Thursday, July 19, 2012

Safe in My Garden (an essay & testimony - a topic close to my heart)

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.

Weed Seeds

“. . . 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,
     secular humanism,
     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 losing 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. 

End Notes
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. 

Write Anytime,
Karen Andreola


  1. Thank you for that breath of fresh wind on my tired heart. I have seeing some weeds sneak in and have been trying to keep them out. The need to remember that it is easier to teach than to reteach. I am so glad I was mentored through your book 17 years ago and now still encouraged by your words now. I have two homeschool graduates and two more to go in the next 6 years. Thank you for letting God work through you, you are a inspiration my friend. I am thankful that I was blessed meeting you through the blog world. I hope one day to meet you in person. You are a such a gift.

    I could totally imagine your garden scenes, lol. And your allegory of the weeds is so good. The Lord has taught me a lot through gardening. For this I have gained much understanding of Him and his kingdom.

    Blessings my Sweet Sister in Christ (SSiC)
    In Him<><

  2. Oh my, Karen. What a PERFECT post for me! I just love it! You are confirming and delightfully expounding on some very things I've been reading and pondering on. I'm enjoying Home Education right now myself so this post stands out to me. And we also enjoy that version of A Child's Garden of Verses. Maybe I will have to pull it out this is actually a quiet, cool RAINY (thank You, Lord) day, which is so needed here!

  3. Karen, I appreciate the reminder that home educating helps us avoid some of the "weeds" of the culture taking hold in our children's hearts. I needed this today. There are times when this teacher grows weary! (I'm presently educating several children). I wanted to add, though, that weeds seem to want to creep in anyway - through peers from church and the neighborhood, through relatives who have different values and are bent on having our children be "normal" by exposing them to a worldly culture whenever possible. Beyond these, there is always the sinful nature in each of us that can rear its ugly head even on those days that start out beautifully and seem most promising. Yet, I needed to be comforted and remember that there are likely fewer "weeds" than there otherwise might have been. I am praying that God will sustain my husband and I through these home schooling years so that we might look back someday when our children are grown and know that it was worth it (at the very least we'll know we followed where we felt God guiding us)! Finally, I have a friend who is on the fence between home educating and placing the children in a Christian school. How does one convince such a person that the "weeds" will be fewer at home? Certainly she has no worries about the curriculum being worldly, and there are many Christian teachers who wish to guide the students toward following the Lord. Your advice would be appreciated. Blessings, Joy

  4. Have you seen the utter despair on a young mother's face when it is time to drop her child off for kindergarten? Inevitably, someone will tell her, "You have to learn to let go. Your child has to learn to get along without you." At the ripe old age of five.

    As our children grew, my husband and I realized that when the time was right for them to go and grow and do, we weren't filled with despair. We might have those pangs that come when we all realize our children are maturing, but they weren't pangs of fear and worry.

    Neither of our children live in the dorm at college. They are near each other off campus. My mother-in-law characterizes dorm living as dehumanizing. An interesting choice of word, I think. Worldly thoughts and practices are ever around us. It is encouraging to know that we CAN choose what plants we will allow to grow in the garden of our lives. It is surely helpful to not place ourselves at the mercy of the influences.

    Since we were homeschoolers, our acquaintences were/are quite used to our unusual ways (!). However, the firestorm of criticism over our family's choice to not live on campus raged. My children often speak of the joy of having a place apart to come home to. I'm so glad that we braved the firestorm!

    These seemingly random but connected in my mind thoughts were prompted by your post, Karen. How wonderful that we are given authority to choose so many of the parameters of our lives.

    We had a giant (ok, maybe six inches long) salamander in our front flower bed the other day. I'm usually rather quiet, but I screamed when he popped out of the mulch near the weed I was attempting to pull. My husband was amused.

    You have given me much to think about today. Particularly weeding vs planting.

    I like the poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W. B. Yeats.

    Enjoy your day!

  5. I love this post!

    You put into words what so many of us were thinking as we raised our children.

    I can't tell you how many times over the years I was told by other adults that I was an overprotective mother.

    I always wanted to ask if there were any other kinds of mother... but unfortunately I knew the answer.

    Always love to read your writing.

  6. Thank you, thank you. Just what I needed to read today. Not that the school house is calling, mind you, but so many other distractions are and have been calling ever loudly. And you know how quickly weeds can grow when the gardener neglects her tender plants.

    With appreciation,


  7. I am so glad you are blogging!

    Dear friend, how wonderful to read these words tonight, and to nod in agreement, and to be encouraged in the rightness of our choice once again!

    I am thankful for you and your gift of words, Karen.


  8. Dear Karen,

    I am a Mom to a precious little boy who is almost 4 years old. He is (for now) on teh autism spectrum. I say "for now" for we have asked and believe that God has heard our cry and has healed him. We have seen such tremendous growth and healing in him already. He spent a whole week in daycare when at 6 months old, I returned to work as a Registered Nurse. One week. Then I asked my Mom to come and live with us for a while to care for him. Even then I knew that working outside the home was not for me. Now my little man spends his days happily growing and playing at home with his Mom and Granny in attendance. We will be home schooling him for various reasons... definitely all the reasons you mention in this blog, but also because he is such a precious little thing with such different needs. In anticipation of this, I have bought your book "A Charlotte Mason Companion". I simply love it! Thank you! What a long comment... my apologies, but I just wanted to thank you for your honesty, candour and willingness to share the road you have chosen and choose to walk with your children and family. Know that on the other side of the world, in sunny South Africa, I eagerly sit with you learning from what you have to share! Much blessing, Liezel

  9. Hi Karen! This summer I have been devouring your books. I read both of your novels (loved) and now I can't put down "A Charlotte Mason Companion". They have all gotten me excited to take on the new school year. It will be our 5th year homeschooling, but our 2nd year using Charlotte Mason. What a wonderful change! Thanks for all your help in helping moms homeschool their kids. What a blessing you have been!

  10. Thank you for your post. I'm so thankful for home education and being able to be with my children. I am also thankful for a husband who takes being the protector and provider for his family seriously. He's such a good man. But I also want to concur what Joy said. There are tares in our families and our churches. We had a pastor's wife who thought our oldest daughter needed to be mentored and decided she should be the mentor. It cause a lot of problems and we left the church. But she had great influence over our daughter, influence that we still deal with. But we press on and trust in the LORD. I hate to think of the trouble we would have invited if we had not homeschooled. Thanks for the encouragement.

  11. Karen- Like others said, you are a breath of fresh air and a constant encouragement.

    I am so glad I listened to the Lord's voice about homeschooling, your voice (your book was the first I read on CM) and Charlotte Mason and not naysaying relatives, compromised church members, and the world.

    My husband was originally against homeschooling, having parents that were both ps teachers. I prayed hard, he let me try it tentatively, and the Lord made the way, and he came to see the benefits, too. 13 years later we are still going strong and I thank the Lord every day that I am with my children all day.

    I have 3 teens right now 17, 15 and 13 (Asperger's) plus 3 other children...we did not go through the "normal" rebellion because I worked so hard on our relationship.
    We really do reap what we sow...there is no way around it. It is a delight to be around my children (not that they or I are perfect- we can't escape our own sin nature while we live on this earth). What a blessing that they are able to spend time developing talents and skills that the Lord gave them, instead of trying to fit in with some "abnormal cultural norm".

    Liezel- you will never regret homeschooling your child on the spectrum. I cringe to think of the abuse and bullying that my son would have been exposed to as "special needs" in the public school, on top of his other already many challenges.

    Many blessings,

  12. Thank you for your candid post. Being a homeschooling family is a blessing to us. Though at times I feel we are swimming against the current, I always feel reassured and affirmed in our decision when I read your insights.

    I am grateful for your last few posts that have shown the fruits of homeschooling, and the comments of the other moms on this blog. The beautiful photographs are soothing.

    Black snakes are said to keep copperheads away, so we think of them as guards. Now if I could just get some of those weeds out of my flower garden!

    Enjoy the milder weather.

  13. Thank you for sharing this. As I have been working in my garden, I too have thought of the soil of my children's hearts. What an encouragement!

  14. Karen,

    Another beautiful, thoughtful post (as usual). I am a "homeschooler emerita," but would like to share this post on our homeschool group's facebook page. I believe it will encourage many young mothers.


  15. Dear Ladies,
    I can see this is a topic close to your heart, too, even for those who are "emerita." Thank you for adding your voice of understanding. It is a nice feeling to know I am in company.

    It seemed that when each of my children reached age 18 they were pulled aside and given opposing counsel on lifestyle by so called well-meaning adults in our circle of acquaintances. This happened more often than I like to remember.

    When I heard that the advice was prefaced with, "Don't tell your parents, but I think you should . . . " I was all the more appreciative of the other adults and young adults in their lives, friends we had in our home often for meals and fellowship, that were led by similar convictions and demonstrated this comfortably to my coming-of-age children, with a positive, and contented attitude.

    You know who you are if you are reading this, dear friends. Thank you. You are pearls of great value to us.

    As to the friend on the fence, for whom you are wearing your concern sweetly on your sleeve, come up with a set of sobering questions within a casual and calm conversation. Some busy, young mothers feel ministered to when tea is poured from a teapot into pretty teacups because the pastime is a novelty. Tea and your sobering questions might get her started on an important train of thought and open her eyes.

    I am touched whenever you express your appreciation for my writing. Thank you.

    Karen A.

  16. Your blog really is a treasure to me. Thank you for taking the time to write.

  17. I always feel like having tea and cookies when I get your emails in my inbox. Thank you for this refreshing post.

  18. Please tell Nigel that the button he created for your blog is fantastic. I like the beautiful colors.


  19. So, I'm going about these last few July days-busying myself with ordering curriculum and organizing our little home for the new school year.

    I'm three years into home educating my children. And while I know.
    I know that this is clearly what God has called us to do, I can't help but to have mixed emotions this time of year. From excitement to begin new, to that overwhelming feeling again.

    But, all it takes is a precious post like this to place a smile on my face and sigh deeply as I feel a boost of encouragement fill my heart and soul.

    To add, I enjoyed that you say, we can be in the world and not of it. There have been so many times that my husband and I have said this same thing. Isn't this the struggle of the Christian faith?
    learning to live in the world, and not being of it?

    gracious. i could go on and on.

    A fantastic post.

  20. Karen,

    What encouragement you give and I needed.

    I agree with the other comments here, so true.

    Thank you, Karen, for your heart for the Lord and sharing with other mothers that are in the midst of homeschooling and need this from another mother that has been there.


  21. I love this post. We were not fortunate enough to know about homeschooling when our children began school. Two years ago we took our children out of private school and began homeschooling. It has been such a blessing. However, our high school aged children remain in public school. We are praying and discerning this week for the Lord's will in homeschooling our older children.

  22. What a beautiful explanation why you decided to homeschool.
    And I didn't know there is a term for "perpetual adolescence", but it sure is a phenomenon I see very often and worry about.
    Thank you for a delightful, interesting article!

  23. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement, so timely as we are heading into another school year when many more of my peers are making the decision to send their children to the public school so they can learn the respect for elders that seemed to be lacking in their homeschool. I have been feeling very alone in my decision to stand strong and carry on at home with my children, and your words spoke exactly what my heart needed to hear!