He turned fifteen the year his birthday became Earth Day. Not a bad association for a boy whose name meant “farmer” or “earth worker” — a boy who would go on to become a man, who would go on to earn a doctorate in soil ecology.
But that’s only a subplot in this boy’s story. Or maybe a framework. Because who he is goes much deeper than what he does. The why behind the what makes all the difference.
And the “why” in this case was beauty — a beauty that broke his heart in the deepest, best way, and filled him with longing.
These paths we walk are fashioned paths, no more haphazard than the artistry of the sunrise that broke over the Appalachian mountains one summer morning in 1973 and caused the boy to cry out, “Who are You?” It’s a question with an answer, and following the fashioned path he found himself in the book of John, where words adorned themselves with meaning, and beauty owned its Name.
Jesus. This Beauty had a name, and it was Jesus.
The boy would never be the same.
And so, to this day, he makes things grow. It’s his therapy, his joy, and a very real part of his worship. Because life is parable for those who have ears to hear.
The boy named Farmer believes, and he does what he can.
He makes compost.
In autumn he rescues bagged leaves from the side of the road and wood chips from the landfill. He feeds kitchen scraps to earthworms. He layers grass clippings and leaves into bins, douses them with water and tosses them like a giant salad, and then come spring — when time has had time to do her thing — He takes the rich black compost from the bottom of the bins, and into this good soil, he plants seeds.
New life from death. It’s the law of the kingdom.
We live in an age of entitlement and instant gratification. We order our flowers online, and we buy our organically grown, pesticide-free vegetables from tidy displays on the produce aisle. We don’t want to wait, and we don’t want to get our fingernails dirty. We want our food, our entertainment, our comforts, and our spiritual enlightenment served to fit our personal timelines and preferences.
We don’t want to wait. We don’t want to suffer. And we certainly don’t want to die. Why lay down our lives when we can have it our way and have it now?
Well, fact is, we don’t have to. We can skip the process. We can keep our fingernails clean, our self-esteem well polished, and our opinions unchallenged. We can stand up for our rights and pursue our happiness.
Or we can lay it all down and be living sacrifices. Because when Jesus talked about seeds and soils, he was really talking about truth and hearts. And we have a choice. We can be those who trample the path and make it harder, or we can be those who, like the early and late rains, soften the soil with kindness and grace. We can be those who throw stones or those who bow low to remove them, making room for roots to spread and go deep. We can be those who weave a crown of thorns, wounding with harsh and mocking words, or we can be those who weed out the thorns and make room for struggling roots to breathe.
We can let Beauty crush us into purpose, surrendering to the seasons He sends, knowing the pressure and pain promise a harvest. We can be a safe place for tender souls to stretch out tentative shoots toward the Son.
We can be compost.
It’s counter-intuitive in a culture where most people spend their lives trying to climb higher and achieve more. But in the upside-down kingdom, this is the secret to joy. We decrease that He might increase, and the less we become, the more He shines.
And one day? We’ll look up and gasp with wonder.
Because Beauty will blossom and flourish and fill the whole land with fruit.