A couple of Sundays ago, we played hookie from church. Strike that--we’d have to go on regular basis to consider it playing hookie, so really, I should just say we woke up on a Sunday morning with a plan to get “stuff” done around the house.
Scott’s plans included mowing and edging, and I headed to the space our neighbors had tilled earlier in the week for our shared garden. Armed with a shovel and small trowel, I dragged the boys’ wagon full of tomato and pepper plants down the hill. After checking out what the neighbors had already planted, I got to work.
The garden is far enough from the houses that I felt the joy and solitude that comes from gardening without the bustling sounds of our six busy boys who were playing and working with their dads up the hill--the coolness of the dirt on my hands, the careful planning of rows, the ache from digging holes, the knowledge that I will eventually be rewarded with the fruits (or in this case, vegetables) of my labor.
Growing up in OK, I spent my summers making mud pies out of red clay. During our six years in Charleston, SC, I learned how to grow oversized crape myrtles and towering tomato plants in dirt that could more accurately be described as sand. Now, as we are navigating this chapter of life in WA, I am presented with a different kind of ground. We are situated up in the hills, with a view of the Olympic Mountains, on ground that, as I discovered with my first shovel full of dirt, is filled with rocks.
As I dug out holes for my plants, I had to throw out multiple stones, some smooth and round, some jagged and sharp, most smaller than the palm of my hand. As I moved down the row, though, I found a few rocks buried deeper that were large--big enough that I had to dig much bigger holes than originally planned to pull them out.
I have always felt God--and I mean that just the way it sounds--in nature. I can listen to sermons all day long and not feel inspired in anywhere close to the way I am when standing outside. I see God in the size of the mountains and in the size of a grain of sand, in the movement of hummingbird wings and in the movement of the wind-blown trees, in the sound of crashing thunder and in the sound of sticks snapping under my feet on a walk through the woods. God is both unreal and real to me in those places, where I am in awe of creation.
As I dug the holes for my plants, hitting rock after rock in the soil, I felt this sudden convicting grace. At once, the parable of the sower came to mind. It was one of my favorites when I was little--the story Jesus tells to illustrate how people receive God’s love. I remember praying to be good ground for God--that whatever God was trying to plant would sprout a hundredfold crop, as the parable reads. Even as a small child, I knew I was good dirt--that God could plant just about anything in me, that true joy comes in reflecting God’s work in my life.
But as I hit rock after rock, I began to reflect on how the simplicity of that message was somewhat lost in my adult life--this life of responsibility and work and loss and pain. The garden of my life has not been rich with planting soil for a long time. Instead, I found myself identifying with a much different piece of ground--the stony place, as Jesus calls it.
There is a surface level of dirt, very much prepared for the blessings and gifts, the dreams and ideas that God wants for me, a level of dirt that I’ve been tilling out of habit because it has to be done, because it’s what I’ve always done, because even with the business of living, I have not lost sight that I need to leave myself open for the seeds that grow into the things that will nourish me.
Under that rich, moist soil is a level of rocks that if left unearthed will strangle the roots of anything reaching deeper to grow, the rocks that will push everything good and right straight back up to be scorched by the sun.
For me, the rocks have these names: pride and envy and selfishness and bitterness and anger and apathy and cruelty. On the surface level, I believe most people who know me would not describe me as having any of those qualities (or maybe they would, and I am not nearly as self-aware as I think). But the reality is that some of those rocks are just below the surface--they peek out in my snarky, judgmental comments about the way other people live. They peek out in the private conversations with my closer confidantes when I expose my prejudices and thoughts of superiority.
With this revelation (as with all personal epiphanies) came a challenge: what am I to do with these rocks now that I’m admitting they are there? I always have a choice. In my weakest moments, I tend to pick the rocks up, hold them tightly in my hands, and hurl them at other people. How often do I hurt others with my rocks, holding on to my pride and selfishness at their expense?
Oddly enough, as a child, I had a rock collection--rocks of every shape and size that I kept in a box under my bed, rocks I’d picked up on different family excursions, everything from trips to the park to family vacations to far-off places. How funny that I still do that now--sometimes instead of throwing the rocks at people I love, I hoard all my rocks in a box, taking them out to remember the moments I picked up anger and envy, as if keeping them in a box will somehow make them go away.
But there is another choice. A better choice. One I will be reminded of every morning when I get up to check on our chickens on the way to water the garden.
The same day I planted our garden, Scott and I were also working on creating an outdoor space for our chicks who are quickly growing into full-sized chickens. They are still teenagers, so to speak, so they are not ready to join the laying hens quite yet, but they have certainly outgrown their brooder. The owners of the house built a goat pen that has fallen into disrepair because it hasn’t been used in a few years. We spent an hour or so clearing out the weeds and vines that had grown over the tiny house to start converting it into a small coop for our chicks. In the process of creating this space, I began lining a walkway with rocks that I dug up in the area, some large and some small. The pathway is meant to create boundaries, a place to walk safely without being scratched by the weeds and blackberry vines that grow rampantly around our property. The pathway will hopefully make it easier to carry water and food back and forth from the garage to the chicks, as we continue to nurture them to maturity.
Instead of throwing them or hoarding them, I want to build something useful with my rocks. I want to create boundaries with my apathy, so that I might never forget to care again. On the other side, I will be guided by my cruelty, so that I will try my best to always be kind. And each of the stones along the way will remind me that no one else’s feelings should be trumped by my pride, that no one else’s life is worth my envy, that no one else’s opinion is worth ruminating in my anger and bitterness. And so, I want to build this pathway in my life, one lined with all the rocks, large and small, that need to be dug up, lifted out, and exposed for what they are--the things that make me vulnerable and human, the things that must be removed in order for me to be perfect and hallowed ground.