The Good Dirt

Apr 9, 2022

The “garden”

Behind the house, within the backyard, is another yard enclosed in a chain link fence. When I first saw it, I thought the other yard was an odd cutout of the neighbors yard. Why else would you run a chain link fence through a nice looking yard? But the fence had been there for some time. Now I figure the previous owners, the only other owners of our house, had put it up to protect their garden, probably when deer roamed through.

That garden had vanished when we moved in. Old Mr. and Mrs. Drew had also. He built the house in 1951, just in time to start a family, grow some more kids, bump out the attic for room sake and tack on a sunroom and a shed in the back. He could walk to work, to the Steamship Authority, where he ran the parking lot like it was his own front yard. Then he retired. The wife taught swimming I heard and raised the best tomatoes around. They grew old together, following each other closely into nursing homes and then the grave. In the linen closet upstairs I left the peeling masking tape that the woman’s diligent hands had taped to the pine shelves. “Twin sheets,” “washcloths.” I like to think of her hanging out diapers between the two thick posts in the back, then checking the tomatoes.

“One plants, one waters but God gives the increase.” 1 Corinthians 3:6

I try to remember this when I do anything for Jesus: when I sit in a little classroom at the county jail with 12 poker face women, when I play “Amazing Grace” for the hundredth time, when I ask a dying man if he knows where he’s going. Chances are, others have gone before me and I’m not sure if I’m carrying a spade or a watering can. Or maybe I’m dropping a tiny seed into the darkness. It doesn’t matter though. Only God makes it grow, makes a tomato turn red, makes anything break through the sandy crust of my herb garden

Last week I caught my husband leaning over the chain link fence, staring into the garden. We dug it up three years ago, the ground still rich and dark from the Drews. Living on a sand bar, you appreciate real dirt and we laughed and hollered like we had struck gold. But C.B. knew it could be even better, so we trucked in dirt from a lost farm outside of Bridgewater State Hospital, an ancient manure pile that only insiders knew of, and the dirt, when my husband had finished screening it, looked like Italian espresso. I knew he was looking at the dirt.

When I look at the garden, I see tomatoes, little gold ones and fat red ones, and cucumbers twisting off vines, and I see some squash and jalapeños. So he lets me plant after he prepares. Right beside the garden is a small patch of rocky sand that I call my herb garden. The Dirt Man doesn’t notice it, on purpose, and it becomes a wild tangle of basil with a thyme bush that grows ever larger each year, choking out the oregano and wrestling with the mint. It’s a study in adversity for me because I have no patience for preparing or weeding or even moving rocks. No sissy herbs in my garden.So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters , but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 1 Corinthians 3:7 NKJV

 The Dirt Man gets ready, and I dream a lot. God made us for each other I think because you need both just to hope. And sometimes you can hope and pray with all your might and you’re still left with just dirt.

“And each one will receive his own reward according to his labor.”

Not how big your tomatoes are or how many peppers you pick, but how hard you work – digging, sweating and praying for rain. This gives me peace when I have a hard night at the jail. Sometimes they just stare at me like I just climbed down a ladder from my spaceship.

“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” I asked last week, just so I could stop talking.

They laughed, but it was a sweet laugh, like they were grateful to me just for that.

“Good crazy,” one of them said. And that was enough.

Way in the back, behind the old shed, where the dark forest is overtaking the outer edge of the Drew’s boundary markers, stands a tree. I keep meaning to look it up, but it’s a pretty tree and I know he planted it there, years ago when there was no forest and it was just a sapling. Now no one ever sees that tree, not even the neighbors and even I forget it’s there until I happen upon it when I’m dumping leaves in the compost heap or moving one of the fourteen garbage cans around that my husband thinks we will need someday.

Right now, that tree will take your breath away, like you walked into another world. It’s covered in soft white blossoms, each with a whisper of pink around the center – majestic and lovely like it’s Queen of the forest. No one sees it except for squirrels and angels but it’s no less pretty for them than me.

I think that’s how God’s kingdom works. We plant, then water, then wait. We might wait a long time. Maybe I will follow the Dirt Man into a nursing home and a young woman with a bushel of babies will run her fingers over the old masking tape in the linen closet and smile. Maybe her husband likes dirt. Seasons change.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. Hebrews 11:39

Sometimes when I am having a sad day, when I just want to go home, my husband will smile and say, “One day closer to glory!” The reward.

But until then, he will get the dirt ready and I will dream and God will send the rain. There is joy in the going, there is rest in the labors of all who have gone before us and there is a God who loves to plant hidden treasure along the way, a taste of glory here on earth, to be discovered when you play Amazing Grace 101 times or maybe right in your very own back yard.