During our retreat meal times were a big deal. We spent our time in Silence after the retreat talks, Mass and at night. If we wanted to have a conversation, we were supposed to travel downstairs to the break-room. The idea behind so much silence, is that this retreat was 250 women working on their personal relationship with God. Silence respects other peoples ability to listen to the quiet, still voice of God-- and also incidentally-- makes it easier for God to speak to you.
Meal times were important because it's the only time we were encouraged to talk. We were also encouraged to trust Christ by coming out of comfort zone. One concrete way was to make sure we sat with strangers at every meal, instead of clumping together with our friends.
I felt all shiny after my Saturday morning confession and decided to take that direction literally. I imagined holding Christ's hand and having Him direct me to my seat each meal. Not surprisingly, He had me bypass the jolly souls who had pretty bangs and engaging smiles. I sat with the awkward ones who sat alone at a table looking desperately afraid.
Meal one on Christ's seating chart was a jackpot. I ended up sitting next to the only Baptist at the retreat. You all know how much I adore future Protestant converts, so I listened intently to her story and prayed hard to Mother Mary all through our meal.
Meal Two seemed to be the complete opposite. I sat next to a shy mother of five, who had an extremely soft voice which was almost impossible to hear over the chatter of a 250 person dining hall. Every topic I suggested was a strike out. Things started getting painful. Our topics of conversation for 15 minutes was the elevation of certain hills in Wyoming and actual street names in her small town. I'm painfully shy as well, so when conversations start flagging with strangers, I really get sweaty palms. "I don't know what Jesus was thinking, clearly this lady and I have nothing to talk about for an hour . . ."
Just as I was really starting to panic, a friendly vet & mother of three young boys sat down on my right hand side. I thought this was my "reward" for being a good sport and eagerly started comparing working/versus homeschooling notes with her.
The friendly vet was conflicted about working part time. She had just described this lovely aspect of her work. Lonely old people with pets would schedule unnecessary appointments with her, just so they could have an excuse to talk. She said she ended up talking sharing her Catholic faith with many pet owners, because these intense conversations kept happening in her vet office.
Even so, she was worried that she was missing out by not being home with her boys full time & doing exciting things like homeschooling.
I took an excited breath and was just about to launch into my "Stay At Home Motherhood Is fabulous speech."
When the shy violet sitting next to me asserts "You've got to make sure that God wants you to plant tomatoes!!!"
That statement was so odd, the vet & I were stunned into silence.
Recovering her shy, whispering voice, she tells this story. "Once I was flipping through the TV channels and I heard this lady talking about planting tomatoes with her neighbor. Her neighbor wanted a crop of tomatoes and she thought that was a great idea. They bought seeds together. They worked on clearing a big patch of garden. They planted the tomatoes at the same time. They weeded the tomatoes. Over the summer, the tomato patch because a big pain. The lady always needed to weed it. Finally, in August she goes outside and finds her giant tomato crop crawling with bugs. The whole tomato thing was a giant bust. A few days later, she talks to her neighbor. "Sorry the bugs came and ate our tomatoes." The neighbor says "What are you talking about." Her crop, which stands only a few feet away is completely pristine. Not a bug in sight."
The lady was mad. She took the matter up in prayer. "This isn't fair God. I did all the same stuff as my neighbor. How come she has beautiful tomatoes and I've wasted all that time on nothing." God's response "I didn't want you to plant tomatoes."
I was completely blown away by this story. I mean it's, tomatoes. How can God not want you to plant tomatoes. Gardening is a great good, right. You get to eat cheap organic produce and spend time in the sunshine. What can possibly be wrong with planting tomatoes?
My shy seat mate explained, "but God didn't ask her to plant the tomatoes. Maybe she was supposed to spent that time in a greater good, like reading to her kids or visiting a sick aunt."
So that tomato story from the woman I thought had nothing to talk with me about, is defiantly on my mind. You can't assume that God wants you to do something just because you see your neighbor doing it. You've got to check in and confirm this is God's will for your life. This "check in" doesn't just apply to big things like your choice of a spouse. You need to check in on life's little projects as well.
The tomato story is such a clear metaphor for the "I'm the vine you are the branches, only good fruit comes from me."
Hopefully, I'll be more meek before suggesting "this is how you should mother" in the future as well.