When flowers bloom in winter…

Buds beginning to bloom on my Japanese magnolia in January.
Buds beginning to bloom on my Japanese magnolia in January.

Florida weather must confuse plants as much as it confuses my immune system. Series of warm, humid days are suddenly wrenched from memory by a wintry blast of arctic air, followed by days of frigid cold. Sudden upturns and downturns in temperature are not unusual; temperatures in a single day can range 20-40 degrees. Heaters and coats necessary in the morning give way to open windows and light T-shirts in the afternoon. And vice versa. My immune system is equally confused — do I have a summer cold or a winter cold?

A Florida winter includes attributes of autumn and spring; trees rain down their brown leaves even as plants begin sprouting their buds and blossoms. This year, I began seeing azalea blooms at the end of December, which featured 10 days of 80+ degree highs and only 7 days of lows in the 30s. The lowest max temperature last month was 61; the highest min temperature was 64 (http://www.wunderground.com). No wonder the plants are confused.

A resident of North Central Florida, I cherish the changing of seasons in my hometown, less dramatic than those up North but definitely distinct to the trained eye. But my heart often breaks when the azaleas and Japanese magnolias bloom early only to get zapped by a hard freeze. The glory of spring ends in mere hours; frozen flowers droop, turn brown, and then cling tenaciously to the branches; their death memorialized by the shriveled display.

Last week, forecasters predicted a low of 23, and as I attempted — and failed — to offer protection to my tulip tree, already blooming, I thought of the Bible’s steamy, sexy Song of Solomon. My dear plants had responded to the warmer days of December and succumbed to the temptation to bloom early. Now it appeared they were destined to freeze. It reminded me of those repeated passages in Song of Solomon in which the protagonist advises her girlfriends to stay pure until marriage (Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4). 

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases (Song of Solomon 8:4).

In the midst of her own marital sexual bliss, the peasant woman encourages her girlfriends to wait for the right time — marriage — to experience that love. “Don’t awaken love until it pleases,” she said, knowing the value in waiting.

I try to advise my flowers to wait for the right time and proper environment — warmer days — to bloom. When they do, they go through their natural progression of beauty. But when the weather cons them into blooming early , their beauty is cut short. Our daughters — and our sons — are living in a culture that encourages blooming early sexually. Not that sexual sin wasn’t a temptation for every generation, but once was the time when premarital sex had a social stigma attached to it; it may have happened, but lovers kept it more private. Now sex outside of marriage is commonplace and often blatantly suggested in various media, and it is not a beautiful thing. Remaining pure, as the woman in the Song advised, is today’s social stigma.

My daughter and her husband, thankfully, heeded the peasant girl’s advice in Song of Solomon. Just over a week ago, the couple celebrated the second anniversary of their marriage — and their sexual relationship. Early on in their dating, they had made a choice not to kiss until they were engaged, and, once engaged, they set specific guidelines for their relationship. Limiting their time together, limiting when and where and even how long they kissed aided them in their pursuit of purity. (They also made sure to limit the number of months they were engaged.)

My first husband told me that if he could be trusted with his purity and my own while we were dating, then I would know that I could trust him when we got married. In his attempts to remain pure in mind and body, he even took off his glasses when we went to the beach, so as to avoid visual temptation. Like my daughter and her husband, we too waited to kiss until we were engaged — and then wished we had waited until marriage to do so. We actually termed engagement “engagment” because it was awful to partially awaken love and then wait nearly nine months for the wedding day and the opportunity to fully experience that sexual love.

Yes, I would echo the woman in Song of Solomon and plead “don’t awaken love until it pleases.” Sex in marriage is a beautiful thing, even more beautiful than the flowers that grace my yard in spring (or winter).

Thankfully, the forecasters were wrong, and my flowering plants remain beautiful on this cold but sunny day. But the lesson remains. As does my lingering cold.

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