When They Bring the Peonies
"If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden."
-Frances Hodgson burnett, The secret Garden
We always begin with peonies. In the spring, when vases are thirsty for beauty and life, we fill them with pink; with the unfurling layers of my favorite flowers. On Mother's Day, years ago, Josh had the children bring me coffee and a bouquet in bed. Then, it extended into a Memorial Day tradition too- followed by an adventure to the ocean to dip our toes, no matter how cool the weather. We found a spot of sand to burrow into for the day and let the salty air lick our skin and the wind off the Atlantic whip through our hair. Now whenever we welcome late spring and then the new summer, we buy peonies first. They always lead the way.
It wasn't long ago that these blooms were just small seeds holding on only to promise. And perhaps that's why I love them most of all- they signal not just the season of warmth and rest, but all that hope I've carried through cold winters and then the rainy spring. I shared a few words over at SallyClarkson.com today and I'm going to share them here too because I think they get to the heart of how meaningful fresh flowers can be in our lives. The new podcast is up and linked too- and we'd love for you to join us as we talk about Gifts of the Heart this summer!
"Mom, can we plant my new flower seeds in my little garden?"
My sweet girl's brown eyes pooled as she looked up at me with longing and a shaky sort of hope. The past year's difficult transitions of moving across the country and trying to make new friends all seemed to show on her face. I knew immediately that this was one of those moments when I needed to stop all my own tasks and attend to her heart.
As we sat together in the backyard with her little trowel and a packet of seeds, we began to talk about the way we would need to turn up the dirt so that flowers would have a healthy place to grow. Beneath a dry crust we removed little pebbles and surrounding weeds.
"This is what Mary had to do too isn't, Mom? After she and Dicken found the door?"
She was recalling the narrative from one of our most beloved stories- The Secret Garden.
"Yes, it is!" Everything was dry and tangled and probably full of weeks when they found the garden. They had to be very patient while they prepared the earth so that things could grow." I paused and then felt led to continue...."You know the real work in the garden was softening all the soil and all that pruning. Remember how in the story everything began to bloom as Mary's heart heal?"
Mary Lennox, the protagonist of the famous children's book, was just like the garden. Grieving and neglected, the little girl's heart was hard like ground that had gone un-tended. She had closed herself off just like the garden wall had sealed off its beauty, but as she began to see to the care of beauty, she herself became beautiful.
My sweet daughter, only 9 years old, was feeling the pangs of loss and not sure how to fit in to her surroundings. I feared she might close herself off to the possibility and beauty of something new. But here we were, talking about how hearts gently unfurl, and as we planted the tiny seeds we prayed together for hope to grow just like the flowers. It was a moment recently when I realized the power of story in her life. The way a literary example had stirred both my child's imagination and her faith. Her character was being shaped in the moments that we shared in the dirt together, but a seed had been planted long before that connected her heart to that moment, and to the possibility of what God could do in her young life when she brought her dry and hurting places into the presence of the Master Gardener.
Character, we are told, is often caught, more than taught, and so it is so important for us to provide our children with examples in literature, in history and of course, in Scripture. What we pour into their hearts in this way are like small seeds, watered by our love and attention, activating an imagination that take root in their heart. These seeds will be tended over time by our instruction and correction, by opportunities for weeding and pruning in the garden of their hearts. And over time, we begin to see beauty in the garden as their character grows and develops.
One of my favorite quotes on the matter of character is from Abraham Lincoln. He famously said,
"Character is like a tree, and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."
Behavior is shadow. It is the tree that is the real thing. That is healthy or unhealthy.
The tree is the heart.
What seeds are being planted that will grow into the real thing in your child's life right now? Is it the kind of tree that when it is fully grown will cast pleasant shadows on hot days, and go before them as a reputation that glorifies God? A regal oak begins as small acorn. Great things often start very small. And the small work, little by little that you put your hands to today, are a valuable work of creating a great forest.
Developing character can often feel like a mysterious charge, and so in today's podcast Sally and I are talking more about this, why character is a gift of heart that we must give to our children before they leave home, and we are sharing some of the ways we have found to awaken a moral imagination in our children and reach their hearts.