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Digging Ditches with Grandad

“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23 ESV

Grandad and Grandma Fran Van Voorhis were an adventure. My mother’s parents gave this city boy an opportunity to experience my mother’s rural roots. There were a few years where they lived in the city, but for most of my memories with them, they lived out in the country where you could shoot guns, play in water ditches, or explore old barns. My grandad was always into something new. One time, he started a pheasant and quail farm. For a kid who didn’t like birds, it wasn’t one of my favorite places. But there was one thing that was pretty cool. There was a watering hole where we would go and swim. If you found it today it probably looks like a water runoff hole that collects pesticides off the fields. But back then, I think we were safe. At least I think so. There at Grandad and Grandma Fran’s house, you didn’t worry if your clothes matched or, sometimes, even if you had a bath. It was just fun.


I have so many memories, but one of my fondest about Grandad was when I was going through a very hard time as a teenager. My parent’s divorce was extremely difficult for me. Growing up as a lawyer’s son, I didn’t have to work and had pretty much everything I needed. It wasn’t that my dad and mom said I couldn’t get a job. They just didn’t say to go get one, so I didn’t. Before the divorce, life was good,  and then all of the sudden it wasn’t. It was the summer after high school graduation where I found myself without any focus or identity. School was over and my friends were all making college plans. My college plans blew up when my dad and I didn’t see eye to eye on some things. My future was uncertain, and I felt I had no skill set to fall back on. I remember trying out for the American Legion baseball team and getting cut. I had never been cut from anything before. The rejection was hard. The more the summer went on, the more I found myself in a major identity project.


That summer, my Grandad invited me to come and stay a week with him and Grandma Fran. He had a ditch to dig, and with his health, he couldn’t do it himself. I thought to myself, “What else is there to do?” Plus, spending time with him would be nice. I never thought a ditch could change the trajectory of life, but this one did for mine. He was putting in a new water line so there were things other than just digging dirt. I had to dig underneath a sidewalk and up to the house. So here is this kid from the city with hands who were not accustomed to a shovel. The sun was hot and the dirt was hard.


Grandad gave me the instructions and put me to work. Occasionally, he would come out and sit in a lawn chair and tell me to do something different. I didn’t think there were different ways to shovel dirt, but I guess there was. It took me about three days to get the work done. As I neared completion, it was amazing how much better I thought about myself. I had started something that was going to get finished. I learned I could do hard things, and my hands looked a little more manly too. That summer my Grandad not only believed in me, but he also spoke to my yearning to know who I was as a young man. He toughened me up with a shovel. There was profit in the hard work. I did something more than just talk about it. The digging gave me time to think. The time to think helped me to discover that I didn’t want  to do this for a living. That discovery helped me begin to chase some dreams that eventually led me to do what I am doing today. That ditch with Grandad helped me accomplish something outside of my comfort zone and put new wind into my sails. Each time I would visit after that project was done, I would show people the dirt and tell them about the project I did. Pointing at dirt never felt so good.


For me as a young man who was never really challenged to work, this project with my Grandfather taught me the value of hard work and a lot about myself. I profited from it more than sitting around in my pity feeling sorry for myself. My Grandad was not a spiritual man, but I do believe he heard from God. It was like God telling him, “Look at your grandson. He needs some callouses on his hands with a little dirt rubbed in.” Before that project, I didn’t want to dig a ditch. I just wanted life to make sense. I wanted to feel a sense of value. After that project, and what God showed me later through it, I am thankful for digging ditches with Grandad



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