The eating part of the community meal had just ended. Folks lingered about, getting refills of cold water and enjoying the company. I sauntered out to the garden to begin working in our community garden that would grow healthy and justly produced food to help feed people at the meal. I hoped someone would follow. Soon three guys followed me out, Frank in his 60s, Jimmy in his late teens, and Bob who is 8. We all put on gloves and began to load horse manure and straw into the wheelbarrow so we could use it to create pathways through the garden. Frank told stories of growing up in the country, baling hay, and clearing land for pasture use. Jimmy listened intently and interjected his own work experiences. Meanwhile Bob was happily spreading the manure and finding all kinds of interesting things along the garden pathway. The conversation and work continued on in a leisurely pace and I didn’t say much.
The birds sang and the crickets played their tunes and the sun beat down upon us as it began to creep toward the western horizon. We worked on and at the end of the second pathway we were sweaty, tired and probably a little smelly. But I didn’t care. I was as content and peaceful as can be. We didn’t solve the world’s problems that night and we probably didn’t even solve our own but for one hour the four of us tasted something beautiful.
I believe it was a glimpse of God’s reign breaking in on the earth—the reign where all things are in right relationship with each other. It is where the elderly are revered for their wisdom and stories and where the young are continually fascinated. It is where the earth is cared for and renewal happens through death. It is where peace kisses justice and righteousness hugs truth.
Perhaps the kingdom of God isn’t as mystical as it seems. And it just might be only a pitchfork, a pile of manure, and a few friends away.
She wears pink sweaters in the winter and her blue eyes follow her lips into a mischievous smile. Too many wrinkles etch across her face, but her blond hair betrays youth. Her name was Elaina. I always thought she was beautiful. I only hoped that one day I would ask her how she was and she would say, “I am strong.” Instead, it was the endless saga of illness—body and mind. Sometimes I didn’t even want to ask, because I didn’t want to get her started. She had a dictionary’s worth of medical terms to explain exactly what was racking her thin body. Perhaps what she didn’t know was how illness can creep into one’s mind, saturating it with fear. Mystery intruders poisoning her food. Neighborhood boys stalking her property. Doctors refusing to treat her. I struggled to sort reality from illusion, listening from agreeing. On my good days, I sat on the couch with Elaina. And when my heart was distant, I walked past her. Elaina went through a really troubling time when fear consumed her and she was unable to sleep at night. She lives alone in a rural area. Her paranoia drove her to sit up and watch her home for hours on end.
Despite the worry and exhaustion under her eyes, she still came in to volunteer every Thursday. She started as a volunteer in the Transformation Station to “barter her time” for a stove and later a car. After arriving, she would join me in the kitchen and make hot cocoa for herself. She didn’t like how I made it. Then, sitting as close as possible to the wood stove, she stuffed envelopes slowly because she kept her gloves on. I remember one afternoon clearly. Elaina had finished her volunteer tasks and was lying with her head resting on the arm of our well-used couch. Her bright eyes were closed. She was sleeping! Resting. At peace. I felt a strange and wondrous sense of fulfillment in seeing her in such childlike abandon. I knew that she felt safe here, at home. She could close her eyes and stop looking over her shoulder, because she trusted us. I desire for our community to experience this deep resting and abiding in Jesus’ love that overflows, freeing us and others from fear. May we, and Elaina, find a home.
– Dawn Tobin