Watering the Dirt


Last July, we moved into a house in our neighbourhood.  Our neighbourhood is very diverse – working class people, refugees from Asia, Africa, Middle East and other places.  Polish refugees from WWII. Vietnamese refugees from the Vietnam War.  It’s not the sort of suburb most people want to move in to.  Lots of people want to move out.  And yet, we rented a house here.

It wasn’t anything fancy, but we moved in with joy and excitement.  We have been slowly getting to know our neighbours, as well as facilitating a placemaking event each Saturday morning at our Neighbourhood Community Centre.   Our Saturday mornings consist of setting up pop-up coffee (Called Random Acts of Coffee), meeting the neighbours and distributing free bread from a local bakery.  It all sounds so simple!

It’s so much more than that though!  It’s a community.  Neighbours come together and chat, laugh, cry, tell jokes and get to know each other.  Mum’s and Dad’s walk down with their kids for their morning hot chocolate.  Oldies drop by for perhaps their only social interaction of the week.  Teenagers play with little kids on the playground.  People pick herbs from the community garden or feed breadcrumbs to the chickens.  And we share stories.  We’ve all got to know each other.  We are neighbours… and friends.

When we moved into the house, the front yard was a mess.  It was overgrown in some parts, and the lawn had all but disappeared.  There was a big patch of dirt where the previous tenants had parked cars.  The back yard was worse, so we decided to set to work and make the front yard more habitable, and it has become the place where we often sit with a coffee and let the dog chase balls and greet the neighbours with a suspicious bark.

But there was this big patch of dirt, with a little grass around the edges.  I decided to make it my project to grow the lawn!  I spend a fair bit of time there. Usually most evenings.  While the dog plays, I water, pull out weeds and long for the day of an even green covering.

I started watering the dirt.  not all the dirt, just the dirt that was next to where the meagre grass was growing.  For my kids, this raised a big question, “Why are you watering dirt?” 

I explained to them that I was watering the dirt to encourage the grass to grow into the barren places.  They sort of rolled their eyes and didn’t ask again!

But a strange things happened.  Slowly, not even noticeably, but slowly, the brown became less and the green became more.  The small bare patches were filling in. The large desert was shrinking. Little by little.

The other day I was sitting outside, contemplating my developing lawn and mulling over the challenge of COVID-19.  Our Community Centre was closing due to the pesky virus.  We were being encouraged to distance ourselves.  But our friends and neighbours were still highly vulnerable and would need us more than ever.  What should we do?

And then this little piece of paper blew down the driveway.  I don’t know where it came from.  It was the size of a post it note.  Like a Fortune Cookie from heaven, it said this


Amazing!  This is what we had been doing.  Not just watering our front yard dirt.  We had been watering the hard soil of our community.  And the ground was soft. And the grass had spread out.  And now, we were ready.

So last Saturday morning, we used the lawn.  We set up our coffee gear in the front yard, put up our banner, piled the bread onto tables and invited the neighbours.  And they came.  Many of our “regulars” – and lots more.  We made new friends.  We laughed. We despaired. We chatted. And we all felt better.  We felt happy.  We felt HOPE!

So let me encourage you.  If you’ve been working on something that has been hard, and maybe felt like watering dirt, perhaps this is the season for fruit and growth.  This is our call.  To help our neighbourhood flourish.  And to flourish with it!

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)