The day we got to Illinois and, for the first time, laid eyes on the home that was destined to be ours, we arrived at our new address ahead of the realtor. Thus, we were locked out. So, we walked around the yard, and I held back tears. The weeds in the landscaping towered over our heads. The former owners had left two pots of red geraniums, and some white petunias planted by the front walk. But beyond that, everything was overgrown and weedy, entirely unkempt. We were looking at literally thousands of unforeseen dollars in landscape projects, were we to hire it done.
We've discovered that hiring a mowing service is more reasonable than hiring landscapers. So this summer, we've been paying Luis to mow, and we use our evenings and weekends to landscape.
We also bought a rototiller.
We finally tamed the lower tier of this garden. When we arrived in 2013, it boasted a solid, formidable crop of weeds, although the following spring a few peonies surfaced here and there. This mystified me, as peonies need full sun, and this garden is in full shade. We moved the peonies to slightly sunnier spots at the end of that season.
We have used the bed as a catching spot for all the leaves that continue to fall after the last leaf pick-up date each autumn. Our soil is fairly heavy clay, so I figured any humus we could glean from decaying leaves would make it loamier.
Shawn turned the soil with a shovel a number of times.
At one point, we sprinkled a package of wildflower shade mix over the bed. It came up in bursts of flowers and weeds, hopelessly entangled together. At that point, there was no path through the bed, so pulling weeds was well nigh impossible. Midsummer brought a lusty crop of volunteer maple trees, offspring from a profusion of maple seeds that had fallen in May. At least it was green?
We piled more fall leaves, and turned the bed again the next spring.
This spring, we bought the aforementioned rototiller. After turning the bed again, with a shovel, Shawn rototilled it two or three times.
And then, finally, we placed stones for a path. This is the key. You must be able to access your garden if you are going to be able to care for it. After we got the stone path in, we planted a thoughtfully selected group of plants that should survive with minimal sun. We dug, sprinkled bone marrow into the holes, placed the plants, patted them in with backfill, watered and mulched.
Voila! A garden.
It's doing pretty well.
At the very back of our yard, bordering on an intermittent stream that runs through a culvert and down into our lake, this garden may not look impressive. You have to understand what it was like before. Layers of weeds, roots and rocks had stubbornly embedded themselves in layers of petrified landscape fabric. I worried that Shawn might give himself a heart attack, pulling, yanking, tearing, slicing, digging and removing all the unsavory growth and debris.
Again, the rototiller saved the day.
Shawn rototilled numerous times, breaking up chunks of soil, sifting up roots and stems, chopping, lifting, filtering out detritus. Our next door neighbor sauntered past and remarked, "Now that's work."
Eventually, we achieved hospitable soil, so we planted ajuga in the front row, daylilies in the middle, and black-eyed Susans along the back: tough, hardy, shade-tolerant plants. We didn't mulch, so I go out and hoe every now and again. Hoeing isn't so bad, if you don't wait too long between times.
I write about this because I came across the parable of The Sower in my Bible reading again the other day. This time I was in Mark.
In case you are not familiar, the parable of the sower tells about a farmer who went out to plant his seed. Some fell on the hard road, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell among rocks, where there wasn't much soil--it grew quickly, but almost immediately withered under the scorching sun, lacking deep roots. Some fell among weeds and thorns, and was choked out by the competition. And some of the farmer's seed fell on good soil, where it grew to produce an abundant crop.
I've always read that parable and worried about what kinds of soil people might be, people with whom I try to share the truth about Jesus. "Hard soil" that rejects out of hand? "Rocky soil" that responds but quickly burns out, lacking deep commitment? "Weedy soil" that produces some growth, but the growth is choked by competition, and fails to thrive or produce a crop? What if I, myself, am rocky soil? Will my faith fizzle under duress and be lost?
However, in working on our gardens this summer, I realized something: Soil can be improved. Farmers go out in their fields in the spring and pick rocks. Laborers work hard, pulling weeds or chopping them with hoes. Plows traverse the rows of a field, furrowing, disking the soil, breaking it up, preparing it to receive the seed.
In the case of our lower terraced garden, we planted it a number of times, reworking it between plantings, before we achieved a desirable result. We kept at it, persevered. Now we have pretty plants growing there, but we still have to go out regularly and weed. We even installed a path so we can do this maintaining work!
Here's the transferable truth: God doesn't only sow the seeds of His Truth one time. The sowing goes on and on. If the seed doesn't germinate, God may go back and do more work on the soil of a man's heart, preparing the ground for the next planting season.
This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: "Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns." ~Jeremiah 4:3 (NLT)
I'm not entirely sure, but I think the idea of breaking up unplowed ground and pulling weeds, applied metaphorically to the human heart, could indicate a painful process. I'm not talking about the exertion experienced by the one who plows. I'm talking about the pain experienced by the heart that is plowed. Perhaps this is one reason why we should rejoice in suffering. It is the preparatory work before the planting of truth, truth that will grow into abundant spiritual fruit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control--beautiful characteristics that adorn the life of a believer.
I said, "Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you." ~Hosea 10:12 (NLT)
Our merciful God desires to save. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). The world was already condemned, but Jesus came, the great Rescuer, to bring life and hope. The seeds of the Word are as infinite as Christ Himself; there is no end to God's supply of truth and life. Jesus will not make one half-hearted effort to toss out the offer of salvation, and then abandon all those who were too damaged to receive it. Jesus is zealous for the salvation of humanity.
Truth doesn't change, but hearts change. Soil can be turned, crumbled, refined, enriched. Praise God, even the rockiest of hearts can be plowed up and replanted!
Pray that the Lord will work miraculously in the hearts of those who need to receive His seed of truth. Pray that God will supernaturally enable these souls to undergo productive heart-plowing, surrendering to the holy work of His perfect hands. Pray that we who believe will be brave when our own hearts are plowed, and full of compassion and wisdom when others experience deep work in their hearts.
"And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart." ~Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT)
We've lived here for four years, but we never made much progress on the landscaping, until we bought a rototiller.
(End note: I never explored the significance of the metaphors of paths and hoes, but these are also very important. I invite you to think it through on your own.)