Our church’s food pantry had a problem last summer. We had a MASSIVE donation of cabbage. We received hundreds of pounds of cabbage. We had lots of cabbage. The cabbage was beyond the capacities of our refrigerators and we literally could not get rid of it fast enough. The overabundance of cabbage was a bigger problem than you might think. We needed space for other donations of things people need regularly. We could not accept donations of milk or eggs because there was too much cabbage. We could not accept donations of deli meat or cheese because there was too much cabbage. We had so much cabbage that the stuff we could not refrigerate was going bad. We donated as much as we could to a church member’s family who raises pigs, but apparently even pigs get tired of cabbage.
We came right up to the point where the volunteers at the food pantry were going to simply toss it away when I decided to do something about the situation. I did my research, I went on a small shopping spree, and I got to work. I made five gallons of sauerkraut.
Yes, I made gallons and gallons of sauerkraut. Now, New York State law does not allow for processed food to be distributed to folks unless it has been processed by an approved professional company. So, this meant that I had five gallons of sauerkraut on my shelves. Five gallons of sauerkraut meant that we learned a lot of recipes over the past year that use sauerkraut. Sweet and sour meatballs are my personal favorite.
Yesterday was a beautiful day and we needed to decide what to put on our hot dogs. I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes over just having ketchup or relish when I remembered what was in the garage. A few minutes later I was enjoying a hot dog with sauerkraut and ketchup. The hot dog was delicious.
So, why do I share all of this with you on my blog? I share it because there was a moment last year when everything was coming apart at the seams. The cabbage was literally becoming a thorn in my side and in the side of all of our volunteers. Just the smell of cabbage was beginning to get bother people in a real and powerful sense. The situation was becoming a miniature crisis.
All it took to turn the situation around was for someone to do a little research, put in a bunch of hard work, and to transform a negative situation into a positive blessing. My family had healthy meals this past winter because of the cabbage that was driving people nuts. My hot dog went from good to great because of the cabbage that even pigs were getting tired of eating. Opportunity was hiding in plain sight.
I do not know what situations you may be facing in life today. I do know that not every situation has a silver lining. I cannot promise that there is an outcome as positive as the situation with the cabbage, but I can tell you one thing that is absolutely true. If you do not open your eyes and look around then you may never know what possibilities you are missing.
Consider the following words from Jeremiah 29:10-14: (NRSV)
“For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
Jeremiah’s words are set in the scriptures during a challenging moment in history. Trouble is on the horizon and Lamentations will show exactly deep a sorrow will fall on the people of God. Jeremiah’s prophecies are set in a time of doubt about the future. There was likely a real and powerful doubt at play in the hearts of all those people who heard Jeremiah’s prophecies and believed his words.
Despite these doubts and troubles, Jeremiah leaves the people with a word of hope. There was a place for redemption and hope when all of the trouble had come and gone. Will the seventy years ahead be a very difficult time? Of course the situation ahead of the people will be grim. Even Jeremiah will be filled with lament when everything comes to pass, but even that darkness will not last forever. God cares about the welfare of the people. God will make a way and allow the people to find both God and hope. God will hear their prayers again. God will gather the people in with open arms.
I do not want to belittle whatever situations you face today. Everyone has their own challenges and sometimes there are no silver linings. I do want to invite you to open your eyes in the midst of your challenges. Sometimes there are blessings in the stinky cabbages of life. Not always, but sometimes there are possibilities. I invite you to have courage and to have faith.