The lesson of flowers

The flowers I gifted myself brought pleasure back into a life overly dedicated to service. They also taught me that though I desired answers from God in a big, burning bush revelation, God rarely answers with grandiose gestures.

Jan 12, 2024

Word in Progress - Karen-Michaela Tan

My mother liked having fresh flowers around the house. However, because she was a working professional, she had the tendency of leaving flowers in their vases until the poor things choked in slimy water, thus bringing them to a far quicker demise than if they had been tended properly, with regular water changes, and the trimming of their stalks.

I was, even as a child, highly desirous of routine and order. So, it wasn’t unusual that I ended up being the one who had to gingerly remove dead, rotting flowers from the vases and wash out the putrid water. This probably had a lot to do with me turning ‘anti-flowers’ in my young adult days. I was vocal about what a waste flowers were, and the fact that the recipient had another thing added to their list of chores once the ‘wow’ or ‘aww’ factor had worn off.

In my thirties and early forties, flowers became more anathema because I wasn’t receiving them. Gift-giving is not anywhere near any of my husband’s love languages, and because I refused to badger him for something he should have known how to do if he knew I was an avid gift-giver and gift recipient, I took an almost militant path to flower-aversion, citing the environmental impact of the flower-growing industry, the large carbon footprints of the imports of hot-house flowers, and the waste of land on crops that did not feed the world.

During the pandemic, when I considered divorce, I decided to give the proverbial finger to things I did not like doing; things I had to do because I felt it was in the line of wifely duty. I also decided that if I were the one doing most of the tidying in the household, I might as well tidy messes of my own. And admit that flowers were a nice mess to own.

As my life and marriage morphed, so did I. I learnt to say no to the things I did not want to do – like meals with tedious cousins in law whose faces I would willingly have held down in their self-acclaimed ‘best curry in town’. I culled Facebook friends lists, weeding out all the ‘had-to-acceptfriend- requests-because-they-were-family’, and bluntly told relatives I was not attending Chinese New Year reunions because one yearly luncheon, eaten off soggy paper plates, with screaming brats in festive wear, does nothing to build relationships.

I distilled everything I did to one question - “Does this make me happy?” Having flowers in the house did. I was not going to wait in hopeless anticipation for someone to bring them to me, so I began a bi-weekly ritual of buying cheerful, hardy flowers: one stalk at first, so water changes were simple, then graduating to small bunches, and slowly to the tall, heavy, bloom-filled vases my mother favoured. Flower care was built into my morning routine along with dog-feeding, laundry, and hamster housekeeping, and I never had to gag at brackish water because I ensured the vases were emptied, cleaned and refilled every other day.

There is a line in the Don Henley song Through Your Hands which goes, “So whatever your hands find to do, you must do with all your heart,” and in those days of confusion where I battled between my right to be loved the way I needed and wanted, and my adherence to “what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6), my hands working on flowers helped my heart see.

The flowers I gifted myself brought pleasure back into a life overly dedicated to service. They also taught me that though I desired answers from God in a big, burning bush revelation, God rarely answers with grandiose gestures. The most wonderful thing about seeking God’s will in one’s life is seeing in retrospect how it unfolds little by little. I have come to realise as I grow older, no matter how intelligent, or well-versed I am in the art of people reading and pleasing, what I know is not an eyelash on what God knows. The Creator of all things, past, present and future, knows our foibles, and propensity for failing to distinguish between smarts and wisdom. And He deals with this weakness by spoon-feeding us what we need to know in little doses.

It was through the little works of my hands, with this new beauty in my life, that God reminded me of His providence, His infallibility, and His presence in my marriage. Scripture verses about flowers blossomed before me, as if to remind me that in the aridness of my search, there were always oases in the desert where wildflowers still sprang up.

I recalled how the facilitators at our Catholic Marriage Preparation Course told the couples to always ensure there were three people in the marriage: he, she and God. I always thought of God’s presence in this equation like a security camera: always observing, but silent.

I have since come to realise that He manifests in a marriage like a dormant seed. While couples give lip service to a trinitarian marriage, it is only when they find themselves in the stony, unproductive field of a union which has stunted, or is dying from the lack of care and proper ma n a g eme n t , that something from the seed bank of faith forces the growth of a supernatural bud. This surprise flower points to things which only come into fulfilment in God’s time. It is the physical manifestation of answers begged for, with messages so personalised that I knew immediately what God’s will for me pertaining to my marriage was.

I now look at flowers as reminders of God’s eagerness to be present in my life. Because He gave us freewill, He does not force the knowledge of Himself on us. So, it is not until we change from just glancing at flowers, to actively seeking them out, and then striving to keep them at their best, that we learn to really listen to what He means to say to us.

When we act on His prompting, we will find new vigour in our conviction, and fresh sap in our relationships which make them bud and blossom, like Aaron’s staff (Numbers 17:8). My marriage now echoes Hosea 14:7 which says “those who live in His shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine.”

(Karen-Michaela Tan is a poet, writer and editor who seeks out God’s presence in the human condition and looks for ways to put the Word of God into real action.)

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