“All vegetable starters: $1.50”
When I saw this sign at a local nursery earlier this summer, I could hardly contain my excitement. We have never had a garden, but my husband built us a large, lovely planter box last fall and I could not wait to fill it! I couldn’t decide what veggies I wanted most, so I took a little bit of everything: how about some tomatoes (yay salsa!), some peppers (I don’t really like them but they sound fun to grow!), carrots (yum!), mint (don’t worry, I know that one goes in a separate pot), zucchini (roasted zucchini will change your life!), garlic (you’ll remember from this post my deep affection for garlic), and…cucumber. Yes, cucumber, why not!
I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
With a beaming smile on my face, I lovingly carried my little veggies to the van and spent a lovely afternoon with my toddlers planting our garden. I wasn’t sure how far apart to plant the veggies, but the starters looked small and vegetables probably don’t get that big, right? They’d probably be fine all planted next to each other. Eight inches or so between them should be great.
But I also wanted flowers. So I picked up some seed packets too. I couldn’t decide, so I bought all nine packets that I liked. I planted all the flowers right next to each other as well, just like the veggies. The packets said 18 inches between the seeds, but I thought 6 inches should be plenty of room. Plus, I wanted to have lots and lots of flowers…and who has room to put 18 inches between seeds!?
A few months later, and our garden now resembles the heart of the Congo jungle. It turns out plants do actually need space between seeds and other plants, but I love our crazy jungle garden nonetheless. That cucumber plant I thought was so cute and tiny has now crept up and over the garden box and I daily have to prune it to keep it from consuming our charcoal grill or any unsuspecting child who ventures too close to it.
While I love the beautiful sweet peas, cosmos, zinnias, and other flowers that are blooming in the garden box, it’s the cucumber plant that I have come to adore the most. It seems to have a personality of its own, and reminds me of the stage of life I find myself in these days. Being in the throes of the little years of mothering, it can feel like raising small children is a lot like caring for a cucumber plant.
Cucumbers need to be directed
This summer, I have loved taking time in the mornings to meander around the garden box- coffee in hand- to check for new flowers and vegetables. One morning I walked out back and was surprised to see how everything had seemingly sprouted up overnight! I walked around the box and admired how tall the sweet peas were reaching, the variety of colors now slightly visible in the zinnia blooms, and the beautiful silver-green color of the poppy stems. But when I reached the area of the box with the vegetables, I stared in amazement and horror at the cucumber plant. Seemingly overnight, it had nearly doubled in size and sent vines out in every direction. There were little vines wrapped around the zucchini, the marigolds, the green beans, the carrot tops. It looked like the cucumber plant was simultaneously giving all of the other plants hugs while also slowly choking them to death.
That morning I learned that cucumbers need guidance and direction as they grow. Without a trellis or fence to guide it, the cucumber plant will grow where it should not. It will send out its vines to grab on to whatever is nearby and easy to take hold of, which will then guide its growth and direction.
“Train up a child in the way he should go,
even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Children, like cucumber plants, are always growing and grabbing on to things (metaphorically and literally!). My toddlers are always learning and being influenced. They grasp on to whatever is nearby and easy to grasp.
This can be such a good thing!
When I am diligent to surround them with God’s Word and truth, they are quick to grab on to it. They can learn and memorize Scripture so much more quickly and easily than I can! They love to ask questions about Him as they go about their day (“Why does God make it thunder?” “Has God ever been stung by a bee?”) and I am always amazed by their ability to understand God’s Word even as toddlers.
But children will also, like my cucumber plant, grasp onto things that they should not. Things that will not help them grow. I am always amazed by how quickly my little ones can be influenced by a book, movie, or peers. Movies that don’t promote things that honor God. Books that teach it’s okay to be consumed by your emotions. Kids they interact with at the playground who throw tantrums or use coarse, hurtful language. If I am not diligent to talk with and show my little ones what it looks like to live to honor God, they will grab on to these other things. I don’t want to shelter them from every thing that could negatively influence them, but I do want to be the one talking with them and guiding them where they should grow: towards the One who loves them most.
The Guidance of a Trellis
I used to be intimidated by the thought of teaching my children Scripture and the things of God. Over the past five years of being a mom, however, I have come to realize it is not something to be intimidated by. God is good, and He gives us His Spirit to help us!
Sometimes teaching my toddlers about God is structured. We read from the Bible after dinner, ask a question about the passage, and then take turns praying. I keep a basket full of Bible verses on the counter where we eat breakfast, and the kids take turns pulling one out and we talk about it together.
But in reality, most of the time I spend teaching them about God is unstructured and informal- it’s more just a way of life than a structured time. When one of them intentionally gives a beloved toy to a sibling, I’ll encourage them about how God loves generosity and a cheerful giver. When I get impatient or angry, I’ll confess to them and ask their forgiveness because God calls us to be patient and loving with one another. We’ll talk about things we see that honor God or don’t honor God as we go about our day. Most of the time, there’s no curriculum, no schedule (although if those things help you, go for it!). Just seeing everyday moments as opportunities to guide and direct their hearts (and my own!) towards Christ and taking time each day to read with them from His Word.
Without the guidance of a trellis, my cucumber plant grasped on to things it should not. Things that would not help it grow or go in the way it should. But now, with the trellis, it is a thriving plant with many cucumbers.
May we be women who guide the children in our lives toward God. Toward the way they should go. And as we guide them toward God and His Word, we will, Lord willing, see abundant fruit…or should I say, abundant cucumbers.