Only a few weeks ago, this patch of lavatera flowers springing forth like a delightful fountain of pink joyfulness was a barren patch of dirt.
I didn’t plant them, nor did I water them. I saw them growing in the community garden next to our building. A gardener who rents the plot planted them in amongst practical and edible kale and beans and tomatoes. These flowers don’t have 300 uses like the peanut or end up in a myriad of product like corn. Their only role is to simply be beautiful and to lift the spirits of those who pass by.
I am learning to stop and appreciate beauty when I see it. I also appreciate those who develop varieties of plants suitable for local environments and resistant to pests and disease. I appreciate the tillers and planters and waterers. I love the ingenuity and creativity of inventors and developers.
I most appreciate a God who created beauty to inspire us to create beauty. I appreciate soaking in the beauty of his presence when it serves no other purpose than show me I am loved and that a good Father loves to give good gifts.
When affliction comes (and he said it would) a patch of pink flowers, rising up from the soil that lay dormant for so many months, can remind us that God is good. Beauty says hope restored is a tree of life.
I passed by this honeysuckle bush growing over the limits a dilapidated unpainted fence tried to set around a sad-looking house. I snapped a photo with my phone and thought about the contrast.
Sometimes the flowers that bloom in overgrown, untended yards surrounded by broken fences and derelict vehicles are all the more beautiful for their powers of endurance.
It amazes me that some of the sweetest, most beautiful, most caring people I know have grown up in foul, ugly, uncaring environments.
The grace they exude defies all predictions of perpetual victimhood. Like the garden flowers in the back alley, they are givers because they know how to receive from God when others have let them down.
When I was a child I wondered who good Mrs. Murphy was. My teacher was named Mrs. Murphy and she was good, at least she was good to the kids who knew the right answers to her questions. She was not as kind to the naughty boys at the back of the classroom, but she didn’t follow them around, as far as I knew. Still we sang in Sunday School, “Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life,” so there had to be a good Mrs. Murphy somewhere.
It wasn’t until I read the words in the Bible for myself that I realized I had misheard. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” I still didn’t understand what it meant, but it let Mrs. Murphy off the hook.
I misheard a lot of things about God when I was young. Sometimes I heard clearly but the speaker “misspoke.” I also skipped over a lot of things I heard and read, but since I had little experience, they remained in a file of “nice sayings” stored on a dusty shelf in the recesses of my brain. Later, when life tests showed up, I needed to dive into that file and learn what they were truly about.
Today I was reminded of my frustration two years ago. I have trouble walking very far, but I have improved a lot. Two years ago, I could hardly walk around my own house. I have always loved walking in the woods and often rambled in the countryside and through the streets of our town looking for beautiful things to photograph. Photography has been a way of intentionally looking for beauty in a world where we are confronted with so many demonstrations of the lack of goodness and mercy between people.
We live in a different city now. Spring arrived about a month sooner than I have been accustomed to. I can’t walk as far as I want to yet, but I can walk. For that I am very thankful. This week, I visited a local garden originally planted by a woman from Scotland over a hundred years ago.
As I stopped to appreciate every sign of colour and new life, I felt peace. I felt my spirit rest in the goodness of the Creator of beauty and the love of beauty he placed in the heart of a young woman far from everything that was familiar to her.
A song is playing in my head today:
I love You, Lord Oh Your mercy never fails me All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands From the moment that I wake up Until I lay my head Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God.
I have looked back over the years of my life and seen “Good Mrs. Murphy” guarding my steps. It turns out Mrs. Murphy is actually my Father, my Friend, and my God.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found, Grace to cover all my sin; Let the healing streams abound; Make and keep me pure within. Thou of life the fountain art, Freely let me take of Thee; Spring Thou up within my heart, Rise to all eternity.
-From “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Charles Wesley
One of the most painful moments in my life was when a person I admired announced they had no more grace for me. An annoying trait, that no doubt needed correction, inspired them to dump a load of dis-grace on me instead. I was devastated.
Trauma has roots like weeds that crop up in a garden bed far from the original invasive plant. I felt shame and ran when the flight option in the flight/fight/freeze trio of survival actions seemed most attractive. It took a while to realize that the original painful weed of rejection had spread to this corner of my life, its subconscious presence undetected for many years. I heard it sing a minor key lament from long ago, “Jesus is disappointed with you.”
Growing up in a competitive world where only the best smiled for the camera while the rest slunk out the door for the eliminated, harsh words felt like familiar shameful judgments of disgrace. I wept bitterly. The “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp of disapproval showed up again on the bottom of my application for acceptance.
It was a horrible time and a good time. God can use anything and this time he used a person who also struggled with shame to point out that I was knocking on the wrong door. You can’t give what you have not received or received only in measured installments. I wanted another struggling sojourner to give me what only God could supply. That wasn’t going to work. I needed to find the source.
“Ask me,” he said.
“Ask you for what?” I mumbled, head hanging low.
“Ask me about my grace.”
“I don’t deserve your grace.”
“True. No one does. That’s the beauty. You can’t earn it. Failures only need apply.”
I did ask, and since then I’ve learned that my response to God’s empowering grace can be greater than a grudging, “Thanks for not hitting me when I deserved a good smiting.” It’s now “Thanks for showing me the way you see me and giving me the resources to become that person.”
Thank you, Lord, for grace that is plenteous and greater than barely sufficient grace, or scratch and dent grace for the less deserving, or grace that offers anonymity as a cover for permanent stains on the soul. Thanks for accepting me just as I am. Thanks for grace that heals and purifies and rises up to all eternity.
Get up, my dear friend, fair and beautiful lover—come to me! Look around you: Winter is over; the winter rains are over, gone! Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir—and singing!
(Song of Solomon 2:11,12 MSG)
Sometimes, when shrill voices tell us to look at what’s happening there, and there, or over there, we overlook the still, quiet voice of the Lover of our souls inviting us to look here. I was looking for photo-worthy balsam root blossoms that thrive in the Okanagan. I wanted to photograph a patch, but they all seemed to grow in places where I couldn’t stop the car, or places too hard for me to walk to.
When I told my daughter my frustration she said, “Oh, we have some here in the forest beside our house where the children play.”
I found them! What a wonderful place to be a child! I’m so happy for them!
When I was a young child, our little house was in a eastside neighbourhood squeezed between a meat packing plant, an oil refinery, and a railway yard. No matter which way the wind blew it never smelled like a forest of flowers and evergreen trees.
When I was a child, I carried worries that were too heavy for a little kid. I thought God was mad at me all the time like everyone else seemed to be. I didn’t know that he actually liked me and wanted to be with me. It was many years before I could hear him calling me to come away with him, not to do a job for him, but because he loved me and wanted to be with me.
It’s so easy to say, “I’ll be happy when this is over, or when this is done.” We can have joy now, in this moment. I hear the loving invitation of my Lord inviting me to leave stress and worry behind, to come away with him, and appreciate the song that beauty sings here in the secret place he created for the two of us, here where he made it accessible. Here –in my heart.
This morning I am going through photos I took in the garden next to our condo this week. I procrastinated again and the warm sunlight disappeared behind rain clouds before I ventured outside. I didn’t have high expectations for results. The contrast between bright colour and muted dark tones surprises me.
I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s “Remember” as this photo of a two-toned tulip popped up. This line from the song stood out to me: “Even when my eyes could not see, you were there, always there with me.”
I was reminded yesterday that this week marks fourteen years since I was healed of cycles of depression I thought would never end. The bouts in hellish darkness had become more frequent and were lasting longer. Medication helped, but I needed a lot to keep functioning in public and to keep hiding the condition of my soul from people who stigmatized and rejected those of us who walked a path they couldn’t understand, but they needed constant adjustment. I was taking drugs to counteract the side effects of the side effects of other drugs I needed to counteract side effects. Sometimes they threw me into the other ditch with short bouts of hypomania, inevitably followed by the need to make apologies for overconfident promises made that I couldn’t keep later when a crash returned — just as inevitably.
I am enormously grateful for doctors and medicines that kept me going, but I was told my condition was chronic. I would always be dependent on chemical means to chase despair and suicidal thoughts away.
I didn’t want more treatments! I wanted to be healed!
I prayed for years to be released from the prison of depression. Like the Psalmist I could say, “How long?”
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
Then one day, when I least expected it, I met the Healer. He set this captive free. I am no longer on antidepressants or mood stabilizers and have had no recurrence in fourteen years! Like this flower God gave me a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. How can I help but praise him?
Today I am singing, “I can’t stop thinking about your goodness!”
For those of you asking, “How long, Lord?” keep trusting. Keep seeking the Lord. Someday he will tell us why it took so long. If you have lost sight of hope, ask the Lord to send burden-bearers who will carry faith and hope for you until you can hold it in your own hands again. In the darkest hours He still loves you, even when you can’t see it or feel it.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown.
There is something about the crocus flower that symbolizes eagerness to me. They remind me of my childhood family walking over hills covered with last years dry grass and through thickets of gray branches to reach a trail that was still edged with melting snow. I remember the cold wind rushing down the mountainside making jackets billow and long hair whip around in every direction.
If we had been hiking in the late autumn, after everything with colour had blown away, we would have complained about how nasty that cold Alberta wind could be. But in the spring, the same temperature and the same stiff breeze felt wonderfully warm. We tucked hats and gloves into deep pockets and ran into the wind, our arms raised high as if to catch all the promises of spring in our hands.
A south-facing hillside showing off crocus flowers bobbing their heads in the breeze was our reward and evidence of better times and brighter days ahead. Yes, there would be disappointing blustery snowy icy days before winter fully released it’s grip, but the season of growth and harvest approached.
After this latest season of Lent and a time of allowing myself to be aware of the darkness Christ came to illuminate, the week after Easter feels like receiving the freedom to run toward the gifts He promised. One of those was the presence of the Holy Spirit who walks beside us and never leaves. He tells us through Paul:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.
(1 Corinthians 14:1 NIV)
Crocus flowers are like fuzzy purple floral forerunners who respond to the season change before the other flowers. That’s what New Testament prophecy makes possible –being the first to see what others miss in changing times and responding to it in faith.
Teach me your ways, Lord. Show me your paths. Lead me in the way everlasting. Let me run into the wind with joy.