Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Life Lessons from a Flower Bud

My mom used to always say that “anticipation is half the fun.” I never understood what she meant, until I became an adult. I soon realized that it is the anticipation of what is to come that propels us through life sometimes. It is the waiting, the dreaming and the yearning for something that makes its arrival only that much sweeter.
  Perhaps the event I most anticipate is Spring. With the start of the frigid winter weather this week, I already know that around mid-January, I will be longing for signs of spring, a promise that there will brighter days ahead after a cold, rainy winter. There is one magnificent flower bush in particular that I especially watch all during the dreary, rainy winter months. It sits near our house, and I pass by it frequently.  Even before winter begins, it already cradles an array of delicate buds. Without fail, it is the very first flower to burst through  and display its pink radiance. It happens around late February, although around late January the buds that sit so dormant all winter begin to anxiously swell. In fact, I can almost feel the energy in the air when I walk by them; it is like trying to hold back a valiant racehorse from rushing out of the starting gates too soon.  Every time I walk past those buds, I glance at them, and it reassures me that even though the winter seems interminable, there is something beautiful ahead. They sit, all nestled together, enduring the wind, the sleet, and the darkness. They just exist; not noticed by most, but to me they are truly a hope I watch and wait for with eager anticipation.
And because I wait so long for them, their brilliance excites me just the same each year. They symbolize renewal and growth, and a fresh start. They are a longing satisfied. Their raw, dewy scent refreshes the staleness that collects within me.  They are my prize, for never losing faith that they would indeed bloom. They dazzle the neighborhood for but a few weeks;  but too soon their edges start to wither. They crumble inward; the life in them tumbles to the ground below. I want to hold on to them, because I waited so many months for their arrival. But I know that they must die, because if they didn’t, they couldn’t grow again. And I wouldn’t have anything to anticipate. 
And anticipation is half the fun. 
What then would I have to assure me that winter will not last forever?

Now I wasn't planning on getting philosophical in this entry today, but I see life in metaphors. Therefore, this metaphor just popped out to me....so here I go:
 If it were not for the death of something, how could something new begin to grow? If it were not for the sad good-byes, how could we anticipate the reunion again? It is important to remember that whatever we are anticipating or dreaming about, we are experiencing the joy of it right at that moment. The attainment of it can often times be a let down! What consumed our thoughts for so long is finally fulfilled; and we have vacant thoughts, and empty space. So, what I am saying, is that we must remember to enjoy the moments of anticipation, because it is this that propels us forward. 

Wilting and tumbling to the ground below, these flowers are gone before spring even begins. However, as I peer down in the crevice between a single leaf and its connection to the branch, I notice a very small notch. It is barely observable, unless a person knows what they are looking for. 
But I know what it is. And I will wait. For I am already excited by the beauty of it. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Unexpected Reunion

Sometimes there are events in life that are too coincidental to be coincidental.

 Such an event happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was visiting family in the Chicago area, celebrating my Grandma’s 75th birthday. During the week, she and I had lunch together. We were discussing various topics; and, as I so often do, I asked my Grandma about her life. My Grandmother has experienced so much; the birth of five kids; the tragic loss of her husband; caring for her mother after a stroke; being a Grandma to her 13 grandkids... So many years. So many joys, and so many sorrows.  My Grandma always emphasizes that life is but a collection of seasons. Sometimes when we are going through a period of time—perhaps a rigorous job, a season of waiting, or a dark depression—that season seems as if it will last forever. But soon enough, our situation suddenly changes—we marry, we change jobs, we move—and the seemingly interminable past is but, well, a memory. It’s amazing actually that a circumstance could be so all consuming and then suddenly, it’s over.
I began to reflect about my recent transition from being a full time classroom teacher to now working part time. The past five years have been a whirlwind of grading papers, planning lessons and teaching hundreds of students.  My life was my profession. I was a teacher. I knew nothing else, and I believed that I would always be this. Because if I was not this, who was I? And to be honest, the transition has caused me to examine my life and what difference the past five years has made.
 I sat for a moment, stirring the white cream into my dark coffee. “I wonder if any of those kids ever think of me anymore…” 
All those hours, those days, those moments spent together and then all of a sudden, it’s done. And they move on. And I move on. And here I am now, having lunch with my Grandma in a restaurant in a small suburb of Chicago, on this blustery November afternoon, wondering if all those days ever made a difference.

Later that night, my family wanted to grab a bite to eat. After our dinner, someone suggested ice cream. ICE CREAM! On a cold November night such as this?!! As we pulled out of the parking lot, I tried to convince my Dad that I did not want to go to the store to get ice cream. But traffic was unusually bad for that time of night, and it seemed we would be waiting forever to turn left out of the parking lot towards home. “Let’s just turn right and go get that ice cream,” my Dad declared, suddenly navigating the vehicle to the right. 
We parked, exited the car and entered the deserted grocery store. I scanned the aisles of flavors, not finding the seasonal flavors of pumpkin or gingerbread that I so loved. I decided to check the end cap and made my way to the end of the freezer section. As I examined the end freezer for a suitable holiday selection, I sensed that someone was staring at me. I turned and saw a perplexed young woman. “MRS. PATTON??!!” she shrieked in utter disbelief as she started trotting down the aisle way towards me. 
“Country?!!!” I quizzically answered back.
In Portland, being such a small “big city”, I am always ready to run into a former student or parent and snap back into “Mrs. Patton-teacher-mode.” Here, however, I NEVER think about accidentally running into a student. So I was completely confused and caught off-guard when my student from five years ago embraced me in the grocery store in Chicago on this chilly November night. “I am a freshman at Wheaton College now,” she explained. “Time goes so fast, doesn't it?"
I was so surprised to see my little 8th grade student transformed now into a young, independent woman; I couldn’t think of what to say!

“Mrs. Patton, I was JUST thinking about you the other day. We were writing poetry in class, and I thought about the time you took us out to that field in 8th grade to write haikus.” 
Suddenly, her parents came traipsing around the corner. Apparently, it was parent weekend at Wheaton College, and they flew in from Portland to visit.
“Good to see you again, Mrs. Patton." Her father shook my hand.  "Thank you for preparing my daughter so well in your class. You made a difference in her life.” 
After a few more moments of reminiscing about the days in my 8th grade Language Arts class and hearing about all that she is doing at college, we parted ways; I didn’t even realize that my pumpkin ice cream was melting down the side of the carton in my shaking hands.

And I didn’t want to go to the grocery store to get ice cream that night.

I truly believe that the purpose for that trip that night was not to get ice cream. I believe that sometimes God wants to delight us; sometimes there are meetings timed so perfectly that they could only be divinely orchestrated, such as this one.
That conversation I had with my Grandma just that afternoon suddenly came flooding back to me. “I wonder if any of those kids even remember me…”

“Mrs. Patton, I was just thinking about you the other day!”

God gives us what we need when we need it. Sometimes he gives us things that we didn’t even know we needed, just to bless us. Sometimes he gives us a message through someone else.   That is why we really don’t know what our words, our actions and even our smile may mean to someone else. Perhaps we pass that person, or talk to that person not by mere chance, but because we have a blessing to deliver. And you many never know it. 

And you might wonder if what you do day after day after day is really worth it…

And then, one cold November night, you could be browsing the ice cream aisle, and God decides he wants to tell you it was.