The day before my mother arrived for her semiannual visit, I spent twenty minutes at the floral display in the grocery store. My two wide-eyed little girls watched me, munching their breakfast in the shopping cart, as I wavered between clusters of snowy stock blooms and evergreen sprigs, lacy carnations and bright red berries.
We’d bought her “welcome flowers” before, but they were never a high priority step in preparing her room. This time, I was very sure I wanted them.
Later that evening, my husband weighed the box we’d packed for my dad. “What do you think?” he asked, turning his laptop so that I could see the shipping fee. The cost to send the box overseas was more than the value of the cookies and sundry sentimental items inside.
I hesitated, but only for a second. “That’s fine.”
My parents had had a difficult few weeks leading up to my mother’s visit; a sudden and shocking downturn in my grandmother’s health robbed them of sleep as they exercised diplomacy with family and agonized over her treatment and care. I was powerless to help in any direct way, and suddenly the smallest gestures became important ones — opportunities to signal that they weren’t alone, and that we wanted to carve out spaces where they could feel our care.
In the process, those winter flowers and parcel fees became reminders to me about the impractical nature of love.
Love isn’t efficient. It brings us to open our hands and homes in ways that are often inconvenient and uneconomical, at least by the standards of today’s schedules and budget sheets. Every undertaking we make in its name costs something, whether in minutes, strength, or currency, but — it’s right that it should, isn’t it? For we follow a God who loved us so purely that it cost Him everything, who gave of Himself in full.
Yet I forget this, especially when I’m driven by goals and deadlines, and I lose sight of how important and life-giving our demonstrations of love can be.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor imprisoned by the Nazis for opposing Hitler’s euthanasia and genocide, once wrote to thank his parents for a package from home:
I really cannot tell you what happiness such things give one. However certain I am of the spiritual bond between all of you and myself, the spirit always seems to want some visible token of this union of love and remembrance, and then material things become the vehicles of spiritual realities. (Letter to Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer, 14 June 1943)
For Bonhoeffer, the “vehicle” of the moment was a box sent for Whitsuntide, but I see others scattered throughout my kitchen even now: a jar of homemade caramel sauce from our small group, a tiny handwritten letter from a friend, a crayon portrait by my daughter.
These gifts remind me of fleeting ideas I’ve had that now simmer patiently on my mental back burner. Dinner packed for sick friends. Banana bread for neighbors. A napkin note slipped into a briefcase. This bleary-eyed night owl showing up for early morning coffee with a friend. An invitation to weary ones to come for a visit, and be fed, and sleep in.
Every one of these is a deviation from the normal work and responsibilities of the week, and perhaps no great contribution to plain old physical survival. But each one also has the capacity to push against the feeling of being sick or forgotten or lonely or insignificant for someone else — a vehicle bringing the kingdom of God into a private battlefield.
If I can hold to this truth, I might consistently see the cost of sharing grace pale in comparison to its worth, even on days when I feel like “butter scraped over too much bread.”
I’ll remember that when we embrace the impracticality of love, and make room to exercise it in our lives, we pierce earth with the reality of heaven –that even a simple gift of winter flowers holds the potential to bloom into emblems of eternity.