“So much of earth, so much of heaven…”

"Youth like summer morn..." ~Shakespeare

They’re lying in wait outside the kitchen door like children whispering over a surprise, giddy with the secret they keep. Blousy bright maids amid the tired leaves and blossoms, the only ladies of the garden tough enough to look fresh after what July’s dealt them. And though I pass them every morning on the way to the barn and every evening trudging back to the house at the rounding up of a long day, though the surprise is unvaryingly the same and always given in a consistent manner, it never fails to startle me. To shock and move me out of the moment of time I happen to occupy and transport me to another one altogether. Feelings of a me that was and still is rise like a tide and other days’ passions quicken to life once more.

The scent of summer phlox is seventeen to me.

Philip has doubtless heard me say it a thousand times. I’ve bitten my tongue over it at least a hundred just this summer, though he never minds when I repeat myself. (A good thing! ;)) But even the sentiment under which I planted them in my garden could not have fathomed how evocative that fragrance would be, or just what riches lay locked within its treasury. What shades would rouse beneath its spell, what notes and essences it would bear in its perfume.

It is a girl that turned seventeen in July when the phlox was at its peak. It’s a new Laura Ashley skirt and a croquet party in the front yard with friends in hues as sweet as a summer nosegay. A picnic on the floor in the dining room when rain threatened and Rigmarole and hand-written menus and ribbons on fans. It’s kindred spirits and laughter that will never tarnish though long ages roll over it. For that’s the way with the laughter of our youth: if a baby’s laugh makes a fairy, as the great Barrie believed, then a happy girl’s laugh must be likewise immortal. An undying bird, perhaps. Or a perennial flower.

Dreams were close companions in those days and ideals had yet to be troubled by even a cloud of unkind realities. Yet, looking back—carried back, as it were—I know that so many of those dreams have been realized beyond even the dreaming of them. Have put on flesh in the form of the man who walks beside me and in all the bleats, plowings, cackles, barks, hammerings, purrs, crowings and creakings of the home we have made together. Have expanded to include a scope I’d never have dared to imagine. Ideals remain high—higher than ever, you might say. But their sights are set beyond the mere horizons of this life alone and the underpinnings have been examined with a critical eye. Some of them have been packed away with the rose leaves of youth and others have been proven and tried for the duration. And the pillars that wobbled in places have been stabilized with the only Foundation than can support them.

There’s something in the eyes of that seventeen year-old girl that I quail before, however. Something that challenges me so deeply that my gaze falters before hers. For all her untested ideals and notions about life, there is a love for Jesus Christ that absolutely blazes out of her. Do I still love Him that way? I can hardly bear to ask myself the question. Is He still the morning star of my life, the sun and the moon and all that lies between? Does He still have my heart as unreservedly as He did then?

Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me—

(I used to sing it blithely with my friends and mean every line. Now it frightens me a little.)

Lay any burden on me, only sustain me,
Sever any tie, save the tie that binds me to Thy heart.
Lord Jesus, my King, I consecrate my life, Lord, to Thee.

I tremble and close my eyes over unshed tears.

I remember thee, the old verse whispers in my heart, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.*

It was a wilderness of a different sort then, another kind of waiting for that unproven heart. But the principle is the same, the temptation as real: to wander in the wilderness or to follow. To espouse our heart’s desires for their own sake or the Lover of our soul for His.

Pain has taken my hand many times since the days of ‘winsome seventeen’, and sorrow has occasionally nudged dreams to the side with a motion of gentle forestallment. I look back at my ingenuous self with her eager eyes still begging the question and I smile.

Yes, my young friend. I still love Him. More than ever. More than life. He’s more than even you could dream of, chief among dreamers though you are. You haven’t the faintest notion of how good He is. Not yet…

And nor have I, really. But what I know makes me love the thought of passing another year in His company.

~~

The phlox is all gone from the neighbor’s house where it was gathered in endless bouquets in endless summers all those years ago. But maybe I’ll take some to my mother’s when we go over next week.

Perhaps she’ll put it on my birthday cake.

Keep true to the dreams of thy youth. ~Schiller

*Jeremiah 2.2

16 Responses to ““So much of earth, so much of heaven…””

  1. I read the last paragraphs more than once, asking myself if I could say the same…that yes “I still love Him more than ever”. Often, I am led to think that through the pain, and sometimes sorrow in life, I see the depth, the greatness, and the beauty of His love.

    What a precious picture, and quote…so fitting! I don’t think I have ever come to your blog, without leaving refreshed, and with a bit more joy in my heart. Blessings!

  2. This post really makes me smile. 🙂

    Perhaps because I also celebrate a birthday next week (albeit your mother’s age or thereabout).

    It could be that at age seventeen, I was a part of a Jesus People ministry and ministered with such passion… I didn’t know fear. He was SO real. May he always be that real.

    Beautifully written!

  3. Gretchen says:

    The photo of you is too precious, my friend.

    And as to the rest? There are no words. Thanks for sharing your heart… And inspiring us meanwhile.

  4. Jessica says:

    Thank you for that, Lanier…a needed encouragement and reminder.

    And I agree with the others…the photo was sweet! I especially love the gloves… 🙂

  5. Lisa says:

    It is my hope that in ten, fifteen, fifty years’ time that the Lord will be setting my soul alight as fervently as he has this year, since my reversion. It moved me so to hear you say” He’s more than even you could dream of…”

    As for flowers, yellow jasmine recalls my girlhood. I loved our climbing vines. Alas, my early attempts at perfume distillery failed to capture their delicate scent; I was left with an ugly brown water that I desperately tried to save by mixing in other perfumes. My failed experiments left me with a new appreciation of God’s perfect work in nature.

    As always, Lanier, your writing transports me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  6. Jodi Lenz says:

    Dear Lanier,
    What a lovely way to describe phlox. You have such a way with words.

    Happy birthday, my friend. As a little gift to you, I would like to create a permanent link on my blog to your bookstore. Perhaps I could create a little button on my page that would lead people there. What thinkest thou?

    I’ve been planning to take down my current bookstore link as it takes up too much space and I really don’t maintain it.

    Again, happy birthday 🙂

    Love, Jodi

  7. JJ says:

    Beautiful. And inspiring. Thanks dear friend for letting us see through your eyes.

  8. Wendy says:

    This made me cry Lanier … especially that photo which brought such a rushing of memories … so sweet, so precious. AND, your passion and example has reaped even MORE than your dreams could imagine in the hearts and lives of my own children – thank you for all you gave (and continue to pour in).
    Happy, Happy, Birthday! (must say, Liz looks adorable in her gloves too!)

  9. Kathy says:

    How blessed you were to have friends of kindred spirits! At 17, I would have loved to have attended a party with faith, flowers, singing, picnics, skirts and fans. I am delighted to know that somewhere young ladies were able to enjoy their pure, joyful and innocent youth in such a charming way.

  10. Claudia Adams says:

    I loved this post….I had forgotten about phlox being on one of your cakes. We have put every other flower on cakes and cupcakes..I am glad phlox got to join the ranks too! Reading this post called to mind a young lady with dreams awaiting fulfillment. God gave you a vision for your life ….as He delights to reveal bits and pieces of how He sees our lives working out. You had the patience and peace to wait on His time and His plan. I was so moved this morning as we sang “Be Thou My Vision.” I was overwhelmed anew at how perfect His plans are for His children. This post made me cry . You are an aroma of Christ to all who come in contact with you…in person or in a post.

  11. Michelle Vantrease says:

    Dear Lanier,

    I just wanted to say that I enjoy your posts immensely. This one in particular had me in tears. I had to read it aloud to my 21 year old daughter because your writing has such a beautiful voice.

    Blessings to you and yours,
    Michelle Vantrease

  12. Elisabeth says:

    Gorgeous! Thank you for sharing so beautifully. And happy birthday … 🙂

  13. Ellbee says:

    Thank you for sharing what phlox means to you. In the midst of sorrows as a child, God provided buttercups, dandelions, forsythia, pussy willows, and dogwood blossoms to keep this little girl’s senses happy. Though I didn’t attribute these beautiful creations to Him at the time, God reminded me of them just now.

    ~~ “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it.” ~~ Song of Solomon 8:7

  14. LittleLea says:

    Dear Lanier,

    Last summer, after having read one of your posts, I unexpectedly found myself in tears, a pen in my hand. I then wrote a letter to myself-in-the-future where I poured all those wishes and bits of prayers leaping inside me like wildfire… dreams of becoming the Christ-like woman I knew I was not. I read that letter again a few days ago, marveling at God’s goodness as I thought about all the invaluable lessons He had taught me during this past year. I experienced the Lord in ways I had never known, and He showed me more of His faithfulness and loveliness; and He shaped me Himself, doing what I could have never achieved on my own.

    Now, as I’ve been contemplating the perspective of another year of life, with its whole new share of unknown and (most likely) pain, I read these words…

    “But what I know makes me love the thought of passing another year in His company.”

    It was just like a whisper from heaven.

    Thank you… with all my heart.

    L.

  15. Phloxes… My favourite flowers…
    Phlox really has a strong ability to bring back memories with its scent. That is why I love it so much, although, for me, those are memories of a little girl I once was.
    But I so agree with the title. That is phlox for me, too.

  16. Josie Ray says:

    I just clicked Flower Reviews and came across this post. There’s an earlier me, too, who could sing any hymn in the hymnal with all her heart. Now…I skip the ones that volunteer myself for suffering and that ask for additional crosses if only they bring me closer to Him. Is that just life experience, and am I closer to Him now or farther away? There are now some things that I know that I would not go through again for Heaven or earth…and I don’t ask for trouble in order to prove my faith. Maybe it’s maturity or humility…but I think I like the earlier me better. Still, I think I will just be profoundly and quietly thankful for the sunny days now and do my best to keep them.

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