A few weeks ago, on a warm July afternoon, our family drove to the lake for a weekend away. I normally want to get to the lake quickly, but on this particular day, I enjoyed every moment of the hour-and-a-half-long trip.
It was because of the flowers.
July days on this particular route always make me smile because of the flowers.
Every July, the same beautiful wildflowers pop up in Iowa ditches — tiger lilies, Queen Anne’s Lace, and blooms whose names I do not yet know. July’s ditch flowers remind me of my friend Trish. If you’ve read any of my books, you know that Trish is an important part of my life. She’s made her way onto the pages of every book I’ve ever written.
She died a little more than six months ago, after a battle with cancer, and that still seems impossible to me.
The thing you must know about Trish is that she, herself, was like a ditch flower — showing up to make the most ordinary places more beautiful and vivid. She made us dance in the church aisles, compelled us to do unreasonable things that we would never think to do on our own, had more creativity in her pinkie than I do in my whole body, and had an irreverent sense of humor that I couldn’t get enough of.
Several years ago on a July afternoon, Trish and I drove along gravel roads to pick wildflowers from the ditches. She thought it would be a great way to decorate the tables for a Friday night supper at our church. There’s something about bringing God’s beauty inside of God’s house that feels good and holy.
But the same God who created pretty flowers in ditches, also created snakes who like to slither through those ditches. (I’m not one to judge God’s decisions, but if I were Noah, I would have left the snakes off the ark.)
You see, I am terrified of snakes so I didn’t want to walk down with Trish into the tall grass to cut the flowers.
Trish was having none of it. “You’re getting out of the car, and we are going to do this. It will be worth it.”
“Fine,” I said.
Trish always had a way of making me do things I wouldn’t do otherwise. I could never say no to Trish’s special brand of “peer pressure.”
So I got out of the car and starting picking, and while we were down in the ditch, she helped me discover the intricate detail of Queen Anne’s Lace. Until that moment, I had never noticed. After our picking, Trish and I went back to the church and arranged all the flowers in glass vases on the tables. And she was right: It was worth it.
I miss so many things about her, including the way she bossed me around and the way she saw beauty in unexpected places. Her eye for God’s beauty reminds me of the psalmists, who often drew our attention to the way that God speaks through budding flowers and flitting birds and snow-capped mountains and dazzling sunsets.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Psalm 96:12 (NIV)
So when I saw those ditch flowers on our way to the lake, I thought of Trish mile after mile. I said out loud to one of our daughters, “Trish would have never let me drive past all of these flowers. She would be making me stop the car, get in the ditch, and pick them.”
My daughter 110% agreed.
But I didn’t stop. I drove on to the lake.
A few hours later, our older daughter’s college friends showed up at the lake for a planned weekend together with our family. When Reagan from Wisconsin walked in, our daughter Anna called me into the kitchen. “Mom, you’ve got to see this.”
Reagan had brought us a huge bouquet of the same flowers I had been admiring all the way to the cabin — the same flowers Trish had introduced me to.
Tears sprang to my eyes. Reagan had no idea what I had been thinking. She didn’t know Trish or how my heart still aches with grief. Reagan told me she simply saw the flowers, felt a nudge to pick them, and then made her friend turn the car around so she could hop down in the ditch and borrow beauty offered up by our generous earth.
I’ve been reading Braiding Sweetgrass lately, and in the book, author Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “Our indigenous herbalists say to pay attention when plants come to you; they’re bringing you something you need to learn.”
That day, a bouquet of flowers was my teacher. I needed to re-learn something I had re-forgotten: God uses ordinary things to show us His extraordinary kindness.
I don’t know what some people think about things like that. But I believe that God is so specific in His kindness to us that He orchestrates the tiniest details, letting us know He sees and cares about us. So often we miss His gifts of kindness because we are racing through life, missing the beauty right in front of us (or right beside us in the ditches of life).
What ditch do you find yourself in today? What place in your life seems bereft of color? How has God whispered His specific kindness to you through a certain shade of sky, a flower, a cardinal, a feather floating on the breeze? Maybe these things are God’s way of “bringing you something you need to learn.” Let’s take some time in the coming days to slow down and look for the ways God uses the created world to remind us how very much we’re loved.
If God cares so wonderfully for flowers … he will certainly care for you.
Luke 12:28 (NLT)