Not long ago, I met with someone compiling articles to create a book. Most of them were spawned from experiences throughout her life that taught her lessons she hoped to pass on. I am typically all ears to learn from the successes and failures of others so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, so I tuned in with great attention.

Yet, even with my expressions and verbal affirmations of interest, she seemed to doubt at that moment that she had anything of great value to offer. This, of course, is ludicrous, but it occurred to me that most of us believe this lie at some point in our lives.

This woman has seen many ups and downs in life, like many others. But she fought to process them and repackage them into food for growth, like compost enriching the soil to grow stronger plants.

I want some of that compost! These articles are the byproduct of her rich experience over many years, and that gives them even greater value to me. Makes me think of Wilbur from “Charlotte’s Web,” who ate slops from the Zuckermans’ table. Whenever I watched the movie as a kid, those slops looked so appetizing to me, and they were just the messy conglomeration of several meals.

Maybe that’s not an appetizing metaphor, but that’s what I look for in friends and mentors. The stuff they’ve already had to chew through is a rich feast for me. How much have I learned about life from others who have made choices, lived hard lessons and learned the hard way what was wise or foolish, worthwhile, or a waste of time?

I have seen marriages rise and fall and the mess left over feeds the garden of my decisions about marriage. I have watched many women raise their children, and have seen the fruit of their decisions to face the hard moments or cower from them, and I saw those children grow into adults — adults who are strong or weak transplants from their parents’ garden.

Sometimes I look at my own compost with some remorse. “Man, if I hadn’t made that stupid decision, I might be in a different place today,” or “I can’t believe I did that and lived to tell about it! What an idiot I was.” Plenty of it isn’t pretty to me and fills me with shame or guilt or pain.

But it’s my compost. And somebody needs it. Somebody — maybe many people — I will meet along my journey will be rejuvenated by my leftovers. Their soil may be dried out or full of rocks and clay, and my compost will revitalize the ground in which they struggle to grow.

Each of us has that pile of compost that we look at and believe is useless refuse. But that is completely false; that is what we will use to enrich the lives of the people we meet on our journey.

Just today I got to speak with a dear friend who shared something painful with me just to get it off her chest. The mess left over from her decisions looks really awful to her, but to me, it spoke something different. That short conversation reminded me that not only can we use each other’s compost to enrich our own soil, but we can also add worms of encouragement to help them digest it and recognize its value.

It was also a good reminder that investing in the gardens of others is cyclical. If I want my children to look up to this friend and listen to her when they stop listening to me (we all know that day is coming), I need to pour whatever nutrients I can into her now. She can benefit from my slop just as I benefit from hers, and that will someday come back to enrich my garden full of children.

Every person has a slop bucket. Most of us are afraid or ashamed to share it. But the truth is that that bucket of compostable garbage left over from our experiences is what feeds others and enriches their soil. You can’t grow the vast array of vegetables you need in your garden with depleted dirt — it needs to be replenished.

Process the things that happen to you and take stock of how your choices have forged your path, and then don’t let them sit and rot in your bucket. They have a job to do.

Adrienne is a Catholic homeschooling mom with five young children and a mission to raise leaders

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