Safe in My Garden
(an essay and testimony – a topic close to my heart)
In spring, too lazy to walk around the house for the wheelbarrow, I bent my back and dragged a half-started, half-torn bag of peat moss across the lawn. I was heading to the azalea garden. For a bag of dry peat moss it felt unusually heavy. Once it was in place, I held it by two corners and shook it. Out came the peat moss into a pile on the ground. And surprise, surprise, out came a black snake - of substantial size. I blinked. The snake slithered to one side of the pile. It looked stunned. I was, too. It took me several seconds to grasp the situation. “The snake must have been curled up snuggly, sleeping inside the bag,” I thought, “all the while I was dragging it across the lawn!” I stood frozen in my garden boots and held my eyes on the snake. It slinked toward the woods but then doubled back toward the pile (and me) in a confused state – probably confused about being dumped out of bed. I screamed. I turned and ran. Back in the house, still shaking, without any deliberation whatsoever, I made a firm proclamation. “The garden will have to wait.”
Spring turned into summer. By this time the wild turkey we had spotted, had returned. A long-necked, brown-feathered turkey, all alone, wandered onto our front lawn – not the plump white-feathered variety kept on the farms. From the front parlor window Dean and I watched the turkey express great happiness in finding the abandoned pile of peat moss. With big wings flapping, peat moss flying, it took a dust bath.
“Oh no - the snake.” I expressed to Dean.
“There’s no snake there now,” he assured me.
“Hmm, apparently not,” I concluded.
Return to an Abandoned Garden
The next day I felt brave enough to walk out to the peat moss pile. It was time to pick up where I’d left off. “What’s this?” The garden looked different. How large the weeds were. Had the garden been abandoned that long? It was weeded twice in springtime.
The weeds were intimidatingly gruesome. Four species of thorny plants inhabited this shady spot. I decided to tackle the most menacing looking ones first. Brushing my healthy fear of snakes aside I armed myself with our thickest leather gloves and the garden fork. It wasn’t an easy job. Some of the ground had become hard clay in July’s dry heat wave. But I was determined to pull up each weed by the root.
As I worked another healthy fear crossed my mind. It was one reason I had decided to homeschool.
I wanted to spend less time weeding and more time watering the hearts and minds of my children.
My little ones were like tender seedlings – that had the best start in life without being surrounded by weedy dispositions and contradictions to truth. My conscience told me to train their character, to give them room to grow into what God was working in them. My healthy fear of figurative thorny weeds and hidden snakes drew me to home teaching.
“. . . like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat . . .”*1
No friendly little village school was nearby that would supply my children with a well-rounded Christian education. On the other hand, in the government schools tares would be sown. Suppose the weeds became so overgrown, so menacing, I’d have to stand by and watch them gain ground in my children’s souls – weeds of disrespect, dishonor and other weeds that start small and unsuspecting, are commonplace and so seem “the norm.”
Be True to Your School The Beach Boys (my sarcasm)
Later, by placing my children in the crowded high school I’d be subjecting them to ridicule by the very clothes they wore whenever modesty was excluded in the fashion standard of their peers – or the conversation. The longer they were in such a school the greater the tug and temptation would be to have their allegiance split between parents and peers. When conflict arose I’d have to be ready with on-the-spot pep talks to correct them, help them see reason, or pick my battles, keep quiet, and compromise those things dear to me. Day by day I’d have to weed out
antagonism to capitalism,
evolution - the basis for scientific fact
history dead silent on the Christian contribution,
nihilism, universalism, hedonism, in literature.
Discussion on comparative worldviews is a good thing. But what if I couldn’t keep up or I missed the subtleties? Do I get equal time? My children would be occupied with a heavily laden backpack of after school homework.
Just a Stage?
Sadly, I witnessed parents put up with thorny weeds. “We must all learn to let go of our children,” was the psychological advice once offered me - meant to soothe. My healthy fear spoke up, “I refuse.” I wouldn’t ever want to raise my hands in surrender and say, “It can’t be helped.”
More worldly-wisdom is that all children are dishonoring by the time they are teen-agers. It’s a stage – annoying yes - but harmless. Accepting this, tired parents, little by little, give up their efforts in trying to reinterpret the culture that their children live and breath in. It becomes a loosing battle. “What is outward appearance and attitude anyway?” they start to think, although they once thought differently when their children were young. Teen culture (that adults in the media define and support for monetary gain) is a normal stage that eventually children grow out of, isn’t it?
I looked around.
A multitude of America’s university students do not grow out of the teen stage. Instead, they take steps into further intemperance and self-centeredness while enjoying the freedom of an artificial independence. Today, the phenomenon is being called, “perpetual adolescence.”
Hinder Them Not
Miss Charlotte Mason’s passage brought a tear to my eye when I revisited it and read it aloud to Dean yesterday.
“’Suffer the little children to come to me,’ says the Saviour, as if that were the natural thing for the children to do when they are not hindered by their elders. And perhaps it is not too beautiful a thing to believe in this redeemed world, as a babe turns to his mother though he has no power to say her name, as the flowers turn to the sun, so the hearts of the children turn to their Saviour with unconscious delight and trust.” *2
I remember, years back, placing my trust in this. I held it close and clung to it. If Christ be lifted up, He would draw my children unto Him. I was commanded to hinder them not. This command is part of Charlotte Mason’s “Code of Education in the Gospels” and makes good reading in the first chapter of Home Education.
Remove Stumbling Blocks & Sow Thy Seed
Rather than immerse our children in secular (and media driven) culture we can, indeed, create our own. We can be in the world and not of it.
I was blessed when a young mother to have Miss Mason’s inspiring and practical ideals to guide me. I could relax a little.
I could even find joy in mothering by watering more than weeding.
Although home teaching is definite work, our home would be like a peaceful vacation spot with an ocean horizon of interesting things to learn set before us. Safe in my garden would be a gentle, kind, honoring, and respectful lifestyle of learning.
The opposition couldn’t gain a foothold. My children would be protected and surround by the atmosphere and culture I created, the discipline I maintained, the manners and attitudes of modesty and purity I exemplified and expected, the ideas I promoted.
I’d sow seeds into soft soil, seeds for loving God, for walking the paths of serving Him.
I’d call on His help everyday, and work with His Holy Spirit by my side. He promised never to leave me alone in my (sometimes faltering) endeavors and blessed me with a husband as overseer.
Now, an older woman in the Lord, I can tell you that a parent’s imperfect efforts to home educate will bear more fruit than an environment that puts a strain on the parent-child relationship and obscures the Savior. The righteousness you long for, in your precious family, by God’s generous grace can be yours.
Parents are less likely to grow weary in well-doing with the sowing of their own good seeds. Formation is easier than reformation. But if much weeding is necessary, please dear reader, don’t give up.
1. Matthew 13:24-25 (used somewhat out of context for the sake of illustration)
2. Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pages 19 & 20
Explanation of Photographs
Dean photographed the turkey the day of its dust bath and the little red schoolhouse north of Lancaster, which today is run as an antique store. It was closed the day we drove up.
Four of the photographs were taken recently by my daughter’s camera. She and her husband enjoyed a mini vacation. They stayed in the bungalow on the Atlantic Ocean and enjoyed the cool sea air for two days – no weeding – no snakes.
Tasha Tudor’s illustrations on this post are for decoration and used for promotion. They are from my copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s, A Child’s Garden of Verses. Mr. Stevenson’s poems are my all-time favorites. I know several "by heart" - still.