Cultivate- to till and prepare (land or soil) for the growth of crops: 2. to plant, tend, harvest, or improve (plants) by labour and skill; to prepare or prepare and use for the raising of crops; also : to loosen or break up the soil about
The sound of the razor blades tore through the air running shivers down my spine. The buzzing held my disturbed thoughts suspended in air enveloped by clouds of dust. A great dissonance had moved into my soul. There was something cruel about watching all of that lush green grass being ripped out of its comfortable earth.
Our backyard was a mess- uneven and hazardous for our two small children to play in. My husband, Emmanuel, got a hold of a tiller and our friend, Richard, volunteered to help with the labor. For two days we could hear that tiller ripping up the grass and smoothing out the plateaus that were often the cause of so many scraped knees .
Just a few days after we finished the tilling project we made a trip to my hometown. We have made the pilgrimage across the great state of Texas to visit my folks many times but this time was different. This time there was the looming reality that this just might be my last trek across the desert. My mom and grandma were both preparing to move out of their homes and my siblings were scattering across the world living out their lives. It seemed that no longer would we have our home base. Everywhere I turned my loved ones were moving on into a new chapter of their lives. To me, all of this moving and shifting was getting out of hand. It felt like the tectonic plates were rumbling in anticipation. An earthquake seemed inevitable.
Because my mom and grandma were moving out of their houses, there was a lot of purging going on. Boxes and boxes of mementos, keepsakes, and junk lined the hallways of both houses. Pretty much everything had to go. My mom had piles of stuff already ready for me to take back home with me but there were other things that, unless I rescued them, would become garage sale fodder. Our library of children’s books and the bookshelf that they sat in were amongst the items ready for the chopping block. Well, I wasn’t going to let that happen.
I walked into my mom’s garage and amidst clouds of dust I began packing up the books. It made me think of my husband and Richard tilling our backyard. As the blades of the tiller loosened up the soil little puffs of dust littered the sky and their clothes. At the end of the day, they each looked like Charles Schultz’s character “Pig Pen.” And now here I sat as “Pig Pen” with a dusting clothe wiping off Snoopy, Cinderella, Spot, The Cat in the Hat, Angelina Ballerina, and all the rest of my childhood friends. Each book unearthed a swirling of memories. I saw myself reading certain books at my grandma’s house. I saw my mom reading my favorite books at bedtime. I saw my dad assembling and painting the bookshelf. I saw myself buying books for my sisters as souvenirs. I read inscriptions to me, to my sisters, to random people I had never even heard of. I found my sisters’ names in the Dr. Seuss books. My name was in a few books as well as the names of my mom, my aunts, and my step-brother. My childhood unfolded before my very eyes as I flipped through the pages. It made me laugh inside to think that at one time these books were such a precious part of the fabric of my daily life until I grew up and moved out and on with my life.
How long had these books sat here in the land of forgotten items, otherwise known as our garage? About four layers of dust- that’s how long. I really had forgotten all about these books and really didn’t even care about them and now here I was reclaiming them, saving them for my sweet children. They would once again become a precious part of the fabric of my daily life as my children would rediscover them.
As I sat in my mom’s garage, my head was a dusty fog of melancholy nostalgia. It was an end of an era. Things would never be the same. Even the garage was evidence of this fact. I could always count on the garage to be this never-ending pile of random junk and now it was nearly cleared out except for books and the ghosts of Christmases past.
The truth was that the earthquake had already hit my family. We were going through a painful and personal family crisis. Perhaps I was holding onto those books so tightly because I was really trying to cling onto my siblings, my parents, and my childhood. Perhaps we were all just trying to hold onto each other.
While digging through the dusty books I was really digging into my past. The Great Tiller of My Life was ripping through my memories like the tiller had ripped through the grass. What was once buried was brought to the surface. Oh there were so very many happy memories of a girl who had an idyllic, blessed, and even blissfully sheltered childhood. The good times were so plentiful that they far outnumbered the difficult times. But I could not ignore the painful memories of early adulthood that were uprooted as well. Through the great purging of our family’s junk I could see evidence of the conduits of magma that eventually erupted into the volcano of pain and suffering that my family was now experiencing. So much emotion was buried in our garage and now out of necessity we were all forced to reconcile with certain truths that had gone unnoticed for so long. It brought my family closer together as we braced ourselves for the aftershocks.
“Why was God allowing us to go through this?” I wondered angrily. Why would God reveal all this ugliness and beauty simultaneously? Why would he force us to deal with such horrible and painful truths that we had all buried deep inside of us? Through prayer, I was instantly drawn back to the image of our backyard that lay waiting for fresh pallets of grass. That pretty yet uneven grass that had been hashed through and ripped up was now a soft pillow of rich soil just waiting in hopeful anticipation to grow new life.
God was cultivating us.
He was preparing us for something new and fresh. All this digging would not be in vain. All of these things were unearthed to bring truth to light and healing in preparation for the next chapter in our lives. I could acknowledge the hurtful parts of my past, learn from them, heal, and move on. You can’t stay buried in the past- it’s much too dirty there.
A couple days after we returned back home, Emmanuel and Richard were at it again. This time they were ambitiously laying pallets of grass in the few hours that exist between dinner and nightfall. When the job was completed, I sat on our new, leveled grass watching the kids run through the sprinkler. I thought about how so much of the backyard had to be pulled out, rearranged, and redesigned just to make this yard a safe space for my children to play. That is the thing about gardening that has always turned me off to it- work. It takes some labor and skill to grow something.
The kids were thoroughly enjoying their “summer chore” of watering the grass meanwhile the volcano that was our family crisis was still fresh. It was time to take a closer look at those conduits buried deep within. Flipping through those books stirred something up in me; it reminded me that perception is reality. Mixed emotions about the past puffed up when thumbing through old books. But why was this all important? Because it was necessary. Just like it is necessary to pull out the weeds in your yard on a regular basis, its necessary to reflect on the good ‘ole days and those not so great times as well. It’s just something that you have to do.
When you allow The Great Tiller to rake through your soul, you will inevitably pull up some weeds. But fear not, you come from good soil too. Those dusty old books helped me to come to grips with some bad habits that I learned back in the days when Dr. Seuss and Angelina Ballerina were a part of my everyday life. But they also reminded me of a million little details of how God had planted me in rich soil. Sometimes when your life has been abundantly blessed it is easy to ignore the bad habits and character flaws that date back to childhood.
If I didn’t evaluate the habits picked up in my youth, both good and bad, then I could not be the rich, healthy soil in which to plant a new life with my husband and children. Tilling the soil is the best way to insure proper cultivation. I must heal and allow God to prepare my soul for a lush crop of new life and focus my energies on creating new memories in this house. My part in the cultivating process would be to release the bad memories and bad habits learned to make room for new ones. Not necessarily to forget them, but release them like puffs of dirt that evaporate into the sky. Eventually, the dust settles and the earth is like new.