Pink tulips

Pink tulips are said to mean affection and caring.

Years before my wife and I moved to Des Moines to pastor our church, someone planted tulips around the windows on the south side of the building. Of course, anyone who knows much about tulips will know that that they have a tendency to multiply until there are too many of them for a given area. Eventually, they crowd each other out until they’re unable to bloom. Well, this is exactly what had happened long before we moved in.

In fact, for a couple of years, we didn’t even realize the tulips were there. I would happily mow (okay, so mowing in July and August isn’t always a happy thing, but you get the point) the grass along the church, cutting them off without even noticing them.

Then one day, I noticed the funny-looking grass that seemed to grow faster, and I realized what was there. So, out of curiosity, I mowed around it. The leaves came up, and it was clear that these were tulips, but no flowers ever appeared. The same thing happened the next year. And again the next.

Then one day, I noticed something strange. There was a tiny bud, just poking above the level of the rest of the grass. It wasn’t even as tall as the rest of the tulip plant, but when it bloomed, the deep pink was pretty spectacular.

It was also alone. That was the only bloom I saw that year.

The next year, though, I anxiously watched to see if any tulips would bloom. I suppose, at first, it was because my mother had planted tulips around the house I grew up in, and I had fond memories of trampling those tulips to the ground (Hey, we were boys!) or picking them to present as a fragrant bouquet to my mother. But as first one bloom, and then another, and another until there were five in all spread, I began to recognize them as a symbol of the life of our church.

Red tulips can mean both "I love you" and "Believe me."

Red tulips can mean both “I love you” and “Believe me.”

You see, our church went through some dark days. The first twenty years of its existence, she was led by a popular, charismatic radio personality. People flocked from across the state to attend the church he preached at. When he retired in 1957, though, things began to slide downhill. There are too many reasons for the decline for us to get into here, but by the mid-90s, the congregation was one-tenth as large as it had been in 1955. There was serious talk about closing the thing, but a few faithful (read that, positively stubborn) parishioners stuck it out. They called a pastor, and things started to turn around. But when he left four years later, the congregation was right back on the cusp of closure.

Mind you, I’m not claiming responsibility for the renewal that our church has experienced in the 13 years since Nicole and I arrived. Some would probably question whether it is legitimate renewal. Regardless, all the glory for whatever has been accomplished goes to God, with whatever’s left reserved for the people who have been gracious (again, read that, stubborn) enough to stick it out with us, and the new people who haven’t figured out there are far better pastors out there!

And the point is, we’ve made progress. Though some of the statistics don’t show it yet, there has been new life blossoming in our congregation. And with each passing year, I see that new life growing stronger and more abundant.

Tulips are considered heralds of spring because, along with crocuses and daffodils, they are among the first flowers to bloom.

Tulips are considered heralds of spring because, along with crocuses and daffodils, they are among the first flowers to bloom.

Like the tulips. Last year, there were about 15 blooms.

But the connection between the tulips and the life of the church is even deeper than that. In the last couple of years, we’ve struggled to gain traction in the neighborhood and see the growth for which we so desperately long. It has been, in many ways, frustrating, even defeating.

Last year, some junior high boys picked all 15 tulip blooms the same day they bloomed. I suppose I should be thankful they didn’t use them to lay ambush for the army men or the Indians or the generally bad guys who hang out around the building. I like to think they presented them as a bouquet to their mothers, as I did years ago. But it occurred to me when I learned what had happened that someone was working hard to steal the renewed life from our church and me, too.

But here’s the thing about tulips which I’ve seen firsthand: they come back. In fact, tulips are often considered symbolic of eternal life because they may return even stronger and more abundant than before. This year, there are already at least 20 blooms preparing (or already) popping.

And I’ll be honest. As I write this, I find myself wondering if it’s coincidence that the tulips are on the south side of the church, the side where the parsonage is. It seems as if so much of myself is wrapped up in whether or not things are going well in the church.

This past Sunday, I preached a message challenging the church to call on the Holy Spirit to breathe upon us so that we would be revived and renewed. But the truth is, the Spirit has been filling us for some time. Spring is coming. New life is appearing. Today, the tulips are blooming.


Tulips are considered symbolic of eternal life because they keep coming back year after year after year. Sometimes, they even bloom when there is snow on the ground nearby. We should be so alive!


1 Response to “Tulips”

  1. 1 sherry April 13, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Amen, progress is not always seen in the numbers on the paper. I would challenge anyone to talk to the neighborhood school or the neighborhood association and see what this group of determined and God fearing group of people have quietly gone about doing for others.

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