General CBF

I can’t even grow tomatoes

By Allen Taliaferro

Trying to grow things in the red Georgia clay has been an incredibly humbling experience.

In a previous personal blog, I explained my failure to establish new grass in this miserable soil. I have surrendered on the yard and taken up gardening.

The garden project started well enough. In mid-March, I spent two back-breaking hours turning over a 150-square-foot plot in the back yard by hand. We collect all kitchen scraps in a composter I built from an old drainage pipe, and I mixed a year’s worth of black organic matter in to the lumpy clay. Determined not to repeat my previous mistake, I mixed a large bale of peat moss into the sticky red soil for good measure.

About two weeks later, I happily set the new tomato plants, peppers, lettuce and on a whim, a single cucumber vine. Everything looked beautiful by late April and I was ecstatic when the first  sprigs of red-leave lettuce emerged.

While I was still annoyed with the uneven ground, erosion and patches of strange weeds in the front yard, the garden was really looking good. I began to look forward to the few minutes of alone time when I watered and weeded the little patch. By early June, the tomato plants were climbing steadily up their stakes and nearly at eye-level. The first peppers were peanut sized and the cucumber plant was running in every direction. I cannot overstate how pleased I was with the entire experiment.

The day before the CBF General Assembly in Dallas, I went out to water the garden, interrupting five small deer in the midst of their breakfast. The lettuce was completely gone and they were making good progress on the cucumber. Thankfully, they did not appear interested in the tomato plants or peppers.

Contemplating the empty row of lettuce and stripped cucumber vines as I left for the airport, I decided that things could be worse. I was right about that. When I returned from the Assembly, things were worse. Every tomato had a gouge the width of a car key. So did every pepper. I don’t mean that some did. I mean every doggone one was missing a chunk. And, within a day or two, they all began to rot on the vine.

Apparently, chipmunks do not like tomatoes or peppers.

Unfortunately, there is no institutional memory in this particular community of ‘munks (pun intended). They had to taste each vegetable as soon as it formed to confirm their dislike. I spent the rest of the summer with two visual reminders of my inadequate agricultural skills. In the front yard, I failed in the preparation and planting. In the back, I failed to protect what I successfully started.

This is the part where I introduce a gratuitous metaphor about gardening from the Bible, wrapped in worn language, and delivered with false introspection. I will spare you the pain.

What matters is that in eight months, somebody in a funny hat is going to shake my hand, smile for the camera and hand me a little roll of paper. In startling finality, somebody else in a funny hat will pray for my ministry and offer a benediction over my academic career.

How could that possibly prepare me for the Gospel ministry? How will I speak truth in difficult situations? How will I know which way to go when the path is obscure? How will I forgive, encourage, chastise, support, marry, bury, counsel and love a congregation when I doubt my ability to do any of these things well. I read some books, wrote some papers and skipped a few hours of sleep.

Ready to serve and lead God’s people? I can’t even grow tomatoes.

Allen Taliaferro is a second career technology professional in his third year at McAfee School of Theology. He is married with two daughters and presently serving as the Adult Ministry Intern at Dunwoody Baptist Church. In preparation for his graduation in May of 2016, he is searching for a ministerial position somewhere between Georgia and his native Virginia. 

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