This post is part of a series called “Motherhood Mantras.” To read more about the series, and the full list of writers, click here.
In the beginning, God created a garden for the people He loved, containing all that they needed to live and breathe and have their being, with one another and with their Creator. They were to be sustained from its luscious vegetation and surrounded by magnificent beauty that only God could think up. In the beginning, the Garden was a hangout spot with God. Conversations, connections, and intimacy happened with God in the Garden. Love grew in the Garden. Community at its most glorious form began in the Garden. And then, everything went kaput. The garden now needs to be worked and tended to to provide sustenance and life, and often subjected to the mercy of natural or man-made disasters. But all is not lost. Sometimes we just need to go back to the beginning where life is created and meet God there. Not everything went kaput. Love can never go kaput.
I love to garden. But by no means do I have a green thumb or call myself knowledgeable in any sense. Far from it, I believe I naturally have an unmistakably brown thumb and have to work hard at just trying to keep the plants alive. Three of my four cacti just died. I didn’t think that was possible, but apparently, it is. I’m often surprised that God is entrusting me to raise three pretty amazing kids. None of them have suffered (too much) negligence, yet. I hope that the soil conditions in which they are growing are just right (most of the time) for them to thrive. I hope.
I love spending time with the kids in the garden and I would like to think that they are filling up their memory banks with time with Mama in the garden, too. We weed, we dig, we water, we look for worms and bugs, we ooh and aah over every ant, every roly poly, and every spider. We get dirty on purpose. “For all the fun you’ll find there, run to the garden,” I say.
Run to the garden.
Alongside the older two in the garden, I would hear tales that I would not have otherwise. True tales about what’s happening in their own social lives when Mama’s not around, and made up ones that are usually constructed of, “What if (a very unrealistic event)…. That would be SOOOO funny!” and follow to crack themselves up and then try to one-up the other. Sometimes conversations and questions might turn more serious and that’s when I whisper prayers as I inhale and exhale nuggets of wisdom, hoping that at least half the time, they won’t notice that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Sometimes I just pray for their wisdom to know when to take their Mama seriously. I guess I’ve heard parenting experts suggest using a common activity, such as taking walks, hiking, cooking, doing crafts, to create atmosphere ripe for meaningful conversations with one’s children. For us, that connection, those conversations, and intimacy happen when I ask them to join me in the garden.
Then there are days when my brain cannot process another iota of chaos, the physical clutter littering the house, the squabbling, the whining, the yelling (usually me), the tense air when the hubby and I get mad at each other and insist on our own righteousness, the doubt that creep into my head about my own unworthiness and not-enoughness, the inability to hear my own voice, let alone God’s voice, the overwhelming need to escape and to redirect my attention to something life-giving instead. “I’m gonna go dig in the garden. Come get me if someone’s bleeding or need to go to the hospital.” That’s when I can’t pull my garden boots on fast enough and run to my garden.
When my need for quiet and solitude drive me to my garden, I often forget that the garden was designed for companionship and community as well, with God, as well as with one another. Whether in my literal or figurative “garden,” I don’t always remember to invite friends in. “There just isn’t time,” I’d reason. But there really is always time, isn’t there? Time never ceases to exist; friends, however, can. “I just don’t have the energy,” I’d whine at the end of the day, forgetting that oftentimes, it is time spent with a friend who echoes my thoughts that I had believed to be just my own, who encourages me to do what I believe is right for my own children, even when I start to doubt myself, who affirms me as a beloved child of God, who helps me remember who I am or who I can be, who does not judge me at the sight of my nursing my almost two year old and admits that even she, yells at her kids sometimes… I forget that oftentimes, in my most depleted state, it is time spent with that friend that renews my weary spirit. In my quest to be the perfect mother, I often forget that I need play dates, too. And the garden is the perfect place for a play date (in which case, a café would be an excellent “garden” of choice). Please, come sit for a while in my garden, I always have the coffee brewing.
When one of the kids need a good talking to, I’d invite them to the garden, not always by choice. Side by side, we dig and whack those stubborn weeds in silence. We may or may not talk about our choices that rendered a time-out with Mama in the garden, I may or may not express my disappointment. Sometimes, I won’t need to as they feel punished enough for making foolish choices, sometimes it’s only because they’re caught (usually not without first trying to blame someone/something else for their fault). I find that I am able to contain my anger much more manageably when my own hands and eyes are diverted somewhere else. Sometimes I just don’t trust myself to be the disciplinarian. That’s frightening. Then hugs, kisses, and “I’m sorrys” follow, sometimes by me. Healing and forgiveness happen in our garden sometimes, in our garden of second chances.
Then there’s the other garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. There, Jesus pleaded for God to change his mind, agonized over what he knew was forthcoming, then surrendered to God’s will. In my Gethsemane moments, I go in my garden and I plead, I beg, and I say, WTF??? Seriously?! The strong-willed me never surrenders easily, but sometimes, even in my WTF?? moments, the knowledge that God has my back regardless of what or how I’m feeling at the moment is very freeing. The kids and I have a prayer ritual where we pick up a stone from our prayer plate for every “Lord, please help…” prayers, the bigger the issue, the bigger the stone. We end our prayer with the Lord’s prayer and the doxology, holding out our stones as an offering to God. Then we release them back into the plate as we release our worries back to God. In our garden, we know that God has our back through every Gethsemane moment, even when we can only see God’s back.
Garden work is messy work. Sometimes it’s filled with tears, lots of times it’s filled with laughter. Sometimes it’s silent, other times filled with engaging conversations with the children or with God. Sometimes it’s tedious and laborius but necessary, other times fun, joyous and life-giving. Most of the time labor intensive, almost always satisfying. It is where the process is as equally, if not more important than the result. All things grown with love are always beautiful (along with some essentials like water and sunshine, food and shelter). All of which is much like the beautiful mess that is mothering.
Laura Choi is the wonderful and inspiring mother of three precious children. She and her family minister to a small community in Western New Jersey. Laura is spunky and thoughtful, and one of the most gracious, hospitable people in the world.