Recently a friend sent me a gorgeous flower arrangement. The array of burgundy, coral, yellow, and various tones of pink formed a unique and striking combination.  The varying styles and shapes of lilies, carnations, gerbera daisies, and roses created a stunningly attractive display. My friend told me that she’d asked the florist to fashion something to appear “out of a garden.” The look was successfully achieved.

In nature, God often surprises us with combinations that we, in our limited capacity, wouldn’t attempt; yet, they mingle organically to please both the eye and the soul. This florist had an eye for natural gardens: allowing the delicate petals of a pale pink rose to be accentuated by the dark backdrop of a large, burgundy lily; adding tiny, yellow rose buds to the mix in order to highlight the stamen of that same lily.

God’s “garden” is not limited to plants. While our similarities can seamlessly blend, our differences have the potential to complement each other; however, finding cohesion amid difference is not always easy. Group dynamics can surprise us since they do not always seem ideal or convenient, but they are always intentionally designed.  

On the second Sunday in Ordinary time, we reflected on St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit … one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.” (Cor. 12: 4-11)

Every time I hear these words, I am reminded of the beautiful gardens God plants in the form of families and communities. We each have gifts, created in God’s image; yet, individually, we reflect only a small part of God’s likeness. The talents of one person highlight the talents of another; likewise, the strengths of one lift the weaknesses of another.

Our world does not consist of people who are magically in tune, or perpetually in agreement, with one another. We are expected to uproot ourselves from our individual plots, reach beyond our comfort zones and work to live in harmony with others in different capacities. We are not intended to merely exist alongside others, but to support people as needed, to overcome differences, and to bring out the best in everyone, just as the flowers in my arrangement highlighted each other.

Young Mary didn’t just happen to stumble across an elderly Elizabeth. Inspired by the Spirit, Mary went out of her way to support her cousin and the unlikely pair exemplified “the power of what happens when one woman shows up for another. Mary came that day to share her love and to share Jesus. This is exactly what we do when we visit our relatives with Alzheimer’s, or carry a meal to a new mother, or invite that lonely neighbour for coffee,” writes Abbey Dupuy of the online community Blessed is She.

This new year, I pray for the strength and courage to leave my own garden plot more often, to pluck myself from those who are most like me in order to reach out to those who are not. I pray for patience with those who disagree with me; I pray for wisdom when explaining concepts and opinions; I pray for clarity and the ability to speak words of encouragement when supporting the sick and suffering. As Abbey Dupuy wisely states, “We carry Jesus to the world by showing up for the people who need us.”

We need to identify and share the gifts the Spirit has given each of us. We likewise need to appreciate and learn from the gifts possessed by others. Together, we can bring a more complete reflection of God’s image to this earth; alone, we are bound to wither.

Our heavenly Florist chooses our times to bloom and arranges us carefully with the people surrounding us when we do so. Though we may often be surprised at where we find ourselves, we must surrender to the reality that God has a plan, appreciating the beauty inherent in “showing up” where he needs us most.