Each Tuesday morning I make a short trip north in our little town to a church where I join others in gleaning what the Lord’s provided. It dawns on me that each week that’s not all He’s provided and the purpose for me being there isn’t simply to glean. But I miss that truth sometimes in my gleaning hustle and bustle.
Gleaning’s a lot like other stuff that has to do with food. You know what I mean, gleaning? It’s where there are boxes and boxes of breads and fruits and vegetables that have been culled from, primarily, the different markets’ produce departments. It’s what’s been damaged in some manner or what’s going south — that’s my term for fruits and vegetables that are just about to be compost material. Sort of like orange juice that’s sat out all night on the counter and you take a sip and realize it’s somewhere between a super-fizz drink and something citrus-awful. That’s how some of the fruits are. And the vegetables tend to be on the verge of slime. But you don’t know that — at first. And you don’t know that unless or until you’ve taken more than you really need and a couple of days later you have a puddle of green juice oozing out the bottom of a box on your porch or counter. A few times of this happening, and you learn lessons, hopefully, you never forget.
And you discover composting.
Well, each week I see pretty much the same crowd and, for the most part, we don’t chit-chat — we just do what we came there to do: get whatever we can as quick as we can. Seriously. But every now and then, the Lord shows me a different purpose for my being there on that particular day. Sometimes it’s to point a person to Christ—seeing that they’re searching for Him, but in all the wrong ways and places. Sometimes it’s to be a listening ear, a shoulder to weep on, a hand to lend. It’s an opportunity to listen, just listen, to a person going through an agonizing trial. There’ve been a number of encounters with men and women whose stories from week to week include losses, heartache, sickness, and death. So, early on, I came to see, as I’ve seen in similar situations, that gleaning isn’t just gleaning bread and produce. It’s taking in people’s experiences and, in return, giving Bread and praying for its produce.
We used to run a foodbank from our garage for a number of years. Day after day we’d make the trek to the grocery store from which we brought foods from the deli, breads and dairy, and produce —- loads of produce. Every morning, day after day, we — my husband, children and I — would sort, clean up and set out the glean for the day and people could come and freely shop for whatever they needed/wanted. All the while, that very distinct “gleaning smell” would waft through the air. If you’ve experienced this smell, you know you never forget it.
Problem with “free” is that there’s a tendency to hoard. We all do it… we see “free” and we’re compelled to grab. Sort of like church “pot-luck” food tables. Or free materials at the homeschool events. Or free stuff offered at yard-sales. Invariably, free stuff, taken indiscriminately, tends to sit and spoil. Stuff we thought we’d use and didn’t suddenly becomes a great burden that needs to be disposed of — it’s true with food as much as it is with books and other stuff.
So… the trick is to learn to glean wisely: to be careful to get what you need and use what you get for the benefit of everyone around you.