On a rainy Monday last November, my two boys joined me at work while Denise ran some errands. Ever mindful of the destruction our children can wreak on my office in virtually no time, she sent them to me with a packet of bulbs and instructions on where and how to plant. I set the boys to work. Half an hour later, we had three bulbs in the ground, and I was working alone. And so it goes.
But we had started the project, and the bulbs were worthless unless buried in soil, so I went ahead and buried the rest, six inches apart and four inches beneath the surface. Then I went inside to check on the boys and forgot all about them.
Forgot, that is, until I went to mow the lawn at Wesley last week and noticed some odd looking weeds spaced evenly along our east wall. Thankfully, I remembered what they were before I hacked them down with the mower. This morning, I found the tulips in full bloom, and in A-State red, no less.
It seems that even forgotten seeds still grow.
Last month, I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which details Lincoln’s political successes with a constant eye toward his personal character. One of the most startling things to learn is how his refusal to hold a grudge or even be angry at a personal slight bore invaluable fruit for both him and the nation in later years.
Notable among the stories of Lincoln’s mild character is one involving Edwin Stanton. In 1855, with his political career hopelessly stalled, Lincoln was invited to serve as council on the high profile McCormick Reaper Trial. He worked for months building a case only to arrive in Cincinnati to find that other, more prominent lawyers had been brought in and his services were not needed. Stanton had neither time nor patience for this prairie lawyer, whom he referred to in Lincoln’s hearing as, “that damned long-armed ape.”
Despite the snub, Lincoln stayed in Cincinnati to watch the trial. Through the proceedings, he became an admirer of Stanton. More importantly, however, Lincoln held his tongue, not willing to make an enemy over something so trivial as a personal insult.
Lincoln’s charity paid off less than a decade later, when he asked Stanton to serve as his Secretary of War in the struggle with the Confederacy. Stanton’s leadership played a vital part in the Union victory. When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, it was Stanton who tirelessly organized the manhunt for the killers.
When I think back on my own formative relationships, I see a fair number that began no better than Stanton’s with Lincoln, with dislike and derision and perhaps even insults. I have no way to gauge how many friendships I lost because of that initial unkindness, but I can see very clearly how a little tolerance and understanding made room for an important connection.
Perhaps the tulips at Wesley and the story of Lincoln and Stanton are a good reminder. The way we treat people sticks with them, whether for good or ill. When we live with mercy and selflessness as our habit—behaving the way Jesus might—we likely will not remember all the good things we do or bad things we neglected. No matter.
Forgotten seeds still grow.