We bought our house in October of 2010. My husband had been employed in his job as pastor for a little over a year. Our baby was five months old. After months of searching and picking our way through plenty of foreclosures, short sales, and bank-owned properties, we had finally found a home that fit our budget and fit our taste (without having to put a ton of work in before we could move in).
Over that winter, we enjoyed getting acclimated to our new home. I came up with a list of improvement projects…knowing full well that they wouldn’t happen until I got a better paying job, but dreaming nonetheless. One of the things on that list was to put grass in our back yard.
It appeared that at one time, there had been a system for watering the back, but we had no idea how to hook it up or make it work. (Growing up in the midwest did not afford us many opportunities to learn about sprinkler systems.) We were total newbies. And instead of asking for help, we just did what we knew how to do: we planted grass seed over the winter, bought a sprinkler, attached it to the hose, and watered the grass regularly. Unfortunately, our midwest system was no match for the rainless summer, and by the next fall, half of our back yard had turned into a back “patch of dirt.” I was annoyed every time our baby…now toddler… went outside to play. He couldn’t enjoy toddling or crawling through the yard, because his hands, knees, feet, and who knows what else would be instantly filthy. Well, let’s say I couldn’t enjoy it. He didn’t seem to care, honestly. I, however, was constantly worried he would put dirt in his mouth, and constantly cleaning up the dirt that seemed to walk into our house by the fistful.
I grew more and more resentful towards the dirt in our backyard. How could I contain it? What were we going to do about it? How long would I have to put up with it before a change could be made? We tried planting grass seed multiple times throughout multiple years, but there always seemed to be a section of our yard that was determined to be dirt.
Some time passed, and then I noticed how every day, when I would bring our son, Noah, home from daycare, he would play in the back yard. He was quietly moving sandy dirt around, using dump trucks, hands, shovels and whatever else was back there. Well, I thought, maybe the dirt is not such a bad thing. It seems to be a happy place for our boy.
Fast forward another couple of years. By this time, we had added another boy to our family. Number Two was the exact opposite of his older brother in just about every way, and they butted heads with each other in just about every way. But not when they were outside. And our dirt patch in the back was a place where they could play together without fighting. During this same season, I toured an open house of a home that was for sale in my friend’s neighborhood. I stepped out into the pristine backyard, and I was immediately sad for the family who would move in there. They didn’t have room in their back yard for a dirt patch.
That little five month old baby is now a tall nine year old boy. I cannot tell you how many hours he has spent outside, playing in our once-unwanted dirt patch. I can tell you that he continues to enjoy working outside in the dirt, even all these years later, and he’s modeled for his little brothers the joy of playing in dirt. We’ve had mud pies and mud castles and mud forts and mud trenches and mud reservoirs and mud towers. We’ve traded in toy dump trucks for full-sized shovels, and the boys are now working on a pulley system to carry dirt up the slide of our play structure. I even checked in with the Call-Before-You-Dig organization this past spring, because Noah wanted to see how big of a hole he could dig, and I was a little worried he might run into something.
And you know what happens just about every time the boys have friends over? They end up playing in the dirt. Every. Time. Boys, girls, preschoolers, 4th graders: they all love dirt. It gives them a chance to be creative, a chance to be dirty without getting scolded, a chance to make something and then mess it up again.
Let this be, to you and to me, a reminder to be thankful for the messy things things of this life. Take heart that even those things that drive you crazy today might just turn out to be sources of pure joy in the future.
What is something that used to drive you crazy, but you now are thankful for?