Gardening is much more than a hobby for me and my family. It is a lifestyle, a way of making meaning in an unpredictable world.
Gardening requires a commitment to a physical location. It has taught me how to make difficult choices, and forces me to deal with the consequences of those choices, such as when and where to plant or harvest. Growing plants and animals to eat makes plain the interdependent web of life: for me to live, another living being must die. It continues to teach me to be patient and humble with forces outside of my control, and to capitalize on opportunities, particularly the weather.
Friday was one such good weather opportunity for me. The village’s Garden Club held their annual plant sale. The grass at Giddings Park was covered with hanging plants in neon pink, bright orange, sunny yellow, deep reds, and of course ferny greens. Lines of narrow trees stood ready for planting. I grabbed a flat of aromatic dill and basil, and a couple round planters with tall grasses, leafy vines, and some small white flowers.
Friday was a full day without rain, though the sun still wasn’t warm enough for a t-shirt. The thin grey clouds kept rolling past with brief glimpses of pale blue, and the birds were chirping their mating songs.
Earlier last week, we had a freeze, so planting is still a gamble. However, I had a small gap in my schedule: Wednesday I finished my school year contract as a part-time College & Career Advisor at a high school. Friday was an unexpected full day off, and I needed time outside to let the year unwind within me.
Gardening gives me time without media noise to allow me to meditate. Because Jesus used so many references to growing an planting, many scripture passages bubble to the surface as my hands get covered in dirt.
Friday I kept thinking about the parable of the seed and the sower. The seed was the Word of God.
- As I dug stones from the newly tilled section of garden, I thought of the seed that fell on rock and was eaten by birds.
- The seed that fell on sandy soil grew quickly but whithered in the sun, like our previous sandy yard near Lake Erie in Cleveland.
- I pulled weeds from around my strawberry plants thinking of the seed that grew among thorns and was choked.
- But the seed that grew on good soil produced abundantly.
We do not naturally have good soil in Ashtabula County. According to Carl Feather in “History of Ashtabula County,” the areas where we now drive past field after field of corn and soy beans and cows used to be a dense, dark pine forest. Over the past two centuries of farming and lawns, the clay soil that held pines so well now is a giant swamp. Jesus didn’t mention sowing seeds in clay, and neither do most contemporary gardening books. Clay is for pottery, not agriculture.
So how do we create good soil for the seed to grow abundantly? Is there any hope for a garden full of clay, or sand, or rocks, or weeds? Each type of soil requires a different kind of care to be fruitful.
I think the same is true of humans, especially in stages when we are vulnerable. For example, I didn’t count, nor could I share, how many kids I talked to at the high school who have a legal guardian instead of a custodial parent. This situation became a routine conversation, particularly regarding financial aid (answer: if you’ve had a legal guardian at any point ages 13 or older, you do not need to submit any parental financial information on FAFSA).
When teens don’t have responsible parents, who is there to weed out the choking influences? Or worse, what happens when parents are the ones mixing the weeds with the wheat?
Many of those kids in tough situations manage to graduate, find jobs, and often go on to trades, college, and careers. In those success cases, someone provides nourishment for that young soil: perhaps grandparents, or a teacher, or a friend’s family.
Other times, a group of friends encourages risky and irresponsible behavior. This can even impact someone from a stable family. Driving under the influence, crime, skipping school, or violent conflict can choke out a promising future.
But what is “success”? So often high schoolers imagine that a promising future means walking across a stage in cap and gown to collect a four-year college degree, having earned an athletic scholarship, and walking immediately into a high-demand career with a large salary.
But in this parable of the seed and sower, Jesus was not promising a long life, nor an affluent one. The abdundant fruit He speaks about is not treasure on earth, but a place at the heavenly banquet.
The fruits of the Kingdom of God are rich in qualities such as kindness, forbearance, and righteousness.
The right “soil” in His parable does not always lead to material prosperity, but it does cultivate holiness. And that’s a different perspective than the one I advised this year as a College and Career Counselor, or even for my twelve years before that in adult literacy. I have enjoyed my jobs over the years because the goal was to help people get out poverty through educational attainment. But what about attaining the fruits of God’s kingdom?
The right “soil” in His parable does not always lead to material prosperity, but it does cultivate holiness.
“Live long and prosper” is the Vulcan blessing… it is not always the Way of the Gospel. I am trained as a Vulcan: to build skills that lead to productivity in a capitalist economy, which brings families out of poverty. But does that lead to richness of the soul? To healing and spiritual growth? Not always. Sometimes working for the Kingdom can mean choosing service over salary.
My entire career to this point has focused on preparing people for some future event: passing the GED Test, getting a job, going to college, teaching adults. But some people don’t get to the future event. A 13-year-old from the school district recently disappeared. When her body was found, some students organized a vigil at a nearby church. When life is unpredictable, when people never reach “success” on some future event, we reach for the eternal presence that binds together past, present, and future. We come together to remember that the Kingdom of God is not just some future event we are preparing for…it is at hand. God’s heavenly banquet is a Love we can live within every day.
Life has a purpose and promise beyond passing tests, having a job, and contributing to the economy. I know how to plant and nurture a physical seed, how to prepare for economic success, but what about a spiritual seed?
How do I best nurture the seeds of spiritual growth for my current or future students? What role is the most effective approach for me to cultivate this deeper level of meaning, and relationship?
As you may know, while working part-time in the high school, I’ve also been on an entrepreneurial journey to bring some new ideas to life. I’m at a point in my discernment now where too many things are growing at once… I have to thin my plants, and say “no” to some good opportunities in order to let a few fully thrive.
One of the things I am cutting is Mustard Seed Books. I’ve led a few fun workshops, and created cute videos that will still be available online. But I’m not going to be promoting or developing it further at this point.
You may also know that I closed Farrell Ink LLC as a business last year. While I have continued to offer some trainings connected to GED/HiSET/TASC Test Prep, I’m not pursuing new relationships or venues on those topics.
In entrepreneur-world, they would call this a pivot: from secular adult basic education to religious adult education. I have been working on a new project called Mustard Seed Training to foster adult literacy in religious education programs.
But what shape should it take? Should I create a new non-profit? Should I start fundraising to hire staff and make content? I’ve decided not to because…
I have been offered and accepted a position as Director of Religious Education at a local Roman Catholic Parish, starting in July.
This position will also allow me to continue some relationships I developed with youth and staff at the high school. The large and diverse community needs curriculum developed for RCIA and other programs. They currently offer CCD (summer school) in both English and Spanish. Hopefully, this community will prove to be good soil to plant the seedling of Mustard Seed Training. I will continue using this blog and my online course site to post the materials I develop. But the focus of my blog will shift from adult literacy to religious education as new programs develop.
I hope you will stay with me on this journey! If you are a person of faith, I would appreciate your prayers. But if we part ways here, I am grateful for all you’ve brought into my life, and wish you wholeness, hope, and joy today and every day.