Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Fruit of my labor

Last night I ate an amazing tomato sandwich. I like sandwiches. I take them very seriously. On of my life goals is to make the greatest egg sandwich in the world. So, when I say that a sandwich is good, it means something.

Last night’s tomato sandwich has a story. The story starts five or six months ago with a little seed. Taylor and I decided to plant a small garden on the balcony outside of the kids’ rooms. After a couple days of internet research, we took the whole family down to the garden store to pick out some flowers, vegetables, containers and dirt. We discovered that we couldn’t buy tomato plants, only tomato seeds. We picked up a packet along with a tray to grow the shoots.

At home we filled the popsicle-sized holes with dirt and pressed the seeds down into the soil. We set the tray in our dining room next to the window and waited. It did not take long for the small green stems to break through the surface. Our kids were amazed. We loved those seedlings. They were a part of our family.

Eventually the day came to transplant the seedlings into the big containers. I picked up some more soil from a small store on the way home and prepared to help the plants move. As soon as I poured the new dirt into the containers, I noticed that something was different. My first batch of soil—from the garden store—was soft and fluffy (if you can say that about dirt). The new soil felt oily and heavy. But, being an amateur gardner, I planted the young tomato plants anyway.

Weeks past and nothing changed. The seedlings did not grow. Nothing grew. Not even weeds. You have to imagine a 5 gallon container with a small tomato plant in the center and nothing else. Sad.

Around this time I was asked to speak at our church. I chose to speak about Jesus’ teaching on the vine and fruit. I talked about how God wants to produce fruit in the lives of those who believe in him. I talked about how we often try to manufacture change in our lives without God’s help. I explained that manufactured change doesn’t work. Therefore, too often, we don’t see growth or change in our lives

As an illustration, I described our garden: the poor little seedling trying to grow in toxic dirt. I explained that a good gardener works the soil to make sure that his plants can grow, prunes his plants so they are more fruitful (a painful experience), and operates out of love for his garden. I am a bad gardener. God is not.

After speaking at church, I decided to add some good soil to my poor little tomato plant—to show a little love to my seedling. I began to water it more faithfully. The plant responded. Slowly it grew, eventually producing small green tomatoes. Last night I ate the first red one. It was sweet and delicious.

The whole process reminded me that God can produce the fruit of change even in the midst of our toxic surroundings. Now, he often changes our “soil” in order to make us more fruitful, but we always carry with us the toxic residue of our past. That, however, can not prevent an expert gardener from doing his work. Change never comes as quickly as we want it to. But for those who rely on the master gardener, change does come.

Now, perhaps contradictorially, a song about the struggle to change from Coldplay:

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