It rained last week. And as soon as the clouds cleared and the sun glowed again, I saw them: pink blossoms. In early March. It seems the trees in my neighborhood are reckless optimists, blooming and turning their colorful faces toward the sky and announcing that SPRING IS HERE!
Except, you guys, it’s just March. In Missouri. Where we’ve had snow in May recently enough that it’s still the first thing people mention when we talk about the unseasonably mild winter and the lovely warm weather we’ve had over the past few weeks. Part of me looks at those pink flowers and thinks, “Good for you, tree! You do you. Go on and bloom whenever you feel like it! Maybe this time we’ll avoid the so-called unexpected cold snap and sail into summer with ease!”
Of course, the other part of me hears all that in a sarcastic voice and follows it up with, “What is wrong with you, man? Is this your first trip around the sun? Do you not know you live in the mercurial Midwest where seasons and average highs are simply suggestions and HELLO, IT SOMETIMES SNOWS IN MAY?!?”
I met a friend for lunch a few days ago. We’ve been acquaintances for some time now, but we’ve decided to get to know each other better. So lunch was full of questions and explanations (as well as suggestions and commiserations, as we’re both writers and editors who work from home, so the We Have All The Things In Common force was strong that day), including my own confession that I’m not nearly as optimistic as you might assume the co-author of a book about joy would be.
I told her I don’t consider myself a pessimist by any means, but I am certainly more pragmatic than Pollyanna-ish. I think I fall squarely in the category of realist. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and, I’d posit, actually beneficial in many situations. But it does mean I have a choice to make when wild hope is an option despite evidence warning against such faith.
Like when the trees bloom early.
Or when the email says if there’s any room left, they’ll let you know.
Like when you get a call for a second interview.
Or when the doctor says a new treatment might work.
Like the month that you’re a few days late.
Or the time you think he said he’d call soon.
Like the time you opened up your Bible and picked a page at random.
Or prayed one last time for the thing you can’t even speak aloud.
I live in a pretty old, run-down neighborhood, and a lot of the yards are as neglected as the homes. In my own front yard the bushes are mismatched and in need of a trim, to say the least. (I’ll put it this way. A friend came over this weekend and, as we talked about putting our house on the market [again] later this month, she said, “Did your real estate agent mention anything about curb appeal?” Heh.) But some of the houses are well-kept with excellent curb appeal — including lovely landscaping.
Those houses tend to have uniform shrubbery, bushes trimmed flat and even or perfectly round. Normally, I’d like that sort of thing. I like boxes and straight lines, I believe in the power of symmetry, and I’ve been caught more than once adjusting crooked frames on a friend’s wall. But every year when spring dares to elbow its way into the brown, frigid neighborhood, I find myself drawn to a different kind of plant.
Look at it. Just look at it! It’s wild and bright and unruly and alive — and I love it!
This forsythia bush lives in the yard of a house on the corner. I drive around that corner every day when I take Annalyn to school and bring her home. When I turn the corner in every other season, when that bush is green or brown, I don’t even glance its way. But last week it transformed from a boring bush to one full of brilliant blooms — and, all of a sudden, I’m staring and smiling on my daily drives down the street.
It’s funny, when I think about it, my different reaction to My Favorite Forsythia Bush and the other blossoming trees. Those yellow flowers could be caught in a cold snap, bitten by frost and ruined for another year, just as easily as the pink blooms on the trees could. But there’s something about forsythia that gives me more hope than any of the other plants peeking out after a cold season. Something about it fills me with such abandon, such wild joy and reckless hope that I forget about all the what-ifs. I forget to worry. I just enjoy the beauty of those bright branches flailing all over that corner yard.
That bush won’t stay yellow forever. Cold snap or not, the flowers will fall off and leaves will appear. Boring, regular, absolutely not breathtaking green leaves. I know that.
But while it’s here – the spring and the blossoms and the fireworks of flowers on the corner? I’m going to love every second of it.
I’m going to look at it every time I pass by — and I might even got out of my way on the way home from the grocery store or the bank, just to see that bush. I’m going tune out the whining kids in the backseat and forget about how we left 20 minutes later than I’d planned and set aside my phone with all its notifications and my to-do list with all its burdens. And I’m just going to enjoy that burst of spring.
I don’t know how many days the forysthia will bloom this year, whether it will be just a few beautiful days cut short by the return of winter or a longer, but still not permanent, display that fades into those regular green leaves. And it might seem silly, all this rambling I’m doing about the plants in my neighborhood. But I think God sends us so many beautiful messages with the spring. Messages like:
“The winter won’t last forever.”
“Surprise! Beauty was growing where you least expected it!”
“Psst! Look! I made this just for you! Because I love you and want to give you good things!”
“Even if they don’t last all year, I’m giving you a moment of beauty right now.”
“Look for the joy. Let go of the worry. Just for the seconds you gaze at that bush.”
“Enjoy this life, this wild and unruly life, this changeable and chaotic life!”
And messages like the one my friend and co-author Sara shares in our book, Choose Joy:
“I was hoping for gold, but I wasn’t expecting it. Deep down I knew there was a huge chance the night wasn’t going to play out as I had hoped – but I didn’t miss the silver linings. . . [S]ometimes disappointment weighs heavy on me. But in my disappointment, the same rules still apply: I do the best I can with what I have. Is it usually all I want to do? No. But in the end, focusing on the silver lining is what gets me through the day.
I really think, in this life, we find what we are meant to do when we stop focusing on what we are kept from doing. I have to remind myself sometimes, but the more I acknowledge that silver lining, the less I notice the gold that’s out of reach.”
I’m still not truly an optimist and sometimes I find myself saying, “choose joy,” with more of an edge than you might expect or hope to hear. Sometimes choosing joy and hoping for what I cannot see is the last thing I want to do when I’ve seen snow in May and know full and well those yellow flowers won’t be here forever.
And that’s why I’m more grateful than ever to be the co-author of a book that tells the story of a woman who had no good reason to choose joy — but did it anyway, and with a brilliance and wisdom (not to mention a sense of humor) that makes me want to keep hoping, to keep choosing the joy and the beauty, to keep believing God is here on the most beautiful days and the worst ones.
If you need a dose of hope or a reason to choose joy, give Sara’s story a try. You can learn all about it at TheChooseJoyBook.com.
What does spring teach you about hope and joy?
This post may be linked to these amazing carnivals and link parties.