I still work with our DeLand program which meets the first Thursday of each month. In February as I drive south on I-95 back from DeLand Special Gathering, my van was filled with a wonderful odor. At first, I could not imagine what it was and then I remembered the orange blossoms. For about ten miles, my journey south was filled with the amazingly sweet smell of orange blossoms. In Florida, that aroma is our first sign of spring.

People who move to Florida often complain that they miss the seasons. Yet, there are wonderful seasons in Florida. The differences are more subtle but equally worth noting. The signs in Florida’s semi-tropics are different from our northern neighboring states, but still amazing if you take the time to look and smell. Perhaps it is the subtleties which make the changes even more precious to those of us who call Florida home.

Spring comes with orange blossoms–not robins. The fragrance is at times overwhelming but exhilarating. Early in February, you want to get back into the garden to work the ground and start the spring flowers. Knowing there is more winter to come has no bearing on the urge to get seed into the ground.

Summer is the best. Beaches, boats and Bermuda shorts. Full sun and long days. We sit in our lawn chairs under the trees, drinking sweet iced-tea, complaining bitterly about the heat. In the summer, children are herded indoor to rest and play in the air-conditioning in the middle of the day. Floridians learn early that our delicate human bodies are no match for the tropical heat. Surfers spend hours sitting on their boards in the water, waiting for the perfect wave and discussing the weather, the winds and the currents.

In the fall, we celebrate with the return of the robins, blue-jays, cardinals and all the other “Northern” birds. All the birds Northerns claim as theirs and rejoice to see in the spring, spend half their year with us. They bless us during the fall and the winter. Can you imagine? The birds from the other colder states converge and congregate in a great mass in Florida for six months of the year. It is an amazing sight to see the birds migrating. And a sight we get to enjoy all fall and winter.

In the winter, we wrangle up our sweaters and jackets. The surfers don their wet suits. Cold weather means the winter swells when you actually get to surf some of the waves you waited for all summer. The wintry waves make the hours spent hoping for them in the summer, worth the patient wait.

During the winter, the cacti and other succulents blossom. Long stalks of red and yellow blossoms nestled close to the cacti trunk emerge from the aloe and succulents, making our winters bloom.

Smelling the orange blossoms makes me pity people who don’t understand or don’t want to smell the subtle, wonderful changes we Floridians enjoy.

I am convinced that for some people, it is the same with the mentally challenged community. We are different and the differences aren’t subtle. Often people say, “You are so special to work with those people.” That comment is actually a joke among the professionals, parents, siblings and ministers who work in this community.

What normal people don’t understand is the wonderful aroma of the orange blossoms. The overwhelming concern our members expressed for Jon who was left by the bus at work and didn’t arrive at Special Gathering on time. The reaction of Susan, a faithful volunteer, who immediately jumped in her car to pick him up, insuring that he didn’t miss the program. The earnest prayers of all our members for Susan and Jon as they drove back to us. There was no emergency, merely a misunderstanding. But our members prayers, reflected the depth of their concern for each other. The spontaneous applause when Jon arrived. The grateful parent who didn’t have to leave home to pick up her son from work but knew he was safe with a trusted Special Gathering volunteer.

The subtle blossoming of joy extending from Fran, Kathy, Stephen and Jay because their staff took the time to bring them to Special Gathering. As they proudly, pranced into the chapel worship time, their smiles announced, “We’re back and we are very happy to be here.”

The smell of orange blossoms on my way home from DeLand had been an amazing reminder that spring is knocking at the door. But it could not be surpassed by the smell of joy and excitement I had experienced during a normal day at Special Gathering.

Are there some subtle differences you have noticed that make you grateful to be a Christian?

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