I went out to my bean patch on Friday afternoon, and looked very sorrowfully at the beans hanging there. It looked like there was a lot there that were ready to be picked, but I knew it was going to have to wait. I was getting ready for church retreat and there was just no way that I would be able to get to my patch yet that afternoon.
“Maybe I can scurry out here in the morning,” I thought hopefully. “We don’t need to be at camp until 11, so maybe I can squeeze that in before we need to leave.”
The thing was, I wanted to make cinnamon rolls for our church family for brunch on Saturday morning. Friend Torre was spending the night with us, and she would help me put the dough together when we got home, and all I would need to do would be to roll out the dough and put the rolls in the pans in the morning.
Friday night was hotter than all get out at Mardela Springs camp. Certain Man took a big chicken house fan along to try to move some air, and we milled about, sweaty and sticky in the big room. It was noisy with the hum of the big fan and the conversations that went on between the adults and the playing of THE LITTLES. We ate hamburgers and hot dogs and ice cream and lemonade and tea and finally came home around nine. I had gotten Friend Normie to stay with OGN and Cecilia, because they really do not like going to Church Camp under aesthetic conditions, much less ones that are noisy and hot, and I was so thankful they were already in bed when we got home. Torre and I got the dough mixed up and into the refrigerator, and I went to bed.
In the early, groggy minutes soon after five the next morning, I was aware that I had a really insistent headache. This is not my usual malady. I almost never get headaches, but I did that morning and I tried to go back to sleep, hoping to sleep it off, but then I remembered that I had cinnamon rolls to make, and that I wanted to pick them thar’ beans, and so I decided to get up and get moving and see what I could get done. I came down to the kitchen, got some medicine and a cup of coffee and sat on my chair for a bit. I was soon feeling rather muchly better, so I got the cinnamon rolls started and worked at straightening the kitchen, looked for a recipe for sticky buns that didn’t have milk, got Cecilia up and showered, got OGN her breakfast, and kept my eye on the time. Then I started the icing cooking on the stove and called Friend Normie and told her we weren’t going to be gone before at least nine-thirty. I fed BL, iced cinnamon rolls, and inverted the sticky buns onto a hard flat surface and called Eldest Daughter to see if she could pick up the cinnamon rolls and sticky buns to take them over to camp. Whew! She could! That was a big load off my mind.
I kept thinking and thinking about the Lima beans hanging on and thought about just giving them away to someone who would pick them. But it’s been a slow year in my bean patch, and even though we’ve had some good eating, I haven’t frozen a single bag of this year’s crop. This wears hard on this Delaware Grammy’s heart, but as the time got shorter and shorter until our intended time of departure, I realized that there was no way that I was ever going to make it out there before we left for Mardela Springs. I decided to just wait and see. Maybe we would be home before dark –?
We weren’t. And it doesn’t work very well to pick Lima Beans by the light of the moon or the beam of a headlight or even the steady beam of a LED light, plastered against a sweaty forehead and held in place by a big piece of elastic. I gave it up for the night and went to bed.
Sunday morning came, and it was off to camp again. There was the usual last mad flurry of activity where church members cleaned up and then Daniel and I delivered non-perishables to the church, took some leftovers to a local homeless shelter for veterans and pulled into our driveway at about 3:20. We unloaded our ladies and emptied our mini-van, then dropped the van off at a repair shop for a Monday morning appointment and came back home to catch some rest.
“Maybe I should go pick those Lima Beans,” I said to my weary spouse as we walked to the house after parking his pickup in the pavilion. “I know it is Sunday, and all that, but I also think I am going to lose quite a few the way it is.”
“Well, you don’t want to go do it now,” he said. “It’s too hot! Besides, you should take a break!”
“You’re right,” I said, “but do you think it would be okay to do it later, after it cools off?”
“I guess you can do what you want,” he said, without enthusiasm. And headed up the ramp into the air conditioned coolness of the farmhouse at Shady Acres.
I followed him in and did some serious thinking. I thought about my Daddy. I thought about hay down in the fields on a Saturday night, needing to be baled, but his unwavering commitment to NEVER doing unnecessary work on Sunday. I thought about how he would leave everything sit over the Day of Rest, and then get back to it on Monday. I thought about how he would leave his farm on busy June evenings to be the superintendent for Summer Bible School at a little country church in the rural Frederica/Felton area and how hard he worked to bring children to Bible School. I thought about people who had no religious sense of obligation, who planted and cultivated and harvested whenever it seemed like a good time, who thought that Daddy was foolish to sacrifice so much for “so little” in monetary rewards. I remembered Daddy saying to us children, “Always remember that God doesn’t settle His accounts in September.”
I thought and thought, and knew that I was going to wait to pick beans until this morning. Daniel wondered about what I was going to do, and I said, “I’m just going to get out there in the morning, first thing, and I’m going to pick those beans, and what I lose, I lose.”
Through the early morning while I changed the washer, made beds, showered Cecilia, fed breakfast, and did meds, I thought about my bean patch. I had sent some fervent prayers Heavenward, begging for protection and that the patch wouldn’t have too many dried and ruined bean pods. Maybe God would choose to bless the decision to wait until this morning, and give me an overabundance of beans for my freezer. The longer I thought, the more excited I got to just see how God was going to make this my best picking ever. Or at least this year.
I put Cecilia on her bus after telling OGN that I was going straight to the bean patch immediately after she was gone, and headed out for my garden. I got a five gallon bucket from Certain Man’s stash, and contemplated taking the second one that I had convinced myself I would need, but then decided that I would just come back for it. I left it down where it was easily accessible, and started down my first row. The dew was heavy, and the sun was warm. Even with the cooler temperatures, it was still a hot, wet job. I picked the first five feet and got about that many beans. Five. There were almost no dried, brown ones, but neither were there many that were full and ready to pick. I searched the plants high and low and wondered if I would even get enough to make this worth my time. The second five feet yielded another ten or so, but also had wilted, green and yellow pods hanging lifelessly from the stems. The leaves were mostly full and lush, and there were plenty of blossoms, but there were almost no beans to pick. I looked at the bottom of my five gallon bucket and it wasn’t even covered. I wondered about my optimism and hope for a good picking this morning. I couldn’t say that there were terribly many that went to waste, so far at least, but there just wasn’t the abundance I was looking for. I thought about how I was planning to give God the glory for a great crop, and about how encouraged I had planned to feel if I hadn’t lost very many and had a better than expected picking. I wasn’t to the point of feeling resentful, but the temptation was growing in my disappointed heart.
And then in my pocket, my cell phone began to ring. I checked the screen and saw that it was from my brother, Mark, Jr. I wiped my fingers off on my t-shirt and swiped the screen. The voice on the other end was subdued, but warm.
“How are you doing?” We exchanged pleasantries, talked briefly about my bean patch, his bean patch and how nobody’s bean patch seems to be doing well this year. And then he said, “What I really called to tell you was that I got a phone call this morning that I’ve been sort of expecting for a long time, but I still don’t know how to deal with it. (—-) took his life last night.”
In that millisecond, time stood still. Around me, the dew still hung on the bean leaves. The cicadas made their crazy noise and the crickets chirped. I felt the sucker punch of denial and sadness and shock and regret settle in my stomach with a sick, sick feeling and I tried so hard to not believe what I had heard. (—-) was a childhood friend, born between Mark, Jr. and me. He often spent the summer days at our farm, playing with Mark and turning brown in the sun. He was allowed to go without his shirt and he could make those offensive noises with his armpits and he showed off his skill often to the point of sometimes being obnoxious. I remember his skinny, sinewy arms and his shock of blond hair. He loved to tell stories and among our family treasures was this one.
His father had taken to doing a little farming in the fields beside their big white house, and one of the crops that he planted was some corn. Young (—-) watched the corn with great interest, and lo! And behold! There came a day when it sprouted tassels out the top the way corn is supposed to, but this phenomenon had never been observed by him before. He came striding down to our house with the air of something to tell.
“You’ll never guess what!” He said with great excitement. “My dad planted all of his corn upside down! The roots are growing straight up in the air!” He paused a bit for effect and then said, shaking his head with disbelief, “How dumb can you get?”
Life so often disappointed him. He never married, and had a succession of failed relationships, failed enterprises, and failed dreams. He often told my brother, “You’re the only friend I have.” Mark was always kind to him, lending mowers and other equipment to him, always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, always trying to speak Jesus into his life, but also sought to give him the space he often desperately seemed to fight for. And now he was gone. The thought hung heavy in the morning air.
“I know he had choices,” Mark was saying now, and I brought myself back to the bean row and his voice. “But on mornings like this, I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for the home that we had, for the parents and the upbringing we had. Sometimes it just seems like there are some people that are just so shortchanged on so many counts.”
I looked at my almost empty bucket of beans and thought about how easy it is for me to expect God to do the special things or give special gifts because I am keeping my attitude right or because I am doing the right thing, and I suddenly felt so ashamed of my petty expectations and my selfish heart. There was more than enough reason to give glory to God and to shout aloud His praise. He had given me so much in so many ways that counted far more than a bean crop from a Delaware summer. I finished my call with my brother, and looked at the sum total of beans in my bucket. It wasn’t even half full.
But my heart! My heart! It was brimming over with praise for God’s incredible Mercy towards me in a thousand ways with every single breath. I felt the sting of sadness for our friend and his family, and I don’t think I will ever make my peace with suicide, but I also can stand in the presence of an almighty God and lay the questions at his feet, and decide to trust Him with the things that I can never personally explain.
God doesn’t settle His accounts in September. And God’s mercy is not measured by a five gallon bucket that is standing almost empty.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
And so, my heart gives humble, grateful praise!