Blog by Polly Boyette
When I was growing up we spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ home in Kenly, NC. They lived on a farm and grew tobacco for a living. When the tobacco was ready to be harvested we’d pitch in and help. They would start at about 4 am, which was not fun for me since I am definitely not a morning person. They’d haul us kids out of bed and stand us inside a tobacco barn in the dark. There I stood with my hair standing straight up, my clothes practically on backwards from dressing in the dark, yawning and rubbing my eyes. They’d hand you a sweet treat called a “Moon Pie” and an “RC Cola” for breakfast. For those of you who don’t know, a “Moon Pie” is kind of like s’mores, only better. I loved “Moon Pies’ and “RC Colas”. I just didn’t understand why we had to eat them at four in the morning while standing in a dark barn.
As I stood in the dark barn eating my delicious, but strange breakfast, I wondered how I came to have the privilege of having relatives that liked getting up in the middle of the night to string tobacco. That’s what they called it, stringing tobacco. I was a city kid, not a tobacco stringer, but I tried my best to learn the art of stringing up tobacco. A tractor would ride through the barn pulling a trailer of tobacco leaves behind it. Our job was to grab a handful of tobacco leaves and string them onto a long stick (cleverly called a tobacco stick.) You’d string a handful on one side of the stick and then another handful on the other side of the stick until the stick was full. Then you’d hang the stick across some wooden rails in the top of the barn for them to dry out. You did this exercise again and again until all the tobacco leaves in the trailer were gone. Then another tractor would pull another load of tobacco leaves into the barn and you would string some more leaves onto the tobacco stick. So it went through the day until all the tobacco leaves had been harvested, strung on sticks and hung up to dry in the tobacco barn.
About mid-day the women folk would normally start heading for the house to cook a big dinner for everyone helping that day. However, on this particular day, my Uncle Fitzhugh, (his name sounds like a sneeze) for some unknown reason volunteered to go and cook the dinner. The women folk seemed surprised, but they didn’t argue. They were delighted. So Uncle Fitzhugh went to the house to cook dinner for us all.
We worked about an hour longer then we heard Uncle Fitzhugh yell from the house that dinner was ready. Boy, was I glad because I was starving and sick of stringing tobacco. We all eagerly headed for the house to eat what was usually some of the best cooking I ever had the pleasure of eating. There were some great cooks in my mother’s family.
My cousins and I used to get to sit up on my grandmother’s giant freezer to eat because they didn’t have room for us all at the table. First we all just piled into the kitchen to watch everyone get served while we anxiously waited for our turn. The men were licking their lips and tucking their napkins under their chins while the women were pleased to be the ones being served for a change. The grandkids were just glad to be eating instead of stringing tobacco.
Then suddenly something strange happened. My Uncle Fitzhugh went from plate to plate, dipping from a big pot using a soup ladle. However, when I looked at the plates to see what kind of soup we were having there was nothing there. I rubbed my eyes trying to see if I had been blinded by dust from the fields, but the plates were strangely empty.
Uncle Fitzhugh sat the big pot back down on the stove and took his place at the end of the table. He picked up his spoon and started eating from his empty plate, making slurping sounds as though he was actually eating soup. I pulled myself up to take a closer look into his plate, but there was no soup. Everyone around the table looked stunned. They looked at Uncle Fitzhugh and then back down at their plates. He took no notice that anything was wrong and just kept on eating away at his imaginary soup.
Now my grandfather was a pretty impatient man and he had no time for foolishness. He was tired and hungry. He started having a fit right in front of the grandchildren, waving his hands and shaking his finger at poor Uncle Fitzhugh. I looked up at my mom, but she just put her finger up to her lips, gesturing for me to keep quiet. Everyone was hungry, tired and pretty mad by this time. All eyes were staring at Uncle Fitzhugh, who was just still happily sipping away at his delicious invisible soup and wondering why no one else was eating. We grandchildren all thought it was some kind of a joke and it was pretty funny watching Uncle Fitzhugh sip on soup that wasn’t really there, but there was obviously something very wrong with him.
Afterwards, my grandfather took Uncle Fitzhugh to see a doctor. They found out that while spraying the tobacco crops some of the chemicals from the spray had gotten into his bloodstream and was causing him to have hallucinations. The good news was the doctor said it was a temporary effect and it would eventually wear off. We were sure glad to hear he was going to be okay, but I don’t think my grandfather ever completely forgave him for ruining his dinner that day.
It was a pretty strange sight to see Uncle Fitzhugh serving out of an empty pot. He served everyone at the table; yet no one’s needs were met. Everyone was still hungry because, even though Uncle Fitzhugh was busy serving and even though he had the best of intentions the results fell way short of everyone’s needs and expectations. The pot he was serving from was empty. The key word here is “empty.” We can give it our best shot and busy ourselves with many tasks, but if we are serving from an empty pot all of our service leaves a lot to be desired.
As Christians our lives are intended to be a source of life-giving nutrition to everyone around us. That means we should be serving out of joy and devotion. But so often we look like we’re doing the job on the outside, but on the inside we are like a big empty pot. We serve and smile and say all of the right things, but our service doesn’t nourish or bless anyone because we are leaving them with an empty plate. We’re serving out of emptiness or just out of obligation. There’s no joy or there’s no passion for what we’re doing.
Make sure you are spending time in God’s presence and reading the word regularly. Spending time with the Lord strengthens you and enables you to serve with joy and purpose. Then when you serve others, you will be sharing from a pot that is flowing over with everything that others need and desire. Your full pot will draw others to you and inspire them to keep their pot filled to the brim. Don’t just grit your teeth and put on a brave face in order to muddle through. Others will see through that very quickly. Serve others with joy and devotion and be a source of life-giving nutrition. Don’t serve out of an empty pot.