Get a little dirty for God

It was chilly. I could feel the dampness creep around my neck and down my collar, even though I had carefully zipped my jacket and wound the wonderful Scottish wool scarf my mother-in-law gave me this winter around my neck twice.

It was also soggy. Water seeped into the soles of my worn out tennis shoes with each step, chilling my toes and staining my socks. But I didn’t care. I was outside. At last! The sky was as blue as I’ve ever seen it and the sun so bright I grabbed my sun glasses. I was outside with my husband to hunt for signs of spring.

And it occurred to me that I’ve been inside for weeks, or at the very least dashing between buildings in my comings and goings about town.

I’ve been cooking stews and backing up in front of the fireplace to warm up. I’ve been grabbing my favorite blanket to watch TV and wondering what day it will be when I can open the windows to let some fresh air in. Combating the cold by making it warm and cozy indoors lures me into introspective moods. My vision for the outdoors blurs unless I bundle up and head outside.

Even though I am not wild about feeling damp or cold, my husband’s invitation to transplant some trees and ferns on our property was just the excuse I needed to move outdoors for a dose of sunshine and conversation. So off we went, complete with a shovel, wheelbarrow and yellow lab as our guide.

We were most intent on finding infant trees, transplanted by the wind and the birds. But only when we slowed our pace and carefully searched under grown-up trees did we finally discover an abundance of infant grand firs.

I almost hated to disturb them, blanketed by the fallen leaves and sheltered from the wind and occasional snow by the mature trees around them. But I also knew that if we did not carefully dig them up and move them into an open, sunny location where we could water, fertilize and watch over them, most would eventually experience stunted growth, there in the cramped dark floor of the forest. Most would resemble nothing close to being grand at all.

We transported and transplanted. We place baby grand firs around the wooded areas that skirt our lawn. We talked about the size of the trees that were there when we moved into our home 19 years ago and wondered what these seedlings will look like in the years to come.

I like the entire process. Implied is ownership and anticipation. Vision. Respect. Responsibility. They are only trees, indeed. Yet our ability to take a simple experience such as this and apply the lessons learned to situations in our lives that are more complex is what separates us from all else in God’s creation.

It is also what makes the anticipation of spring so enthralling. It is what prompted author Margaret Atwood to write, “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

The days are getting longer and warmer. As we come out from our bungalows, may we ask God to help us identify and care for those people around us who have the potential to become grand men and women, but may today remain rooted in the shade.

The great power of faith and evidence of our commitments is the way we choose to live and work in our communities. I often think of Mother Teresa this time of year and the ways she worked in Calcutta, India. “Because I cannot see Christ I cannot express my love to him,” she once explained to writer Malcolm Muggeridge, “but our neighbors we can see, and we can do for them what we would like to do for Christ.”

It was her faith that not only motivated her choice to serve the ill and dying of Calcutta, but gave her the strength, toward the end of her own life, to continue in the face of ill health and overwhelming need. She served out of love and duty to Christ, yet she also learned to love the people in her community because she took the time to get to know them.

Each of us has the opportunity to tap into that same source of strength. All we have to do is ask. Ask God for courage and wisdom and desire. Ask people who regularly work with social agencies and nonprofits and churches how we can help to serve people with real needs.

God promises to give us the vision, the tools and the passion to get started. This is the season to dig in. Get a little dirty.

Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and speaker who makes her home on Whidbey Island. Her award-winning column has run for 15 years. She can be reached by e-mail at

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