Some months ago I started on a fresh endeavor of trying to do youth ministry in a new way. The goal is to teach teenagers about life and Christian discipleship through the medium of work. It is sort of a combo of social entrepreneurship and the church. This is the story of the first day of Mowtown Teen Lawn Care which is my for-profit business that is sputtering along.
My first day of lawn care seemed so glorious. There I was at the intersection of Social Entrepreneurship and the church. I was developing a new kind of experiment in youth ministry. Important people were excited about the potential of the concept of Jobs Based Youth Ministry. I even had all the right equipment! I had purchased a top end Honda mower and Stihl weedwhackers, blowers, and edgers. It was the start of a great adventure. All I needed to do was mow my first lawn! I had mowed my own lawn hundreds of times, so how hard could it be?
Well, about a mile from the parking lot at my church I discovered a great appreciation for attention to detail, the working man, and the durability of lawn care products. I was cruising down Mill Plain boulevard in Vancouver, Wa. when I noticed a man had pulled up alongside me. In my state of ecstatic and entrepreneurial bliss I was sure that he was yelling encouragements out the window at me aware of the great endeavor that I was on. Maybe he had noticed the jet trails of joy and virtuousness that were leaving wakes behind my beater Ford van and rusty metal trailer. Or maybe he sensed, as I did, that the Lord was with me. Nope.
After I turned down my i-Pod fueled soundtrack of success that was raggedly exploding from my busted van speakers, I discovered that he was both terrified and angry. Apparently, I forgot to latch my trailer properly and I had left several pieces of lawn equipment, a couple of tarps, and some plastic trash cans along Mill Plain Avenue. It was like a kind of lawn mowing yard sale evangelism. I was spreading the good news of my new venture all over Clark County. Thank you Lord and Godspeed.
Deeply humbled and emasculated I properly acknowledged my stupidity through words and gestures to the driver and about 7 other people I encountered as I retrieved my equipment from the road way. Good thing the church name and logo was on the side of the trailer! Who can argue with free advertising?! I bet people really thought, "Man, look how that guy is wringing good from complete stupidity! What a redemptive moment!" More than likely they were quoting the gospel of John Wayne. "Life is tough. It's tougher if you're stupid."
Having survived the drive I was sure that things could only get better until I got to the house. It was here that I discovered that while I had been inefficiently banging out a contract for my first lawns over email for nigh on 3 weeks, the grass had not in fact waited to grow. What I saw as I exited my rolling church billboard was about 2 and a half feet of grass (I might be embellishing, but you don't know since you weren't there). I felt like I was H.M. Stanley looking for David Livingstone in the deepest jungles of Africa. And then in an effort to squelch the burning sensation that was overtaking my skin, God made the heavens open up in a downpour. Providence.
As I proceeded to mow the Great Amazonian triplex of Vancouver, Wa, I realized that you can hide a lot of stuff in 3 feet of lawn. It was like Satan's treasure hunt in there. I managed to destroy several children's toys, some dog poop, and a giant blade bending lava rock that based on the location of the lawn in Vancouver was likely part of the mass ejection from Mount St. Helens. That made sense given the fact that the eruption had happened around the time of my birth which roughly corresponded to the last time the lawn had been mowed. Pumice may smooth your feet, but it doesn’t do much for Hondas. I am also pretty sure I might have mowed over a Buick while I was in there and displaced an undiscovered people group. It was about that time, in the midst of prayer, treasure hunting, deluge, and rage filled sweat that I realized that you burn a hell of a lot of fuel when mowing 4 feet of lawn.
If gasoline is the oxygen of lawn care I was suffocating. I had completely run out of gas. I had mowed roughly half of the triplex lawn and in the process I had abandoned my grass catcher on about the second pass. Attempting to catch that much grass was like bringing a Dixie cup to Niagara Falls during the Spring thaw. Between the actual mowing and having to force the rain soaked grass out of its rear orphus, the lawn mower had apparently become less than fuel efficient. Shocking. It must have been a design flaw. I made a note to contact the Honda Engineers to let them know that their mowers don’t mow very well in Brazil. And this is where things got really bad. Because the only thing worse than being humiliated by the Universe and in front of strangers on a highway is being humiliated in front of your wife and kids.
Out of gas and dignity I had to choose between some pretty great options. I thought about abandoning the property completely and turning to a vagabond lifestyle of wandering the United States, but I figured excruciating shame was not enough of a justification for abandoning my family. I also considered going to a gas station to try and re-fuel. This would have been plausible had I chosen to bring the gas can I was sure I wouldn't need earlier that day. But, leaving the site felt like surrendering on my first job and I didn’t trust that I could make it to the gas station without losing more equipment on the local roads. Oh, and did I mention that it would have been awkward to leave in front of the tenants of the property who were watching me from their collective windows. I mean who doesn’t want to watch a soft handed minister’s ham fisted attempts to fire up a 2-cycle engine? They seemed to me to be whispering to their children, “See kids this is what happens when you get a Masters degree from a seminary.” The only other “option” was calling my wife. This sort of call is a bit like choosing your form of execution. Let me tell you, if I could have carried fuel in my mouth from a gas station that was 20 miles away in order to avoid calling my wife I would have. I explained in great detail to her that I had been car jacked on the highway and that the thieves had stolen my gas can and my pride. I then asked her to bring me our can from home.
And so it was, in a kind of grand finale or homage to God's cosmic justice that my wife and daughters pulled up in her Honda Civic to document my demise. The look on her face was one of loving doubt, pity, and sympathy. To a prideful man in full crisis mode there is nothing more unsavory than compassion and understanding. It's like giving a bucket of salt to a wound covered castaway who is dying of thirst. I think her parting words were, "I'll see you when you get home?" She might have said “if” you get home. I couldn’t be sure because the equipment was still running and I was too busy pouring gasoline all over myself and the street. As she pulled away my kids’ faces seemed to ask from their little child seats, "Just what exactly is Dad doing out here and how does this have anything to do with the weird churchy stuff he usually does?" Amen kids. Amen.
It only took three hours, but I managed to deforest a small part of the Pacific Northwest and cut our collective clean air supply in half while belching metric tons of carbon monoxide into the air. 6 foot high grass mowing is tough work. You can thank me for my elephant sized carbon footprint later when my pride has recovered. Or, you can call me and we can work out a lawn care contract. Whichever seems better.
Sole Proprietor, Columbia Teen Lawn Care