Today I'm going to share about God's greatest parenting lesson to me. (Other "Lessons from the . . ." can be seen here.) To do so, I have to share some personal things about one of my daughters, but she has given me her blessing. But if you know Olivia personally, I ask that you be respectful with what I am about to share.
Although this is a lesson learned through God's amazing creation, I have two items in my Memorial Box that remind me of this lesson from Him. I need this daily reminder of how uniquely gifted all my children are. By the way, if you are new here, Memorial Box Monday was started by Linny at A Place Called Simplicity. She has a weekly feature where she shares her amazing stories of how God has provided in her life. Collect your own items that remind you of a time God has answered a prayer or provided a need to remember His faithfulness in your life. (And click the bloggy button below to read her wonderful stories and link to others.)
God has thus far blessed me with two daughters. Olivia (now 13) was born in April, just about the time that my tulips bloom each year. Ava (now 10) was born in March and my daffodils open every year on her birthday.
I plant my tulip and daffodil bulbs each fall knowing their birthday flowers will celebrate their special days with them. But when I started this tradition, I had no idea what God would teach me through their flowers.
You see, Ava is very much like a daffodil.
You only have to plant her once and the joy she brings multiplies each year with little effort. (Don't get me wrong. She's a kid and she's a sinner and is certainly not perfect.) Like the daffodil bulbs, you can plant her sideways or upside down, yet she always seems to push through the dirt and sprout in any condition.
Although she thrives in full sun, you can find her in the shade making the best of the situation. Life comes easy for her. She learns things quickly, makes friends easily, dances through life without a care, and announces every day is the best day of her life.
Like the daffodil, you can see her beauty and smell her fragrance a mile away. Oh, what a blessing she is to me.
But I've also been blessed with Olivia (now 13).
And she is a tulip in many ways. Elegant, tender, delicate, unique. But tulips require more care and effort. You have to plant them in just the right depth, fertilize them with everything from bone meal to cow manure, and make sure to have just enough sun to grow but not too much to dry them out.
And in Georgia, the summers get too hot for the tulip bulbs to multiply so you have to plant the tulips again each fall.
In the same way, Olivia needed more care than many kids. She came into this world a perfect bundle of joy, with only one problem. She is what some term "highly sensitive." It simply means she processes what she hears, smells, sees, and touches differently.
We could tell in her first days that the world she lived in overwhelmed her. Things that normally soothed babies caused her distress. We couldn't turn on a ceiling fan or run the vacuum if she was anywhere close. Everything seemed to be too loud, too bright, too dark, too tight. She was our princess and the pea and some days as her mom were overwhelming.
As she grew, so did her challenges. Something simple like going to the grocery store required a day's worth of patience. Her clothing never felt "right." The labels in the shirts, the elastic in the underpants, the seams in her socks (oh, the seams in her socks)--all made her feel and react as if she had roaches crawling all over her.
At the grocery store she would be overwhelmed by the number of people, by the feel of the plastic seat in the buggy, by the noise and the smells, by row after row of products, by the cold in the frozen food section. By the time we made it to the check-out, she was coming unglued. So was I.
If you think the grocery store trip sounds difficult, you don't even want to know of the tears and the rage that preceded going to the doctor, having her picture taken, attending a birthday party, or arriving for the first day of school. Stressful situations seemed to heighten her sensory overload. The only thing that matched her extreme sensitivity was her strong will.
There were many years that Brad and I felt like failures as parents. People would comment. People would advise. No one understood. Until we had Ava, we didn't realize that all children weren't like this. It was a relief to discover that this wasn't the norm and there were things we could do to help her cope, still there were many days and nights that I would cry out to God asking Him to show me how to be her mother.
I'll never forget the fall of 2003. I was very pregnant with our third child, my mom was battling cancer, and Olivia was going through a rough patch with her behavior (I'm sure the stress of our life contributed to it). I needed easy in a world in which everything was so hard. I had bought a bunch of tulip bulbs weeks before but hadn't gotten around to planting them. I didn't need to plant Ava's daffodils that year because those from past years would surely multiply. But those silly tulips. I had to get them in the ground before winter hit, yet there was no motivation to do so except the knowledge that Olivia would be sad to have no birthday flowers that spring.
I was grumbling to Brad about the bulbs. He is not a gardener and just didn't understand the big deal and why I should go to such trouble for this high maintenance flower. I explained that, yes, they were a pain to plant, that the squirrels would certainly eat half of them, that once they bloomed they would only grace the world with their beauty a couple days.
But this flower is a masterpiece.
It looks like it is spun from silk. The colors God makes them in have an intensity that is like no other flower in the garden. And each morning this perfect cup of petals opens and reveals a handpainted kaleidoscope design. When I look at my tulips, I rejoice in my amazing Creator.
The last thing I said to Brad in my closing statements of why the bulbs must be planted was: "They are worth the trouble. I can't imagine spring without them."
And then it hit me that my little girl born with the tulips was my own living tulip bulb. She would need more patience, more effort, more time, more prayer. But she is worth it. And when she blooms . . . there is nothing more spectacular.
The first time she rode her bike, her first time to swim without water wings, her first time to sing on stage. A long list of victories that to some may not seem like a big deal, but for a child that has to overcome how the shoes feel before even trying to jump over that hurdle, these moments are breathtaking. These moments bring me to tears. These moments make me grateful that God has planted both daffodils and tulips in my family garden.
I planted those tulips that fall and each day forward I have spoken words over Olivia so that she doesn't forget for a minute that she is worth it. We've had times that I just kept telling myself "Hang in there. You're planting bulbs." But now, we see the flowers beginning to open. It is nothing short of glorious.
In sharing this story, I don't want you to think I am labeling my children as easy or difficult. Children can become what they are told they are, so I'm very careful with my words. Besides, we all have our moments and stages of being tulips and daffodils. Lately Ava has had her fair share of tulip moments and Olivia is blooming so beautifully that I have almost forgotten how back-breaking those years of planting bulbs were.
For example, she got braces recently. Apparently one of the wires was too long and was tearing up the side of her mouth. When we went for a follow-up appointment, the orthodontist was horrified and said, "Why didn't you let us know about this?" Her response was, "It really wasn't so bad and I didn't want to bother anyone about it." What?!!! This can't be the same girl who used to scream about the seams on her socks.
She also got on a bus at 5:30 a.m. last week for a school trip to a place she had never been. She woke herself up at 4:00 a.m. and packed her own things. All without tears or tantrum. As I hugged her good-bye, I said, "Girl, you are amazing!" And in my mind I thought, "God, you are amazing."
In my Memorial Box I have a silk tulip and a silk daffodil. With the recent adoption of Daniel, I need this reminder that all my children are gifts, even on those days when we are "planting" and our backs hurt and our hearts ache. It also reminds me how grateful I am that God gave us a variety in our garden. Had He given us a match set of daffodils, I honestly don't think we would have taken that leap of faith to adopt. I think we would have been too afraid of the unknown in parenting a child of another type of flower, who might have challenges or special needs, one who might have behaviors to unlearn and wounds to heal.
Our years of parenting Olivia through the hard times prepared us to parent Daniel. He had some meltdowns when we were living in Guatemala and I think he was shocked when I'd give him that "seen it already" look and calmly addressed the issue. He tested us soon after he came home, only to figure out that his Mom and Dad had Phd's in unconditional love.
One morning several weeks ago, we arrived in the school parking lot where our daughters attend for Ava's poetry recital. Daniel was overwhelmed by the size of the building and the crowd of strangers waiting inside. He started crying and refused to get out of the car. It reminded me of Olivia when she was little and we'd arrive at a birthday party and sit in the driveway and she would cry that she just couldn't go in. But instead of becoming frustrated with Daniel, I knew to pray over him. His flower is different from Olivia's (I'll share about him later this week), but the care instructions are similar.
When he gives us a "parenting opportunity" we respond with, "Bring it on, buddy, because our gardening gloves are on and we are used to the smell of manure."
I share this story today, because I know many of you may be parenting flowers of various kinds and some days it is hard. I have dear friends who are parenting children with severe physical and developmental challenges, and although my experience is on a much smaller scale, I want them to know that the Master Gardener will give them wisdom and patience when it is winter and it seems springtime will never come to their garden.
I've also met many remarkable moms and dads, many through their blogs, who have chosen to adopt a child with major medical and developmental needs. Chosen, not in spite of their needs, but because of them. Many of these children have attachment issues, but these parents can enjoy the fragrance of their rose and the beauty of each blossom in spite of the thorns. Some children may never walk or may need a lifetime of surgeries, medicine and therapy. These are the gorgeous blooming vines supported by trellises.
Some children may never live independently as adults. These parent gardeners know that these plants will need to be brought in for winter so the frost doesn't hurt them or may even need to grow at the safety of the windowsill. (I'm thinking of spectacular orchids.) Some children have illness and conditions that may mean they will not live to adulthood. These are the annuals planted each year, knowing their beauty will last but a season.
If you are one of these amazing gardeners adopting a special needs child, I understand your calling and celebrate your obedience to care for flowers that others might think require too much care. And if anyone questions why you would spend thousands of dollars and travel halfway across the world to bring them home, explain that these exquisite blossoms won't survive in the rough conditions of an institution and your garden is the perfect climate for this rare treasure.
So today, if you are planting bulbs but wonder if you will ever see them bloom, go to the One who entrusted you with these flowers. He will provide all you need to care for your tulips and daffodils and everything in between.
But for now, water them with prayer, warm them with the sunshine of your love, fertilize them with scripture, and tell them that they are God's amazing Masterpiece . . . for they are worth it.
Kathie (most days a tulip)