On Sunday my strength failed. Whatever courage and grit lay in me simply shriveled up and died.
Our family has been going through a time of — upheaval, I suppose, is the word — and suddenly at the end of the weekend, the spoken and unspoken needs of others pressed down on my head. I was so depleted that I could not see a way to pour out anything good to anybody without growing bitter along the way.
I turned my face to the wall, and asked the only One within earshot —
How is this supposed to work again?
All the analogies about being a cup filled up with the Spirit and overflowing in service to others suddenly seemed cold and stiff, a poor substitute for the happy and affectionate conversation that I missed with a husband who has had to be wrapped up in urgent matters for a while.
Wrapped up like a hobbit bound in Shelob’s sinewy threads.
(Yes, I’m keeping that in because I laughed at myself as I typed it.)
But tokens of affection being in short supply, I stood a little while longer in the muddy gloom of my thoughts until a memory from earlier that day interrupted them.
Just after I finished dinner, I turned in my seat to look out at the waning daylight. The girls were still chattering gaily over their half-full plates when I spotted an impossibly vivid blot of purple — a shadow? — at the base of the bare-branched lilac tree.
“Is that — ? ” I slipped into Y’s sneakers and clomped out, calling the girls to come and see. Lucy followed with her chicken drumstick still in her hand.
And we crouched on the weathered gray-brown mulch and, as Laura Ingalls Wilder would say, just looked. And looked.
It came up unnoticed over the weekend, quietly sprouting, quietly unfurling, and the sight of it took my breath away. Every hue on this ruffled little blossom was so vibrant that I blinked, sure that my color vision was off-kilter.
Our very first iris, and it was exquisite.
“God has set us down in a crazy, amazing world full of breathtaking sights and sounds and scents and textures, most of which seem to exist only for his pleasure and ours,” writes Andi Ashworth in Real Love for Real Life. “When beauty is offered as a gift of love, what is seen or heard or tasted goes past the surface and into the heart.” The extravagance of that tiny dappled violet beauty cut straight through to mine, no less vivid when I recalled the scene later that evening.
And I paused.
He had sent me flowers.
In that moment I was reminded how “all this” gloriously, freely, tenderly works. Not by a clocking-in and clocking-out of ritualistic devotion that mechanically fuels my love for others. I bring my thirst instead to a living God and an aspect of His character that continually astounds me: His kindness.
Kindness that meets an ordinary wife and mother without scoffing at her weariness. Kindness that knows that the felt experience of being loved is a need. Kindness whose welcome draws her to ask forgiveness and begin again.
This kindness is the startling work of the Spirit, watering the ground of a gray-brown heart, and giving it life to bear fruit after fruit — after fruit — of the same variety.
Doubtless I’ll circle back around to this lesson again, though hopefully in wiser form.
But in the meantime, it won’t be hard to remember, each time I look out the back door.
How fresh, oh Lord, how sweet and cleanAre thy returns! even as the flowers in spring;To which, besides their own demean,The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.Grief melts awayLike snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.Who would have thought my shriveled heartCould have recovered greenness? It was goneQuite underground; as flowers departTo see their mother-root, when they have blown,Where they togetherAll the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.These are thy wonders, Lord of power,Killing and quickening, bringing down to hellAnd up to heaven in an hour;Making a chiming of a passing-bell.We say amissThis or that is:Thy word is all, if we could spell.
– From “The Flower,” George Herbert.