February 12, 2015

A Tray of Gardenias

It was many years ago this happened, but I remembered it just a few days ago. 1986, in fact. Our family was young with two little ones and one on the way. We were living in Southern California, land of gorgeous weather year round.

After a quite dramatic year, (we had lost our very small but sweet home as it was time to refinance, and no lender would give us one without my wife going back to work- even though we'd paid on time for years while one one salary), we sadly moved into a small town home nearby. This allowed us to continue living with one car as it was close to my office.

We were sensing the grace of God on us in spite of the loss. Our kids were sweet, and the addition of our third child in the summer was a huge blessing. My wife had experienced two bouts of serious bleeding during her pregnancy, and we were not sure the baby would survive. She was ordered to bed rest and that and prayer seemed to do the trick. She  delivered a healthy and beautiful baby girl in July. She was born several weeks early, but she was healthy and strong.

Our neighbors across the walkway were an old minister and his wife, Walter and Nellie. They were in their 80s, and you could tell they were still very much in love. I used to see them through the front room window, holding onto each other and walking very slowly into their home. There was a gentleness to their step and a peacefulness that surprised me.

Up against their main exterior wall, years ago someone had planted a gardenia bush. It was now about 8 feet tall and seemingly full of perpetual blooms due to the warm weather. When the winds blew towards us from the hedge, I threw the windows open to let the beautiful scent into our house. 

Our sweet family - Christmas 1986. 
Things were getting harder and harder for us in the harsh financial climate of Southern California on one income. My wife could do miracles with one pound of hamburger. She never complained, never fretted. Our families were generous- and we had one set of dear friends who would always show up to take us to dinner, pay for a sitter, and gift us with boxes of diapers. (Thank you, Rob and Shari- we'll never forget that!)

It became more and more discouraging, and we wondered if it was time to send my wife back to work just to survive, but we never had peace about it.

On one of the darkest days, Nellie came over with a tray full of fresh cut gardenias from her hedge. This simple act brought us encouragement in the midst of our storm. She continued to do this for as long as we lived there. God's hand of grace and beauty and refreshment to us delivered from an old dear soul looking out for someone else. Long before random acts of kindness was a mantra.

Eventually, God responded to our cries for help in a new way. I was promoted, and we moved to Northern California. It would require leaving our families, but we knew we had to go. I'm sure that Walter and Nellie are now with the Lord, enjoying His presence for all eternity. And I hope they read this- because I want to say thank you one more time.

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