It is a cold, rainy morning in the beginning of November as I drive down toward Cloverdale. I’m going to visit Victor and Shirley De Jager, who are actually quite happy to take some time out of their normal morning routine. This way they can delay their foray into the rain.
I run onto their porch, trying not to get too wet and as soon as the door opens I am enthusiastically greeted by a little Boston Terrier named Oreo. Yes, she looks just like her name suggests. We sit down in their living room and I start to appreciate a warm cup of coffee.
Victor and Shirley own their business, Jim’s Mowing, together, and are often asked how they make it work. A family business is not always easy to manage, especially as a couple, but Victor and Shirley really enjoy it.
“For us it works well,” Shirley says, “We each have our roles. When we do a job, we each pick up the tools we use and get to work. Victor does most of the ‘art’ work, the pruning. I call it art work because when he is pruning he is making it look really nice. And I clean up the mess after him.”
While there are times of conflict, the care they have for each other actually makes it easier to work well together.
“We work in sync with each other,” Shirley said. "We use each others strengths and weaknesses to determine our roles in the business; and we respect each other.”
The fact that they work together is something that is appealing to their customers as well. There are few family owned and operated businesses anymore, and some people really love to support that.
“Most people like that we work as a team,” Shirley says, “they’ll call us back because they like that we work as a family unit.”
“They think it’s kinda cool and unique, that a husband and wife are working together in the same business,” adds Victor. “It works well for us because we see each other as business partners, and never treat each other as employer/employee. Working together like this also allows Shirley to be flexible and stay home with the kids when they’re not in school.”
They started the business rather late in life, after being forced into a career change. Victor started in commercial printing, straight out of high school. He was there for 19 years even though he only took the job at the beginning because he had some family connections there.
“I enjoyed printing, and moved into the prepress area. I enjoyed the craftiness of it all, the light tables and craftsmanship of that work. I went to school and became a journeyman lithographer and worked in prepress for 19 years. In the mid 90’s, though everything moved over to computers and I really didn’t enjoy sitting behind a desk all day.”
He started looking for other opportunities, including different trades and becoming a fire fighter, but was let go from the company before he could make a switch.
“I was actually unemployed for only one week. Someone from church found out I didn’t have a job. He called me up and said, ‘Hey, you’re not working? Grab a hammer, some steel-toed boots and a hardhat and be at the job site at 7am. So, I went to Home Depot, bought everything I needed and went to work in construction.”
This turned out to be a gift to them, as it gave Victor and Shirley some space to think about what God might have in store for them next. This construction job gave Victor security while he searched for what he wanted to do.
“It bought me some time to research and figure out what I wanted to do,” Victor said. “I wanted to work for myself, and work outside. I enjoyed gardening and landscaping and started some research. I came across this company called Jim’s Mowing, and it looked pretty good. Then I came home from work one day, and a Jim’s Mowing trailer was parked across the street. I went and talked to the guy for a good half hour or more and got more and more excited.”
While the process of being laid off and trying to figure out their next step wasn’t all that fun, they could see God’s hand in the whole process.
“Really, I think it was God saying, ‘Look, you’re not happy in printing. We’re going to cut this off and figure this out,’” Victor said.
“It was God closing one door, and opening a window,” added Shirley. “When Victor was searching what to do, we kept seeing “Jim’s Mowing” all over the place. On craigslist, and job listings, driving down the highway we would see a trailer with “Jim’s Mowing” on it. We started to wonder, ‘Is God telling us something here?’”
“It became very clear that this is what I should do,” Victor said.
After nine years of running his own business and figuring out how it all works, he is now able to truly enjoy what he does.
“It’s a career, it’s a job, but it’s not really work. I mean, it’s work, but it’s enjoyable. I don’t have any more Sunday nights going, ‘Ah crap, tomorrow’s Monday and I have to go to work.’ Now I’m excited for the start of the week, and start planning things out on Sunday."
Clearly, their work has brought real joy into their own lives, but it has also given them an opportunity to be of service to the others.
“We have a lot of customers who are seniors, or who are sick or injured who appreciate that we are there because without us they couldn’t stay in their homes. They have housekeepers who clean up the inside of their home, and they have us to do all of the outside maintenance. Many of them have said, ‘If it weren’t for you I couldn’t stay in this home, which I’ve been in for 30 or 40 years.”
While it was somewhat difficult for them to identify ways they see God at work in their work, over the course of the interview we began to see an amazing picture of how God renews this world and his people.
Victor said, “We see many gardens where the customer has let it go so bad that they don’t see a possibility of it being back to where it should be. The shrubs have totally overgrown each other. There are more weeds than plants, and they don’t have the eye of what it can look like, and what it can be. … What is a disaster to them, I say, ‘Hey, I can fix this.’ Some people actually say, ‘Hey, can you rip this all out and start all over.’ They think it’s that far gone, but we always try to do a fix job first. After a couple hours of work where we make it nice again, they come back and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t think that was possible. ‘”
This is a beautiful image of how God interacts with us. No matter how much we mess up our lives, and let things get out of control. God comes to us and works to renew us.
“God can see in our hearts what he can fix, whereas we think, ‘I’m destroyed, I’m a wreck, I can’t see beyond this.’” Victor said.
This image of renewal glimpsed through the refreshing of someone’s garden will stick with me for a while. It has given me a new appreciation for the neatly trimmed hedges along the street, or the closely cropped lawn down the road. It has also given me different eyes for the house that always lets its grass grow too long or never pulls the weeds.
I left Victor and Shirley’s with a new appreciation for the way God works in our lives to provide renewal, and I hope you never look at a lawn the same way again.