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