As we left my mother in law’s home the other night, she motioned to the door and reminded us to take the Tupperware containers filled with leftover food. Sitting next to the bounty sat a lovely vase, filled with deep red flowers, some blooming, some still to come. I looked at her and asked, “Are we supposed to take these too?”
She smiled and said, “Yes! You gave those to me.”
Confused, I smiled back and said, “I gave these to you? I don’t remember giving these to you.”
“Yes, for Easter. I planted them over there and over there.”
My memory scrolled back a couple of months, and I couldn’t remember giving these to her for Easter.
And then I had a memory of my oldest daughter in her Easter dress, carrying a plant to brunch and handing it to my mother law. The youth group had sold these plants that year for a fund raiser.
My daughter was probably 8 or 9 on that Easter. She is now 20.
As my mother in law saw the recollection surface, she looked at me with knowing eyes and said, “They are pretty, right?”
My mother in law is Korean and has never fully embraced the English language. And yet, she communicates some things better to me than any English-speaking person I know.
I hugged the vase and said, “Yes. They are beautiful. You planted them?”
She raised her hand and waved to the left and to the right and said, “Yes. A lot of places.”
As I walked into my kitchen the next morning and saw the flowers brightening the room, I was struck by the longevity of this flower, simply because my mother in law took the time to plant the gift we had given to her.
I am quite sure that I bought some of those flowers from the youth group that year too, and they most likely dried up on my kitchen counter and got tossed in one of my feverish attempts to clean up my clutter. I may have thought about how nice it would be to replant the bulbs, but maybe not.
My mother in law has always believed in the longevity of beauty.
She has always believed in the potential for beauty to grow.
She has always pursued planting something from what she has been given.
She has never complained about the process or the time she has needed to spend cultivating beauty and growth.
Spend enough time with her and you will find her, rain or shine, working in her garden. Clearing the weeds. Making room for life to grow.
But not just in her garden. She has a tender, perceptive heart and has a way of quietly encouraging this same growth in those she loves.
She took a gift that was given to her and did the work necessary to make sure that it multiplied.
I am not sure I really need to write more than that. But of course, I will.
First, I am challenged to think about what I am doing with all that I have been given. I want to honor the gifts the Lord has given me by living with gratitude. What if we took the gifts we have been given and planted them for the sake of beauty and for the opportunity to share them with others? What if we came to understand that we cannot out-give God and when we make the effort to cultivate His gifts and share them with others, there is more than enough. My mother in law took a gift and multiplied it. In doing so, she had more than enough to share and give back and still was able to enjoy the gift as well. On a deeper level, I firmly believe that she knew I needed that gift. She observes and watches and somehow knew that I needed to know that something I had given as a gift had multiplied.
This also challenges me to consider how much I encourage the gifts I see in those I love. We all see beauty in those we love and are often blessed and strengthened when someone takes the time to share beauty with us. Are we encouraging them to grow that beauty? Let’s speak truth to each other. If you see something unique in your friend or your child, encourage it. If you notice that they frequently speak about something they love, ask them questions. Remind them that they have purpose and beauty and the opportunity to make a difference with their unique gifts. Encourage them when they are tired or discouraged, and they feel like cultivating something beautiful or significant is too hard. Walk with them in those moments so that they don’t lose heart. Hand them a metaphorical vase of something they have grown and shared with you. Take the time to tell them. And in doing so, you will be planting and harvesting your own gifts. Amazing how God uses our gifts to bless others, but somehow in His mercy blesses us too when we share them.
Ann Voskamp reminds us of these words in Ephesians: “Only speak words that make souls stronger.” What an incredible difference we can make with our words and actions. Let’s not miss the chance to grow something beautiful.