I drove home from work, looking at the dirty, dingy snow all around. The muck of the road and everything else had long since turned the piles that lined the streets into a disgusting blend of brown, black and grey filth. I was cold and cranky, and I cursed the winter as I drove. When I got home, I glanced at the table by the door – the “mail table” – to see if anything interesting was there. And it was. Like a missal from some far away, exotic country where things are very different, the flower catalogs lay on the table, beckoning with their cover photographs of gorgeous, gaudy blossoms. Now, I recognize that it is good advertising for the companies that sell garden plants and flowers to send out their catalogs in the depths of winter. At this time, gardens and flowers seem like something impossibly wondrous to hope for in a distant future that is almost unimaginable in the middle of winter gloom. These catalogues, with brightly colored, exaggerated blooms on the covers, do have their intended effect on me. Filled with visceral longing, I picked one up and began to thumb through it.
As I mentioned, I was in a foul mood that afternoon. I could have been filled with hope by the pictures in the catalogs. After all, I had ordered from these companies before. Some of the flowers in the pictures were in fact in my yard, hidden under the muck and the snow, and would one day blossom there. However, that day seemed a long, long way away. Filled with impatient longing for this impossibly far future time, stuck in my funk about how miserable I was in the winter, the exuberant colors of the flowers in the catalogs, with backdrops of warm sunshine and blue skies, just seemed to mock me. There was one picture in particular that got to me. Flowers in vivid hues of blue, yellow and red were planted together, arranged just perfectly such that the contrast of these three bright colors made them all seem that much more brilliant and lovely. I sighed, and prepared to raise my eyes to a colorless, dreary scene out the window.
But just outside nearby, where I had a perfect view of them through the window, were three birds. A festively red cardinal, a vibrant blue jay, and a goldfinch that even in its winter feathers was showing lovely, boisterous yellow. Their close proximity to one another enhanced the contrast of their brightly colored feathers, beautiful red and blue and yellow like the flowers in the catalogue. And these hues appeared all the more outstanding against the background, not of sunshine and blue sky but rather of stark white snow, upon which the astonishingly vivid colors of the three birds stood out with stunning brilliance.
I had to laugh at myself. I had been so busy longing for the cheery colors of the flowers of the future that I had almost missed the beautiful colors before me (the same colors!) in the present. How often do we fail to perceive God’s grace immediately before us, because we are fixated on what we don’t have? These common backyard birds – hardly exotic or unusual species - were in that moment the most incredible and gorgeous things I had ever seen, their colorful feathers amazing to behold and wondrous to my soul. My gloom was lifted and replaced with awe and gratitude. What are the colors of grace? That afternoon, grace was red, yellow, blue, and the cold winter white of snow.