Blueberry Miracle

I am constantly amazed by the resilience of nature.

Koinonia is in the process of putting a new addition on our dining hall. Back in December, the project kicked off with the installation of the new 4,000-gallon septic system, which was to be placed just along the edge of our front yard. I knew the hole for the enormous tank would be big, but nothing could prepare me for the massive mound of red earth that appeared that afternoon.

The contractors tried to avoid spilling dirt over into our garden, but unfortunately they did not recognize that the bare twigs emerging from the ground next to our dogwood tree were very young blueberry bushes. We were not at the house to request that they tweak the placement of the pile, and so on that drizzly winter day three blueberry plants were buried under about eight feet of heavy clay soil.

While waiting for the inspector to come and approve the septic system, the dirt remained untouched for more than two months. I lamented the loss of the blueberries that we would have enjoyed this summer, and tried to laugh it off. But it still irked me.

In April, there was an issue with one of the pipes coming off of the septic, and so part of the system had to be uncovered. As the maintenance crew dug, they tossed aside severed tree roots and chunks of urbanite. I was cooking lunch that morning, and when I came out to pick some herbs from my yard, there was one of my kids’ sandbox pails half filled with red clay, with three stems of a muddy, broken blueberry plant wedged in the sticky soil. The guys were proud of their find, but I shrugged it off and wondered why they had bothered to repot the dead plant. Nevertheless, I placed it next to our potted trees and it received regular waterings for a few weeks until…

New growth! I could scarcely believe my eyes. Against all odds, this seemingly fragile plant had been buried alive for months, and emerged from certain death with its roots still longing for life.

We will place the bush in our yard this fall, and if all goes well it will produce its first fruits next summer. But the hope in this story is so much bigger than a few sweet blueberries for my family to enjoy.

Sometimes it is a struggle simply being in the world. Sometimes obstacles weigh me down, disappointments crowd my view, demands pile up and threaten to crush me, and it is tempting to give up on my dreams entirely. But then I think of the blueberry bush that held on long enough to survive in the mud. Trauma caused the plant to go into shock, and it put all of its energy into the main roots.

Insignificant though it may seem, that plant’s survival has inspired me constantly throughout the last two months. When life’s pressures seem too much to handle, it’s crucial to get back to basics, to put all of my energy into the roots of each aspect of my life.

When relationships go awry, I don’t give up as quickly as I used to. The roots that survive traumatic conditions are the strongest; sometimes waiting for conditions to improve produces the hardiest plants which bear the sweetest fruit. When setbacks cloud my vision, I’m learning to focus on what inspired me in the first place. Then the taproots survive to support the main branches, and when the seasons change new growth occurs.

When I wait patiently and watch diligently, I am sure to witness the blessings that follow those first small leaves of hope.

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Peel Back the Layers

Yesterday we harvested some of our onions, and while cooking with and preparing to cure them I was struck once again by the powerful metaphor presented by these simple bulbs. Often I have heard people refer to spiritual growth as “peeling back the layers of the onion.” The implication is that the inward journey is slow and multi-faceted.  My revelation today was that the layers represent much more than I had once imagined.

I had never cooked with onions that fresh before, and was surprised at the moisture in the outer skins. Onions we purchase from the supermarket have already been cured for storage. The thin outer membranes must dry out for several weeks before they are ready to be kept in a cool dry place. When properly cured an onion can be stored in a root cellar for months. But if the outer layer is not allowed enough time to dry, then rot will set in after only a few weeks.

I also learned that onions are not just for flavoring foods; they also contain powerful medicine. When eaten with fatty foods they help to reduce blood cholesterol, and they can be made into tonics for treating colds and flu.

The papery skin of a well-cured onion at first seems like inadequate protection from a world full of insects, bacteria and fungus. But these layers, less than a millimeter thick, are crucial if we are to get any use out of the harvest down the road.

The same holds true in spiritual terms. We are offered abstract, invisible tools to protect us and help us to grow. Prayer and meditation might seem unimportant when we are faced with a week’s to-do list, but without the thin veil of these protective measures, we won’t hold up under the pressures of daily life. Spiritually speaking, I’ve learned that it’s important to preserve my “onions” until I’m ready to unlock their healing powers.

As my story unfolds, I journey deeper within, seeking truth in the many facets of the one I know as God. Each layer has significance and meaning, pungent and spicy and sweet. I used to rush through each bulb, seeking some truth at the center. But at the core there was always just another potential layer. As I age and mature, I find that the peeling process takes me longer, I take more time to notice the distinct differences in each segment of my onions. I consider its use carefully; suddenly a taken-for-granted staple becomes medicine and vitality.

Peel back the layers, yes. But don’t expose the fragile center too soon, or the harvest might spoil before you get to enjoy the reward.