One of the projects I was most excited about this summer is one of those purely delight-driven, purely fanciful little endeavors that make the best kind of memories: a sunflower house. We attempted one once, years ago, in Washington. I probably should have just hand-fed sprouts to the slugs for all the good it did me. I think we grew three sunflowers that year, which was lovely, but it wasn’t a house. It didn’t create the sweet little hideaway I had hoped for. Call me a pessimist, but I never tried again.
I knew, the moment we first stepped onto this property, that it was meant for a sunflower house. So many nooks and crannies and spots far and wide. When we ordered seed, I stuck in a packet Mammoth sunflower seeds (#afflink) and mentally added a handful of extra pole beans to the count. Because I like to hold on to surprises until just the right time, I said nothing to the little kids, but treasured it up for myself, knowing that at the right time, this reveal would be magic.
And it was. Wednesday morning, after a hard day of hoeing uncooperative earth and trotting heavy watering cans, I took my five youngest outside just after breakfast.
“Grab a hoe, some stakes, a mallet, and the garden twine,” I instructed. The questions came fast and furious, but I was evasive. They eagerly gathered supplied and fell into line behind me, bubbling with curiosity.
I marched them all out to the chosen spot, had them put the bits into a pile, and asked them to sit in a tight circle. Several of them— Simon, especially— looked like they were about to explode with excitement, but they did it. I mentally sized the site, remembering the failure of my first attempt, years ago, before these little ones were even born. Better to keep expectations low, I decided.
“This,” I said, “is where we will plant out sunflower house.”
After that, of course, there were a billion questions, and many oohs and ahhs and the kind of dreamy, blissful look that we all think of when someone says, “summer vacation.” When the explanations had been given, we started work, setting stakes and marking off the boundaries of the house.
Mid-way through the process— which I oversaw more than participated in— I took a few extra steps back to take it all in. See, the soft-focus beauty of this project has, for me, always been my joy in watching my children drink in the very best bits of childhood. The flurry of activity as John Mark pounded stakes, Simon sorted seeds, and Birdie unwound string was the genesis of the memory I want to carry with me as they grow.
What I noticed, however, was how small the outline for the house seemed to be. In the open expanse of our side yard, nestled against the farthest hayfield, the little square felt lost and insignificant. How can my dream be so tiny? I wondered. Yes, it’s enough. I had the kids all sit, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a circle to make sure it would fit them all. And yet… it seems like there could so very easily be more.
I looked away for a moment, and took in the gift God has given us in this place. A gorgeous, cozy home. A generous stretch of land to kick a ball, fly a kite, play tag. Fields for animals, for planting. A creek. None of it deserved, none of it asked for. All of it lavished upon us. Such a great blessing that the magnitude of it is hardly ever far from my mind.
Then I remembered:
“Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.” —Isaiah 54:2
“Can you pull the stakes out?” I asked John Mark. He looked at me a little quizzically, then began yanking on the end of the stake he had just driven. With a little work, it was free.
“Let’s pace it out again, guys. Let’s make it bigger.”
Shouts of excitement, and cries of, “bigger!” followed as I redrew the boundaries. By the time all was said and done, and the seeds for the first round of planting were nestled safely in the ground, the sunflower house had grown by half. Despite the increase in area, it was still an insignificant corner of the yard.
“I’m glad we made it bigger,” Birdie confided.
“God has given us a big place to dream,” I told her. “He wants us to enjoy it, I think.”
We all admired it, and wondered when our first peek of green shoots would come. Eventually, the more pressing work of planting candy roasters, Kentucky Wonder beans, and beets called. We marched to the smaller garden, buoyed by the little taste of wonder given to us by a handful of sunflower seeds and the hope of a shady spot to sip tea come August.
As for me, I intend to watch that sunflower house grow this summer not just as a fulfillment of a long-standing desire to see my kids recreate their own version of The Secret Garden (#afflink). I purpose to watch it and remember, all season long, that God’s vision for my future is so much bigger than the plans on which I have set my heart.