Every spring it happens. I am following my usual route through the grocery store, here lately with a kiddo or 4 tagging along, and suddenly I smell them. I always smell them before I see them. Lilies. Easter lilies. I love them. I love how pristine and perfect they are. I love how there is always a splash of bright yellow pollen on the smooth white petal. They are so tall and elegant. And I love how they smell. Their smell signifies the end of winter, the coming of spring. They remind me that Easter is right around the corner. But more than all this, there is something about Easter lilies that stirs something so deep inside me. So many memories come flooding back. So many emotions – strong emotions – come rushing to the surface. But the strongest feeling. The strongest memory. The strongest emotion. Hope. Easter lilies are a living symbol to me of hope.
The fall of 1997 was one of the darkest in my childhood. I didn’t have a dark childhood. I had loving parents, tons of super awesome siblings, and a very warm and sheltered life. But that fall, pain reached our family in a way that it never had before. I remember the day in early November so clearly. It was cold but sunny. I was surrounded by my siblings and extended family. I remember the colors being very bright. The blue sky. The green, manicured grass. Deeper green evergreen bushes all around us. Bushes planted in the shape of a heart surrounding our grieving family. A bright white casket. A tiny casket. Much, much too tiny.
I watched my daddy. My loving, God-fearing, tender daddy. He sat back on his heels next to that casket, his hand lovingly resting on it’s side. And he tried. He tried so hard to communicate to the 9 of us kids huddled together that there was hope. This wasn’t the end. It wasn’t really our precious little brother inside that casket – it was only his body. Our little, red-headed brother was safe in Jesus’ arms and, like King David states after the death of his son, we had the hope of seeing him again someday.
But I didn’t feel hope. At 9 years of age, this was definitely the most traumatic thing I had ever been through. I was cold. The wind was blowing. My daddy was weeping beside the casket of my little brother. The little brother I had prayed for. The little brother we had so lovingly prepared for. And my mother. My mother wasn’t even able to be there. She had been rushed back to the hospital with complications from our precious brother’s birth that were threatening her life. We had the memorial service re-scheduled for a later time, but this time at the graveside was without my mom. My world was upside down and it didn’t feel like it would ever be right again.
Barely 2 weeks had passed since we first heard the news. My parents had gone in for an ultrasound expecting to see nearly full-term twin babies only to learn that my mother wasn’t expecting twins at all. Just one baby. One precious little boy who was very sick. Before we really had time to process the news, there was the night of our church’s fall festival when I came home to learn that my mother was in labor. I was awakened out of sleep in the wee hours of the morning to go hold my little brother. For the first and the last time. Then my mother came home from the hospital. Then she was rushed back. My dad was dividing his time between being with my mom, checking in on us kids, and arranging his son’s funeral. The ladies of the church stepped in to help take care of us and to provide us with food. Everyone was so loving, but I’m quite sure I was very mean to some of those ladies. The food was weird – it wasn’t my mom’s – and, though their arms were loving, they weren’t the arms I wanted to be hugging me.
But that day at the cemetery. That day was the darkest. It was the culmination of those last 2 weeks and I just wanted things to be “normal.” I just wanted to take away my parent’s pain. I wanted my mom. I hated seeing my dad weeping. I didn’t understand how they could still have hope when they were so broken. I just didn’t see how we could be whole again.
The following months were hard. My mom’s physical healing was slow. Emotional healing was even slower. I remember the memorial service. I sat as close to my mom as I could. I remember about a week after my mom was back home from the hospital, another little boy was born in our church. A little boy with red hair. I remember that little boy’s mother placing her baby in my mother’s arms and I watched as my mother openly grieved and received comfort from the ladies surrounding her. I remember the gifts that people sent. Some sent the gifts they had already purchased or made before there was any hint of trouble. And some sent gifts that were made specifically for the little brother in heaven. A bib with his name. A Precious Moments angel – a little boy with a paper airplane. A beautiful blue and yellow silk flower arrangement that wouldn’t whither.
The following spring, my dad brought home an Easter lily for my mom. They gathered all of us in the living room and explained that we would be taking this lily to the graveside on Easter morning. Why? Because it was on Easter morning that we remember how Christ conquered death and gave us hope.
Watching my parents grieve made a profound impact on me as a child. And that impact has stuck with me. I remember that Easter morning. I remember standing in the cemetery again with my family all around. Again, my parents were weeping. Again, it was cold and the colors are vivid in my mind. But this time, all their words began to make sense. This time, I began to understand why my parents grieved the way they did. Their grief was so deep, so open, so raw that as a child it scared me. But their faith never wavered. It never faltered. I think that is part of why they were able to grieve so well. They had a security in Christ underneath their pain. And that Easter morning, I began to realize the “realness” of the gospel story. We went to church that day with tear-stained faces and hopeful hearts.
And that is why, every spring, when the scent of Easter lilies catches me off-guard once again … that is why I smile through my sudden tears. I can embrace those memories with a kind of deep joy. A deep thankfulness for parents that allowed God to shine through their extreme pain and demonstrate His hope to me – and countless others. These memories from my childhood were the number one thing that drew me to find my answers in God’s Word instead of in the world when I had questions as a young adult. I couldn’t walk away from that kind of hope. That kind of peace. I knew that the answers had to lie within this faith. This relationship with God.
And every springtime, I am given a sweet reassurance. A sweet reminder of the hope we have in Christ. A reminder in the form of a flower. Easter lilies.