Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Orange Flowers On The Hill: Finding Strength In Unusual Places

Like many moms, I put a lot of miles on my car. And like many moms, I put the exact same miles on my car day after day...after day. In fact, it's less of a car and more of a school-sports-activity-grocery store shuttle.

We live in a relatively small community, so varying the routes to those same places isn't even a realistic option. So that means I drive down the exact same stretch of road multiple times each day. Most of the time, I'm on autopilot, as the same old scenery whizzes by. Golf course, restaurant, barn, hill, curve, curve, stoplight. Then later in reverse: stoplight, curve, curve, hill, barn, restaurant, golf course. As is often the case with the things most familiar to us, I see them so many times, I tend not to see them at all.

But I do remember the first time I saw the orange flowers on the hill.

It was one of the first few days of July, five years ago. At that time, I had a 3-week-old baby boy, a two-year-old daughter, and another son inching up on his fourth birthday. To say I was overwhelmed doesn't begin to come close. As if the physical and mental exhaustion of life with a newborn (and two toddlers) wasn't enough, with my husband working long hours, preschool done for the summer, and no family or any real support system nearby, I was breaking. Whether it was food, comfort, diapers, milk, or the blue sippy cup but NOT the red cup, from morning until night, and then right back into morning, someone needed something from me All. The. Time. Though I had little people attached to various parts of me virtually round-the-clock, I had never felt more alone.

My solution was to get the heck out of the house as much as possible, and just GO. Anywhere. Tire them out then pray for sleep. Though it felt more like preparing for the Invasion of Normandy than a trip to the park, I would pack up the diaper bag(s), load our motley crew into the car (unloading to change the baby, feed the baby, and change the baby one more time), and set off. Borrowing a page from Dory, my mantra in those days was "Just Keep Swimming...Until Naptime."

On one of those days, we had loaded up our royal motorcade for a morning at the local library, where Optimistic Me envisioned a few hours of cozy cuddling amongst the stacks as I exposed my little darlings to the joys of literature. Of course, with three kids under age 4, what unfolded was a tad different. My oldest threw a fit when he couldn't find the train book he wanted. I set the two year old down to help him, and another child ran over her finger with a rocking child. Her shrieking woke up the baby in the carrier, who seemed to think it was an invitation to a crying contest that he was NOT about to lose. Optimistic Me was nowhere to be found, but Real Me was left standing in the middle of the library, covered in a mix of sweat, tears, breastmilk, and other DNA samples not necessarily emanating from my body.

"That's IT! We're going home!" I yelled, gathering up whatever seemed to belong to me (children included) through teary eyes, and slinking out without looking back.

We piled back in the car, all of us sobbing. I turned up the volume on the radio hoping the music would soothe someone, anyone in this miserable lot. The rain was now coming down in sheets, and I sat for a few minutes in the library parking lot with water streaming down my windshield and my face.

Finally, I put the car in drive and headed home, down that same stretch of road I'd traveled so many times before. The rain was relentless, coming at us sideways and making huge puddles on the road. I hit one of those puddles just right, and my car began to hydroplane, sliding crazily around as I tightened my grip on the wheel and prayed for it to end.

Thankfully, it did, and though I was only about a mile from home, I pulled down the closest street to catch my breath. It was a private drive- a street I hadn't been down before, and for a moment I didn't recognize where I was. For that matter, I didn't even recognize myself. Or my life.

A few deep breaths later, my hands had nearly stopped shaking and the rain had all but stopped. I shakily turned the car around and got ready to return to the familiar road. I pulled up to the intersection, wiped one last tear from my eye, and pulled out. As I did, I looked straight ahead to see the hillside in front of me covered from to top to bottom in vibrant, beautiful orange wildflowers.

I was mesmerized. How many times had I driven past that same hill, and never noticed those flowers? Where did they come from? When did they bloom? I looked at my three beautiful children, now sound asleep in the rearview mirror, then at the flowers one more time before taking a deep breath and continuing down the road.

In the days that followed, I saw those flowers everywhere- scattered along the roadside, hiding next to mailboxes, growing seemingly out of nowhere, but standing tall and proud in the most unlikely places. Their fiery color and resilience were in such stark contrast to my mood, and I began to intentionally seek them out everywhere I went. Each one I saw felt like a little boost. A hidden message just for me. A reminder that you can't stop to smell the flowers if you don't even see them.

That summer passed and just as quickly as they appeared, the orange flowers were gone. It's now been five years since I first saw them, and every summer, right around this time, I look forward to their return. I drive by the hill and point them out to my children, making sure they clearly see what I was blind to for so long. I take note of how they much they've grown, despite being dormant for so long

I wish I could pick those flowers and hand deliver a bouquet to every new mother out there with a note that says "You CAN do this." I wish I could bottle up their scent and dab a little behind my ears on those days I need a little more strength. I long to press their petals in the pages of my life, to run my fingers across them in those dark chapters where fear tries to triumph over faith.

But it's enough just to see them, to watch them grow, then fade away, to know that they will be back, and to remember that this is but a season.

I don't know the actual name of those flowers- I'm told they are some sort of daylily- but to be honest, I don't really care.

In my mind, they will forever be known as "Hope Blossoms."

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