Collecting Petals

 “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” (St. Teresa of Calcutta)


God has been planting seeds within me lately.  Ideas. Insights. Hopes. Aspirations.  It has felt exciting and purposeful.  I see our girl’s story sprinkled about like petals on the ground, and I’m trying to collect them to rebuild a unique bouquet.  To see the beauty of the vision.  There are so many fragments, and I’m trying to grab at them all:  ministering to the grieving, serving the poor, discovering how to experience my own personal journey of healing.  I can’t see the final outcome, yet, but I know something has been planted.  Roots are settling in.  I’m tending to the garden while I await the growth.

Serving the poor this past year at the local diner has stretched and transformed my heart in unimaginable ways.  Every time I go, my heart bends and breaks open a little more to see the suffering others are enduring.  I ask myself, “What do those living in poverty have that I do not?  What is it about the homeless that makes them so unique?”   Last week I heard eye contact, whispered within my heart.

“Make eye contact.” 

“Let them be seen.”

“Let them see YOU.”

I was being called out. I often feel invisible, and I struggle with vulnerability, yet, they were challenging me to look at them.  In fact, they were practically begging for it.

[What can I learn from the poor?  Why do they touch my heart so deeply?]

Recently, I have felt like I have made the connection with our daughter and how she wants me to use her death for a greater good.  Her vocation, LOVE, has been written within, and she wants me to come out of myself.  To find and serve others in their brokenness by walking right along side them, that we may find healing together.

It’s been a constant search to discover how that can tangibly be seen.  And it has something to do with the poor.  I just know it. 

For Christmas, we delivered a Christmas gift to a homeless man downtown in her honor, and we included Mother Teresa’s quote (her name sake) on the card.  It’s the same quote that is etched into her headstone:  “In this life we cannot do great things.  We can only do small things with great love.” After all, Mother Teresa found the “call within the call” to serve the poorest of the poor and the dying. Of course this would make sense.

Small things.

Great love.

I was reflecting on these insights as I collected trays from the patrons. I glanced upward to find a Mother Teresa prayer card placed so perfectly on the wall right above me, depicting her quote.  I couldn’t help but laugh inside.  I felt myself come alive and JOY began pulsing through me with each tray I collected.  With each pair of eyes I met.  With each painful smile that stretched me beyond my comfort zone.  With each:  “Thank you.  Have a good day.”  I knew she was with me in that very  moment.  I knew she was part of it all, because she was physically in me when I served two years ago, and she is within my heart now. Always.  ALL WAYS. I am grieving. And are they not, also?  I couldn’t help but wonder: What happens when the homeless lose children?  Who walks with them?

Then, the encounter took place. The reminder that we are all truly wildflowers in this one beautiful garden, creating a colorful array of promises, pruning, withering, and rebirth…growing and dying together as we await new life.

This poor man asked me what makes me feel special. “Flowers,” I replied. Then he handed me a dirty grocery bag filled with the most beautiful flowers he had been collecting from the streets for someone else who had lost a loved one. My heart jumped to my throat.

“Have you heard of Mother Teresa?,” I asked.

“I want to tell you about my daughter. I want to tell you what it means to do small things with great love. I want to tell you what this means to me. I want to tell you where I will place these flowers. Because these flowers, these flowers are perfect.”

He told me he didn’t care what I did with the flowers. But I looked him in the eyes, and I told him anyway. I told him I was bringing them to my daughter’s grave, because we were unable to get her any for Valentine’s Day (And now I know why—these were the flowers meant for her grave. Not an overpriced Valentine’s bouquet from the store). When he heard my words, his smile…it lit up his whole face. “Well, I suppose that’s a great thing to do with these flowers. Let me tell you about a woman I once knew…”

And he told me about a woman who suffered three miscarriages, and all she wanted was a child. He said, “Pray for God’s favor.” Months later she came to him filled with life inside, and he said he knew what the baby would be—a girl, named “Grace.” Grace—an unmerited favor. And he we were, two suffering people living on opposite sides of the world in the same town, discussing faith, and loss, and love, and LIFE. The poor met the poor in me. In my poverty—my spiritual poverty.

When I saw my children at the end of the school day, I told them about the diner. And together, we walked to their sister’s grave, and we proudly placed the flowers there as an offering of love, simplicity, and humility in honor of her, this man, and a vow to do small things with great love.

From a distance, you can’t even see the flowers that create beauty where her body rests. But I know they are there. And they encourage me to continue collecting petals and to keep my eyes open for beauty, as the story lies dormant, preparing to unfold like a beautiful unexpected bouquet.

Emma James1 Comment