Friday, July 29, 2011

tending gardens

We've all heard the act of parenting likened to tending a garden. As parents, we plant seeds of discipline and character in our children, then water, fertilize, weed and care for those seeds, knowing it takes hard work and a great deal of time before any fruit is produced. Some aspects of child-rearing are like zucchini vines: it takes just a few weeks of care from seed to plant to flower to fruit. Other seeds in our children are slow-growing; it may be months or even years before we see the fruit of our labors.

Well, if parenting is truly like gardening, then the past few weeks have left me with sore and blistered hands, as I've tended, weeded, pruned tender shoots, and burned away the chaff. I've worked diligently. I've been down on my knees in the dirt and manure, up to my elbows in the hard soil of my children's hearts. In other words, it's been rough.

I confessed to a friend earlier this week that while I have complete and total faith in the eventual fruit that will come, in the people my children one day be, there are many days that I don't know if I have the strength to do the weeding, pruning and tending that is absolutely necessary for their gardens to thrive. I skimp on the water, forget the fertilizer, and get careless in my weeding. I pull up flowers with the weeds.

And sadly, in working so hard to tend their gardens, to form their hearts and shape their character, I lose sight of the weeds in my own plot. Huge thistles and thorns threaten to overtake my own garden as I watch theirs for any signs of green. Before I know it, my weeds are reproducing and invading on their tender and vulnerable seedlings. In neglecting my own garden, I put theirs at risk.

In the Bible, there are many references to gardens, trees, and seeds. Jesus tells his followers, "I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever abides in me will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." For the past few weeks I have prayed for patience, for strength to endure the hard work of pruning and tending. Yet I have forgotten that my own garden still grows, still needs tending.

Much like my children are works in progress, gardens caught in between seed and fruit, I am still learning to grow. I still need pruning in my life. Without bending to the knowledge and authority of the Master Gardener of my own soul, weeds start to creep in and before long, threaten to take over. I forget to be patient with myself. I neglect the gentle care, watering, and waiting in my own garden. I trust God to take care of my children but forget to trust him to take care of me.

But here's the good news: much like the secret garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett's book by the same name, there is no plot beyond salvaging. While weeds and invasive plants may creep in, grow tall, and cover up the flowers, a good and thorough gardener will find the beauty within. It will take hard work--lots of pruning, pulling up, and cutting away--but underneath the overgrowth, a beautiful garden will come into view.

And the best news: the Master Gardener never grows weary. He loves to work on my plot. Whereas I, in all my human feebleness, complain about the blisters and long to wash the dirt out from under my fingernails, my Heavenly Father relishes the work. He delights in seeing my flowers bloom and grow. He doesn't see an overgrown garden, a weed-infested land, thistles or thorns; he sees tender seedlings and hidden buds.

So I find myself this weekend, with my children away and the sun shining down, allowing some gardening to take place. I'm trusting that beneath it all, there's yet some green to flourish.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

a simple prayer

Maddie's prayer last night, after losing a privilege for being sassy:

"Dear God,
Thank you for this horrible day.
And thank you for my mean mama.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Maddie: 4 1/2 Years (or 54 Months)

My dearest sweet pea tan buns,

Four and a half years old! How is it possible?! I can't imagine having a five year-old. That sounds so grown up to me. So let's just keep you here, shall we? Forever 4 1/2. You are articulate, fun, opinionated, feisty, single-minded, affectionate, intelligent, winsome and curious. Your heart is full of love. You are kind to your brother and a friend to everyone. You ask the most thoughtful and insightful questions.

The downside of 4 1/2: sassiness. The never-ending sass keeps me on my knees in prayer for patience and wisdom. You are trying out new ways of talking, introducing new concepts, saying new "naughty" words, and conversing with me just all too casually. Let's just say we've become good friends with the tabasco sauce in the pantry.

You are incredibly independent. You get yourself dressed, brush your teeth and wash your face, brush your hair (sort of), fill your own water glass, clear your dishes, load the dishwasher, feed the dog, help dress your brother, pour milk and cereal without spilling, and can almost buckle yourself in the car. It's very, very helpful. You love to help and will even wash the floor or dishes if asked. You also love to assist in the kitchen, stirring and mixing batters, spicing dishes, and coming up with your own little creations. (Fruit soup, anyone?)

You love to sing and dance. In the picture above you sang all the way back from the barn, holding a flower in your palms, repeating over and over the healing incantation from Rapunzel. "Flower bloom and grow, make your powers shine..." At Mel's house you put on a ten-minute hula show for us, clad in grass skirt, coconut bra and shell lei. I was the drummer, beating my ukelele faster and faster as your hips shook. My cheeks seriously ached from smiling so big and for so long. You were awesome.

You take after your Daddy in so many ways. You LOVE to fish and to Daddy's great delight, landed four of your own trout on our recent fishing trip. You held the rod, set the hook, reeled the fish in, and proudly posed for pictures. Sam wasn't so much interested; but you, you were head-over-heels excited about trout. You are also like your father in intensity and single-mindedness. When you learned there were crawdads in the stream behind our house, you reminded us approximately every 2-3 minutes until we finally took you down. You intently studied the water, caught crawdads, helped boil the little buggers, and swallowed them down. First thing the next morning, when I asked you what you wanted to eat, you replied, "Let's go catch some crawdads for breakfast."

You are flexible and easygoing. Throughout our entire trip you awed us with your adaptability. Nap or no nap, late to bed or right on time, you went with the flow. At times it was clear you were tired but you rallied in all sorts of situations in order for fun to be had. You were also a great help with your brother, encouraging him, helping out, holding his hand and taking him on all kinds of adventures.

Every day you act more and more like a big girl. You use big words, tell large stories, employ all sorts of mannerisms that you didn't learn at home. You are seriously one of the most animated and expressive kids I know. You could be in the movies, what with your funny faces, crazy looks, and silly body language. You are like a walking, talking cartoon, full of energy and comedy.

All in all, you're a great kid. You bring so much joy and intensity to our house. You feel things deeply, experience life fully, and love whole-heartedly. You are passionate and caring, gentle yet strong, funny, sweet, and daring. Thanks for making me a Mama and continuing to stretch me as I, too, grow up into the person God's created me to be. I wouldn't be who I am today without you!



Monday, July 11, 2011

Samuel: 28 Months

Dear Little Boxer,

Approximately four days ago, on what would be your 28th month of life on this earth, your face was swollen, bumped and dirty. We were camping at a lake in Oregon and the mosquitos had made the most of their time in your sweet vicinity, attacking the tender flesh of your face and leaving behind raised, swollen welts that threatened to close your eyes completely. Yet you endured it all in your usual happy, laid-back stride in life, content to cover yourself with dirt, smile at me through half-closed eyes, and bob and weave around the campground like the little boxer you resembled.

And so it is with all the adventures you are on these days. You dance gracefully through life's ups and downs, smiling and scheming, laughing and galloping, throwing and hitting and hugging away. You are pure joy, all boy, and the sweetest of children. And I think that Kelly might have a crush on you.

You can be naughty, oh so naughty, but you know how to get on my good side. When you do disobey, you are repentant, drooping your head and lip, muttering "owwy," and making your way to time out. When I catch you in the middle of something, you will look at me with wily eyes and the biggest of grins, hoping against hope that your sweet impish face will woo me to forget the sins of your past and relish in the cuteness of the present.

You hardly stop moving from the moment you awake until you finally surrender to sleep at night. You are so, so busy, whether climbing, driving tractors, running, hitting, swinging, throwing, singing, dancing, twirling or wrestling. You love sticks and bugs, water and balls. Even at night you are in constant motion, dreaming wildly, thrashing about, reaching for your bedfellows (aka Mama or Maddie) and grinding your teeth. At mealtimes we practically have to force you to stop moving long enough to refuel. You are a whirling dervish.

One night as we camped in Oregon, I drew you into my sleeping bag partway through the night, as the temperature dropped and you became increasingly restless. For the remainder of the evening, your face had to be nestled against mine, cheek to cheek, and your arms were ever wrapped around my neck, cozy and tight. Though I hardly slept, I couldn't help but fall in love all over with my snuggly, restless boy. You reached for me, kissed me repeatedly, called to me, and rested against my body as though you were a tiny newborn. I enjoyed each moment, knowing that before long, not only will you outgrow my sleeping bag, but my arms.

Your heart bursts with love for the people in your life. You are full of smiles, hugs and kisses for those you love. Maddie shared a twin bed with you for our entire stay in Oregon, where each and every night you threw your arms around her shoulders in great joy to be going to sleep once again with your best friend. Throughout our stay, you would crawl up in the laps of Grammy or Papa, Joe or Daddy, and snuggle away, staying much longer than any of us hoped. You are just such a cuddly and affectionate boy.

And the tractors. Oh, the tractors. I think there will need to be a separate post all about our short visit to Papa at work. If you were in school right now, and could have a family member for career day, it would most certainly be Papa. He has the absolute dream job in your eyes, which were wide with equal parts bewilderment and concentration as you decided which machine to visit next. You sat behind the controls, lifting large claws, moving enormous tracks, spinning in the cabs and beeping the horns. If only we could place a large, functional CAT in our backyard, well, I think you would never leave home.

You bring such joy and life to our home. You are fun and silly, smart and adventurous. You remind us each and every day the joys of being a child in the big, wide world. God has gifted you with a tender heart, a mind that seeks to figure things out, and the most joyful, light spirit imaginable. We can't possibly think of a more perfect fit for our family.

Love you buddy,