If there’s one thing about which all Atlanta residents complain in unison, for a season, as much as or more than traffic, it’s pollen. The icky, green dust that covers everything for weeks and the allergens lurking in the unseen molecules that are the cause of headaches, sore throats, sneezing and itchy eyes, sometimes too much for even the strongest of allergy medicine to fight fairly.
On the flip side some of the things that most people living in Atlanta love and about which visitors rave are the beautiful flower gardens, gorgeous colors decorating the local parks and mighty, rich, tall trees that canopy the sky. We love our greenery and our flowers.
Anyone who made it past middle school science class knows that for these trees to grow and the flowers to bloom, pollen is a necessary part of the process. Yet during this season of sneezing, no one seems to want to talk about that. Strangers chat in grocery store lines about the grossness covering their cars and share medicines that seem to help with the itchy eyes. We dream of rain like a young child dreams for toys and candy on Christmas. And all hope for it to end is lost in the green fog smothering the city.
But if it weren’t for this powder form of evil, we would never bask in and rave of the beauty during the weeks and months that follow. We would miss out on living in the lushness and probably be envious of the colors seen in other parts of the country. We wouldn’t be able to enjoy such a beautiful city without first going through the dreaded pollen season.
Recently, I’ve sat with friends dealing with mental illness in their families. I’ve talked through the challenges of divorce and struggling marriages. Heartbreak seems to abound as cherished relationships come to an unwelcome end. Jobs feel like they are too stressful and on a treadmill to nowhere. And disease and death capture lives all too soon. There are real evils, hurts and pains from which we cannot escape.
But amidst my attempts to process some of these things and pray for my own junk and my friends, I can’t help but wonder when the flowers will come, knowing confidently that they will, even when those flowers look different, are surprising and may not be quite how we pictured things.
I’ve been reading the Old Testament on my own while teaching on and hearing sermons about the New Testament. The difference between the two, besides several hundred years, is Jesus, which is obvious. With that difference comes a new promise filled with hope. Jesus brought with him the idea of grace and reconciliation and a Spirit living in believers that had never before been seen. He brought with him a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, even though it is not yet fulfilled. He brought with him the flowers.
It doesn’t mean that each person for whom I’m praying and all the hurts in my own heart and the world will disappear tomorrow. It doesn’t mean that relationships won’t end, sickness won’t result in death and life-long struggles won’t be life-long anymore, which, I confess, is harder some days than others. But what it does mean is that there is a God who loves us so much that he was willing to send his son to die for us and walk with us through these challenges, through these heart aches and through the messes of our lives. He invites us to enter into the grace and love and hope that only he can promise because only he is bigger and stronger and mightier than the darkest of days. Only he conquered death. Only he loved enough to do that for us.
So upon completing a walk at the river when prayers for such things were on my mind, I took my sore throat and drove my icky car covered with a thin, green film to Trader Joe’s to buy some flowers because it’s a good reminder that there is something more beautiful that only God can do with the messes of life because his grace is sufficient, even and especially when it doesn’t look exactly like what I had expected because God’s flowers are more beautiful than any I could dream up on my own.