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.