My morning Bible reading included a portion of the book written by Amos, a shepherd and grower of sycamore figs. It seemed appropriate that his writing would include references to the challenges of farming. He described the perils of sparse rainfall, scorching winds, invading insects and mold that ruined the crop. Amos appealed to the tribes of Israel to understand that their agricultural setbacks were instruments of God’s judgment and represented opportunities to repent and return to God. Strong words with a powerful message.
Those images triggered a memory about beans, green beans, half runners to be specific.
In our third year of marriage Shawn and I had moved to a rented house inside the city environs. The property owner had several small houses on ten acres of prime land, land he had purchased after returning from World War II, land on which he felled the trees, milled the lumber, and built his own house, the one we occupied. The owner’s offer to stop by with his tractor and prepare a garden space for us brought untold delight. What could be better than working a new garden and supplementing the food budget with fresh produce?
We visited the local feed store and placed an order for beans, potatoes and corn. The wizened clerk doubled over with laughter and asked how many acres we planned to plant. He explained that no one could use that much corn seed in a garden and suggested we reduce the amount from ten pounds to no more than a pound. OK, we were new at this.
Shawn and I busted clods with a rake and hoe and marked out our very first garden. The rows, straight as arrows, stretched some forty feet from the dirt road over to the edge of the property. All told we had seven such rows. Row one was split between potatoes and tomatoes. Rows two through four were set aside for green beans, and rows five through seven were perfect for corn.
We knew nothing about staggered planting. That Saturday morning we tucked into the soil every seed we had purchased and marveled over the potential harvest. The evening found us sipping tea in lawn chairs watching over the garden and waiting for the first sprout. Well, truthfully, we showered and fell asleep on the couch.
Our landlord had a reputation in the community as one who did not suffer fools. One of his friends who had told me about the availability of the house had given me the inside track on getting along. “Never lie to him or cheat him. Keep your word.” Our lease agreement was old-time, made face-to-face with a handshake —nothing written down.
Stories about this man came to us from all corners. We attended the church built on the property adjacent to his and folks there warned us not to rent a house from such a sinner as his temper was legendary. The feud between the landlord and the church remained strong though no one remembered the origin.
I believe God loves sinners, and I can say that because I am one and I know He loves me. Shawn and I prayed for our landlord and asked God’s help in being the right sort of ambassadors to this man who ascribed such little value to “church people” as he called them.
Over time our landlord shared tales of some of his life experiences, and one afternoon we got around to the feud. I was raised to believe that most disagreements have two sides and indeed his contention with the church was valid. Seems none of the neighbors wanted a church on the residential street due to increased traffic and noise as well as parking issues. Our landlord, being the owner of the adjacent property, found that church attendees parked as they felt led to park.
He had requested multiple times that they leave his driveway open and offered the option of parking in one of his fields. But the problem continued. One Sunday morning our landlord found his driveway blocked again and the story goes that with a chain and his backhoe he towed the offending cars into the mud and went on about his business. Shortly thereafter he erected a sturdy and very tall fence along the property line.
Could God work through us to show this man genuine love and concern? Shawn and I watched our p’s and q’s in what we said and how we acted. In those months we had opportunities to display kindness and concern for him and his family. We took full advantage of those moments.
God always has something up His sleeve when it comes to surprising us, doesn’t He?
Back to the garden.
Our beans popped up and for a few whiles I thought maybe we had magic beans of the sort Jack used in the fairy tale. Such proud bean vines, covered with flowers followed by the prettiest little beans I ever saw. Rabbits and deer avoided the garden, I think out of fear of the property owner. Rain fell at regular intervals and warm sun did the slow cook a garden requires. In short order we were eating beans from the garden.
Beans for dinner.
Then beans for lunch and dinner.
We picked, strung, and canned beans in most of our free time. Shawn had sixty quart jars filled with beans lined up on the shelves in the pantry and beans continue to come. I sent a bushel (via UPS) to my Mom two states away. We gave beans away as fast as we could pick them.
Beans, beans, and more beans.
One evening the landlord stopped by to retrieve something from his storage barn and sat with us on the porch. I had just returned with the day’s crop, more than a bushel of green beauties.
Our landlord could not stop staring at the beans, and he commented that they were the prettiest he had ever seen. I thanked him for loaning us the space to grow them. Shawn told him we had prayed over our garden and asked God to bless it. He nodded and added, “You must have powerful connections upstairs!”
He picked up a large bean and snapped it. He shared that in all his travels around the valley no one had any beans. A late frost had killed the plants, and farmers/gardeners had replanted but their crops were weeks away.
“Except for yours! Your vines are standing up loaded with beans. Frost didn’t touch them. Never seen anything like it.”
Shawn raked the beans into paper bags and passed them over. “Please, take some!” She never had to twist his arm, and we turned down his offer to pay for them. We were happy to share and marveled that God in His power had used beans to prove His existence and His love to one whose heart was stony.
Late in the summer the bean vines slowed their production to a mess or so a week. (Mess is an official term from Appalachian weights and measures and constitutes the amount needed to cover a dinner with some left over.) The master gardener across the street from us, who also enjoyed beans from our garden, stopped by to let me know that a good dose of fertilizer along the bean rows would revive them, and I would harvest a second crop as fall approached.
I grabbed the lawnmower and chopped those vines into mulch. When it comes to beans enough is as good as a plenty.