We live in Washington State, not far from the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Spring is the time to visit and tour the fields when they are covered with thousands of tulips or daffodils. The first time we visited I naively traveled all that way to find fields of daffodils in decline and fields of green tulip plants not yet in bloom. I learned that year how important it is to check the bloom status when planning a trip. Prior to the next visit, I called the Tulip Festival’s phone number to ask when the tulips would be in full bloom. The person I spoke with was kind, but I did hear a tinge of exasperation in the response, “Like it says on the website, tulips do not bloom according to a precise calendar date—rather, the schedule for blooms is weather dependent.” I’ve now know to check the website to ensure the fields are in full color before we trek to Tulip Town.
Like the farmers and gardeners who create the displays at the tulip festival, I also made a great effort this past year to plant tulip bulbs in mid-October. I do this so that as April approaches there will be brilliant spots of color amid the grey scenery and dreary spring rains of the Northwest. This year is no exception. I planted a lot of bulbs and the first of my tulips are about to bloom. But let me stray from the subject of tulips for a moment…
Growing and changing as a person is not an easy task. Developing ourselves takes faith in God, a willingness to trust Him and to do the hard work, and it helps if we have patience and are persistent. With my own growth in mind, I set a goal for myself during my second fight with cancer. I wanted to memorize an important scripture in hopes that I could come to understand the lesson that God had for me in that very difficult time. I planned to work on my goal while undergoing the many radiation treatments in order to distract and occupy my thoughts.
My radiation treatments happened each weekday for six weeks. At each visit I had to lay in a large machine called a linear accelerator. Technicians used laser crosshairs to ensure I was positioned precisely so that the machine could deliver focused doses of radiation to the desired target locations inside my chest with minimal damage to the surrounding tissues. During the treatments the machine moved around me to deliver the radiation from multiple directions.
While I didn’t feel physical pain during the procedure, it did come later each day as the cells in the affected areas reacted to the powerful radiation. However, I did experience considerable anguish during each treatment! From the moment I was positioned in the machine I was required to be completely motionless and remain that way until the treatment was over. (Oh, and there is the fact that you must do this while at the same time being exposed… This is because the alignment cannot be established and maintained if clothing is in the way.)
I am terrible at being still. It is torture to me. That is where my goal came in. I would lay still and work on my goal as the minutes ticked by slowly at a snail’s pace. I kept repeating the scripture to myself, reciting it over and over again, and I did this each weekday for 6 weeks. I prayed during that time too, and I thought a lot about my children and my family. These practices were the only way I could maintain the stillness and make it through the treatments.
I didn’t memorize the scripture. I tried and tried. I remember lying there and just trying to remember only three or four of the words–but they would be just out of my reach. It seemed to be simple goal–just one scripture. Ridiculously easy for most, but try it with a chemo brain, lying absolutely still in a machine that is moving around you and all while in a minor state of undress!
Reflecting on it now I realize I was planning to be an overachiever! It may seem silly but I still don’t have this scripture memorized. At first I was disappointed in myself. “Why couldn’t I memorize it?” I despaired. But after some time and quiet reflection, I realized that I had achieved something more valuable than rote memorization of those words. I gained deep within myself a profound understanding of the message in that scripture. There was no rushing in this planting, there was plenty of time. The understanding I gained is so deeply planted in my soul that it influenced me to change.
Just as the tulip’s bloom is weather dependent, so is the changing of one’s heart. My life’s weather was incredibly stormy when this scripture was planted over and over again. The repetition created the perfect conditions for my heart to be softened and for God’s words to be planted deeply and as He intended—so that I could act upon the desire to change.