It is nearly fall for real and I must admit a secret pleasure: I love to buy ragged plants at the end of the season at a deep discount. Gimme your wretched refuse yearning to be free, and I’ll take ’em.

I scored a few small shrubs for a spot that has felt lonely and abandoned. It desperately needed my attention. When we moved in, there were a bunch of dogwood trees that had inexplicably died, but I chalked it up to their need for more sun. Really, I promise, I did not kill them; spring came and I could pull whole dead branches off from the root. Today I got into the project and assigned rock picking duty to one of my children (believe me, he deserved it). We discovered that, true to their behavior in other areas of the yard, the previous owners had laid down industrial strength black plastic under the thin layer of rock mulch.

No problem, right?

I got my scissors, cut through the plastic and made a surprising discovery.

Styrofoam.

My first thought was that I must have found a place they discarded an old cooler or something, or that it was there to keep an invasive plant in its place. We cleared rocks and plastic for the second shrub and found…

Foam.

This was getting ridiculous.

Because up to that point we’d been digging very close to where the old shrubs had been, I tried a random spot and found the same, consistently created, inedible layer-cake of rocks, plastic, foam, plastic and MORE FOAM. It appears that the entire raised bed that runs the length of the house holds less than three buckets of dirt, all told. It’s crazy.

When I was clearing out roots of the old bushes, I was struck by the fact that until I started, I had no idea that the garden was essentially a facade. The decorative rock cover made me assume there was dirt underneath, dirt needed for growth and development.

There are still two barberry shrubs that stayed alive, but ultimately their limited root system will keep them from growing any bigger. So regardless of how lovely they could have become (and the dogwoods especially could have been pretty along the back of the house), they will be stunted because no matter how nice they looked on the exterior, they had weak roots.

Have you ever known someone like that?

Someone who looked right, knew the right things to say, but when difficult times came they proved to have a weak spiritual root system?

Have you ever been that person?

Have I?

If we’re honest, I think we’ve all been there, been in a place where our faith was not deep enough, where we acted out of selfish motives rather than the best interests of the other person, when we acted petty or in an unkind way and may not have connected the dots until many years later.

It made me think about Jesus’ story of the farmer tossing seeds into different types of ground. I know there have been times when I didn’t do or say what I should have, and that demonstrated a weakness or blind spot in my development that I might not have had the maturity to address appropriately at the time.

Some weird plastic foam. Excellent shock absorber.

Some weird plastic foam. Excellent shock absorber. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It reminds me that I should not be quick to make blanket statements about the condition of someone else’s faith. Maybe they’re in a rocky patch. Maybe the faith they have is all that’s left after the birds came and scavenged what they had. Maybe they’ve been scorched by the sun and maybe what they need is the cool water of a kind word. Someone’s lame behavior may just be a blind spot or an area they are working on, and don’t I have those areas myself? Sometimes we are quick to point out other people’s weakness and even quicker to defend our own. Maybe instead, we should spread on some grace and sprinkle a little sugar on top, unless we are in a special relationship with that person or if we are specifically asked by the person. Let’s not underestimate the workings of the Holy Spirit in conviction and in the active work of growing a person’s heart.

I love you, man! 🙂 Let’s go get another round of scraggly plants and some more dirt!

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