingly clear communication, and he called his wife for clarification on that trellis, and then I wandered down the aisles again, unable to make my choices. Finally, I checked out, having passed John again in the aisles once or twice, and then I went to my car and ran into John one more time in the parking lot. We shook hands, and I very genuinely told him that it was a pleasure to meet him and that I hoped to see him again around the area.
And, I drove home, only to realize in despair once I had unpacked and started to look around for my other items, that I had left two things at the checkout line. It took me a few minutes, and as ridiculous as it sounds, I called Brian to see if he’d pick them up. I was overwhelmed. Despite my life-giving chat with John, all the sudden things felt so heavy. I couldn’t believe that I’d exhausted myself all day at school only to do what should have been a 15 minute errand that turned into an hour and a half after which I left items at the store. Was $10 really that important? We decided yes, and I mustered up the feigned energy to go back, grab the items from the checkout girl who had them ready and waiting, and drove back home. The funny thing was that that errand and its success made me feel like a prize-fighting champion. I did one thing with focus and success that day, it seemed. One thing.
It wasn’t until the next day that my mind started to clear even further, and I realized a few things. And then I realized a few things a few days later. The clarity kept coming.
1) I was still dealing with the symptoms of whatever was happening in my brain. Utter exhaustion + pushing myself to work more + lack of nutrients/water (?) + spiritually battling + trying to do everything and care for everyone = a foggy, indecisive, crippled brain. That topsy-turvy day was absolutely a day in the midst of the most difficult two weeks mentally that I’ve ever had. Though I thought that I had weathered the storm and it was all sunny from there, I had jumped the gun. I wasn’t healed yet.
2) I finally sort of understood what women had described to me before: being so exhausted or consumed with anxiety or even depression that it was a success just to be able to make their kids’ lunches in the morning before school. Life felt that hard that even doing one small thing, like getting their leftover items from the Lowe’s checkout, felt like something to praise God over.
3) John’s name means “God is gracious.” And John, though black, reminded me a lot in stature and demeanor, of my father, whose name is also John.
So, I’ve been taking John’s advice, because God is gracious, indeed. I quickly put my pots on soil that day, and I’ve been watering them every morning. They’re not flourishing yet, but they’re getting stronger and greener each day, and the tomatoes are ripening more quickly than they have been this past summer.
And, I’ve been watering myself each morning, close to the source. I’ve been getting up early to read my Bible and pray, to walk around the grassy yard a little with my dog, Brooklyn, to sit and stare up into the sky, close my eyes, breathe in, breathe out, and prepare myself for the oncoming day.
I’m not flourishing yet, but I’m getting stronger and clearer each day. My legs are able to carry me farther. My mind is able to accomplish more, more efficiently. My days are long and feel like big mountains ahead of me sometimes, but I’m being carried through them. Over them.
And I’m wondering where the rest will be. That’s something I keep asking God. Where will the rest be? Is this just a season, or this what I should get used to? Is this what you’re training me to endure? Am I to find you every morning in quiet moments, and then the rest of my day is going to be like an arduous leg of a marathon, every day, over and over? When will I feel that soul-quenching, body-relaxing, full washing-over-me REST that I so long for? When, God?
And he’s not answering me, yet.
But, I’m staying close to the source… and oh my, my dear friends and family… God is gracious. So, incredibly gracious. Each morning. Each day. Each hour. He is gracious. I’m living in that grace, today and every day, and I’m looking for the glimpse over these mountains.
I’m not healed fully yet, but I’m really looking forward to that day. And I hope that I can meet John again one day, Lord willing, and tell him what his tomato advice meant to me. I wonder if he has any idea…