Around this time of year my grandmother used to search the barren, snow covered trees for the first pussy willows, a sure sign Spring is almost here; once found, she would collect a few in a vase as if they were flowers. Though she’s been gone over 20 years, I still think of her and smile as those soft, gray buds appear. A little while after the pussy willows bloom, I start watching for one of my favorite signs: the day I can almost see a tinge of green on the trees; soon I can actually see the tinge of green on the trees; and then, almost overnight, the trees burst forth with lush green leaves. It seems like nature imperceptibly peeks out, then leaps into full bloom shouting Spring’s arrival. I love to see that transformation from gray to green, an annual affirmation of Genesis 1:11, ‘Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.’ It’s amazing how small gardens, farm crops, entire forests begin as small seeds buried in soil. I admire people who have the green thumbs to tend beautiful yards, grow colorful vegetable or flower gardens, or work on farms producing our food. As for me, I cannot take care of a single plant successfully.
There are many things about growing plants I do not understand; one in particular is a little hard to wrap my mind around – organic fertilizers. It would never occur to me that plant and animal waste combined into a smelly stew would then be stirred into soil used to grow crops. I cannot help but grimace realizing I most certainly have unknowingly eaten vegetables plucked from such an unsavory mixture. I have always thought waste is just that, waste, the unusable residue. While the title of one of Erma Bobeck’s books is ‘The Grass is always Greener over the Septic Tank,’ I thought it was simply a tongue in cheek metaphor rather than an actual phenomenon. However, turns out it is a real phenomenon, demonstrating residual plant and animal waste actually does have recyclable nutrients. A caveat, though, is that greener grass can mean something good or bad. It may just mean the leech field is providing the grass above it a little more water, nitrogen and phosphorous than the rest of the lawn; or it may mean the septic tank is leaking rather than leeching, and it will gradually create a bio-hazard swamp which will be unpleasant and expensive to deal with. The bottom line for me, I will still eat my vegetables, but if I try planting flowers again, I will be buying my fertilizer at the local home improvement store, not making it with a backyard compost pile.
Figuratively, the backyards of our lives have personal compost piles which may be filled with broken dreams instead of crushed egg shells, heart wounds tossed in like orange peels, leftover relationship hurts added rather than dinner scraps, or stewing unforgiveness and anger akin to co-mingled waste residue. How we care for our private unsavory mixture determines whether it leeches growth and wisdom or leaks hazardous consequences into our lives. To successfully use my personal compost, I need the Lord’s guidance. In Matthew 13’s Parable of the Sower a farmer spreads his seeds on various ground surfaces, all but one prepared to sustain growth. First falling on a pathway, the seeds are quickly taken by birds; if one lacks understanding, the seeds of God’s message are quickly swept away by worldly disbelief. Secondly, flipping seeds onto rocky ground one may initially start understanding, but when believing causes trouble, the growth quickly withers as it has no sustaining roots in faith. The next handful of seeds falls onto unkempt ground, where thorns of worldly worries and desires are able to choke out hope and trust in God’s Word. Finally, seeds are planted in good soil; soil prepared to hear, understand, believe and follow God’s Truth; soil that remixes lessons learned from unpleasant, difficult, and tragic events back into existing soil, continually strengthening the unwavering belief in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, and the Way, the Truth, the Resurrection, and the Life. I say with the Psalmist ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.’