The flower that blooms in the winter

Matthew helped me plant pansies in the backyard last weekend.   Wearing his own little pair of gardening gloves, he eagerly dug in the soil and helped me pat dirt around the tender little plants, yellow and blue-purple and burgundy and white.

It feels different being out back in the winter time.  The patio furniture is under wraps, the beds are brown and bare, and the trees are leafless.  The lawn is dry in places, and the overall feeling of the yard is dormant and lifeless.

But along the side fence, right next to a huge twisting juniper bush, is a small camellia plant with white blossoms.  It is blooming profusely,  little ruffled white flowers on the shiny green leaves.  It’s a plant you can’t really see from the house, and since we’re not often out back in the winter, I tend to forget that it’s there, and that it’s blooming.  Last Sunday, though, I stopped in my work and looked at it, remembering.

I planted that camellia in 2005.  I planted it as a tribute to a little life that I never got to know, a little life that died inside me when it was about eight and a half weeks old.   The miscarriage was excruciatingly difficult, partly because it was so unexpected.  We went in for a ten-week ultrasound, full of hope and excitement, only to find no heartbeat where a heartbeat should be.  It was all the more painful because it was our  second pregnancy and our second loss.    In my darker moments, I felt as though God had drop-kicked me into a wall.  It was very hard to keep faith for the future when our two tries at parenthood had both failed, each in its own unique and very awful way.   It made me wonder if I’d ever be able to carry a pregnancy to term, if we’d ever be able to have a child.

Planting the camellia bush in the yard was a way of remembering those little lives we never got to know. It was something concrete I could do to formalize my grief.   And, as every gardener knows, it was a statement of faith: faith that good things will take root and grow, that life will flourish, that death is not the final answer.

I remembered all this as I stood looking at the plant, its delicate white petals so pretty against the dark wintry ground.   Because it blooms in winter, it is easy to miss it.  It is easy to forget that it is there, in the shelter of the juniper bush, quietly blooming.   Likewise, I can go for a while without thinking of the raw pain of those pregnancy losses.  I don’t remember it on a daily basis.  But those little lives are always there, handprints on the clay of my soul.  They have forever changed the landscape of my spiritual life, even though, in the bustle of raising my two sweet little boys, I sometimes forget to think of them.

“Look, Matthew,” I called to him.  “Look at these pretty white flowers.”  He came over and stood by  me, studying the camellia.

“Did you plant this just now?” he asked me.

“No, honey,” I told him.  “I planted it a long time ago.  I planted it before you were even born.”

“Before I was even born?” he asked with awe in his voice, as if to say, Was there ever such a time?

Together we walked back to the bed of pansies.   I dug in the dirt and he did, too.

“When you planted that white flower, you probably didn’t even know I was born,” he said a moment later, still wrapping his mind around  the idea.

“That right, sweetie.  When I planted that flower, I didn’t know you were going to be born.”  I  looked at him, my heart full.   “I didn’t know that someday, I’d have a wonderful Matthew like you.”



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