Keeping My Hands Dirty

Our house is built on a sloped lot. You walk in our front door at street level and the back door from our basement.

When we built the house, we knew we wanted some level ground for our children to play, so we had the builder terrace the backyard. Two level areas are connected by a bank too steep to mow.

Money was tight when we first moved in over 30 years ago. Our landscaping budget was nil, so the bank remained unimproved dirt while we tried to figure out what to plant and how to pay for it.

My father had connections, though. He made friends (of course) with a nearby farmer, who had surrounded his corn crib with a honeysuckle bed. Dad asked the farmer if he could have some of the honeysuckle, and the farmer told him to help himself.

One morning my father showed up at the door and handed me a trash bag. “For the dirt bank,” he said.

I looked inside the trash bag. It was filled with honeysuckle vines that had been pulled up by the roots.

Doubtful about the viability of the vines, I nevertheless planted them on the bank, watered them, and filled in the blank spaces with mulch.

I should have had more faith.

The honeysuckle quickly filled in the bare spots. The flowers that bloomed on the vines every June infused our yard with an intoxicatingly sweet smell, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.

It was my oldest son’s responsibility to weed the honeysuckle bank, much to his displeasure. He reminded me many times that honeysuckle is an invasive species and would out-compete anything else on the bank. I believe he also invoked child labor laws.

By the time he left home for college, he appeared to be correct (about the bank). The honeysuckle was thriving, and it did out-compete most of the weeds with minimal assistance.

In our warm, humid climate, however, succession happens at a rapid rate.

In recent years, the honeysuckle became covered with noxious kudzu, and Ailanthus trees started popping up at random spots in the bank. Other weeds soon found footholds and spread. The once-beautiful honeysuckle bank was a mess.

My husband wanted to rip out everything and completely re-landscape the bank, but I am stubborn.

I spent hours tearing out weeds and digging up Trees of Heaven. I filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with unwanted greenery. Eventually, the honeysuckle once again bloomed.

My victory was short-lived. The weeds returned.

I became even more determined to save the honeysuckle bank. The next time, I edged around the entire bank with a hand edger, ripped out all the weeds, and mulched the entire bank to prevent the weeds from returning.

Once again, the honeysuckle bank looked good.

Β 

One day last week, I examined the honeysuckle. Weeds were sprouting in one section. I will re-weed and re-mulch the entire bank next spring, but the day was warm and sunny, and I felt the need to get my hands dirty, so I got out the wheelbarrow and started pulling.

A month ago, my niece sent me a link to a song by Janelle Monae. One line keeps going through my head over and over again. I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say that one line has literally transformed my life.

I keep my hands dirty, my mind clean.

Since the pandemic, little and not-so-little things have been subtracted from our lives.

My husband and I are both retired. We miss the traveling we used to do. We miss going out for a beer and wings on a rainy Sunday afternoon. We miss going to the gym, meeting our friends for dinner, visiting family, congregating with our running club.

Yes, we still have a lot to be grateful for, and we know it. But if I focus on the negatives, the loss, it clutters my mind.

I need to keep my mind clean by doing something positive, even something as small and insignificant as weeding the honeysuckle bank.

I have started using “I keep my hands dirty, my mind clean,” as my running mantra, to discourage negative thoughts of self-doubt from polluting my psyche. It works. So far, I have had four stress-free long runs in a row – my longest streak since March.

I also use it in matters of faith, when I need to be reminded to keep my mind clean and focused, rather than self-righteous and cocky.

The song that contains this line (Turntables) is about social justice. When Ms. Monae sings about getting her hands dirty, she is referring to the fight for racial equity, something much more consequential than weeding.

The two areas where this new mantra has helped me so far, running and faith, are significant to me.

I feel the need, like Ms. Monae, to get my hands dirty for a cause I am passionate about. One that will help others.

I don’t know what that cause is yet, but I am keeping my mind open, listening for God’s whisper to point me in one direction.

I must be prepared to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty so that when I hear the whisper, I can take immediate action.

In the meantime, I will expend my extra energy and time on the honeysuckle bank to clean my mind. It’s looking better already.

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:17

You can find the places I link up here.

108 comments

  1. Laurie, I love this post for so many reasons. You made me pause and sit reflecting for a bit. I began volunteering with a non-profit ministry just about 6 years ago now. “I keep my hands dirty, my mind clean.” Amen! May God lead and direct you in the days ahead to the place of action He has already prepared for you.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Dirty hands, clean mind . . . How I love that phrase, Laurie! In these days, it’s all too easy for negative thoughts to clutter our minds; we must not allow it to happen. I’m reminded of this from the Bible: “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.”
    Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I love this and is so helpful to read today. About the time I was semi getting over the loss of my husband, and thinking life has to get back to normal, and get out there and live what I had left, my heart problems and the pandemic hit about the same time. I have panic attacks since the 6th grade, but hadn’t had one in ages until the heart news. Anyway, I am finding ways to eliminate the stress of when I go out to the stores, etc and if the heart feels a bit off. I have read to do some yoga, but I love this, keep my mind clean. I’ll add that to my focus points. Thanks for a much needed read post today. Have a great week ahead.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, Peabea, I cannot imagine what you must be going through. My heart goes out to you. If this post could help at all, that makes me so happy. Prayers and virtual hugs to you, dear friend!

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  4. I wish the things we plant were as capable of growing under tough circumstances as the weeds around them. Good luck with the fight. Also, if you ever decide to get rid of the honeysuckle, good luck with that, That stuff is hard to kill.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love being outside with my hands in dirt still loved reading your post. I can imagine how beautiful that honeysuckle would look when in flower. #lifethisweek

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I must admit I read the title and cringed as I HATE getting my hands dirty. (Not a euphemism!) It’s a weird thing but I hate having dirty hands or feet so tend to spend minimal time outside and dislike gardening or working in the yard intensely. I have so many plants I should re-pot and I have gardens that need tending and I just ignore them! Every so often when I can afford it I have the person who does my mowing trim some hedges or prune the bushes a little!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha! You and my husband are both averse to dirty hands. He would like to pay for someone to do the mulching and weeding for us but hates to spend the money!

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  7. There’s something about getting your hands into dirt that is (no pun intended) grounding. Also in times of flux, tending the dirt gives you an outcome that’s visible almost immediately – you can see the difference your hard work makes.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Hi Laurie – great title and loved how you led us into the song line and the way it connected to your life and latest pondering

    So nice !
    And I have pulled so many weeds over the years that I actually had some wear and tear damage to my right elbow (and funny because I think the wear and tear theory came up in a comment with me before – and here it is again) so I had to find new ways to pluck and pull! My elbow healed (it felt like tennis elbow but I know it was from so much gardening and maybe fro the dog leash – and other use) but I healed it with rest and magnesium oil (I like life flo magnesium cholride flakes with a little DMSO) anyhow – once in a while when I do a pull up I can feel a slight something in that elbow and then I rest it. But I give god all the glory for the way he gives us insight on natural remedies and just really loved how he leads and feeds.
    Anyhow
    All that to say that as you take led about pulling those weeds – I was right there – and I could imagine your son doing that and wonder how it likely helped him “wary and ground” which they say a lot of youth today need to do more
    So many kids are j doors and touching electronics and are not really getting enough earth time
    Oh and last part of my comment
    – we had an area near the back that had honeysuckle – but it was not at all ideal for our yard and was very happy to see it go
    But I can imagine your hillside with it and seems like it really served a njce purpose

    Liked by 3 people

    • Weeding is so much more strenuous than most people imagine. Weeding my bank is a workout! So sorry your elbow was damaged as a result of weeding. My son used to complain about his chore – a lot! This was in the days before video games became as prevalent as they are today. Great to hear from you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Laurie – I do think the elbow had lots of other wear – hahah – but I weeded a lot for a while – and then got smart! mulch and ground cover is key (as you mentioned here) and then also – catching them early – before the roots go deep (and more life metaphor there -!!)
        wishing you a wonderful week ahead

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Laurie – I can so relate to moving into a house with a lot of garden work required and no budget to do it with. We built a house on a 2 acre bush block 30 years ago (moved from it about 10 years ago) and the hard work with keeping those weeds at bay and finding things to plant that were cheap and would flourish was an ongoing work in progress. I hope you find your inspiration for what to put your efforts into – I don’t have one “big” thing – I seem to get my hands dirty by dabbling in lots of little things.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Laurie, I loved this. I love how you used the honeysuckle bank and the weeds as a visual for how the weeds of negative thoughts impact our minds. We must be so intentional about clearing the pernicious thoughts that drag us down and away from Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Your post reminded me of my last house. Our backyard, which sloped, was covered in a plant that was really easy to grow. Unfortunately when we adopted a border collie he was highly allergic to the plant. My son spent days ripping the whole lot out, then we returfed the slope.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It sounds like the honeysuckle bank has kept you busy but that is a good thing. I know during the first lockdown here I spent plenty of time in the garden weeding. It is never ending but that is a good thing to keep me busy. x

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Laurie,
    I have found, during this COVID year, that I’ve spent a whole lot more time in my yard and gardens. When I’m working away, digging in the dirt, my mind does less wandering to dangerous and unhealthy places. Sometimes the simplest mantras are the best. My work in taking the Word to a dark Gospel frontier has also helped to take my mind off “first world problems.” Amazing how doing the next thing in front of us and doing for others takes our minds off of self. Great post!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is exactly what I find, Bev. When my hands are busy, my mind does not have time to seek out those unhealthy thoughts. You have found your calling! So wonderful. Blessings to you.

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  14. I love plants and flowers finding their way into my flower beds and yard by way of loved ones. I understand why the honeysuckle are so important – a reminder of a father’s love! Your post made me think: ” for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mark 6:21) – so what our mind rests on – is what we treasure – whether it is a God treasure or an unhealthy treasure! Thank you for your beautiful reminder to keep our minds and our hands focused on things of God!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right. I think of my dad often when I look out over the honeysuckle. I love your application of the verse from Mark to the concept of a clean mind. I wish I had thought of that to add to the post. Thank you for pointing that out! πŸ™‚

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  15. Good luck keeping that honeysuckle thriving. Our house was built with a walk- out basement too and we have at least one hill that we tried to slope enough to mow. Only problem was monsoon like rains came right after planting and so much of it floated away that we are left once again with a hill of weeds.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What a beautiful post, as a literal message and as metaphor. Funny enough, when I couldn’t fall asleep last night, I found myself repeating *your* One Word for 2021 over and over in my mind. Just the word. .And I saw that here, too, as you return to that bank–over and over–to empty it.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. We have honeysuckle also and know how it can overtake an area quite quickly. So far, kudzu hasn’t found its way to the west coast so we are safe (for now, anyway). I sure wish I had some child labor to get rid of weeds. As it stands now, my hands will remain dirty (not sure about my mind πŸ™‚ ).

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hope you find the perfect fit for your energies and passion. Until then, I hope the running and weeding keep your spirit light.

    We had honeysuckle, too. Both of us enjoy the fragrance. But it began taking over the entire garden and strangling out other plants so we treated it like a weed – sadly – and pulled it out. As I child, I enjoyed drinking the nectar from honeysuckle blooms. And will still stop to do that when I happen upon a plant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I will keep listening for a clue. I think I am just about done weeding here until next spring. The ground will soon freeze. I never heard of drinking the nectar. I will have to give that a try next summer!

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  19. You have to stay on top of kudzu. Pull it before the pods release millions of seeds.
    It seems I have a new weed in my yard every year.
    I hate to use a weed & feed but I just can’t keep up anymore.
    I’m planning on a spring and fall weed and feed. Only did a spring one this year and my new weed of the year looks happy and healthy in our freezing cold weather.
    I love when spring comes and I can get my hands into the soil. I also love walking barefoot in my garden.
    Just something about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! I hate that kudzu. It is so tenacious. A lot of the weeds that infiltrate the honeysuckle bank actually came from the yard. that’s why I needed a mulch barrier between the yard and the vines. Love to dig my toes into the soil too.

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  20. Hands dirty, minds clean. Such a great mantra. I love the smell of honeysuckle. It always invokes memories of when my husband and I were first married and living in our first townhouse. In life, we have those weeds that want to dig deep into our faith and overtake us. Thankfully, God is faithful and helps us to keep our hands dirty to root out those things that want to pollute our minds. Thank you for this wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that mantra too. It’s a good reminder. I love your metaphor of weeds growing into our faith. I wish I had thought of that before I wrote the post! πŸ™‚ Thank you.

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  21. I had to Google Kudzu to see what it looked like. I think I mentioned my neighbor who got angry when I asked her not to put her basset hound out at 3:30-4:00 a.m. every day as it barked incessantly until they let it in (not for a long time) – this was right under my bedroom window. The homeowners took offense and emptied their birdfeeders into my side garden. This resulted in thistles growing everywhere – they have rhizomes and it was nearly impossible to dig them out. At least your hard work pays off with a heady scent.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I have had/still have some interesting neighbors. I like Marge’s son, but that he saw the hawk watching those squirrels, and as a hunter enjoyed the predator vs. prey did upset me. On the other side, she put up a white privacy fence on my side only – it made no sense at all. And her contractors removed the chain-link fence when the permit was not correctly pulled and I had to pay to get my portion of the chain-link fence re-installed. She refused to pay for the fence after I demanded her to do so – $250.00 to have it replaced. Other things … she came two after the basset hound’s owner.

        Liked by 1 person

  22. Children are so same. Whenever I ask my child to do something, he comes up with child labor law.
    Dirty hands, clean mind ..my learning point is keep yourself busy and your mind won’t be free to give you negative thoughts.
    Faith keeps us going. Thanks for sharing this Laurie. I love your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. This post left many of us with memories it seems. We moved 3 times into houses that were brand new and of course, there is a tendency to cover up the boundaries and have some greenery. One house, it was the bougainvillia with all its sharp spikes that did us in..eventually it all went, another it was a far to tall hedge that we could no longer maintain and then the last place, great vine with pretty flowers each spring..but it took over the pool area. Sigh. It must be something in our humanness that we cannot like ’empty spaces’. Like your quote too.

    Thank you for linking up for Life This Week. Next week is the last Share Your Snaps for 2020 and then only one week to go after that before a short break with Life This Week returning on Mon 4 January 2021. Hope to see you next week too. Denyse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! So true…we typically do not like empty spaces. We like to soften the edges of our homes with some greenery. In my case, it was the need to cover the bank to prevent erosion, since it was too steep to plant grass and mow. Thank you for hosting. See you next week!

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  24. Laurie, I can always tell how good of a day I’ve had in my flowerbeds by how dirty I am when I’m done. The dirtier, the better! Good for you to keep after that kind of weeding though … when weeds start overtaking my periwinkle patches, I’m always tempted to dig it all up and plant something else. This must be the week for posts about encouraging mantras … I love yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I always seem to get very dirty when I work in my flowerbeds. My husband, on the other hand, can work all day and be clean as a whistle! How does he do that? I loved your mantra too! πŸ™‚

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  25. Great post full of encouragement! If more people kept their hands busy getting dirty they wouldn’t have time for judgment.
    I do hope you win the fight for your honeysuckle! Right now, we are fighting invasive bamboo!

    Your link at ‘My Corner of the World’ this week is an exciting addition! Thanks for joining us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, so true. We need more dirty hands and less judgment. Bamboo is difficult to get rid of once it gets established, I know! Thank you so much for hosting, Betty!

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  26. What a lovely read! I had to Google Honeysuckle as I’m not familiar with it over here in Australia. It’s pretty! I love that line “I keep my hands dirty, my mind clean” – perfect! Mindset is so important during this pandemic and it sounds like yours is in good shape and besides, gardening is therapy and good exercise!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right, Corinne. I think we are supposed to get down to eye level with those who need our help. Get our hands dirty and get involved. Good for you for saving stray dogs! I think if I did that, we would soon be overrun with dogs. I just love them!

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