Spring can be bi-polar, hinting at summer (last week) and then swinging back to snow and slush (this week). When I’m most anxious to leave winter behind, I pull out my tulip mug. It was a gift from my college roommate, who knew me well enough to choose a mug with my favorite flower.
Tulips are magical, as far as I’m concerned. I can’t get over their different shapes and vibrant colors. But what I love most is how unruly they are, their stems always bending, reaching, and stretching towards the sun. It’s a quality I wish came more naturally to me: a healthy disregard for uniformity and confinement.
When we moved to Grand Rapids, I was most excited about how our new climate would mean more access to tulips. Still, I didn’t fully appreciate how wonderful it would be to watch them bloom all around me.
While we anxiously waited for Leo to be born during our first autumn here, Ian and my mother-in-law planted tulip bulbs. Right now, their green leaves are just beginning to poke through the dirt in our front yard, and I’m reminiscing about last spring.
When we first planted them, I said meek little prayers for those flowers. I wondered what was happening beneath the ice, deep within the frozen ground. All along, I was afraid of disappointment if I set my expectations too high. I doubted. I assumed squirrels had sneaked our bulbs away, and I questioned whether our flower bed was getting enough sunlight. I noticed blooming plants in neighbors’ yards and concluded ours would never come.
But lo and behold, with the warmth of spring came our tulips.
Beautiful, two-feet tall purple tulips in the front. Behind them, a row of brilliant red, their leaves more ruffled. They sprouted in waves, early bloomers and late bloomers. My favorites were tall and elegant, tinted such a deep shade of purple they were almost black.
One night, we had quite a rainstorm—hail and all, with the thunder loud enough to wake me from a deep sleep. The temperature dropped quite a bit, and when I walked outside the next morning, I found that the tulips had closed up.
It turns out that when it rains or when the temperature drops, tulips close up. Google told me this protects the pollen and ensures reproduction. I had no idea this sort of thing happened, but I was in awe.
A friend recently suggested that God speaks as much through creation as He does through Scripture. Today, I am thinking of all the ways God protects and shelters me, just as it’s somehow in the flowers’ nature to close and reopen in perfect timing.
How often do I keep pushing, fighting, and striving when surrounding storms necessitate that I stop and take care of myself a bit? I have learned a lot about self-care over time, but I still feel guilty when I choose to read on the couch instead of playing Hot Wheels with Ian, or pour an additional cup of coffee, or pay for a bouquet at Trader Joe’s, or head out for a solo evening at the coffee shop.
But, truly: even the tulips practice self-care. Nature itself knows what it can and can not handle. Self-care is not optional and not something we do to merely comfort ourselves. It’s something we practice to keep ourselves alive, fruitful, and thriving.
When I’m in a funk, I find it really difficult to get myself out; to make whatever good choices might boost my mood. Instead of choosing something really restful and restorative, I aimlessly scroll through Facebook and Instagram, refresh my email inbox for the millionth time, shuffle the clutter around my house without purpose. The pull of inertia is strong. And while it’s ok to sit with my discomfort and melancholy a bit, there also comes a time when I need to do my part to say goodbye to those heavy moods.
For the tulips in my yard, it was instinct. But my instinct is to choose distraction rather than rest. So, as any good INFJ would do, I made a list. I refer to it every once in awhile, when I feel overwhelmed and need reminders of what works and what matters.
Ways to care for myself:
-A cup of coffee in the morning. (This may not be the BEST or most healthy habit, but I figure in this stage of life, it’s a luxury I can grant myself.)
-Read the Bible.
-Go through my prayer journal.
-Make a list of things I’m grateful for.
-Turn on a good playlist.
-Log out of social media.
-Try some centering prayer.
-Leave my phone in the other room. (I’m embarrassed by how difficult this is.)
-Read a book or a poem.
-Take a nap. (A nap is the elusive magical unicorn of self-care strategies.)
I want to be more willing to close up and shield myself from the wind and the rain. I don’t want to wait until it’s too late to care for myself; I want it to be instinct, with no guilt or shame involved. This is what the tulips have taught me.