These Are My Shoes

I never write for columns like these. To be honest, reading them usually makes me jealous that I’m not the guy who married the woman of his dreams, the free-spirited world traveler, the humanitarian working in Africa, or the driven entrepreneur with the successful start-up business. I’m the one who ended up back in the same county, with the same kind of job I had before university, just trying to pay off those looming student loans. Is this where the Lord wants me or did I miss something?

I find myself wondering how do I find newness here? Like so many other post-grads, I am in a job that doesn’t pay great and does not directly make use of my university degree—go figure. That reality can be disheartening and I’ll admit that sometimes regret does creep in. Yet when I reflect on that fearful girl who attended Trinity and compare her to the confident and mature woman who emerged I see that truly, my time at Trinity was anything but wasted. Oh how the Lord grew me in that season when I felt so lost. And it is because of that precious time that I know He is continuing to grow me in this current season, when things are not unfolding at all how I thought that they would.

Currently I am working for a small landscape company/plant nursery by day and singing with a local jazz band by night. I like to call myself a “musically inclined agrarian professional” or a singing ditch digger, depending on who’s asking. I’m not making a million dollars, but I am learning, daily about honest, meaningful work. My landscaping co-workers have been in their field for over 40 years and let me tell you, it is not a glamorous life. They all have pasts. They sweat and smoke and sometimes curse, but they’re real. There are no pretences among us. These broken souls have taught me so much and I’m only beginning to realize how much I love them. And I’m beginning to realize that at the end of the day I really don’t mind sporting a pretty redneck boot tan or spending 20 minutes just cleaning dirt out of my fingernails. These realities are evidence of the time I’m spending in God’s cathedral every day, working the soil and using the strength in my hands to sustain life and create beauty. I’m so happy. I saw a paper released recently, reminding us that there is scientific evidence of microbes in the dirt that contain antidepressant properties. These findings make me smile on the inside because it looks like the population is finally catching on to my secret.

And the music making? It is sheer joy. I have no idea where it’s heading. I only know that I cannot live without it. To me music is a prayer, and sometimes it’s the only way I know how to express my heart. I will say though that trying to feed this passion of mine demands a lot of flexibility, due to my attempts to combined it with my other line of work. There are times when I have to use the not-so-luxurious porta john at work to change for a gig. I call it my superman telephone booth because I go in after working in the dirt looking like Pig-Pen and come out in a dress and heels ready to sing my heart out. This tight wire act is definitely exhausting, but in those moments when the band is hot and the crowd is with us, the sacrifices I make to dig and sing are totally worth it.

So these are my shoes and I wear both pairs, not because they represent practical or particularly financially wise decisions in and of themselves, but because I love each pair for the season and work that they represent. And yes, I still wrestle with that jealousy that tries to breed discontentment in me. I have to continuously mute the voices of everyone’s expectations (including my own) in order to hear God speak. He reminds me that I’m going the right way so long as I’m walking with him and points out that I’d better keep working on my internal landscape instead of chasing a dreamy, idyllic “elsewhere”. This journey that I’m on is about being here, in the present. He’s teaching me that contentment is directly related to the degree that I rest in Him, and that this sense of leaning into this season must not be conditional on my comfort or personal agenda.

These habits and desires have been hard things to die to and let go of, but as author Peter Kreeft says, “nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours, nothing in you that has not died can ever be raised from the dead”. This experience of letting go and letting God is really just like that process that plants undergo while losing their foliage to survive through winter and make room for the miraculous new growth that comes about again each spring. And it’s finally spring again in my own soul garden and this season I’m growing gratitude and a fresh perspective. I’m seeing God everywhere in my situation now because I’m searching for it, amidst the plants and the sheet music and in ordinary things like my drive home from work.

So I still haven’t found a “real” job, figured out my calling, paid off my school debt, ended world hunger, dated anyone worthwhile, or achieved the American dream. But when I’m driving my ’91 Ford Truck home through the back roads of beautiful Southern Maryland after a day of hard work I’m inclined to think philosopher John Ruskin got it totally right, “To watch the corn grow; to see the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over spade or ploughshare; to read; to think; to love; to pray; these are the things that make men happy.” Now I’m curious, what shoes do you wear?