Last fall my husband surprised me with a gift of tulip and daffodil bulbs. 745 bulbs to be exact. Apparently, the greenhouse at the college where he teaches had been unable to sell this part of their stock and was tossing them. Now my husband comes from a long line of bargain finders and treasure hunters, so it was impossible for him to pass up the opportunity to bring them ALL home for less than twenty dollars.
Truth be told, I was a bit overwhelmed by the five heaped boxes he lugged into the house, and for weeks those flower bulbs sat undisturbed in the office because I never had the spare time for planting. I cringed whenever I saw them and was reminded of the massive job that lay ahead.
December crept up and as the weather grew progressively colder, I knew that I had all but lost any window for planting. But one beautiful morning I woke to find a bright sun warming the earth to above 60 degrees. This was the day for bulbs.
My husband and I dressed our three kids in their coveralls, helped them pull on their muddy boots and headed outside with jackets unzipped and flapping in the warm breeze. It had rained for three days that week, so the ground was damp and soft. I began opening little packages of bulbs and mixing colors while Dan headed to get Harry Baker.
Harry Baker is a family heirloom garden tool, and the only garden tool I have yet come across that is named. It is a pole about five feet tall with a flattened chisel shaped nose on one end. All told, it weighs about forty pounds. Pop Kline, my husband’s 84-year-old West Virginian mountain man grandfather, had a friend forge it from a discarded coal mine drill shaft. It has been used primarily for busting rocks and prying boulders, but that day it was our tulip planter.
Thankfully my husband is well over six feet tall and strong enough to wield Harry Baker. With a single stroke he could dig a hole. One stroke per bulb and over seven hundred bulbs. My husband and Harry Baker made quick work of the digging and I passed the bulbs to my eager children as they wiggled the onion like seeds into the holes, nose up, and then rushed to me for more.
Together we closed the dirt back around the bulbs, stamping the earth firm. Some of us hooted like warriors and danced wildly on top of the bulbs to make sure they were securely covered. Others of us gently patted the ground and whispered encouraging words like, “Sleep well little bulb! See you in the spring!” I gave both methods a try and each seemed to do the trick.
It took five of us working straight for three hours, two days in a row, to plant all seven hundred bulbs. It was dirty, exhausting and discouraging.
When we were done, all we had to show for all that work was a box full of dried bulb peelings and a pile of empty and torn packages. The kids and my husband were caked in mud, but the yard didn’t look any different. Harry Baker’s holes were nearly invisible, and the ground was just as barren and brown as it had been before.
That evening when we gathered at the kitchen table for supper, we all gazed out of the windows smiling. Because we knew.
We knew that spring was coming!
We imagined how beautiful the yellow daffodils would be, springing up like golden crowns around the trunks of bare trees. We imagined pulling into the long gravel driveway lined with orange and red bursts of living color. We imagined walking up the cobblestone walkway lined with purple butlers to welcome us home.
First, though, we had to wait through the long hard months of winter. Weeks of rain, snow and ice came long before the flowers.
But isn’t that always the way of things? The struggle comes before victory. Barrenness before beauty. Labor before life. The cross before the crown.
Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Suffering before glory.
Winter dragged on and day after day my children looked at the languishing land and asked, “How long will it take? Why haven’t they come yet?” I smiled as they unwittingly voiced this universal longing of the Christian heart. “How long oh Lord? Maranatha!”
I answered them with words that answer both our questions, “Soon. Very soon. But we must wait for the right time.” My children nodded solemnly. They are becoming familiar with this concept of expectant anticipation. And as they learn to wait eagerly for spring flowers, their hearts are being shaped to eagerly anticipate the things that God has prepared for them.
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
1 Corinthians 2:9
One day, after months of waiting, my five-year-old rushed past the kitchen window and into the mudroom shouting. “A flower! Mommy, I’ve found a flower!” She grabbed my hand and pulled me to a sheltered spot close to the house. Sure enough, there was a conquering spike of green pressing through the frozen ground!
It was the first of many.
Every day now we discover more and more stiff green leaves rising defiantly around our yard. Life conquers death! The unimaginable has happened!