Tales of Dirt Under Nails

A few years ago I was discussing the next stage of my life with one of my close friends. He shared an image of what he thought it might be like, and talked of planting seeds in a garden. The phrase “getting your hands dirty” was used. He described the toil and challenge of digging in dry, hard ground, and the expectations and hope of plugging little seeds into the soil. These were seeds that may or may not grow, the blossoming of which I may or may not see.

This picture has often come back to me over the past few years, like an old postcard you keep finding lying around the house.

This year as spring has finally burst through the greyness of winter, I have found myself thinking about how things grow…how utterly remarkable it is that trees will bud and blossom without any kind of helping hand, how bulbs shoot little sprouts without you even knowing that they’re there.

The other day as I walked around Greenwich Park, the sun beaming, it seemed as if every tourist, family, and pet dog had decided to head outside. Every child had a scooter or rollerblades and was speeding down hills as fast as their little legs and wheels would carry them. There was a thrumming excitement in the air. That thrum is a little like my experience of coming to follow Jesus, that buzz of new life.

Spring to me is a little like salvation; once it was quiet, drab and dark, but then it was bright, musical, hopeful.

As spring has deepened, I found myself with the strange longing to grow things. This weekend this Londoner took a little trip to B&Q. Yes, the city still has B&Q, who knew. With friends I meandered around the plants and outdoor furniture and I picked up pots and compost and bought myself a trowel. I spent the afternoon in the garden, clearing weeds and leaves, collecting some long-forgotten sparklers left over from a slightly wild New Year’s Eve, and digging over the ground. I put music on as I worked, and I allowed myself to get grubby. I potted the plants, and I planted some seeds. I watered them.

There was dirt under my nails by the end of the day, and I’ve got a splinter or two and several scratches on these hands that aren’t used to even these simple outdoorsy tasks. But, it was the most satisfying thing I had done in weeks.

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As I worked away it felt like I was actively protesting against every dark, unholy, grief-ridden thing, and hell you just need to look at the news if you’re wondering what that might be. It felt important to be cultivating something lovely, placing small beads of possible life in neat rows and believing that they might grow. In the grand scheme of things this is one tiny patch of one tiny house in South East London, but it’s my patch, and my house and my life, and oh how I need this beautiful, resistant hope.

Somehow the physical act of planting felt a little like a reminder to my heart and soul that we are to be those that get our hands dirty in the mess, chaos and challenge of life…that we are to be those that cultivate something good with our lives, no matter how small.

It felt like an act of faith, and it lifted my weary head.

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This blog is likely to be full of words thrown hastily together between tough jobs, long evenings with friends and coffee in too-expensive city cafes (welcome to how I spend my time). But I hope that the words read here might be, just as I hope so much of my life might be, small seeds waiting to grow.

I, and the people I live my life alongside, are wanting to show up and grow goodness in the hard places. Many of us have experienced the spring-like saving of our own drab lives, and are hoping to see that blooming come to bear on our relationships, and our communities and our city

We are living to be those with dirt under our nails and on our faces, and I look forward to sharing something of that story on these pages.

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