I saw Parker* today walking; his only means of getting from one place to another in our rural Mid-Atlantic town. I’ve know him for nearly twenty years now. When I first met him, he owned his own home, drove one of those over-the-top, shiny revved pick-up trucks, and had a steady job—a good job with benefits, paid vacation. I got to know Parker through community activities, passing in the aisles of our local grocery, bumping into one another at the library. Parker and I developed one of those small town friendships. Exchanging niceties; I would ask about his elderly mother and how she was getting along because I knew that Parker was her sole caregiver. He always smiled and called me mam.
Then stuff happened to Parker. I rarely saw him at the grocery store. And curiously when I did see him at the library, he wasn’t checking out books, but sitting alone in a far corner reading the local paper. Then, I began to notice his tattered, perspiration laden, soiled clothes. He visited the library often…in winter to stay warm and in summer to stay cool.
I no longer saw him driving his truck, but he took to walking, everywhere, in sorts of weather. On occasion my kids would see Parker walking this particularly long stretch of road into town.
On one of those days, my very observant son Luke yelled from the back of the mini-van, “Hey mom, there’s your friend Mr. Parker, ask him if he needs a ride.”
Parker joined me in the front seat and that particular time we dropped him off at a local motel where he now rented a room by the day because he lost his house and truck when he got “laid off” from his job.
For months, as we ran errands about town, the kids kept their eyes peeled for Parker walking the sidewalks season to season. During one of our rides together, we did learn that he no longer lived at the motel but a local man offered him residence in a heated storeroom for free. Whenever I dropped him off at the appointed destination, he still smiled and he still called me mam.
And then life got busy. I was always in a hurry, too busy to stop. The seasons of motherhood, homeschooling, church life, blurred my vision, so much so that I couldn’t see what was really in front of me. Not that any of those endeavors aren’t kingdom building, but did I really need to volunteer for VBS, attend prayer meeting, assist with Christian soccer camp, teach three classes at homeschool co-op, facilitate women’s Bible study, help with Sunday school, offer to provide snack for children’s church for the next quarter, co-produce the Christmas Pageant….on and on.
All the while, Parker walked and smiled and waved. I was too busy to stop.
Until one weekend I attended a homeschool conference and heard the late Sono Harris speak on “Slowing Down the Speed of Life.” Sono had us remove our watches (we actually wore watches back then) to illustrate our dependence on time and addiction to a fast pace of life. I exhibited the Christian “Vault” wife/mother syndrome pumping as much out of my day that pieces of my heart calloused to the exhortations of Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.” The energy riddled phase numbed my ability to sense the distresses of others.
I’m not that woman anymore. The reality of Sono’s talk coupled with becoming a better student of the Word—a learner not just a doer.
Parker now works two jobs. Still no truck. Still alone. Often, Luke runs into Parker at the local gas station. Luke will have his driver’s license soon and I believe Parker will receive rides from both of us. But who do you think Parker would rather ride with, the mom in the mini-van or the kid with the pick-up truck?
My husband, the agronomist, spends his day working the soil. He has an uncanny way of knowing the condition of the soil. When he drives the John Deere 7530, working ground, he will often stop the tractor just to reach his weathered hands into the earth to feel it. If the soil feels ready, “he sows seeds,” if the soil proves deficient for sowing, he amends the soil to get it ready for sowing. Always laboring the soil.
Fatherhood is sowing heart seeds and shepherding hearts.
Fatherhood is preparing the heart-soil of children. William Shakespeare declared, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.” Just like the farmer knows his soil, a father knows the condition of the heart of his children. A farmer never abandons his field; he works with the soil until it’s ready for sowing. He fertilizes to improve the richness, so when the seeds fall into the earth; they explode with readiness. Fathers, the sowers, toil with hearts, preparing “good soil to produce good grain.”
Fatherhood is for sowing heart- seeds. Just as the farmer painstakingly prepares the soil for sowing, a father nurtures heart soil for kingdom work. Heart-soil that is fertile for the gospel. Soil that will grow and be ready for harvest.
Farmers protect their crops from weeds that would suffocate life from the seedling. Likewise, heart-sowers empower their children with gospel instruction, teaching them life lessons of sowing and reaping. Heart lessons that strengthen and fortify to fight the weeds of foolishness, pride, to recognize wickedness, to hear and understand the Word so that he will bear good fruit and produce a high yield.
Fatherhood is shepherding. Also on our farm we have sheep and like most sheep they know the voice of the one who provides the food and the one who offers shelter and protection. Fathers who shepherd feed children gospel food. Food that nourishes the heart. Fathers who shepherd instruct the heart to submit to the Supreme Shepherd, the Divine Protector who offers heavenly protection.
The heart-sower and the shepherd father point children to the “centrality of the gospel” (Dr. Tedd Tripp). The gospel that offers redemption for seeds that fall on rocky soil or for the lamb who strays from the herd.
As I ride down my rural road and view the acres of healthy crops which will soon be a bountiful harvest, I am reminded of how it all began with a seed carefully placed in healthy soil.
Today was an Ann of Green Gables day at the fruit and vegetable farm down the road. A day in which I imagine in early June on Prince Edward island, where the fields cast that perfect hue of green and the wind blows gently enough to bring about a kind breeze. The branches of the cherry trees heavily laden with fruit, swayed back and forth with the wind. Good fruit. Fruit not harmed by the desolation and emptiness of winter. A healthy tree.
Plentiful and pure, an abundant harvest of seasonally ripe, red fruit. So as I pluck the succulent crop from its boughs, I drift in thought about my fruit. Most days, at best, my fruit wouldn’t fill a basket. Not a barren tree, just one needing frequent seasons of pruning and purging in order to produce fruitfulness for the glory of the one, true, Sovereign Gardener.
My daughters and I continue to pull from the fruitful branches, echoes of nearby harvesters who also clamor for such impeccable fruit, bring to mind, “blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit” but without the constant, daily abiding in Him, I become diseased; weak, unable to do the job in which I was placed on this Earth to do—bear fruit for His glory.
Grafted, propagated, connected, to Christ so that I may bear fruit for the harvest. Life truly begins in the garden as we amble to Genesis 2:8 and plow our way to John 19:41. Remain in the care of the Gardener.
And so my place in this hurting, hungry for love world is my town, my home, my kitchen table, where the tea pot rests full to brim, ready to serve those who tap on the screen door; those who drive down my lane with a heavy heart and need to dwell in His presence…