What We All Need to Remember Every Spring

March 23, 2015 | 19 comments

My father-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, a few weeks before the first tulips popped their glossy mouths open, toward the spring sky.

Our daughters were six and three at the time, and they immediately asked us if “Bop”—as they called him—was going to die. The prognosis wasn’t good, but there were treatments to take, prayers to pray, moments to be brave, days to be lived—one precious hour at a time.

We told the girls how dying isn’t a dead end, but a doorway.

And until we got to the doorway, we had a lot of living to do in the hallway. I still remember all the tea parties that Bop hosted on the back deck of their farmhouse that year. The cups were so dainty in his big farmer hands.

Spring bloomed. And many weeks after the leukemia diagnosis, the girls and I were walking through a park, where gardeners had painstakingly tended to row upon row of tulips for an annual tulip festival. We didn’t get to the park during the tulips’ prime blooming days. By the time we showed up there, the tulips’ heads had begun to nod, draining out their color.

We knelt down by the dying flowers, and the girls cupped soft petals in their small hands.

I told the girls how the tulips were “perennials.” They bloom profusely, for a time, then slowly fade into a sort of death. But next spring, those same tulips would bloom again.

The younger daughter asked me, “Why are you crying, Mommy? Are you crying because we got here too late?” And I just hugged them and told them how beautiful the flowers were, even when they were dying.

Summer came. Bop grew weaker, and we all felt this shift in our prayers, toward accepting things we couldn’t change.

Fall arrived, in a streak of gold, and Bop willed his weak self to work alongside his son on the Lee family farm. That was his last harvest, and I remembered how, though frail, his hands still looked so big.

By December, he was bald in a hospital room. We tried to cheer him with presents and Santa hats on Christmas Day. Carols played on a radio down the hall. Life kept right on going on, despite all this dying.

By January, well before the tulips would bloom again, Bop took his last breath, and it felt like all the color got sucked out of everybody’s life.

During the days immediately following his death, I worried about whether we’d adequately prepared our daughters for their grandpa’s death. I worried that we cried too much, or cried too little; that we talked too much about dying, or not quite enough. That I didn’t answer their questions about my own tears as directly as I should have.

I worried that I relied too much on metaphors about doorways and tulips to do the hard work of telling the children, in frank terms, that Bop was dying.

But then spring came again, with its perennial hope floating on the breeze. And I remembered what the tulips knew.

Spring reveals to all of us what God can do with a dark, broken world.

It’s a hint of our forever, draped in color, and crawling out from under cold death. Spring is a promise, and even though you don’t ever forget that winter existed, there’s a warmth that bursts forth within you.

The tulips never doubted that spring would come. They bloomed, lifting their faces toward heaven. And the girls, they plucked petals right off the plants, and I didn’t scold them even a little. And I did what they asked me to do next. Those two girls said, “drive to the cemetery,” and I did just that.

I drove them up the hill, to the Lee family plot, and I knelt down beside them as they spread soft petals on his grave.

Your Turn:

Where do you need “spring” most today? What are the tulips saying to you?

by | March 23, 2015 | 19 comments


  1. Kim's County Line

    So beautiful! I read this just after I read the news of Kara Tippett’s death, so the tears are continuing. But through the tears is this great promise of Spring. Thank you.

    • dukeslee

      Oh our Kara. Her faith has become sight. What a treasure…. Kim, I actually wrote this post years ago, but had never published it here. And then I pre-scheduled the post while on vacation, to publish today — of course, not knowing that Kara would be going home.

  2. Debbie Prater

    Beautiful blog. I am reading this while it is snowing outside! Yes snowing! But there is hope. Spring weather will come and there will be flowers. So glad for hope.

    • dukeslee

      We had snow at the Minneapolis airport when we landed last night, after returning home from vacation. Sometimes, winter hangs on — onto our trees and onto our souls. But God says spring IS … COMING.

  3. April

    Jennifer, this brought tears to my eyes. So beautiful and poignant, especially in the wake of Kara going Home to Jesus. Thank you for this.

    • dukeslee

      Yes. Tears here, too. I actually wrote this post years ago, but had never published it here. And then I pre-scheduled the post while on vacation, to publish today — of course, not knowing that Kara would be going home. Did you check out Ann Voskamp’s post today about Kara? It’s simply gorgeous.

  4. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    What amazes me about tulips is that there is all that life in a hard, brown bulb….It sits in the dark, the earth warms up and the sun comes out…and miracle of miracles–beauty and life. I’m sure they will always remind your girls about their Grandpa.

    • dukeslee

      Yes, Jody. So true. Such beauty from something that looks incapable of producing anything good.

  5. Loved As If

    Perfect! Thank you so much.

    Tulips always make my heart sing. Spring always comes.

  6. Monica Snyder

    I love when your posts give me a little more of the story that is you. This makes me think of Luci Shaw’s beautiful poem, “Spring is a Promise.” Do you know it?

    Spring is a promise
    in the close fist
    of a long winter, All
    we have is a raw slant of light at a low
    angle, a rising river
    of wind, and an icy rain
    that drowns out green
    in a tide of mud. It is
    the daily postponement
    that disillusions.
    (Once again the performance
    has been canceled by
    the management.) We live
    on legends of old
    springs. Each evening
    brings only remote
    possibilities of
    renewal: “Maybe
    tomorrow.” But the
    evening and the morning
    are the umpteenth day
    and the God of sunlit
    Eden still looks
    on the weather
    and calls it good.”

    No green blossoms here yet, but there is Hope that will not disappoint.

    • Lynn D. Morrissey

      One of my favorite poems, Monica. Do you have her Horizons book, illustrated by Timothy Botts? Lovely!

      • Monica Snyder

        Lynn, I have not seen it, and I don’t know why since I have so many of her books. I’m running to look for it now. Thank you! This poem was originally published in her book “God in the Dark.” It is out of print now, I think. It’s a journal format book about her walk through her husband’s cancer diagnosis, illness and death. She is so kindred!

  7. Trudy Den Hoed

    I love this message of what spring reveals, Jennifer. And what a beautiful description of death being a doorway, not a dead end. Thank you!

  8. Lynn D. Morrissey

    So beautiful and timely Jennifer. I’m so sorry about the loss of Scott’s dad earlier. And how I missed my grandparents after they died. So beautifully written, so meaningful. I thnk nature is God’s gift to continually speak of renewal and resurrection hope. Maybe this is exactly why God created things like perennial flowers and butterflies–to point to the truth of life beyond the grave. It really helps me to believe in what I can’t see.
    Love you so much.

  9. Christine Duncan

    this is so lovely and tender… I pray people will remember the beauty in the middle of the losses… God has designed it that way, from the fading tulip to the precious one fading from this life, but coming face to face with the Creator in the next… and that beauty will blow all others away!!!

  10. lindalouise

    This is lovely, Jennifer – especially poignant on this day when so many are feeling loss. I love reading your words. I’m sorry I’ve been so “absent.” I’ve been struggling to find my words for a long time. xo

  11. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    This is so touching, Jennifer! I think this is the best description I have ever heard about how it feels when someone you love dearly has gone through that “doorway”: “it felt like all the color got sucked out of everybody’s life”. That’s exactly how it feels! But God in His goodness brings the color back into our lives when we learn to trust Him with everything – from the beauty of spring to the pain of death. Thank you for this beautiful reminder that “Spring shows us what God can do with a dark, broken world.” Blessings to you and yours.

  12. Martha Orlando

    Such a lovely, poignant reflection, Jennifer. Yes, spring with its tulips reminds of that life with God is eternal. There is ever hope and new beginnings in Him. Blessings!

  13. Nancy Ruegg

    The tears came as I visualized those sweet girls scattering tulip petals on their grandpa’s grave. What a lovely demonstration of the truth that “Spring shows us what God can do with a dark, broken world.” Thank you for a beautiful, hope-filled post!



  1. » What We All Need to Remember Every Spring - […] My father-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, a few weeks before the first tulips popped their glossy mouths…

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