Funny how a single sentence can stop you in your tracks instantly crumbling the edifice of how you define reality. I can still hear her beautiful soft voice on the phone and feel the strain of trying to catch her quiet words: “Lancia, the baby doesn’t have a heart beat any more.”
I’ve been here before and I’ve 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 flatten faster than a deflated balloon. The baby doesn’t have a heart beat anymore. She was seven and a half months pregnant. I’ve loved her like a daughter since the first time I laid eyes on her seven years ago. I have invested in her with love and friendship, been with her through the last days of being single, then married. I was there with her through the birth of her first son “ Peter and I are honoured to be his god parents. A few years later we welcomed his brother into our lives. We’ve prayed over them all for years, in public and in private. Our lives and our hearts are entwined with them in ways that we can’t even see on a daily basis. We forfeited the immunity from their pain when we chose to love them. The bitterness of their pain becomes part of the drink we share along the sweetness of their life’s victories.
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. You probably know exactly what I am talking about. 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. I pulled up to the house and caught a fleeting glimpse of something on my front steps. I parked the car and came around and there it was.
A battered brown box clearly labeled from White Flower Farm. For many years, spring has begun for me in the fall with brown paper bags holding bulbs from White Flower Farm. Six weeks earlier this year 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 can get in our own beds even though I truly tried to be restrained in the selections. 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 and I’m getting tense. I’m waiting every day with a stifled sense of dread for the first frosts and then the quiet anguish I always feel of the ground freezing over. It’s Colorado after all and I can feel time running out.
A battered box literally sitting on my door step like a solid, tangible, intimately significant message from God to me. He knows 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 yesterday. Two days sooner or weeks sooner and the need would not have been met like it would arriving this day. He knew that and took care that it should arrive on time.
I opened the box this morning. Inside they all wait “ hundreds of homely little papery brown bundles that mysteriously contain something else altogether. They look like nothing of 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 don’t look like the beautiful white tulips and fragrant daffodils that I bought them for now but they contain that beauty most certainly. I can’t just open the box for the flowers I want. I will have to work for them and 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. Wait for Spring.
But months from now they will come back to me. No longer what I put in the ground, they will push their way to the surface called by the warmth of the sun. 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 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.
Not until now have I ever noticed quite so sharply the similarity of an individual’s death to bulb planting or 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, that 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. I never thought about the fact that He, too, longs for His beautiful plantings to emerge and like us — with us — waits in Hope.
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