The Lesson of the Peony

 

dsc_0060-copy

 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
 – 1 Peter 1:3-4a, NIV –

Today, my friend Lizzie and I drove back and forth across town on a wild treasure hunt for a flower.

I’ve never grown peonies before , but I’m reading Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy and her Instagram photos of impossibly-delightful peonies inspire me. Fall is in the air, and with it, my dreams of fluffy, dreamy, extravagant blossoms awaiting in the next gardening year.

So I needed a peony.

Now, my town is quite small. Only the arrival of tourists a few times a year manages to tip us over 3,000 people. “Driving across town” only takes about ten minutes. And our gardening options were very limited. We started with our favorite all-American corporate chain, proceeded to a grocery store with a tiny, empty 8×8 greenhouse, checked the lumber store’s collection of plants –actually the most impressive thus far–then drove to the local farm supply. It was our last great hope. But alas. No peonies in the whole town.

We thought our search was in vain. I picked up a few discount packets of seeds in a distant hope of spring planting and waited in the farm supply line to check out…and then the lady standing next to us overheard us lamenting our fruitless search. “There’s peonies at the lumber store,” she says. We explain that we had already looked there, among the spring bulbs. “They aren’t displayed with the bulbs,” she tells us. “She has them in pots.”

Liz whips out her phone and calls the lumber store greenhouse. Sure enough, they have a whole collection of $12.99 peonies.

Back across town we go and there they are…a cluster of black pots with tiny, gnarled, crispy-leaved plants tucked into the top layer of dirt, poking up little wrinkled limbs well past their prime. The tag promises a giant, perfectly-coral blossom.

“They die back in the fall and go dormant in the winter,” the gardener explains. “They’ll come back in the spring.”

So I buy a big black pot with a tiny, crusty-edged leaf hanging on to a twisted root half-unearthed. It costs $12.99. Almost thirteen dollars for a dying hope that won’t blossom at all until later.

I hand over a $20 bill and continue to pepper the woman with questions about how to care for this tiny, twisted hope. “Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t bloom for a few seasons,” she smiles. “It has to get big enough first.”

I nod and let my mind wander to a possible planting place. I’m dreamy with thoughts of spring.

So Liz and I load up the almost-vacant plastic pot into the back of the van and drive home. We grin because our treasure hunt was not in vain. I think finding a treasure after a long hunt must be the best part of an adventure.

The peony plant is safely tucked into the garage now, waiting for me to decide on a sunny growing place for it to call home. As I go about my day, I keep thinking back to that tiny, twiggy promise of a plant. People look at it doubtfully, because it really looks like the dying end of something.

My heart keeps jumping when I remember that this is not a dead and dying thing. My peony is a living hope. It is quiet and sleepy and browning. But it is alive. Something stirs in me when I think that the whole glorious potential of a 3-foot tall bush brimming with giant coral blossoms lies dormant in this dead-looking twig.

My peony keeps telling me stories, because it is itself a story, and a tying-together of my story.

I have no idea what tomorrow brings, what I will do in a year, or what changes may crop up moment by moment. While still a fragile, uncertain thing itself, the potential of the peony teaches me about steady things that anchor us in the middle of the ups and downs of life.

Planting this little whisper of spring is like putting down my roots and saying, “I will be fully here, as long as I am here.” It is a reminder that what I do today lasts, even as the moments fade away. It is a reminder that my Jesus put me here now, for this season.

This peony teaches me that there is an overarching story to the moments that I string together like pearls. Unique and tiny as each moment is, it is adding up to something bigger.

Sometimes I think anxiously about the future, wondering what it will bring.

But something about the peony ties my today and my tomorrow together in a rhythmic strength. Spring will come, as long as the earth remains, and when that spring comes, this dead-looking twig will jump to life and burst up with joy and blossom out in abundance.

And I smile when I think that all this life is packed into the wispy, fading, half-buried root waiting in my garage.

Lizzie says that maybe we are not just planting the peony. Maybe the peony is planting  us, down deep into life. Deep into faith in One who chases winter away every year with a new resurrection of creation.

“Spring will come,” the peony whispers. “There is more life here than you could ever imagine.”

“Look, the winter is past,
    and the rains are over and gone.
The flowers are springing up,
    the season of singing birds has come,
    and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.

 – Song of Solomon 2:11-12, NLT –

Advertisements

The Story of the Trees

spring-tree-1335527884wpA

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.”

– Virgil A. Kraft –


 

Winter is over, because the trees say so.

Driving the Arkansas hills this weekend, I saw the proof. Budding fruit trees—pink cherries, the snowy-white of the pears, the deep magenta of the red bud tree and flagrantly-golden forsythia—line side roads and dot the valleys and farm houses with splashes of color.

Spring is here. All is new.

I didn’t know how much I wanted the spring until it arrived. The hay bales lie sodden brown in the rain-soaked, brown and gray fields. Rain has greened up some of the grass on either side of the yellow-lined road. Cows speckle the mottled hills, finding the first tender blades of springtime between the straw stubble.

But my favorites are the trees.

Wordlessly momentous, they wear the wedding colors of spring.

It means something just out of reach. The brilliant simplicity of the trees carries a weight that I feel, but cannot yet quite grasp.

Maybe it is the abundant life sprouting up in the middle of the bare groves sticking their splintery branches into the sky.

Maybe it is the insistent return of joy.

Maybe it is the trees dressing up for no reason, just because it is a good day to be alive under the blue, blue dome of heaven.

Spring is springing, and my heart springs along with it.

Is life perfect? No. But His times and seasons are, whether sunshine or inclement weather, drought or abundant rain. Struggles are real, longings deep, battles hard.

But all is well. Spring is here. All is new.

It is a promise to the world, once again. “As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night…” (Genesis 8:22, NLT.)

God says, “Do it again,” and again the celestial orbs take their places in line, to reenact the elliptical dance they know so well.

The renewal of spring reminds us of the refreshing He can always bring to the souls of His children.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2, NLT

And the bright budding of spring tells a tale for which we wait:

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”“Behold, I am making all things new!’ ” – Revelation 21:5, ESV

Even as we wait for the world’s crowning day, daily He brings us newness, springtime in our hearts. “Your mercies are new every morning.” “There is therefore now no condemnation.” “The old has gone, the new has come.” (Lamentations 3:22-23; Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17.)

Maybe that is why “my heart with pleasure fills” when I look out the car window at the triumphant white of the pears springing up in the fields.

Spring is the world going on, birthing life out of death.

Spring is God’s metaphor for what He does in our lives everyday. Refreshing. Renewing. Filling our bare branches with living color.

Today, again, He is declaring Springtime over our longing hearts.


 

“Spring is when life’s alive in everything.”

 – Christina Rossetti –

Dancing With the Daffodils

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
– William Wordsworth –

Dancing With the Daffodil

I narrowed my eyes at a vase of faded daffodils. Faded, I say, because every petal had grown stiff and the fragrance died away and the youth seemed to pour right out of them.

“I should just throw those away.”

And then I looked more closely. The vibrant yellow still shone on the frail petals. I cradled a single stem in my hand. All the daffodils still had their heads up, embracing the light streaming through the kitchen window.

In the language of flowers, a bouquet of daffodils represents joy. Now, maybe I’m crazy to think about the life-work of daffodils, but when I cradled that crisp happiness-flower, I thought about the joy that it brought my mom when my brother presented her with a bunch of daffodils, their golden heads bobbing in glee. Surely those plucked-up flowers were bouncing with the joy of being ripped from the soil and given away as a gift.

If I dare to go on in my speculations on the personality of a daffodil, I just know that a daffodil loves to smile. How could it not smile? It pushed through half-frozen dirt and slushy ice only to pop its head out and cry, “Spring! Look!” Its canary rays stretch and its little yellow Sunday bonnet quivers in the chilly wind—a wind that can’t quite decide whether to usher in spring or prolong the winter. The daffodil stretches its thin green neck as high as it can and lifts its bright face to the sun, basking in its Creator’s glory. It stands like a lighthouse, lone and erect in the winter’s deadness.

It’s a lot like the joy we are called to, joy in the midst of tribulation. The stand of the daffodil on a frozen hill is our stand. I am memorizing the words of Matthew:

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

– Matthew 5:14-16, NKJV –

The true Light is now shining, sisters. And we “are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10). Maybe you feel the frozen ground cutting you, so you can’t find the strength to rejoice. What is the secret?

Fix your gaze on the Son of righteousness. Dwell on the One who died that you might live. Remember the Savior that “ever lives and pleads” for you at God’s right hand (from the song “Before the Throne of God Above). For the darkness is past and the true light now shines (1 John 2:8).

Behold the Light and dance on the hill.

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

– Helen Keller –

Every Birth, Every Leaf

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone but in every leaf of springtime.

– Martin Luther-

Spring_in_Somerville,_NJ_-_2012_File_4

With spring comes new birth.

Yesterday I watched three wet goat kids birthed into a cold, pain-raged world.

And we are like them.

We were unborn, safe, heedless of the agony and despair just outside the barricading womb.

Then the birth throes came and our mothers panted and cried with pain and we appeared.

Like those kids, slick and wet. Like them, bloody and gasping for air and scared to be pushed out of the safety and closed-in comfort. The ground is unyielding beneath our quivering legs. The prickly straw jabs.

We long to go back in to the dark tightness where our mothers’ breath heaved right above our huddled bodies. We grow to hate the cold but yet draw back against the warmth washing away our birth sac, stripping away the cold membrane that was so comfortable and now chills us.

And one day we begin to understand the depth of the significance of the first cry.

On some days, we wonder if there is anything in all this broken world but crying.

Even with the budding out of spring, do you ever wonder what is the point, when so much of death’s stench seeps into our moments? Do you ever wonder why the flowers still smile when the frost will bite them off in only a few short months?

Where is the spring in that?

More importantly, if even the most hopeful time of year is tainted, what hope is there for me?

A few weeks ago, Easter morning broke all over the world again, the anniversary of a death. Yes, on Friday the God of this Broken world died to redeem it. But on Sunday, another death occurred.

Death died that Sunday morning.

And unlike all the other deaths of this world, in direct opposition to the struggle and misery—the death of Death snapped chains and broke cords and singing was unleashed.

All the Springtimes before that year of Resurrection had been foretelling. Each revolution around the yellow sun, the flowers had budded out and the deer had birthed their fawns. All of creation gathered and cried out to man that the end of Death’s Winter was coming. That Spring would come and our Ransom-Payer would arise, with healing in His wings. Every year, they kept repeating the promise to come:

Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
 The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.

~ Isaiah 60:1-3, NKJV ~

And with the world-shaking rising of that Ransom-Payer, Death was crushed, Despair was led away captive, Pain lost it’s sting.

Maybe you marvel at a God of Love who can allow us to hurt and sin.

I marvel at a God of Love who Took our hurt and Became our sin.

So when the pain keeps coming and the ache crushes all of your breath away, there is a higher place you can go than just looking at the Springtime.  All the new life in the world won’t help you if your heart keeps dwelling in the death.

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

~ 2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV ~

You can go to the one that is the Spring rising in our hearts, that is the Light after the Winter’s dark.

 “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

~ Hebrews 6:17-20, ESV ~

Because Jesus lives, we can face tomorrow.

Fearless, Faithful, Knowing, Confident. Standing in His Love, by His Power, through His blood.

Because we have been redeemed, Spring is our daily reality.

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.

~1 Peter 1:3-9, CEB ~

Amen.