Hope and Beautiful Things

It’s always one of the most tender part of my spring, the blooming of our magnolia tree, a passage of seasons I mark each year. To be sure, I do love that tree, both for what it has represented in my life as well as the unabashed splendor it displays while covered in giant white-pink saucers of blooming flowers.

The tree has just one fault–it drops all those gorgeous petals.

It makes a giant mess and, in the process, becomes decidedly unbeautiful.

It reminds me of our time spent living in northern Maine. Winters there were notorious and protracted, with snow often falling during eight months of the year and snowbanks that didn’t weep their final farewells until June. The first signs of spring were much coveted and long awaited, but each year as the early shoots of green appeared, they were quickly replaced by an ubiquitous layer of sticky brown dirtying everything in sight. Mud–the fifth season of northern Maine. Just when you think beautiful weather is on the horizon, everything looks like death again.

Such as it is with my tree, albeit our midwest winters aren’t nearly as tiresome. I look forward to its beauty every year, but before I know it, my lawn is a mess and the tree looks dead and brown and bare again.  Blah.

Of course, it’s not dead, just like spring is never destroyed by a little mud.  But it can do a surprisingly good imitation between blooming and leafing.

Hope, I’m finding, is much the same.  We struggle through difficult situations and seasons, thrilled when the first displays of relief appear. Much like my magnolia tree in full bloom, that relief can be quite breathtaking, as it was for me when after five years, we finally saw two pink lines on a pregnancy test. Other times, it’s more like the first shoots of green grass in the northern Maine spring, barely peeking up above the surface of a difficult winter but beautiful just the same

But sometimes, hope fades–the petals fall or the mud covers, and everything looks dead again.  And then, it feels like we’re back where we started, but this time we have no idea where we’ll end up. We saw those pink lines during four different pregnancies before we ever brought home our rainbow baby.  Or my dear, sweet, terribly colicky Jude. He teased us many a time with a few consecutive full nights of sleep, only to land squarely back into the “wake up 6 times a night” crazy-making phase for no reason.

This is where I’ve been lately with my anxiety and depression–unexpectedly slipping backward into territory I thought I’d covered already. More days than not, I’ve been finding my heart pounding and mind racing without even knowing why.  How is it that I’m almost 40 and I still feel like I’m a newbie when it comes to emotional management??? I wonder. I’ve done All The Things…the reading, the journaling, the exercise, the meditation, the medication, the counseling. I thought I had more coping strategies than this. I thought I’d done this before and learned some lessons. I thought this wouldn’t be so hard anymore!

I often get stuck here, too discouraged to hope any longer. I’m ashamed to realize my inner dialogue often goes something like this: You thought things were finally looking up. How ridiculous! Don’t you know the other shoe always drops? The petals always fall. Good things don’t last forever! 

Blah.

Tahd’s work took him to Brazil this month, and while he was gone, my mother generously offered to keep my kids on many of the evenings so I could have a bit of a reprieve.  Since my my parents only live a few doors away, I traipsed back and forth through the mess of fallen magnolia petals to and from their house many times during those nine days.

I’m not sure, but I suspect several neighbors find the fallen petals a nuisance. If they had their druthers, I’m sure a magnolia tree wouldn’t be anywhere in their landscaping designs because of the colossal mess, and understandably so. For some people, the mess isnt worth it. The beauty is short, the mess is huge, and it can be quite a bother.

But it’s worth it to me. I deal with the petals because I know they mean something to me.  The mess is temporary; in a few short weeks, the tree won’t look dead anymore, but will rather explode in vibrant greens, creating a canopy of happy shade over our front yard.  The tree will be strong and mature, beautiful in a new way.

Just because something looks like it’s taking a few steps backward doesn’t mean it necessarily is. My tree needs to shed its blossoms to make way for leaves. That’s life, too; sometimes, good and beautiful beginnings dissolve to make way for stronger, more mature growth that can go the distance.  The interim is not always pretty, but it’s not a reason for discouragement. It’s all part of the process.

That’s exactly what hope is–a process. A roller coaster, even. True hope is much grittier than the sweet, fluffy and frilly thing we imagine it to be. It’s tired and uncertain. It wears the pads of your fingers bare while you hold on with all your might, all the while believing that even though everything looks barren–again–energy and vigor still teem within, readying to unfurl their vibrant, mature beauty at the right time.

This is what I’m telling myself right now. When things are no longer picture-perfect or seem to be regressing, don’t lose hope, Heidi. What looks bleak one day may be making way for a beautiful, new growth in your life that takes you into your next stage of maturity.

It reminds me of a line in Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet:

 

If you’re in a dark, confusing or backward season, don’t lose hope, friend. We may not see the resolution from where we stand now, but we can be sure that just as in nature, the things taking place under the surface and just out of our view will continue to propel us toward progress and maturity.

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