Soil Amendments

When we moved from Delaware to Georgia 28 years ago, we had the opportunity to start from the ground up. We chose our lot, chose a house plan, chose a builder. Though most of the construction communication occurred long-distance, business trips provided opportunities for me to stop by the construction site periodically during the months leading up to our relocation.

After years of working as a colorist and carpet stylist for a large corporation, I enthusiastically put my job experience into practice. I selected all the finishes for the house – from bricks to shingles, wall colors to carpet – and amassed a burgeoning file of paint chips and swatches. My late husband, Ray, was equally excited about using his horticulture training in designing our landscape. His task proved to be much more challenging than mine.

For starters, most of the top soil had been scraped away by bulldozers cruising back and forth grading the site.  Compacted Georgia clay – think terra cotta pottery – remained in its place. I watched as Ray struggled to dig holes in the hardened ground, thinking he might as well have been chipping away at the concrete driveway.

Next, there was the appalling, but then-legal practice of burying construction debris on the property. Among our stranger discoveries – the lid to a 5-gallon paint bucket and a caulking gun containing a half-empty caulk canister.

051And then there were rocks to deal with, some too big to dig up, others temporary yet annoying obstacles. The distinct clank of the shovel hitting their unyielding surfaces accompanied Ray’s efforts to install carefully-chosen plants.

053Born and raised in South Dakota farm country, Ray was accustomed to soil so rich it’s nearly black. When we lived in Delaware we would occasionally get a load of mushroom compost to top dress the yard – smelly, but effective when it came to adding nutrients to the soil. These experiences plus his horticulture degree informed Ray there would be no shortcut when it came to improving the hardpan he’d been left with. Thus he began the tedious process of amending the clay by tilling in top soil and compost.

But was it ever worth it!

Now, almost 30 years later, the soil is dark, easy to dig, and full of busy earthworms, a sure sign of health. When I cultivate those beds, my thoughts often drift to the early days when Ray was challenged by the conditions he’d been dealt. Nonetheless, he persevered, patiently applying the principles he knew would yield the longed-for results.

By now, I bet some of you are thinking about Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. Recounted in three of the four Gospels[1], Jesus described different kinds of soil and compared them to one’s ability to accept and sustain the seed of Gospel truth.

Certainly, there are parallels to the various soils within the saga I’ve described, however, I want to focus on the good soil that yielded a bountiful harvest. Though Jesus’ parable begins with sowing, other passages introduce the idea of preparing the heart to receive Truth (Ezekiel 36:26). After our stony hearts are replaced with hearts of flesh, the Master Gardener sends the Spirit to tend the now-receptive plot.

Though the heart exchange is a once-and-done event, the tending will continue until we’re called Home. With the Spirit’s help, we’re to amend our softened hearts with the Word, working it ever-deeper into our lives. Then our roots will have room to grow and we’ll be like the trees planted by streams of water described in Jeremiah 17:8 – unafraid of drought, consistently bearing fruit.

And there will no doubt be rocks and debris to be removed as we dig deeper into our souls, stumbling blocks to our spiritual growth. Here too, we can depend on the Spirit to empower our efforts as He conforms us to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29)

When I went back to school to study horticulture, I gained a whole new appreciation for soil. Structure, drainage, nutrient-holding capacity – all are important in determining what kind of life it can sustain.

How about you? Are you amending the soil of your soul with the life-giving, life-sustaining Word of God?

 

[1] Matthew 13:1-8, 18-23; Mark 4:3-8, 14-20; Luke 8:5-8, 11-15.

 

Working all things together for good

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

This is one of my go-to verses, one I turn to repeatedly for reassurance. Having made my profession of faith almost 40 years ago, I have plenty of life experiences that confirm the veracity of this verse. Even when things are bleak, even when I don’t understand, even when I can’t see how good could possibly come from a given situation or series of events, God is at work to accomplish what will be most glorifying to him and most beneficial to me. Following is one such example.

I was blessed to be continually employed by a large corporation for just over 30 years. I had an interesting and challenging job and a good salary and benefits package, critically important when I became the sole source of support for my daughters after my husband, Ray, died. As with anything in life, my job had its ups and downs over the years, but things took a downward turn the last year I worked and didn’t recover. I was assigned to a new manager. In a time when layoffs were happening on a regular basis and with two children of her own to support, I began to feel like she wanted to make sure she was the last woman standing. Bit by bit, my role was diminished. I was left out of meetings, told I could no longer travel to visit customers (some of whom I’d called on for almost 20 years), and wasn’t given meaningful work to do. I became increasingly frustrated. And I was ANGRY!

By the time the July 4th holiday approached, I’d been working for the new manager for almost seven months. As was often the case, I took the week of the 4th off. Attempting to regain some perspective, I spent most of my vacation reading my Bible, praying, journaling and working in my yard. Gradually, as the week passed, God reminded me He, not my manager, was in control. When I returned to work, the situation remained unchanged, but I tried to stay focused on the truth that God was indeed in control. I continued to pray for wisdom. Was God allowing things to become so miserable I’d leave or did He want me to remain and be a “life-giver” in a difficult environment, learning patience and humility along the way?

The answer came on January 26, 2011. My annual review was scheduled for that afternoon and things had gotten so bad I told my family I fully expected to be terminated or put on probation. I sat across the table from my manager and her boss as she said, “I know you’re expecting to have your review, but you won’t be having it because your job has been eliminated.” My first thought was, “This is really happening”, my second was, “Thank you, Lord, for giving me a black and white answer.” I turned in my badge, my computer, my keys. And just like that, a 30-year career was over. No retirement lunch. No goodbyes. No celebrations.

God had other plans. Over the years since Ray died,  as I cared for the beautiful garden he started, God was quietly, tenderly nurturing a new dream in me. A few months before my job was eliminated, I checked out the website of a local technical school while I sat in my cube eating lunch. When I read through the class descriptions for the horticulture program, my desire to take those courses was so strong I wrote on a sticky note: “My dream: Environmental Horticulture Diploma, Horticulturist Specialty”. I stuck it in the back of my planner, thinking it was unlikely, but treasuring my dream nonetheless. A mere two days after my job was eliminated I contacted the admissions office at Chattahoochee Tech and started the process of enrolling. I received my diploma eighteen months later.

Not only did God take the pain of losing my job and work it for good, He did far more than I could ask or imagine. Going back to school was an amazing, unexpected gift and having a more flexible schedule allowed me to spend time on a regular basis with my first grandchild, Joshua, who was born in July 2011. He became my study buddy from his earliest days. I delight in telling him about plants and, as he grows up, I look forward to telling him about his very special grandfather and God’s faithfulness to me and to our family.

My diploma with original sticky note attached.

My diploma with original sticky note attached.