Funny how a single phone call can stop you in your tracks instantly crumbling the edifice of how you define reality. In a second, life sustaining hope scatters like smoke in a hard wind.
I can still feel the strain of trying to catch her quiet words: “Lancia, the baby doesn’t have a heart beat any more.”
Years before I had another phone call like this. All the things I was doing, all the things of that moment, all the things I thought I had to do tomorrow and the week ahead evaporated into non-existence. The sunlight faded to grey around me. This was tragically familiar ground.
“The baby doesn’t have a heart beat anymore.” She was seven and a half months pregnant.
Peter and I had forfeited immunity from her pain when we first chose to love her. Now the bitterness of her pain became part of the drink we shared.
When I left the hospital I felt nearly sick. My head was swimming, my arms were like lead. I wasn’t sure I could find the keys to my car or find my way home. Everything flattened out dull and vague. I think I remember green lights all the way back and something about praying for God to be with us and hold us all in His hands. Then I pulled up to the house and caught a fleeting glimpse of something on my front steps. I parked the car, came around, and there it was.
A battered brown box clearly labeled from White Flower Farm.
For more years than I can recall spring has begun for me in the fall with brown paper bags holding bulbs from White Flower Farm. Six weeks earlier I had labouriously gone through my annual ritual of picking out tulips and daffodils for the next spring. Almost certainly I had ordered more than I could get in our own beds even though I truly tried to be restrained in the selections. Then the weeks had passed. Eventually I had begun to wonder what was taking that box so long to get here. For crying out loud, I had been thinking when is the ‘right time to plant in your area’ going to get any more right than early September? Then it became mid-September. Then late September. I was tense with the waiting every day with a stifled sense of dread for the first frosts and the ground freezing over. It is Colorado after all.
A battered box arrived on my door step like a solid, tangible, intimately significant message from God to me. He knew me. As the gardener that I am at heart, nothing could have spoken His heart to mine more clearly. Not an hour before I had looked at the tiny body of my darling little god-son, eyes closed now, lying so still and empty. Already a shadow piercing both heart and memory. How very like God to know how badly I was going to need that box as a physical symbol to unpack when I got home. Two days sooner or weeks sooner my tension would have been dissipated but this terrible need would not have been met like it would with it arriving this day. He knew that and took care that it should arrive on time. His own good time.
I opened the box a day later. Inside they all waited – hundreds of homely little papery brown bundles that mysteriously contain something else altogether. Bulbs look nothing like what they will become after a winter’s sleep deep beneath the soil to awaken in Spring. Small and humble, they are the extraordinary symbol of death and resurrection. The bulbs didn’t look like the beautiful white tulips and fragrant daffodils that I bought them for now but they contained that beauty latently.
Until that day I had never noticed so sharply the similarity of an individual’s death to bulb planting and never looked at it from the Lord’s point of view. Yes, I’ve seen the symbol of resurrection in bulbs before but never really saw that as each body is laid in the ground, like a bulb being planted, the Lord is also waiting for a certain Spring when what rises from the ground will be gloriously and utterly different than what it was. He, too, longs for His plantings to emerge and like us — with us — waits in Hope.
Even now years later, I can’t just open the box for the flowers I want. I will have to work for them and I will have to wait. That is so like the real work of grief. Healing requires work. Rebuilding life requires work. Time does not by itself heal all wounds. Only God does that and we have to work with Him in order to experience it. I will have to get on my knees, dig holes in the soil and lovingly bury them with hope. And wait. Wait through winter – waiting for Spring.
But months from when they are laid in the earth planted with intention, they will come back to me. It is a mystery that never ceases to amaze me. No longer what I put in the ground, they will push their way to the surface and emerge into the light – transformed. They will come up surely and truly just as surely and truly as Spring itself will come back. One by one they will unfold in a new season presenting themselves as Maureen (my favourite of all tulips), Rose of May, White Favourite, Verona, Champagne Diamond, Ivory Perennial, City of Vancouver and Queen of the Night.
Blessed be the Lord, Who bears our burdens and carries us day by day,
even the God Who is our salvation! Selah [pause and calmly think of that]!
~ Psalm 68:19
I wrote this post five years ago but discovered recently that when we revamped the Cultivating website this post had fallen out of view. Struggling as I have been with my own need lately to remember God’s strength and faithfulness, this seems like a good day to share it again. I know I need to it for my own memorial, and perhaps it will be a timely word of hope for you as well.
The garden that came up that next spring was breathtaking!
Blessings and every grace to you,
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about the disciple making. Reflecting that calling, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Cultivating Good | True | Beautiful, and of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts, with a special emphasis on writers. Lancia is a board member and patron of the Anselm Society, and Regional Representative of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. She is President and CEO of a thriving environmental consulting and construction firm based in northern Colorado which she runs with her husband Peter. They are parents to seven children, and are grandparents to a beloved flock of grandchildren. Lancia loves strong coffee with cinnamon, writing, website design, David Austin roses, Marvel movies, road trips with Peter, and nearly every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R. R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.