This Easter Brings More Gratitude Than Ever

Easter has many themes to reflect upon, but I’ve always found it a time to quietly whisper, “Thank you.”

Who can think on the Easter story and not be filled with indescribable gratitude for the sacrifice Jesus made for us? Thank you.

At the same time we celebrate Easter, nature offers a tangible representation and reminder of rebirth. The birds are chirping, the trees are budding, and the flowers are blooming. Thank you.

This year, the miracle of Easter and the beauty of spring come after what seems like a year-long winter. The pandemic’s forced seclusion and some personal challenges have made me keenly aware of my appreciation for people who, in big and small ways, act as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Most of us are unbelievably grateful to the men and women who have worked tirelessly the past year to make available a vaccine for Covid-19. It is a miracle to me that somehow a little vial of life-saving serum made it from someone’s brilliant mind, to a lab, through miles of red tape and highway, to the family pharmacy on the corner, and into my arm.

Thanks to the vaccine, we’ve had a string of family and friends stop by this week to say hello. It’s said you don’t miss something until it’s gone. The past year has reminded us of the simple pleasure of hearing a knock at the door and opening it to a friendly face bearing the gift of laughter and conversation that dances around us like music.

No less special are the small acts of kindness showered upon us by strangers. I was out early one day this week and drove through McDonalds for my morning caffeine. The lady’s voice on the speaker was so pleasant, it surprised me. It was smooth and silky, and it poured over me like sunshine. When I pulled around to the window, I told her she had the most beautiful voice. She smiled shyly and told me she sang in her church. It was a simple exchange, but we are all surrounded by everyday angels, if we take the time to notice.

Just this week, there was a cast of people whose acts of service gently touched our lives. Dr. Shah called to check on my mom, and his receptionist, Janice, was as gracious as ever. Michael delivered our mail with a wave. Amanda efficiently packaged Mom’s prescriptions, and Jason brought it to our door like clockwork. Joy, the previous owner of our house, planted the daffodils and hyacinths I’ve placed in vases around our home. An electrician named Carl squeezed us in at the end of his work day.

“Well, Alicia,” he said on the phone as if we’d known each other forever. “I’m booked solid for the next two weeks, but a person needs a clothes dryer. Let me see what I can do.” That same evening, Carl came and fixed the dryer outlet and a couple of others. His calm, slow voice filled our kitchen as he worked.

“I tell people they need two things in their life,” the electrician said without looking up from a tangle of wires. “The first is Jesus. The second is LED light bulbs.”

Thank you. §

Flowers and Folklore ~ the mysterious Lenten Rose

Flowers enchant me, especially when they are accompanied by a rich history of legend and folklore. Right in our backyard there blooms such a flower full of mystery, excitement, danger, and above all, promise.

When we moved into our southern Illinois house in late January, I noticed an odd patch of deep green tropical-looking foliage. I did a double-take a couple of weeks later when, through a frosty window, I thought I saw a flower blooming. I put on my boots and trudged through several inches of snow to investigate. Sure enough, a dark mauve blossom was peeking out under nature’s thick blanket of white.

I gasped at the sight, but I was also curious. Upon closer inspection, I knew the flower wasn’t an early-blooming snowdrop or crocus. A little research revealed the mysterious flower was a Lenten rose, known to gardeners as hellebore from the Latin hellenborus orientalis. Not a rose at all, this hardy perennial with evergreen leaves and a variety of colorful blossoms is part of the buttercup family. What a story this flower tells!

Helleborus means “injure food” in Greek. Yes, this pretty flower is poisonous. The Greeks were known to use it in battle to poison another city’s drinking water. Many scholars believe Alexander the Great died from a poisonous dose of hellebore. It’s also said that King Arthur’s sister, Morgan Le Faye, made an evil concoction of hellebore and gave it to Guinevere to prevent her from being able to conceive.

In ancient times, smaller doses of hellebore were used to treat a range of illness including insanity. In Greek mythology, it’s told that King Argo’s daughters were driven so mad by Dionysus that they ran naked in the streets mooing like cows. As time passed, their madness increased and spread to other women in the village. The healer Melampus, gave the women hellebore in milk to restore their sanity. Something tells me a ladies’ night out would have had the same effect.

It seems our tenacious little flower was also a favorite of witches during medieval times. Old world witches were famous for using it to make their magical flying ointment. They rubbed the hellebore salve all of themselves and took off flying. Of course, the poisonous herb has hallucinogenic effects, so it’s possible they only thought they were flying.

Certain there was some dark magic involved in a flower that bloomed in winter, people in the Middle Ages threw hellebore on their floors to drive out evil influences. Many herbalists at the time believed powdered hellebore could be scattered on the ground and walked upon to render invisibility. Now that’s something I might like to try, though I’d have to face east on a moonless night and hope I’m not spotted by an eagle, which would seal my fate of death within a year.

Thankfully, Victorian gardeners rescued the innocent hellebore from its more sinister and gothic attachments. Because the flower blooms during the season of Lenten, the hellebore became better known as the Lenten rose and was a favorite among the Victorians.

What a beautiful symbol that during Lent, a 40-day time of contemplation and preparation for Easter, the cold dead ground would produce a lovely flower promising rejuvenation and rebirth. In the Victorian language of flowers, known as floriography, the Lenten rose represents serenity, tranquility, and peace.

It’s mid-March now, and our patch of Lenten roses is in full bloom. The old palm-shaped leaves have fallen away and sizable clumps of new green foliage surround an abundance of flowers in white, yellow, pink and purple. On sunny days, bees dine on the yellow centers of flowers I’ve learned will last well into May.

It’s still chilly and damp outside, but in our warm and cozy home, cut blooms fill a vase with sweet and colorful flowers I now know are Lenten roses. Reflecting on their storied past, the exquisite blooms offer intriguing history and, most of all, the very real hope and beauty of spring. §