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Belonging Over the Long Haul

What have others taught you about how to garden - and how to love? Sarah Westfall shares her discoveries.

Elisa




Belonging Over the Long Haul

By Sarah E. Westfall

 

One look at his weathered hands and you knew Grandpa was a farmer. For over fifty years, he poured the bulk of his daily energy into the Midwestern dirt, hoping his efforts would produce a harvest. He rose before the sun peeked over the horizon. He fed the pigs. He peeked into the chicken coop out back. As the first sliver of light appeared, he was out in the fields. His skin told a story of grit and perseverance, of a man who knew the value of faithfully tending the earth.


I was little when the farm was still bustling with activity. Summer days were spent snatching raspberries and strawberries from Grandma’s garden. I filled my mouth with berries until my cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk and red juice dribbled down my chin. Grandma would ask knowingly, “Where have you been?” and then laugh when my mouth was too full to answer.


I am no farmer. But those early years of watching Grandma and Grandpa and their commitment to the work of their hands developed in me a deep appreciation for love that grows day by day, seed by seed, cultivated gradually by faithfulness and radical hope. I saw the way they loved their patch of ground, no matter what it produced. It was a slow and abiding love, a steadfastness that transcended the land and overflowed into how they cared for one another.

 

***

 

Grandpa and Grandma came to live with us around the time I was twelve. Grandma’s health took a tragic and sudden turn the day she fell in her farm kitchen. The matriarch we had known and loved slipped and then slipped away as a seizure racked her body and stole a piece of her from us. She was never the same.


Everything changed for my grandparents that day. They had no choice but to sell their beloved farm. Grandpa turned his hand from tending the soil to gently caring for Grandma. Day by day. Hour by hour. With the same faithfulness he had put into the land, he rose early to get her breakfast, lifting the spoon to her lips and wiping away any oatmeal that gathered on her chin. I watched as his leathered hands ran a comb through her hair. She held her gilded mirror, as he slowly and carefully styled her nearly white strands until they curled just the way she liked.


The work was a new kind of hard, but Grandpa knew hard. All those years of tilling fields, repairing tractors, and watching the horizon seemed to have worked their way into his blood. He knew what it looked like to remain faithful and to love for the long haul. He knew how to give with open hands, knowing he could not control what was on the other side.


Grandma and Grandpa have been gone now for over twenty years, but their love remains embedded in my mind. Yes, their commitment to one another was a beautiful example of married love, but it was more than that. The constancy and depth of their with-ness carried hints of the Divine. I bore witness to a way of belonging to one another that was far sturdier than the elements, that did not bend when the ground shifted or break when pressured by circumstance or sting. God seemed to linger amidst their ordinary and unglamourous tending, as they simply lived a love that “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres,” a love that gathers, grows, and stretches over time (1 Cor. 13:7 NIV).

 

***

 

Two summers ago, I planted my first garden. It went terribly. Somehow my lettuce plant shot into the air like an evergreen tree. Who knew lettuce could do that? Even the leaves that resembled lettuce were completely inedible, bitter at best. My dad (a master gardener like his mother before him) later told me my lettuce tree had something to do with the quick changing of the weather and the time of planting, but all that to say I’ll be buying my lettuce from now until the end of time.


In the wake of this failure, part of me wanted to abandon my garden experiment, to throw my hands into the air and say, “Gardening? Nope. Not for me.” But leaning into the wisdom of my father and the years of collected soil beneath his fingernails, I gathered the courage to try again. I held onto the knowledge that every patch of earth requires tending—equal parts determination and softness as we learn to care for the land.


The same is true of how we belong to one another. Because while every year might look different and elements will always be beyond our control, we can continue tending. We can continue reaching out, showing up little by little and day by day, bending and flexing as we go. We can sit down in the ordinary dirt with one another and unearth a love that stays steady over the long haul, with weathered hands and the softness of hope.

 




Sarah E. Westfall is a writer, speaker, and host of the Human Together podcast. She is the author of the upcoming release, The Way of Belonging: Reimagining Who We Are and How We Relate. Her previous work includes serving as director of community for online writing groups and as a student development professional on college campuses. She has been published in RELEVANT, Fathom Mag, and (in)courage. Sarah lives in Indiana with her husband, Ben, and four sons. Connect with her at sarahewestfall.com.

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