The kids, who also worked in the yard all day Memorial Day and Independence Day, wondered if there were any upcoming holidays that might be off limits. Would we be out here on Thanksgiving? What about Christmas? I assured them that Christmas was sacrosanct. But Thanksgiving? Let’s just wait and see what the weather is like!
We decided this week finally to plant some grass from seed in a large rectangle section of the back yard that is a wasteland of hard dirt, old garbage, and nasty weeds. Not many people seem to plant a lawn from seed, even though it’s easy and rewarding.
I first learned how to do it the summer after 10th grade. I stayed a few weeks with the family of a good friend in Colombia, Missouri. His dad taught at the University of Missouri and did landscaping in the summer. He let me and my friend work the summer mornings for him. He was strict, but balanced. And he paid us something astronomical like $6.00 per hour, which was a fortune in those days for a 16-year-old. (Of course I had none of it left by the time I rejoined my family in Utah. But it had paid for a lot of pizza, soda, and movies.)
That was the summer that my dad left the military and we moved to Utah. We bought a rambler just down the street from my grandma’s house. The house had good bones, but it was in horrible repair. The yard was dead. It was sincerely, wasteland, post-apocalyptic movie set dead. We started working right away to clean up the house, paint the walls, replace the carpet, upgrade the fixtures, and restore the yard. And I’ve been in love with this type of work ever since.
The whole side lawn was just dirt and dead juniper stumps. I removed the juniper stumps, broke up and raked the dirt, sowed the seed, and covered it in a thin layer of straw to protect it from wind and sun. I took an 8-inch black walnut sapling from my grandma’s yard and transplanted it into this hopeful little plot. Then we watered, weeded, and waited.
The first few months brought sparse, thin grass tufts. That winter, the snow was deep enough to cover my little sapling entirely. But by the following spring, there were leaves on the sapling and the grass was the thickest, softest lawn on the property. It quickly became the spot where we were most likely to sit for a picnic or take a nap in the sun. Today, more than two decades later, my walnut sapling and scattered grass seeds look like this:
However, it was just at that time that we had a lesson at church about the parable of the sower. A sower was scattering seed and was not careful. Some went by the wayside and was eaten by birds. Some was cast on thin, rocky soil where it baked in the sun. Some was mingled with weeds where it was choked out. And the rest was sowed into well-prepared soil, where it flourished.
That seed on the thin soil caught my attention. That was my seed. It was just sitting their baking with no chance to grow. I had not done anything more to protect it from the elements. So that next Saturday, the kids and I took shovels-full of fine top soil and sprinkled it lightly on top of the splotches of seed that lay across our yard.
Just days later, we had beautiful, soft shoots poking through. And today it’s the healthiest, greenest grass on the block. Neighbors stop all the time to introduce themselves and compliment us on our beautiful new grass.
Of course Jesus’ point in all this is that we can sometimes make our own lives into that thin rocky soil where seeds won’t grow. They may sprout at first, but with no ground to put in roots, they will dry out in the sun and die. So too with us. As the elements of life strike us—hardship, setback, disappointment, criticism—all of our work, our creativity, and our spirit can wilt away if we’ve not prepared our soil to shield us from the scorching heat.
This year, we’ve worked very hard on setting aside time to build up our soil. This has been in many forms, but the most fruitful have definitely been nightly family scripture study and weekly Sabbath Day observance.
We read the scriptures every single night as a family. It’s not always pretty, but it often is. We read slowly and methodically. We ask each other questions, we discuss what we’re reading, and we apply what we learn to our everyday lives.
Sabbath observance has been the other great blessing to us. This has been a more recent change. I think we stopped actively breaking the Sabbath a year or two ago. No more secret trips to McDonald's during Elders’ Quorum, gas stations for drinks on the way home from church, or grocery stores for not having shopped the night before. And it never really occurred to us to do anything special on Sunday, we just thought of it as a day with rules about what we couldn’t do.
Following a talk this April in LDS General Conference by Russell Nelson, we committed to live the Sabbath instead of just abstaining from trips to the store. He said, “In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until much later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father.”
And what might that sign be? For us, the activities of that sign have been a wonderful mix of family time, visiting friends, reading, taking naps, playing games, writing letters, calling family, watching movies as a family, and cooking and eating together. We’ve started trying to stop in to visit a new family each week, someone we don’t know. We take them brownies or cookies and take a few minutes to get to know them.
This week, as the kids and I sprinkled grass seed across our well-prepared ground and then a fine layer of protective peat moss over it, I thought about the roots I hope they are putting down for their own lives. I thought about the storms they might weather and the strength they might have to face them.
“Someday,” I told them, “you’ll play on this grass and remember that you planted it. Someday your kids might play on this grass, and you’ll tell them about when you planted it.”
I’m excited to see that day. To see our lawn in its glory. And to see these bright kids of ours grown up and facing their own exciting lives with strong roots grown deeply into the soil we’re helping them prepare.