It was an autumn morning in 1971, shortly after our family moved into our first house. The children were upstairs unpacking, and I was looking out the window at my father, moving around mysteriously on the front lawn. My parents lived nearby, and Dad had visited us several times already. “What are you doing out there?” I called to him.

He looked up, smiling. "I'm making you a surprise." What kind of a surprise, I wondered. Knowing my father, an engaging and quixotic man, it could be just about anything. But Dad would say no more and caught up in the busyness of our new life, I eventually forgot about the surprise.

Until one raw day in late March when, again, I glanced out the window. Dismal. Overcast. Little piles of dirty snow still stubbornly littering the lawn, as boots and wet mittens cluttered our closets. I had always hated Chicago winters—would this one ever end? And yet...was it a mirage? I strained to see what I thought was something pink, miraculously peeking out of a drift. And was that a dot of blue across the yard, a small note of optimism in this gloomy expanse? I grabbed my coat, and headed outside for a closer look.

They were crocuses, not neatly marching along the house’s foundation (where I never could have seen them from the window), but scattered whimsically throughout the front lawn. Lavender, blue, yellow and my favorite pink--little faces bobbing in the bitter wind, they heralded the hope I’d almost lost. See? they seemed to say. You’ve survived the long dark winter. And if you hang on a little longer, life will be beautiful again. Dad. I smiled, remembering the bulbs he had secretly planted last fall. What could have been more perfectly timed, more tuned to my needs. How blessed I was, not only for the flowers, but for him.

My father’s crocuses bloomed each spring for the next few seasons, bringing that same assurance every time they arrived: Hard times almost over, light coming, hold on, hold on… Then, apparently, the bulbs could produce no more. A spring came with only half the usual blooms. The next season, about 1979, there were none. I missed the crocuses, but my life was busier than ever, and I had never been much of a gardener. I would ask Dad to come over and plant new bulbs, I thought. But I never did.

Our father died suddenly, on one exquisitely beautiful day in October, 1985. We grieved intensely, deeply, but cleanly, because there was no unfinished business, no regrets or lingering guilt. We had always been a faith-filled family, and we leaned on it now. Of course Dad was in heaven. Where else would such a beloved person go? He was still a part of us; in fact, he could probably do even more for his family now that he was closer to God.

And if I wondered, just a little, in the quiet darkness of my room, if I unwillingly questioned what I had been taught because faith suddenly seemed to demand more bravery than I could muster, no one else ever knew. We suffered. We handled our pain. We laughed and cried together. Life went on.

Four years passed, and on a dismal day in spring 1989, I found myself running errands and feeling depressed. Winter blahs, I told myself. You get them every spring. It’s chemistry. Perhaps. But it was something else too. Once again I found myself thinking about Dad. This was not unusual—we often talked about him, reminiscing and enjoying our memories. But now in the car, my old unspoken concern surfaced. How was he? And, although I hated to wonder, where was he? I know that I know that I know, I told God in the familiar shorthand I often use. But do You think that You could send a sign, just something little, that Dad is home safe with You?

Immediately I felt guilty.

God had been very good to me, and He had a right to expect something in return. But sometimes, I told myself as I turned into our driveway, faith is so very hard.

Suddenly I slowed, stopped and stared at the lawn. Small gray mounds of melting snow. Muddy grass. And there, bravely waving in the wind, one pink crocus.

Hold on, keep going, light is coming soon…There was no way, I knew, that a flower could bloom from a bulb more than eighteen years old, one that hadn’t blossomed in over a decade. But there the crocus was, like a hug from heaven, and tears filled my eyes. God had heard. And He loved me, so much that He had sent the reassurance I needed in a tenderly personal way—so there would be no doubt.

The pink crocus bloomed for only one day. April 14th. My father’s birthday. But it built my faith for a lifetime.

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