Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
Sunday, June 25, 2000

The fine art of using life's manure to grow beautiful roses

The picture is still etched in my mind. Chickens, hogs, and two milk cows were housed on the top of a small hill at a mission station in Haiti. Slightly down the hill from the animals was a healthy garden. An ingenious plan allowed the manure of the animals to be washed downhill to fertilize the vegetables.

Growing up on a farm, I learned at an early age the great value of manure. Though the stuff stinks, it smells like money to those whose livelihood depends upon the crops they are growing.

The wise use of cow or chicken manure can provide delicious vegetables on the table during the wintertime. For that reason I shoveled tons of the smelly stuff which my parents used to grow hearty vegetables, fruit trees and flowers. Money was scarce during the depression years but there was always food on the farmer's table, and manure was the reason why.

Farm workers often step in manure while working with animals. That is, to be honest, a rather disgusting experience, especially when it is fresh manure. And if it happens to be hog manure, your boots will never smell good again. Nothing stinks quite like hog manure.

I can still hear my mother, able to smell me before she could see me, shouting "Take those nasty boots off before you come in the house!" Even with your boots outside, the odor can remain attached to your clothes, prompting even those who love you to remark, "You smell like a pig pen!".

My grandfather, Seth Johnson, taught me a valuable lesson about manure. He likened stepping in fresh cow manure to "cutting your foot." More than once, while walking in the cow pasture with him and my father, he would warn me with the wry remark, "Don't cut your foot, Walter Junior."

Little did I realize back then that his warning would become an important principle for life in general. The mature must learn to deal with manure. It shows up everywhere, having many clever ways of manifesting itself. One of its favorite disguises is criticism.

None of us lives long without having to deal with the complaints of others. Like weeds the faultfinders are everywhere. Do something, anything, and some prig will sound off. Do nothing and somebody will bellyache about that too. The solution, then, is to decide what you think is best, and do it, come hell or high water.

While we may all learn from criticism, we can also make it work for us. Thus comes the art of allowing rebukes to serve us much like manure makes our gardens flourish. My dad taught me to use manure wisely. Too much manure will "burn" the plants. And putting it directly on the tender shoots of the plants is harmful. It is the root system which needs just the right amount of the manure.

People may be grouped into two basic types: the evaluators and the affirmers. Some people are always evaluating us, ready to offer us their judgmental opinions about our actions. These are the people who are experts in the clever use of putdown, sarcasm and repartee; they enjoy making others seem stupid and inferior.

But, thankfully, there are others who delight in affirming us with encouragement and approval. These are the people who cheer us on, who lift us up rather than put us down. They help us to believe in ourselves. Because of them, we find the courage, when we have failed, to get up and try again.

In treating condemnation like manure, we can learn to let judgmental words keep us sober without "burning" us. Rejection can help us to examine our perspectives; we may indeed see the need for a mid-course correction sometimes. But we can refuse to join our critics by being too hard on ourselves. Nothing is gained by heaping cruel rejection upon oneself, for in so doing one becomes the architect of his own misery.

We can allow our critics to remind us to give thanks for our affirming friends. This is yet another excellent way to use the manure of complaints to help us grow a healthier attitude.

Criticism, like manure, abounds in our world. The trick in dealing with it is to try not to step in it, and "cut" your spirit. We may learn the fine art of growing beautiful roses in beds of manure. This will enable us to say to our critics: "If you can find nothing better to do, bring on the manure; I know how to use it."