Reaping Peppers

Each summer, my family plants a small garden to which we find varying degrees of success. This past summer, we added Carolina Reaper peppers to the mix. They were created near my hometown of Fort Mill, SC and I’d been wanting to give my homemade salsa an extra kick—two excellent reasons to try our hand at growing what is said to be the hottest pepper in the world.

We planted the reapers and the plants grew into big, beautiful bushes with vibrant green leaves. From a distance, the plants looked healthy; however, upon closer examination, there was a curious lack of peppers. For whatever reason, this gorgeous looking plant was not bearing fruit.

But, with constant care, love, and help from the real Creator of the Carolina Reaper, we have peppers starting to grow. Hopefully soon, we will reap the fruits of our labor.

My relationship with my Creator mimics this Carolina Reaper plant.

I grew up with everything I needed for a strong relationship with God. I come from a long line of godly folks who grew up in church. I did too. Through my formative years, my life consisted of church, school, marching band, and whenever possible, sleep. I was more fortunate than most of the world, as I was handed the Gospel on a silver platter very young, and I ate it up.

I was baptized, helped lead a faith-based group in my middle school, prayed, shared my faith, rocked Bible trivia nights, spent a ton of time at youth group, and more. I was a typical church kid. 

After a while, though, I saw my peers doing sinful things that seemed to be so much “fun”. I wondered how it was fair that others could do all these “fun” things their whole life, then repent at the end and go to Heaven. I struggled with that question a lot, causing my flame for Christ to flicker. I did my fair share of rebellious things in high school which we won’t go into, but I never strayed too far. I did, though, do and say all the right things in public, at church, and in front of my parents. Just like the Carolina Reapers, my visible leaves were vibrant, but there was no fruit. It reminds me of when Jesus rebuked the teachers of the Law:

“Woe to you… you are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones…” (Matthew 23:27).

In college, I barely even wiped down my tomb, much less white-washed it. I rarely went to church. I made bad decisions. And I was not showing God’s love. I felt “sheltered” in my parent’s house, so I often exercised my newfound autonomy in, shall we say, less than healthy ways. 

After college, when I moved to Los Angeles, things got even worse. I still went to church some Sundays, but that was my only tie to the Savior. 

Even though LA boasts a massive population and traffic is a nightmare, it was a lonely place for me. Avoiding church and making other bad decisions certainly didn’t alleviate the loneliness; but, like it or not, God never left me. 

On one particularly lonely night, God orchestrated a divine appointment with an old college friend, Kristi. I noticed she was active on messenger that evening and, even though it had been quite a while, I reached out. We started talking. As it turned out, we never stopped talking. One thing led to another and after losing my job, moving across the country, Kristi losing her dad, and more, we got married. Almost ten years later, we have three amazing kids together. 

You may think I would have straightened up once I became the “spiritual leader of my family”, but neither getting married nor having kids set me on a fruit-bearing path. It wasn’t until I really began putting Christ at the center of our family and we got plugged into our church that fruit started to show. 

A plant that appears healthy and a plant that produces fruit are not always the same thing. We can say and do the right things, attend church, and post scriptures on social media so we look fruitful. But, real fruit only grows through nurturing a real relationship with God. 

At the time of writing, we have harvested some Carolina Reapers and have a lot more growing. The plant is flourishing and producing peppers which I plan to use in my hand-made salsa. As the Spirit continues to produce fruit in me, I pray He will use me for His glory in His hand-made world.

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