Sweat dripped off the end of Barrett’s nose, falling toward the already damp soil beneath him. The air was hot, the work unceasing, but he wouldn’t give up until the middle-aged man next to him did. Barrett Green refused to get outworked by some goody-two-shoe Pastor.
Green glanced at his watch then wiped his shirtsleeve across his forehead. 134 minutes and counting, then he’d have met the conditions of his probation and be free from this workaholic.
“How’re you doing, Barrett?” asked Pastor James, noticing the brief pause.
“Jus’ fine,” he panted.
“Okay,” accepted the pastor, turning back to his work. “Let me know if you need a break.”
“Not likely,” mumbled Green.
James heard the comment and looked up. “There’s no shame in that, Barrett. You’ve worked pretty hard this week, and we’ve been hauling rock all day. Just because we’re only weeding now doesn’t make your body any less tired.”
Green knew that for sure. Every muscle in his body ached, spasms occasionally shooting up his arms. Gang-bangers didn’t usually work this hard…but neither did pastors, or so he thought. He would never admit it, but the Bible-thumper was outworking him.
“Whose idea was it to make a garden behind your church anyway?”
James laughed. “Me, but it’s not just a garden. It will be a place for people to get closer to God.”
“More than in church?” The idea seemed odd, but Barrett hadn’t set foot in a church in his life.
“Not more, just different. God’s hand is so evident in nature that being surrounded by it makes us more aware of Him.”
Barrett shrugged, not sure how to respond. “I guess,” he said, starting to weed again.
Pastor James didn’t want to let it go, though. “Take the weeds as an example.”
“God’s in weeds?”
James laughed. “Let me back up. The soil is fertile, something will grow there.”
“Sure,” said Barrett, not sure where he was going.
“The question is just what’s it going to be? Grass, weeds, or flowers?”
“I’m lookin’ at a lot of weeds.”
The pastor’s eyes twinkled. “That’s because growing weeds is easy. For years, no one took the time to work this field, so the weeds spread over and choked out the grass and flowers that used to be here.”
Barrett’s eyebrow’s rose, “It looked like an empty field you guys never done nothing with.”
James shook his head sadly, “No, when I was a kid, it was a vibrant garden. Reds, blues, yellows, pinks, you name it. Flowers dangled from trellises, and sweet aromas enveloped you.”
Barrett looked around, trying to picture it. Failing.
“It’s hard to see, but amazing transformations can be wrought for a little effort.”
“Or a lot.”
James clapped his hands, laughing. “So true! It’s never too late to change though.”
Green eyed the pastor suspiciously then toed the ground. “You ain’t talking about weeds no more.”
“Not really,” he admitted.
“Let’s just weed, my time’s almost up.”
James shrugged, “Okay.”
The pair returned to work, but Barrett was troubled, imagining a tightening web of weeds growing around his heart. Each crime he’d committed, every person he’d hurt, was another weed. There were a lot. Green had given up hopes of ever changing. His was a life on the street, a hard life. There was no other way…and yet he couldn’t help looking at the hard-working pastor next to him and wonder what made them so different.
Barrett’s pace slowed, growing despondent under the weight of his past…and his present. James looked over a couple times, but remained silent. Green started speaking twice, but stopped and returned to his task, the drops of sweat occasionally mingling with silent tears. He fought it.
Gang-bangers don’t cry.
By day’s end both had dirt-caked bodies, but were finished. Barrett was feeling better, putting his feelings behind him.
“That was a full day’s work,” said James.
“You look terrible!” teased Barrett.
James laughed. “Yep, but it will wash and look like it never happened.”
Barrett stopped short, the guilt surging back. “The stuff I’ve done, it’s a weed that’s killing me, ain’t it?”
“It doesn’t have to.”
“You talkin’ about the dude up there?” Barrett asked, pointing at the cross atop the church.
“We all need someone to help us pull our weeds. Can I tell you about Him?”
Barrett nodded as the tears began flowing. Wrapping a fatherly arm around him, James led him slowly up the church stairs as the shadow of the cross covered them.
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