We bought our house about 18 months ago. But the house wasn’t new to us since we’d lived across the street for 7 years prior to buying it.
It’d been a rental for about 20 years prior to our buying it. And for 7 years we watched as people moved in, people moved out, sometimes they’d stay for 6 months and sometimes they’d stay a couple years. Some we were friends with but most we barely got to know their names before they moved out.
The upside of having been managed as a rental for 20 years was that pretty much everything worked in the house. If something broke, the tenant would call the landlord who’d send over a handyman to replace a light socket or fix the plumbing or install a new porch light.
The negative is that 20 years as a rental meant the house was clean and operational, but mostly devoid of character and any semblance of home. At times we wish the walls could talk so we had a better sense of what’d happened here. At other times, like when I discovered “welcome to hell” scratched into a doorframe, perhaps it’s better if the walls didn’t talk.
As we’ve begun transforming it from a rental into our family home we’ve done our best to make it feel like a family home again. It’s there. It’s in the DNA. Built in 1954 this house has raised families before. Our teenagers are not the first teenagers to fight over the bathroom.
Our task is getting it back.
Our yard was completely devoid of life. At first glance you didn’t see it. Everything was green. I mean, it’s green so it isn’t dead, right?
Every other Wednesday for 20 years a man and his assistant pulled up in front to mow the grass, trim the bushes, and use a leaf blower to make it all look clean and green.
But the yard was dead. Chemicals controlled weeds. Chemicals provided nutrients. And a sea of fresh water somehow kept it all alive.
Non-native plant-life kept alive by imported water and managed by chemicals is not life. You see this dead-looking-live lie all over Southern California. It’s like breast implants in Orange County… midwest dreams in a coastal desert.
Bringing Back Life
As a Christian I believe our very lives ought to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. In Tuning In I redefine what success looks like in my life. Success, to me at least, isn’t about the idea of making it big or bigger stuff or more _____. It’s about thriving, it’s about living a sustainable pace, it’s about enjoying the journey and the people around me. Like the grass, what good is material success if just below the surface it’s all a lie?
If I want the output of my work at the Cartel to bring renewal, life, and sustainability… I also want my life at home to bring renewal, life, and sustainability.
To do that we had to make radical changes.
Last fall we fired the lawn guy and buried our chemically dependent dead grass in newspaper, cardboard, and 5 inches of mulch. In January, we planted our front yard with gorgeous low-water and mostly native plants. What water we do apply is now delivered through a system of highly efficient drip lines. As the mulch breaks down it fertilizes the plant life. But the mulch also acts as a natural weed barrier while holding in the precious moisture.
Renewal is a process. Something had to die for their to be new life… what’s growing now brings in native bugs, bees, and butterflies. (And crows, possum, and skunk!)
Last year we also started converting the backyard into something far more utilitarian. Our chickens completely ate our once green grass. Now that’s been topped with several inches of mulch to start renewing the soil, replacing chemical nutrients with real nutrients, which is encourage bug life… which the chickens will eat. When it rains, the rain is collected in a series of rain barrels, which we use to water our vegetable garden. Three compost bins collect food waste from the kitchen, chicken manure and straw we use in the garden and for chicken bedding break down everything which gets put right back into the garden to produce fruits and veggies.
We’ve taken out 7 overgrown or poorly planted trees, many of which threatened or flooded the foundation of the house. Earlier this year we started taking out giant bushes that captured about 20% of the surface area of the yard. What was once a backyard square of grass with trees and plants on the perimeter is slowly becomes what we hope to be a thriving garden that not only provides beauty and food… but also literally keeps the interior of our house cooler as garden shade pre-cools air before it comes in the windows.
Slowly, steadily, intentionally, and hopeful– life is returning to our yard. This works it way up from the microbial level, to the root level, finally up to the surface level with plants and flowers. As I work in my backyard Tiny Office I often marvel at butterflies and hummingbirds swooping in. This morning, as I write, I hear a nearby oriole telling his friends about the NBA playoffs, see a yellow butterfly patiently working his way through our tomato plants, and notice our chickens dutifully scratch their way around the yard in search of bugs.
Connected to Our Faith
For me, bringing life where I go is an outcome of my walk with Jesus. Renewal is what we do as Christians.
One question I find myself asking more and more– especially in a season of political cynicism– is “Where am I bringing life today?”
Rarely will you chastise something to grow. Instead you have to patiently watch to identify the problem, like we’ve done with our yard. Next you carefully and intentionally create a plan. And finally, you get to it.
Friends, death and destruction is easy. Where are you bringing life today?