“Oh, Mom! Not again! We’ll never get where we’re going. I’ve stopped this car a dozen times already so you could take pictures of yet another flower.”
My daughter was right, of course. She usually is. We were driving on one of the busy California thoroughfares—4-lanes with fast-moving traffic. No shoulder for stopping; no strip for parking. Stopping would mean we’d have to turn off the road to park and then walk back to the spot where I’d seen this latest flower.
But this wasn’t just any flower! This was a flower I hadn’t seen since my childhood in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was a flower I had always loved, a flower I remembered as somehow comforting, but one I had begun to think I had just imagined, as I hadn’t seen it for some 60 years. But there it was! So beautiful with its small, multi-colored blossoms—clusters of bright orange around the perimeter, yellow in the center, and here and there a hint of pink and red as well.
I remembered one plant from my childhood in particular. It grew low to the ground on the hillside just outside the girls’ dormitory where I spent much of my elementary school years. My parents were missionaries in Cambodia, and I, like all the other MK’s (missionary kids) of the area, had been sent off to the missionary boarding school in Dalat, Vietnam, where I would be cared for and schooled while my parents were busy with their missionary work.
It was a lonely time. Yes, there were lots of other children there, and we all put on a brave face each morning as we dressed and went off to class, each evening when the “Auntie” of the school would come to lead us in our bedtime prayers, tuck us into our mosquito-netted beds, and then turn out the lights. We certainly had our fun times—Capture the Flag was always a favorite; Red Rover, Red Rover was another, and now and then there would be a fun night with skits and music.
But the undertow of loneliness pulled through all our days. I missed my Mom and Dad. I wanted to hear their voices. Wanted to feel their hugs. Never wanted to leave Phnom Penh after I had been home for Christmas vacation. But of course I always had to leave and go back to Dalat. After all, this was what God wanted, wasn’t it?
The God I knew back then did not seem to be a very friendly God. The God I knew back then seemed to be a God who asked much of me but did not seem to give me much in return, except for the promise of a heaven someday when this life would be over. I tried very hard to please this God, but I never sensed God smiling in my life.
That plant on the hillside, however, did seem to smile. I remember sitting alone beside her and feeling a quiet calm in her bright presence. She seemed to welcome me. Seemed to like having me look at her. Seemed to offer her comfort through those tiny little trumpets of color that formed her clustered brightness.
“Okay, Mom. This one last time.” Bless my daughter. We stopped, and I snapped several pictures. As I did, I found myself not just seeing that beloved little flower from my Dalat days, but I felt that I was actually hearing her quiet voice. A still, small voice that had whispered to a frightened, lonely little girl on that faraway hillside. A voice that had reassured and embraced that little girl. A voice that had helped to wipe away some of her tears.
Back then I didn’t believe that God spoke through anything but the Holy Bible of my faith. But I know differently now. And as I stood by the side of that California road, snapping picture after picture, I breathed a sigh of thanks for that Presence that had sat with me on that hillside. That Voice that had softened those difficult early years.
Not long after I had snapped pictures of “my” flower that day, I discovered its name and discovered, as well, that “lantana” grows in a profusion of other colors. God’s voice in a brilliant array of joy in blues and yellows, pinks and lavenders! My neighbor is growing some lantana this summer. A dear friend has gifted me with a basket of lantana for my deck. I love hearing God’s voice in all of them.
But always, for me, the lantana voice that echoes in my soul most clearly is the lantana voice that speaks in orange and yellow hues. When I see these lantana, once again I am back on that lonely hill by the dormitory in Dalat. Once again, I feel the loneliness of those days. But once again, I also feel the comfort of those tiny blooms. And once again I thank the God who spoke through the flowers, the God who speaks yet today through flowers, through God’s Word, through a multitude of voices, the God who says again and again, “Carol, you are not alone.”