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The kindest cut of all: picking peonies and giving away gladiolas teaches a lesson in generosity.

WHEN SHE WAS IN HER 80S, AUNT MIMI CALLED ME. "Come get my pennies, she said. You've got a new garden, and I can't take care of them anyway. My husband and I dug up an orchard of peonies, and they grew into a long hedge. By early summer, we had hundreds of blooms. That winter, Mimi broke her hip while shoveling snow and ended up with paralyzed legs, in a nursing home. When the peonies bloomed the next summer, my mother came over to my house before one of our trips to visit Mimi so we could cut a few flowers.

"Save some for yourself!" my mother remonstrated, as I cut every useable bloom, peonies and all, in what was by then a sizable garden. "She doesn't need that many. Save some!"

But I snipped and snipped, remembering Mimi's call, "Come get my peonies." It would have been impossible for me to leave a bloom in the garden--this was not a time for stinginess. Three big buckets of flowers filled the trunk and another couple crowded the back seat as we made our way north that day, my mother sputtering in the front seat, "What's she going to do with all those flowers?"

As we unloaded bucket after bucket of flowers into Mimi's room, she sighed and laughed and cried, "My peonies! Oh, the baby's breath! The irises! Get me some vases!" She began to arrange the hundreds of blossoms and to give instructions for carting them around:

"Put these in the TV room."

"These are for the dining room."

"The sitting room."

"Janice two doors down. She never gets out."

"Emile across the hall."

"Nurses' station"

"The other sitting room."

When we were through, she smiled in tired satisfaction and kept only a couple of the rattier blooms for herself. For two summers, until she died, I would regularly strip my garden of every flower that could be put in a vase, and Mimi would pass them out. "Keep some for yourself!" my mother would plead, but we never did. We feasted by giving away.

A few years later, returning to the faith after years of dedicated heathenhood, I saw an ad in the parish bulletin: "Flowers needed. "Well, I had flowers. Once again, I found myself cutting buckets of them and learning to arrange them from Mary, the parish floral guru.

I knew nothing of stewardship, hadn't read any bishops' pastorals about it. All I knew was that cutting blossom I could get my hands on, arranging them lavishly, and bringing them to church was the best feeling in the world. It felt fantastic.

It was a fabulous outlet for the pulsing gratitude that I had for God's hauling me back from the edge. Once again, I was feasting by giving away. Mimi, I knew, was cheering, "Cut them all! Cut them all!"

FROM EARLIEST TIMES, AS WE LEARN IN the Acts of the Apostles, Christians have been called to share what they have with one another. We hear, "There was no needy person among them ... " (Acts 4:34). They took what they had and spread it around. Today we are called to combat individualism by generously sharing our resources, by giving back to God. Most of us, myself included, give cautiously, counting the cost, counting the blooms, realistically and understandably wanting to be sure that we can take care of ourselves and our own.

Every so often, though, God offers us a chance to share more than before, to give more than we can afford, to cut every flower and give it away. Whether it be flowers or possessions, money, tomatoes, or time, when we take the risk, when we give more than we thought we could, more than might have been strictly prudent, more than others might advise, more than we had previously thought possible, we find the exhilaration of one of the biggest rushes there is--God's reckless love.

ANN LEBLANC, a forensic psychologist in Maine and author of How to Go to Confession If You Don't Know How (St. Anthony Messenger, 2003).
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Title Annotation:practicing catholic
Author:LeBlanc, Ann
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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