Usually, I take to the garden around Mother’s Day. I put a seedling in soil, see my reflection in the silver of the garden spade, and think on where I am in the work of cultivating my children. My husband and I plant and water and know all the while that it’s God who causes the increase.

This year I was a late bloomer. May kept me on the move: a weekend trip to visit my newborn nephew in the Southwest, back home quick for extended family birthday parties, a friend’s baby dedication and a hectic Mother’s Day, leading worship at a local women’s conference, and an overnight trip with friends to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. All these things left my veggie garden blank as an old battlefield.

Finally, here at the end of May, on Memorial Day, the schedule says “plant”. The context leads to a whole different kind of contemplation.

I hold a seed in hand, a tiny apostrophe that hints at hidden things. I dunk it in water and pinch it between my fingertips, feel its smallness. With this, I need no spade. I need only to punch my thumb into the black dirt and bury it.

Every time I do this, old words sprout fresh in my mind, the words of a soldier poet.

Even as the seed must die
To yield the noble tree
So must I in earnest try
To yield a part of me

This is when the swords are beat back into plowshares. We lay down our arms, give in, not submitting to an enemy, but rather yielding ourselves to the fulness of who we are meant to be.

When the light beams strong and hits at perfect angles, when all the conditions are right, the seed lets down its guard and welcomes water. It surrenders itself in baptism. It soaks in droplet upon droplet until it can bear no more. Then, it bursts open, new life coming up.

In each and every line I write
I give, then live, then lose
To feel the thrill, the stir of life
Within the poem’s hues

My grandfather, part of The Greatest Generation, knew this truth from his boyhood on the farm, that the seed must lose itself before it can bear fruit. This means something for the soldier who gives to the point of shedding his own blood, the poet who must let go and share the soul in vulnerability, and even the parent, who a hundred times each day must die to personal desires in order to nurture needy little ones underfoot. Every surrender is a planting.

There is within my poetry
A soft, still, sweet release
But as the seed dies for the tree
The poet, too, must cease

In my garden on Memorial Day, a picture of sacrifice settles in. Under the soil in a matter of days, hidden suffering will burst into sweet release. Here, a tiny seed gives itself up and goes down to its grave, soon to be raised in glory.

{“Germination” by Duane Burl Stimer (1924-2006)}