That Very Winter by Mia Hinkle
She came bearing gifts. Timeless treasures wrapped in heavy brown paper with little clods of black soil mixed up with dry bulbs and withered stems. That warm autumn weekend we turned the hard clay soil in my yard and planted irises and day lilies and peonies that had been dug up from her garden and her mother’s garden over 600 miles away.
That very winter, she died.
And in the spring those purple irises and yellow day lilies and scarlet peonies accessorized my yard with the same splashes of color that had dressed up my childhood home.
Was there some internal clock that whispered to my mother that it was time to dig under her cutting garden? A garden she had tended since I could remember. She was known as the “flower lady” at church because she made sure there were flowers on the altar every Sunday. Sometimes they came from her own garden and sometimes they came from the local florist, but one thing was clear. She loved how God could talk to us through flowers.
At her funeral we handed out more than 400 flower seed packets to everyone there. Ten years later, people still send us pictures in Christmas cards of the perennials that come up every year from those little seed packets.
My mother loved the earth. She loved the soil. She loved the work and the sweat and the sore muscles that came along with tending her garden. She loved the idea that the hard thing you do today almost always blooms into something beautiful in time.
She loved the fact that, if we let it, our future has more of an impact on our actions, than our past does. She knew that last summer’s flowers were gone and forgotten by fall. It’s the season to come she had on her mind when she started to page through those seed catalogs every January. Then she would begin with the work of it. Enriching the soil with real horse manure. Slipping the seeds in just right. Pulling out the weeds that would strangle. Keeping the water just so, not too much – not too little.
She always learned a little something from last year’s mistakes, but it was the anticipated season that kept her out there on hands and knees, with dirty hands and aching back.
The connection with the land runs deep in our family. My grandparents were farmers. My dad was a farmer. My uncles were farmers. My sister married a farmer. My brother and his sons love to escape their day jobs to help my brother-in-law with planting and harvest.
There is a rhythm, a very heartbeat within some people that resonates with the earth. The ebb and flow of the cycle of life, of sacrifice and reward, of death and rebirth, is a constant reminder of the power of God in the universe. A reminder of the fortitude and strength and foresight it takes to continue to do the hard thing on the inkling that something wonderful will result in time, even though all you may see right now is dirt and sweat.
Giving birth is a hard thing. Babies are born into or out of all kinds of circumstances: a loving home, a back seat romance, a lifeless marriage, a torrid affair, a violent rape, cultural obligation, too little money, too much money, the list goes on. But that little egg and sperm couldn’t care less. They just join up and take hold. He begins to grow regardless of the circumstance of his conception. Mysteriously life makes a way … and he just holds on. No mistakes. No accidents in the eyes of God. Yes, giving birth is a hard thing, but almost always that new life blooms into something beautiful in time.
This year we met the birthmother of our oldest son. Talk about doing the hard thing with little expectation of seeing the blossom of it. When she signed those papers and held him for the last time in the hospital when he was just three days old, I am sure it didn’t feel heroic or selfless. It just felt like she was doing a very hard thing. And then she had to wait 18 years to see the beautiful blossom her baby boy had become. When she signed those papers and the nurse lifted him from her arms, she must have had blind faith in a better future for him. What was done was done and over and in the past, but she held his future in her hands … along with that pen.
My mother was right. Again! The future does impact our actions more than our past does. The hard thing you do today does bloom into something beautiful in time. My mother was right because she was listening to what God can tell us through the flowers.