In week three of Covid-19 quarantine, my soul longed for the sight of flowers blooming. Any sign of spring would do. Since stay-at-home orders began, gray clouds painted the sky and the sun made a few cameo appearances. The unseasonably cold temperatures snuffed out the life of my daffodils which were meant to pop out of the ground and bring a daily smile to my face.
As I stared out my window onto the would-be daffodils, I could feel the tears well up in my eyes.
Why am I crying? It’s just flowers.
And then the ugly cry began. Waterfalls of tears pour out as if released from a dam. It felt cathartic, and yet unnerving. In the silence I noted that nothing is as it should be right now. Grief flooded my soul.
A friend asked for prayer as her friend died from Covid-19. My parents’ business of 35 years closed its doors and they wait to see if it might re-open. My friend’s son — who eagerly anticipated the last quarter of his senior year in college — had to quickly pack up his belongings and move back home. There would be no final cheering on of the basketball team, no last traditions with friends, and no graduation ceremony. The conference I planned to lead in two weeks suddenly shifted to online meetings. The disruption of routine caused by isolation created confusion for my mother-in-law suffering from dementia. My Asian American friend worried when her husband’s trip to the grocery store took longer than expected. Was he another victim of hatred and violence against those of Asian descent? The pains aren’t “out there” somewhere belonging to strangers. This catastrophe has moved into my life and surrounded those that I love.
Eventually the sobbing slowed down and the yard came into focus through my watery tears. I noticed that piles of dead leaves had smothered my flowerbeds, just as grief had buried my heart.
Dissatisfaction began to bubble within me. I rolled up my sleeves and determined to clean out the flowerbeds. The daffodils may be lost this spring, but surely there are other flowers waiting to emerge.
I eagerly slipped into my pink Crocs, grabbed my pruning clippers, and headed out to the garden. Stirrings of hope and anticipation swirled in my gut. I searched for life in the midst of the hard, dried up foliage from last fall. I started by trimming back a few gangly hydrangea plants. I even video-called Rhonda, my expert gardener friend, to help me snip just the right stems to create the most life possible.
“My hostas are already starting to sprout. I’m surprised yours aren’t here yet,” Rhonda noted. My heart sank. I wanted sprouts!
Pointing the phone camera to the mound of sticks and leaves, I sighed. “Nothing here. No daffodils. No hostas. No blooms.”
She replied, “You are supposed to clean out all those leaves and sticks. It will make room for the plants to grow.”
A wave of anticipation brewed inside of me. I hung up the phone and dug through the muddy leaves. As I cleared out the winter debris, I spotted several green and purple stalks poking through the soil. There they are! Hosta buds! New life is coming!
I proceeded to spend the next hour searching for life in the midst of the winter rubble. I became fixated on finding more signs of spring.
Why did I feel like a dog searching for a bone, digging incessantly in the dirt to search for stalks? This seemed a bit out of control for what the situation called for.
As I continued to poke around the dirt for sprouts, I felt reassurance that hope still existed. I ached for encouragement that miracles still happened in these weeks of death, loss, and hatred.
Cognitively, I know Christ is on the throne and God is at work, but in these anxious weeks, it’s easy to lose sight of this truth. I am reminded that I need to intentionally search for big and small miracles. I want to discipline myself to look for God’s hand in my life and in the world. Jesus tells us that all we need is faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, and he can grow it into a full-size fruit-bearing tree. Gratitude is the fertilizer for such seeds of faith.
During quarantine, I have discovered not only stalks in the dirt, but gratitude for my community. I have felt deeper connections with family and friends as we reach out to one another on Zoom calls. I am blessed by the care package the neighborhood kids dropped off, complete with yellow hearts (to stick in our windows) which symbolize unity. While I would have preferred to lead the staff conference in person, our staff team and presenters adapted well and God gave us extra measures of creativity. I am encouraged by the thoughtfulness of university ministers, staff, and faculty friends who have gone out of their way to acknowledge their graduating senior students. Some have even sent care packages complete with confetti and balloons.
I am thankful for God’s words of promise in the midst of turmoil. I reflect daily, and even hourly at times, on Psalm 40:6, “Be still and know that I am God.” It grounds me in the chaos. It always points me back to God and back to hope.
In these times of so many life-taking events, we need to fervently find life-giving moments. These moments point to a God of hope who understands suffering. He is still present and still at work. It may take some effort on our part, and there may be a lot of dead leaves piled up, but we can roll up our sleeves and start digging. We may need to grab a shovel and put our full weight into it. It will likely be messy, but let’s not give up. It’s a choice to move toward hope and find life. We may just find a sprout.