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I keep flowers in vases around my house for way too long. Long past their prime. Long after they have started to wither and fade.

I really love flowers. My mom has been a floral designer all my life. One might think that because of that, I might possibly tire of flowers or at least appreciate them less. Or that I might associate them with a lot of work. But it’s just the opposite, I never tire of flowers. I am always taken by their beauty. I’m convinced that all of the work that goes into designing arrangements for special occasions or weddings or funerals is completely worth it. I almost always have flowers in my house. My space feels incomplete without them.

In early summer, peonies are my cut flower of choice. I don’t have any bushes of my own, so I will line up as early as I can at my local Trader Joe’s to get first pick. I scour the bunches, looking for the perfect, marshmallowy blooms. Little spheres of possibility. I rush home with my treasures, fill a vase with warm water, lovingly arrange them, and wait for their glory to unfurl.

Sometimes I have to cut them again and give them more warm water to encourage them to open, but the wait is always worth it. When the blossoms open and layers of lush and textural petals reveal themselves, I am awestruck and amazed.

Maude with some peonies

If I’m really lucky, and get the highly sought after Coral Charm, it’s an added bonus. Coral Charms Peonies are a saturated, juicy coral color when they first bloom, and as they open and age they fade — turning a light salmon color, before becoming buttercream, and then completely fading to eggshell. I love watching the entire process and get great joy out of their life cycle — beginning to end. I will keep my peonies long past the time the crispy petals start dropping and cascade onto my floor.

I hope that there is something to delighting in the entire life cycle of flowers, to enjoying past prime peonies. I’m aware of how it contrasts with many of our cultural narratives on newness and youth.

Maybe hoarding flowers for too long is a bit of my resistance to discarding or ignoring things that age and wither.

I’ve thought a fair bit about aging lately. I have four younger siblings. My youngest sister is fourteen years my junior. Emerson often reminds me of just how much older than her I am. She just finished her senior year of high school, so much life and possibility before her. Her youth and vitality amaze me. She is beautiful on the inside and out, though she doesn’t always know it.

The day after Emerson graduates, I plan to leave for a week-long horseback riding trip to South Dakota with my grandparents. An incredible opportunity and privilege. I find my grandparents to be so beautiful and vital in their advancing age, though at times getting older is quite hard on them.

Emerson has all the hope and possibility of those early marshmallowy blooms, while my grandparents are what many might consider past their prime — maybe buttercream in peony time.

While I appreciate the beauty and possibility of youth, I also really admire the wisdom and enchantment of a life well lived. I’m in my early 30s and I’m really curious about what it means to age well. What does it look like to resist the cultural narrative of glamorized and glorified youth? I want to learn to better embrace my life and the lives of others in every stage and season. I’m striving to find gratitude for the seasons I’ve weathered while looking with hope on the days ahead. I also acknowledge and grieve that we live in a world where aging is a privilege. So many don’t get to live out the seasons they have hoped for, their bloom falling to the ground or withering far too soon. Losses and grief beyond words.

The short lifespan of flowers, their novelty, their frivolity is teaching me to better embrace life, petal by petal. To try to look at even the blemishes and scars with curiosity and wonder, and not to throw away or discard something too soon. There is still beauty to be savored even in the crispy falling petals.

Bailey Sarver

Bailey Sarver is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, currently serving as a campus chapel pastor at the Campus Chapel at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

8 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    Yours is a welcome new voice here, for the second time, I think, and more than welcome. Not just because I love peonies, and didn’t know about them changing color. Thank you for this.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    A beautiful piece about a lovely flower; the analogy to persons and life spans appreciated. I’ve noticed, more than ever during the pandemic and working at home instead of rushing off to work, the cycles of nature, especially winter turning to spring now to summer. Daffodils gave way to tree blossoms gave way to irises gave way to lilacs gave way to peonies, one last flower on my bushes—but the lilies are next, and the hostas’ flowers, and other species, each in turn. The bloom fades, withers and drops; but their green lasts throughout the summer and into the fall.

  • Thank you for this. Reading it was a wonderful way to begin my Sunday.

  • Helen Luhrs says:

    Lovely piece, Bailey.

  • Ron Rozema says:

    Well thought and written, Bailey. Enjoying your contributions. Your reflective piece got me thinking about the peonies in our yard, corms of which came from my parents’ yard, which came from my grandparents’ yard, and which, I recently learned, came from my great-grandparents’ yard. Before that, I don’t know, but their lush beauty extends the cycle and may add joy to our daughter and son-in-law’s yard when, in fall, they take some corms for their yard. An amazing cycle.

  • Tom Eggebeen says:

    Thank you … and when you can, tell us about the horseback adventure with your grandparents.

  • Ann Summitt says:

    I too love peonies. if you can try and find a May 2020 “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine. There is an article in there called “The Peony Collector”.
    Last year the Pella Garden Club had the opportunity to visit the lady’s fabulous gardens the week they were taking pictures for this article. One of the fascinating things I came away with was a type of peony called the ITOH peony. It is a cross between the herbaceous and tree peony. The ITHO is suppose to bloom for up to six weeks and stay upright. In the fall it dies back likce the herbaceous peony. I planted my first one this year!!! Thought you might enjoy this!

  • MARSHA M WETTER says:

    Bailey, I really enjoyed both of your blogs. They are beautiful and made me ponder the thoughts you conveyed! Proud to say that I got to watch you grow up, lots of hours spent at our house. Great memories! Thanks for using your gifts and talents to serve Jesus and walk with others on their discovery of Him.

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