This week I share a guest blog from a new friend I met through the Flourish Writer's Conference Nancy Lee. She loves to share inspirational stories from people who have overcome difficult circumstances on her blog Inspirational Lee. I was blessed by her beautiful story where she shares about how focusing on lovely flowers during hard times encouraged her soul.
A Ministry of Flowers
By Nancy Lee
“Finally, brothers, . . . whatever is lovely, . . . if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ESV).
I didn’t realize until the last flower had shriveled, and the vase was put away how the lovely flowers surrounding my mother were encouraging her and lifting her spirits during the most challenging season of her life.
When my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer, we gave up our hopes of celebrating her 90th birthday. Her doctor told me she probably wouldn’t make it to Thanksgiving, let alone her birthday the following July.
But God had different plans. Ten and a half months after the diagnosis that had threatened to take her life in a few weeks, Mom made it to the 90-year milestone. Mom was in the later stages of cancer by then, so we kept the celebration simple – a special meal and cake with three daughters, a son, and a son-in-law. And lots of cards and flowers.
Her small apartment was filled with flowers she had received as gifts. Lavender roses, red carnations, blue hydrangeas, and pink Peruvian lilies set in vases on the table in front of the recliner where she spent her days. More flowers covered her kitchen counter.
The flowers lasted for weeks, but little by little, they began to wither and die. When I would come in to care for her during the day, I would weed out the dying ones and rearrange what was left. Finally, she was left with one bouquet, and eventually, with one flower which finally succumbed.
On the day the last flower died, she looked at me with innocent eyes and said, “Where are all my flowers?”
My mother would never have asked for anything for herself, but the cancer had affected her short-term memory, and she had lost the usual filters we have as adults. This is when I realized how much the beauty of the flowers were ministering to her.
There was no explanation I could give her that she would understand or remember, so I went out and bought a bouquet of flowers which I placed on the table in front of her. She responded with a smile. I made sure that she had flowers within her view until the day she passed away weeks later.
Then it was my turn. As I walked to the front of the church at my mother’s funeral, I froze when I realized that I would have to stand next to her casket to give her eulogy. Then I focused on the flowers. The lovely shades of white, pink, and purple blossoms were certainly arrayed more beautifully than “ . . . Solomon in all his glory . . . “ (Matthew 6:29 ESV). Their beauty gave me peace and calmed my spirit.
As I was leaving the catered picnic we had after the funeral, my sister called to me, “Uncle Dub texted me and wanted to make sure someone takes home the arrangement he sent.”
“I left it at the cemetery,” I said, “but I’ll pick it up on the way home. Tell him it is going home with me.”
I stopped at the cemetery and picked up my uncle’s arrangement and another one we had purchased from a florist. I glanced back as I left, pleased at how her grave looked with the spray of flowers that had been on her casket. When I got home, I breathed in the sweet scents of the delicate flowers and gazed at their beauty. I was so thankful for the nudge from my uncle to bring the flowers home.
I spread the flowers out on my dining room table and pulled each stem out of the green floral foam, then I arranged them into separate bouquets and put them in vases. I added the big purple ribbons from the florist to the largest bouquet and placed it on the table in my front entry way. The smaller bouquets I brought back to my mother’s apartment building to give out to her friends.
The days following the funeral were stressful. We had a short period of time to clear out her apartment, so several of us were coming and going, sorting and dividing her treasures, making trips to the thrift store and post office, and filling garbage bags. They were long demanding days, but I would go home each night and be blessed by the beauty and aroma of the flowers that greeted me as I walked in the door.
Finally, we were done with the clean out, and I looked at the few wilted flowers left from my beautiful bouquet. I felt like my mother had when her flowers were gone. “Where are my flowers?” I thought, “I’m still grieving; I’m not ready to be done with them.” So, I went out and bought myself a big bouquet of flowers. I kept a bouquet of fresh flowers on my table all through the winter and into the Spring. And I found many occasions to bless others with flowers as well.
It wasn't until this experience that I realized how focusing on “whatever is lovely,” in this case, in the form of flowers, truly ministers to one’s soul.
As we are now in the season when flowers are blooming all around us, take the time to observe the delicate, fragrant blossoms, and let God minister to you through his lovely creation.
Nancy Lee is a former Christian school teacher and Recreation Therapist/Activities Director. She lives in a small town in the Mohawk Valley in Upstate New York, an area rich in history and natural beauty.
Nancy and her husband, Paul, are the parents of four young adults and a son-in-law. All four of them, and their peers, inspire and challenge her. They are bright, creative, innovative thinkers, driven, and out to change the world. She loves to hike, explore, and to walk her three small, mixed-breed dogs. She also loves to spend time with her family, read, and write. Connect with her at her website: Inspirational Lee.
To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes … that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 NKJV
God can change even the worst things into beauty.
When I visited Iceland, my tour guide drove the group by the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010. He explained the hardships the farmers endured trying to salvage their crops, which were covered by ash. The sheep usually roamed the hills, but had to remain indoors so they wouldn’t inhale the smoke. Iceland had suffered during the economic crisis in 2008 and hadn’t recovered by 2010. The immediate repercussions seemed insurmountable.
For those who survived the initial turmoil, the volcano brought good in the long run. By blanketing the ground, the ash made it fertile. Also, the locals believe the volcano put Iceland on the map. Tourism skyrocketed.
God turned something as tragic as a volcanic eruption into something good for Iceland. Those ashes were recreated into beauty.
God does the same in our lives. Sometimes our dreams seem to go up in smoke as we struggle. We suffer loss we don’t understand. But God doesn’t waste our pain. He transforms it into something more glorious than its original state. He builds spiritual endurance in us during the dark times that He can use for His purposes in the good times. Often, no other way exists to obtain that strength other than by going through the fire.
If you have had your dreams explode and your life turned into ashes, ask God how He wants to use these times for His glory. He has plans to use the darkness as a backdrop to better display the light of His kingdom’s work.
Ask the Lord to bring beauty from the ashes of your life.
Used by permission Christian Devotions Ministries.
My heart raced. I didn’t know how to respond. My friend had asked me to see the movie “I Can Only Imagine.” I hated that song. Ten years ago they played it at the funeral of a good friend who had been brutally murdered. She was young, beautiful inside and out, a solid Christian, and a true friend.
One of my dearest memories of her was flancing at the beach. We’d managed to stuff 28 of our closest friends into one beach house, and someone had bought a box of Barbie cereal as a joke. Barbie was described as flancing – a combination of flight and dance. During that beach trip I got dreadful news that my brother was very sick. She cheered me up by flancing with me in the sand. In the midst of my turmoil, she brought joy.
Instead of joy, every time I heard that song I felt pain. I’d have a visceral reaction and always rush to change the dial. My friend suggested I watch the movie to redeem the song and work through my lingering angst. So I went. I sobbed when the song played, and relived her funeral and the hurt of letting go. Her mother had lost her husband earlier that year and now her only daughter. She’d recalled her daughter’s love for Jesus. She encouraged the over 600 funeral attendees to get right with God because they never knew when their time would come. My friend’s life honored God, even in her death.
I looked to the Bible for comfort and found Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (NKJV) God did not see her death as evil, but precious. He rejoiced to have her with Him in heaven, safe and whole. Had she remained on earth after that, I can’t imagine how broken she would have been. God was merciful to take her home to be with Him.
God also reminded me of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (NKJV) My sorrow was to be different than those who have no hope. I would see her again. In my mind’s eye during the song, God gave me a new vision. I saw her flancing before the Lord. Someday we’d flance before Him together. She just had a head start.
There is more than just this life, and we have hope beyond the grave. This world is not our home. We look forward to heaven when we won’t have to say goodbye. God never said bad things wouldn’t happen. He actually said in John 16:33 “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (NKJV) We have troubles, but Christ has conquered the grave. One day, He will make all things new and wipe away all of our tears.
Maybe you’ve lost someone you loved, well before their time. How have you handled the grief? You don’t have to carry the hurt anymore. Take it to Jesus, and ask Him to show you His perspective. If that person knew Jesus, you have hope to see them again. If they didn’t know Jesus, use the reminder to spur you to share Christ with a lost and dying world.
What has comforted you the most during times of sorrow?
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.