I bought them at Home Depot a couple of weeks before Christmas: two square cardboard containers sporting optimistic photographs of paperwhites. Spring in a box for only $5 each.

When I got them home and dumped them out, the contents were unimpressive: cheap green plastic pots, a bit of potting soil, and a few dead-looking bulbs. In the rush of work, travel and Christmas preparations, I set them aside, out of sight, out of mind. But Mike, ever the gardener, spotted what I had no time to tend and he quietly filled the pots, inserted the bulbs, dampened the soil with tap water and set the pots in our southeastern kitchen window. My eyes skittered over them when I washed the nightly dishes, too busy to notice that the ugly bulbs were pushing tentative green shoots from their windowsill bed. After a while I failed to see them at all.

Ministry feels like that sometimes. I attend committee meetings, make calls and write cards, touch a shoulder, teach a lesson, share a story. But my efforts, especially in the gray gloom of Chicago midwinter, often seem as opaque as those brown bulbs – nothing life-giving to show for late nights and constant activity.

Years ago, my wise friend Gail MacDonald shared a poem with me that occupies a permanent place on the fabric-covered board on the wall next to my home computer. As I type  I’m glancing up at the words that have become so familiar:

I will not die an unlived life

I will not live in fear

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

To allow my living to open me

to make me less afraid,

more accessible;

to loosen my heart

until it becomes a wing,

a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,

to live so that which came to me as seed

goes to the next as blossom,

and that which came to me as blossom,

goes on as fruit. – Dawn Markova

Markova’s words are both a promise and a prayer. As I prepare to throw open our front door in a couple of hours and welcome a group of college women, I ponder the words again. I hope to take those truths that have come to me as seed and pass them along to these bright young women as something more. Life is hard, and I want to strengthen them in their walk with Christ as Gail and others have encouraged me. But will the group blossom?

It’s now late January, and the days are uniformly overcast and gray. I came in the back door after church this morning and paused, an unfamiliar fragrance drawing my eyes to the southeastern window. It’s the paperwhites, and almost overnight they have burst into bloom, their sturdy apple-green stalks thrusting up masses of fragrant blooms like tiny stars set against the gun metal sky. The dun-colored bulbs that were dormant have burst to life under Mike’s nurturing hands.

I close my eyes and breathe deeply, my shoulders slumping, my body relaxing into the sanctuary of home. The paperwhites have bloomed, and as I inhale their sweetness, I exhale a prayer.

©2010 Maggie W. Rowe