I’ve never been much on contests that require a judge–contests like dog shows, gymnastics, diving, and ice skating. Blame communist Olympic judges and a strong hillbilly clan mentality. Frankly, I’ll forever believe my dog is worthy of the Westminster title “Best in Show,” even if we never could sniff out authentic pedigree papers for Blue Boy. Give me horseracing, baseball, and the biggest pumpkin. Show me a clear winner, points or runs on a scoreboard, and a finish line to cross first.
But then, for some reason, these strong convictions go up in pit barbeque smoke when it comes to the county fair.
On the night of the prayer meeting, the boys and I juggled our entries: eggs, beans, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, fresh flowers, and, of course, honey. As I handed over the dozen eggs for display, I thought of the humming incubator on my kitchen countertop last winter. From chicks in a tote in the basement, to the garage, to the barn, and finally the coop, oh, how I celebrated their graduation into full chickenhood.
Then there were the beans. While I enjoy the taste of half-runners, I’m emotionally invested in their tradition. When I was a little girl, I would be lulled to sleep by the peaceful sound of my parents snapping and stringing. Like those chicks, I’ve matured. Now, I’m stringing and sweet-talking late into the evenings with Wade, and I love it.
Every item had a story. How many stings were braved for that jar of honey, how many blisters from hoeing around peppers, how many prayers for those potatoes. I handed over the bouquet of sunflowers, my pride and joy for the fair, and took a deep breath. Would we win anything? Would the judges see the value in our work?
“Whose name goes on this one?” The kind lady from the fair board gestured to the flowers.
“Me!” My son stepped forward with a big smile. In his mind, he had carried them from the car to the entry table, and his most recent effort equaled ownership.
We lingered around the quilt displays, chatted with neighbors, sized up the (mostly) friendly competition, but I kept thinking. Whose name belonged on those flowers? Who could claim any of these garden wonders?
Sunflowers must be the most agreeable farm undertaking. Happy blooms for wives. Tasty seeds for children. Promises of dove shoots for husbands…
After deciding we’d do a sunflower field, Wade bought the seeds, tilled the ground, and a buddy helped us plant. It didn’t rain for over a month, and the sun scorched the earth. Birds descended upon the field and gorged themselves on seeds. Weeds shot up, threatening to choke any hopes of flowers. But, from the coaxing of angels, pops of yellow started to speckle the horizon. It was a miracle any flowers grew at all, much less a whole field.
With the start of school, I’m conscious of how every day is an opportunity to plant a seed. I’ve often wondered about the best ways to share the gift of faith with my children, how to ensure those seeds of faith fall onto fertile ground, how to protect their young hearts from the distortions of the world that seek to devour or choke it. As parents, we’re to be the primary example of faith for our children. It’s intimidating, especially considering the stakes of eternity.
Typically, we’re focused on the physical and mental wellbeing of our children. When will they start walking or potty-training? Are they getting too much screen time? Do they eat enough vegetables? Are we doing enough or too many extracurriculars? Should we hire a tutor for math? Consider, how are we tending their soul, the immortal part of these small human beings? How do we know we’re doing this whole parenting thing right?
Honey is judged on flavor, color, water concentration, and cleanliness. Corn is judged on maturity and condition, like if there is indication of disease or insect damage to the kernels or stalk. Children? Praise the Lord, they’re all judged as precious in His sight.
Beyond the barn, the field of sunflowers grows more golden. There’s so much variety, red, yellow, orange chocolate, white, tall, short, and everything in between. Sunflowers have a property called “heliotropism,” which is the directional growth of a plant in response to the sun. From dawn to dusk the head of the flower literally turns to face the sunlight. All day, this sunshine is enabling the plant to grow, brightly and beautifully.
Like county fair produce, we judge sunflowers and potatoes and everything else by the quality and beauty of its fruit. By harvest time, sunflowers will be heavy with the fruit of thousands of sunflower seeds. What a beautiful reminder, that a life focused on the sun, for us, the Son of God, will grow us, mature us, and produce a fruitful life. And here’s more hope: even when it seems like there’s no rain, or birds are devouring our seeds, or the weeds of the world are choking any attempts to grow, angels must still tend the delicate seedling…and us.
Praying for our children’s success and safety this school year, for parents planting seeds of faith, and in gratitude for the bountiful harvest. For the record: our sunflowers weren’t the biggest or the tallest, but we did get a blue ribbon for our bouquet (and for our honey, and surprisingly, tomatoes!).
*Feature photo by Chelsie McElfresh Photography