Every spring, I sound a bit like my dad as he prepared to ‘go to the field.’ I pay attention to the falling rain, the thawing ground, and warming temperatures. I get excited to dig my fingers in the dirt and plant some new life outside. While my livelihood doesn’t depend upon whether my flowers live or die, I baby them as if it did.
Except this year. The weather was just so unseasonably warm; it taunted me. I found myself (well actually, I drove myself) to Goebberts to buy flowers for my pots. While I knew it was too early to plant in the ground (never before Mother’s Day), it was the perfect afternoon to start my pots.
Because my eyes have historically been bigger than my ‘acreage,’ I actually listed each and every pot and then crossed it off my list when I had picked its flowers. Dahlias, lantana, petunias, strawflowers, alyssum. Check. Check. Check. Stay focused. Avoid the vegetables. Avoid any more perennials. Just flowers for my pots.
And then I ‘just happened’ to walk down the zinnia aisle. ‘Not yet,’ I told myself. About a week too early. But, then I caved. I found a few remaining packs of the State Fair variety at the end of the table. For those of you who don’t know the magic of State Fair zinnias, they are about 36″ tall, brave, study, and absolutely brilliant! They can hold their own all summer with the best of the perennials!
These are mine from 2011 waving alongside the daisies, coneflowers, and black-eyed Susans.
The more I picked, the more they bloomed. They were my absolute favorite flower in the garden! I loved watching them wave from outside through the window and smile from vases in my kitchen.
Obviously their secret got out because last year, State Fair zinnias were no where to be found. I called every local nursery and every one said the same thing, “They sell as fast as we can get them.” I resorted to something just short of pleading, but they didn’t seem to care when I whined that my garden wouldn’t be the same without them.
So, this year, I was NOT going to pass by these little packs. The little conversation I had with myself in my head went something like this.
“They’d be strong in a frost, right?”
“What exactly is too early anyway?”
“What if I can’t find them later?”
“I could always cover them up!”
“The weather seems to be a bit messed up anyway. It won’t freeze.”
After I planted my pots, I tucked my tender prizes in the garden. I quieted my nagging feeling that the timing was a bit off. After all, I was sweating up a storm!
I think we all know where this is going.
The frost warning, well, actually the severe frost warning, came just a few days later. Even though I walked barefoot through my chilly yard late Mother’s Day evening, I fought my urge to get a sheet and cover them. They’d be fine. They’re strong. They’ve got perennials surrounding them.
When I came downstairs the following morning, I knew immediately I’d let them down.
The grass in my backyard was white and stiff with frost. Wearing my flip flops, I gingerly made my way to the zinnia bed. Sure enough, they were covered with white. Already their green was turning to brown. They were hanging their tender heads. I felt like I needed to apologize.
In that moment, I learned a very important lesson about the season of spring.
New growth is tender.
I’ve always focused on the sprouting and the blooming and the greening of springtime.
I’ve overlooked the fragility and the tenderness and the vulnerability of that same season.
Knowing that God was showing me something very important as I stood over my stunned and dying zinnias, I listened more closely.
It is true. Most life starts out tender and vulnerable. We touch a newborn baby as if he or she might break. In fact, Ron’s first words when he saw our firstborn son were, “Can I touch him?”
We see a baby lamb struggle to stand. We wince when we see another aqua blue robin’s egg smashed on the sidewalk. We hope the neighbor’s dog doesn’t trample our new sod or run through the springtime garden.
All creation shouts that new life is tender. Does it stop there?
I’m beginning to think that whenever we begin something new, our hearts are uniquely exposed. Tender. Vulnerable. We aren’t quite rooted enough to withstand any untimely ‘frost.’
A new position at work. A brand new friendship. Words written and seen by others for the first time. A new marriage. A new baby. A new school.
The list could go on. I’ve got a hunch that in the newness of most things, we are strongly in need of encouragement. We need “You can do it!” instead of the “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”
How many times did someone I love need a kind and considerate word and instead I callously covered them with icy, damaging words? Have I damaged far more than State Fair zinnias? I so long to avoid that damage in the future.
The good news is that Goebberts got another shipment of State Fair zinnias in yesterday. I have a flat of them in my backyard, and I’m ready to plant again.
That’s the glory of grace. We get a new chance every day to speak words of encouragement to people around us. Let’s be on the lookout for someone who is tenderly entering into something new and see how we can be a small part of their growing and blooming.