"Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all." (Proverbs 31)
To My Mother:
One summer day last year my mother and I were out in the garden, pulling weeds. As a child, I never liked the garden. I especially hated weeding. It was hot, boring work and made me dirty and sticky and gross. I would much rather have curled up on the couch and read a book. But the garden needed to be weeded, and we were expected to help, so there we were, singing songs from old musicals as we worked together in the hot sun, and taking turns finding something to keep Jonny busy.
Jonny is my youngest brother. He was four years old at the time. He wanted to help, but Mom didn’t trust him to weed, so he would pick up rocks or talk to us. He was a very curious child, and at the time he always wanted to know who made things. “Who made the airplane?” He would ask, or “Who made that building?” Sometimes it was “Who made people, Amy? Did Heavenly Father make them?”
That day, he was curious about the weeds. “Mommy, who made the weeds?” he asked.
My mother replied, in her practical way, that Heavenly Father had made the weeds to teach us how to work. Jonny thought about that for a minute, then, with a tone of sudden realization, exclaimed, “And Heavenly Father sent us here to pull the weeds!”
At first, I thought he was cute—then I realized he was right. We come from the dust of the ground, and eventually we return to it, but in the meantime we’re supposed to be the gardeners of our own plot of land. God expects us to till not just the earth but also ourselves, to pull the weeds out of our relationships, our habits, and our characters, to make ourselves fertile ground where His Spirit can dwell.
See what you can get from Saturday chores?
My little brother had realized that day what Mom had always been teaching us with her example. In every area of her life, she was pulling weeds and planting flowers.
My mother loved to garden, and our garden took up half of our yard. During the summer we could live almost entirely off of what we raised in the garden, and had enough extra to give to everyone we knew. If we had had enough land for a cow and some chickens, we could have avoided the grocery store entirely. And my mother was practical enough that she probably would have fed the weeds to the chickens.
My mother believed in the value of work. She felt strongly that there were things that couldn’t be learned from books. She expected us to work hard in school, but she never believed that formal education was enough to prepare you for the real world. She also expected her children to work around the house and in the yard, all year long. To my mom, school vacations were just an excuse for getting more yardwork done.
My mother taught us the law of the harvest. She understood the importance of patience and hard work in her garden and in the rest of life. She knew that, just as vegetables have to be planted, fertilized, weeded, and watered for months before they would produce, anything in life that would bear fruit would take a lot of patience and a lot of consistent effort before we could see the results of our labors. She taught us to pull weeds in her garden and to plant vegetables in our lives.
My mother never believed that there should be a separation between men’s work and women’s work. She never bothered with makeup and thought it was silly for her to paint her nails if she was just going to work in the yard and ruin her manicure. She installed the attic fan, put in windows, fixed the plumbing, ran the electric wiring, built a deck, shingled the roof, poured the sidewalk, and built a shed, in addition to cooking and gardening. She was only too happy to let my father do the dusting and laundry. She would out-work all of us in the yard, stay up late talking to a troubled child, and still get up early to make us breakfast before we left for seminary, so we would know that we were important to her. She worked hard in her garden, but always nurtured the seedlings in her children’s hearts.
My grandmother died a year ago. In the months leading up to Grandma's death, my mother spent much of her time with her mother--arranging to have beautiful pictures taken of her, helping Grandma with the family history she was so anxious to finish, and recording her memories on videotape--helping her mother to put together the final details so she could feel prepared to leave this life. When Grandma could no longer care for herself, my mother tended to her, dressing her and changing her bedding and holding her hand as she slipped in and out of consciousness. In those final days, my mother mended childhood rivalries and grew closer to her family. She now remembers the sweetness that laced the heartache of those trying times. In her relationships with those she loved, she was always pulling weeds and planting flowers.
I don’t know what my mother will do when she gets to her mansion in heaven. She’ll probably request a fixer-upper mansion—I don’t think she’d be happy without a bathroom to remodel, or a roof to repair. And when we go to visit her, we won’t find her sitting on a cloud playing the harp.
She’ll be out in her heavenly garden, with dirt under her nails, pulling up the weeds.