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My favorite flower is the pink rose.  To be honest with you, I love all the flowers.  Lilies are beautiful, daisies make me feel playful, dandelions conjure up images of making wishes in an open field,  wildflowers bring a sense of freedom with them.  Each variety has its own sweet scent, too, and, truth be told, I don’t particularly favor any specific scent more than another, not even that of the rose.  They all smell sweet.  Still, a piece of me softens when I see a pink rose.

I was in the 10th grade and attending my favorite school of all time when Valentine’s Day rolled around.  Excitement filled the air, girls giggling and smiling from ear to ear as they carried flowers admirers—some secret and others not so secret—sent to them.  Fathers even had bouquets sent to the office for their daughters to pick up.  We were allowed to pay $1 to have an upperclassmen deliver messages and sweets to anyone of our choosing in the entire school.  While my mom sent me flowers to the school one year,  I didn’t get flowers or candy most years.  But I watched what they did to the girls who did get them.  I watched the smiles play on their faces.  At the time, I didn’t understand what receiving flowers meant.  I didn’t get why a bouquet of flowers, flowers that weren’t going to even last very long, could make someone that happy.  Sure, I understood that it was the idea behind them—that someone liked you enough to give you a gift—but I didn’t understand why flowers had the ability to make everyone happy, why they were considered the symbol of love, why they were sent at both weddings and funerals,  why they produced such emotion.   They were just flowers.

A year or two later, though, I turned sixteen and that birthday party was so wonderful it would stay with me for years afterwards.  My mother rented a limousine to pick me, my sister and a few friends up from the school to take us to the horse stables where we would ride horses for an hour and eat cake in the barn.  In the limo was a bouquet of flowers—of pink roses.  At the time,  I oohed and ahhed over how pretty they were but it wasn’t until after everyone had left and I saw the roses lying alone that my heart was stirred.   The pink roses seemed so… delicate, fragile.  Similarly,  I’d lived my whole life delicately,  afraid of happiness.  Whenever something good happened, like that birthday party,  I didn’t throw myself in wholeheartedly to truly experience it—instead,  I held back, afraid to really care that much,  afraid to enjoy it too much because the bubble might burst.  I never trusted anything good to last.  Seeing something as delicate as a pink rose while knowing  it was really strong enough to survive storms unprotected softened my heart.  But it wasn’t only that it was pretty and delicate but also strong that made me love the pink rose.  It was even more than that.

Watching a rose bloom is a fascinating experience because it has so many layers to it.  It reveals one only to reveal another and then yet another.   Roses, you see, have depth.  They aren’t what writers would label a static character.  Instead, they’re a collection of seemingly contradictory layers that, together, form something extraordinary.  Delicate, but strong;  beautiful, but complicated.  While I really do love all different flowers, the rose, and the pink rose in particular, inspires an emotion in me that the others don’t.  When I see one, I feel a tiny burst of hope.  If this delicate, beautiful flower with many different layers can bloom into something extraordinary, then maybe I, with all my layers of history and experiences, can still bloom into something worthwhile. If something fragile like this flower doesn’t actually need to be put under glass in order to survive the elements, maybe I, too, can stand through the rainy spots of life.

I’ve built my entire life off hope, yet it’s an emotion that greatly scares me.  I mean… if you truly hope for something and then are disappointed, not only do you have to deal with the less desired outcome but you also have to contend with disappointment, rejection, whatever emotions arise from unfulfilled hope. It makes more logical sense to me to be prepared, to be “realistic,” to guard myself against disappointment or sadness than to spend time hoping for something I can’t control.  Regardless of whatever circumstance I’ve found myself,   I’ve never given up hope that, even if I couldn’t see it yet, I would be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  There were times when I almost abandoned the hope of getting through it.  There were times when I almost surrendered to the black hole. Almost, but not completely.  Along with family and faith, clinging to hope in the future kept me standing.  I would tell myself nothing lasts forever.  I depended on that universal truth.  I was emotionally fragile—I graduated in 1999.  I still go to see high school teachers who took the time to care.  The slightest word had the potential to traumatize me;  the fear of being abandoned plus a deeply seated, scarce acknowledged mistrust of men left me unprepared for adulthood.  And yet—despite all that, I believed in life.  I went to bed and I woke up wanting to make a difference, believing that, with hard work, I could.  I volunteered,  I worked… and I never gave up.  I knew, I believed, that even though it might be wiser to prepare for the worst, to live a life void of color, choosing to believe in faith, in hope, made life richer and more meaningful.  Hope was a key element that kept me strong even when I was most fragile.

My first daughter had been born before I received a bouquet of pink roses while romantically involved.  I watered them and watched in wonder as, every day, they seemed to blossom a little more.  A new layer here, a new layer there, until one day, those flowers were full.  The transformation fascinated me, probably because it was during the same chapter in my life in which I finally began to reveal large parts of who I was.  People aren’t products of just one or two experiences, not even just a dozen.  People are complicated creatures who ultimately define themselves through a collection of thousands of experiences, conversations, people and beliefs.  I spent a lot of time desperately trying to find someone who could understood me, the real me, because I wanted to be loved for who I really was, flaws and all.  I wanted someone to understand why I write.  I wanted someone to understand why I must be surrounded by children in order to thrive.  But I didn’t only want to be understood, I wanted more.  To feel safe enough to laugh without inhibition, to feel treasured and fragile enough to rest, to matter enough to be heard.  But… the truth is… no one can ever really be understood.  There are too many layers in each of us to be fully transparent.  I don’t really understand why the rose has so many layers.  I don’t really understand why some roses are pink, others yellow and still others white or orange. I don’t really understand why they comfort the way they do. But I do know they make me feel beautiful, happy and hopeful because, while not all of our layers can be understood, we can be cared for and loved.  And that’s the greatest hope of all, just to be loved.

When I’m scared, when I feel alone, when I am worried… focusing on that fear keeps my petals tightly coiled, it keeps me like the rose that hasn’t bloomed yet.  I can’t bloom, I can’t grow, I can’t change into something extraordinary until I let go of the fear and cling instead to hope.  Revealing the innermost parts of who I am paves the way to deeper friendships and meaningful connections that will result in memories that will be mine no matter the outcome.  Refusing to hide teaches my daughters to live life openly and to take the hand of someone near to them when they need it.  It’s not easy—the rose blooming makes itself vulnerable by unraveling its layers—but feeling the sunlight is worth the risk.

It’s easy to feel rather small, insignificant and helpless. It’s also easy to cry and long for a day where I don’t have to wake up fighting for happiness, health or peace.  Moments where I don’t want to be the strong, beautiful rose but the hidden one, the one still tucked into the cocoon of unopened petals.  Be that as it may, though, I know… I can’t.  And I can’t because I’ve seen the miracle of birth, the masterpiece of the sunset, the power of faith, the strength of family and the comfort of friendship.  I can’t because, no matter how strong the fear, the beauty that surrounds me on a daily basis is amazingly overwhelming.  The beauty of my daughters inspires me.  The beauty of play nurtures me.  The beauty, the wonder, of laughter steals my breath.  The beauty of nature stirs me.  The beauty of powerful healing emboldens me.  The beauty of dreams come true, like writing books that sell and being a mother, motivates me.  The beauty of prayer and scripture flood my life, washing doubt away.

So…

I think tomorrow I’ll find a bouquet of pink roses to keep in the house.  And when the fatigue makes my head spin, when the loneliness begins to block the sunlight, when fear of a thousand things makes me toss and turn all night… I’ll look at soft pink petals and remember that hope isn’t about what’s right in front of you; rather, hope is waiting for the flower to bloom. Hope is the morning still to come.

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