On Almond Flowers and Disappointments
There’s an almond tree growing outside my window. I watch it from my writing desk, flowing elegantly against the flashing green lights from the street below. I remember the first flower that bloomed a few weeks ago, the delight that it spread. Only two months earlier, ice and snow had covered every inch of this tree. All over Madrid, branches were broken, trees were shattered, roots were frozen. My tree was bent and its branches became naked. The branches had been empty since, until the first bloom exploded into a coat of almond flowers.
I know these flowers will soon fade, but I am enjoying them now. I watch them glow at night, spreading shadows on the sidewalk, my wooden floor, my best and tired thoughts…
It’s interesting, how our lives follow a similar rhythm. We shed parts of ourselves and become empty-handed. We wait and we do not receive—hoping to be surprised and getting disappointed when we are not. I myself have felt that lately.
I’m thankful for the life I have right now, but I cannot shake away some doubts about God, about myself, about this life that I lead. I have taken steps and retracted. I have tried and failed. I have received “no’s” and find myself waiting, glancing at my life and realizing it looks different than what I imagined. This reality has come with good things—more than I can count—but it has also come with its disappointments, the ones I try to disregard. On some days, these disappointments cover me like the shadow of the tree against my wooden floor. It is hard to see past them and I begin to doubt Jesus’ words when He says: I have come to give you life and to have it in abundance (ESB John 10:10) Where is the promise of the abundant life when doubts and disappointments take over?
A poem by African-American poet Langston Hughes has cycled through my notes recently. It goes:
"What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore---
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over---
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?"
Langston Hughes, "Harlem" from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Copyright © 2002 by Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates, Inc. Source: 1990
Langston’s words weigh against the page.
I can imagine him sitting at a similar writing desk, pondering through his disappointments, wondering if he would ever see the day that his dreams would come true. Langston grew up in the American 20s and he fought, with both word and action, for racial equality. More than a century later, I think that we can agree that his dream, unfortunately, is still waiting to come true.
But I look at his words from my writing desk today, and I cling to his honest questions. What happens to our deferred dreams? Do we have a say in what we do with them? Is it inevitable for them to fester or sag? To burden our walk?
The almond flowers stare at me. I stare back, remembering that the answer to my question was where I first found peace to my tired thoughts.
I remember that when I chose to believe in Jesus and His way of life, I let go of the idea of my ideal life. I accepted that following Him means walking a more specific path (Matthew 7:14). It is not a predictable one, but a crafted one. I have to say “no” to some things, and I have to wait for others. But I also say yes to new and better thoughts.
Following Jesus does not shield me from being disappointed by this life. I still experience heartbreak, loss, and illness. But like the day I decided to choose Jesus, I have to choose what to believe in this moment. I remember that despite my disappointments, I have promises to hold onto. Promises like "all things work together for the good of those who love Him" (Romans 8:28), the promise that “one day there will be no more tears” (Revelation 21:4), and that I can rest in this present and eternal friendship with God (John 3:16). The hurts or doubts that I carry take on new meaning when I refocus them to Jesus and His heart. I remember that He also feels what I feel and that He is walking with me, in periods of drought and of blooming (Matthew 28:10).
When my dreams are deferred, I can choose to trust His words.
I trust that abundant life does not mean what I think it does. Abundance is not the substitution of disappointments, rather the presence of Jesus Himself among them. I may not ever achieve my dreams but I trust that Jesus will show up here, in my flowerless self. I can choose to not let my deferred hopes sag or burden. I can choose to believe that maybe, if I give them time, they can explode into something else—like a cluster of unexpected almond flowers, knocking on my window after a cold and strange winter...