At the beginning of Advent, I planted bulbs, two handfuls of paperwhites and few amaryllis. I have been doing this every year for over 25 years. I like watching them take root and delight as they send out tentative leaves testing the air of Advent. All of this in preparation for the big show of blooms breaking out just as Christmas arrives. Pops of gaudy, bold colors from the amaryllis, uncompromising in their need to stand up and stand out. They remind me of how those angels burst into the darkness and lit up the night sky over Bethlehem long ago. The sweet, strong smell of the paperwhites hint at God’s pervasive love. When you walk into a room you can’t help but smell those tiny little blooms. Their audacious scent permeates everything; they aren’t as showy as the amaryllis, but they are powerful. God’s love and grace are like that. My little bulbs brought so much joy and were beautiful this year. They were a perfect part of my Christmas tradition and came into bloom at just the right time.
All of them except one.
The other bulbs followed an expected pattern and were right on time. This one was planted in the same conditions – same light, same temperature, same soil as all the rest. Nothing happened. There have been several times when I thought, this one is a dud. As I was cleaning up and putting away Christmas, I considered just throwing it on the compost pile. But I didn’t. I kept waiting and kept tending. I thought, well maybe just a little longer. Week after week, waiting. You could see the little plant struggling – sending out leaves that didn’t grow long enough to flop over, a stalk that would grow an inch or two and then stop.
And then tonight, on the eve of Lent.
I came home from work to a bloom. This little plant waited until Shrove Tuesday to finally let it’s colors unfurl. It just makes me smile. After a valiant struggle that took 9 weeks longer than all the others, finally, this amaryllis came into it’s own – a cause for celebration.
I am so grateful for this lesson at the start of Lent. There are dreams and hopes that were expected long ago. They were surrounded by anticipation and longing but nothing happened. With patience and care, a vigil was kept, but the question loomed. How do you know when a dream is dead? Maybe, just maybe, there is a bloom yet to come. Maybe some dreams just take longer. Maybe we are called into a season of watching and tending without certainty but plenty of hope. Maybe our Advent expectations are preparing us for a Lenten blooming that grows out of dust and dirt and ashes.