It is early January and after a busy holiday season, a winter stillness is in the air. I just brought in a box of fresh produce, kindly delivered by a business that supports local farmers, and I am feeling grateful for anything fresh that can be grown in these shorter, colder days. If you ride around the North Carolina countryside this time of year, many fields are lying fallow – resting and waiting for spring.
Just two years ago, my family was in a very different situation. Living near the equator in northeastern Brazil, the days were always warm and long enough to grow an abundance of produce, as long as enough water was available. In fact, farmers there had to be careful not to wear out their soil. They constantly had to add rich compost back to their gardens so that they could continue to produce, day-in and day-out.
Our family was in Brazil as volunteer service workers with Mennonite Central Committee, and while there, I had the privilege of helping a school develop a garden project. The students and I learned a lot about how to care for soil in that project, and the lessons from that experience continue to enrich my life.
I remember that when we started the project, the site for the garden was a bare, clay plot in the school courtyard, nearly devoid of life, and baked as hard as brick under that harsh sun. The students worked diligently, and it took us nearly a month with picks and shovels just to loosen up the soil!
Once the soil was loosened, we added organic material, and some sand to help keep it that way. We formed garden rows, and finally started to plant.
Once we planted, the work never stopped. We had to keep the weeds out, watch out for pests, and make sure the seedlings got enough water. Every now and then, we applied a "tea" of organic nutrients to continue to feed those little plants so they could have strong defenses. We had to pay attention to spacing so that the plants didn't get too crowded and therefore become weaker.
We didn't just focus on the plants themselves, we had to pay attention to the whole environment. The flowers that sprouted up attracted bees that pollinated our tomatoes, and birds that ate any pests. We even learned about plants that could serve as natural pest deterrents!
In the end, we were rewarded with a flourishing garden that provided fresh organic produce for the school and the local market, but more importantly lessons in teamwork, leadership, healthy living, and the interconnectedness of all things.
Growing a life that flourishes is similar to growing a successful garden. First of all, you have to pay attention to the foundation. Just as a plant needs rich and receptive soil in which to thrive, our lives need good self-care practices that nourish and sustain us. Initiating and maintaining these practices requires commitment and dedication.
How are you nourishing the soil of your life? In this new year, I pray that you are preparing it for the possibility of an abundant harvest!