If you’ve kept at all with my daily writings, you may recall our efforts to grow a “northern” hibiscus plant, and how it appeared to be successful, as the stick turned into about a 3-foot-tall green shrub. The promise of buds and blooms was with us, as we watched daily for more than 25 different buds to emerge and start to develop. Let me say, however, that in my retirement, I have done a lot more than just watch the flowers grow. Just yesterday I changed a light bulb in a fixture over the master bath tub, which required a very tall ladder to climb up to our very tall ceilings, but not too big of a ladder, since it had to be set up right next to the tub, so I could lean way over, and then try to figure out how to take the cover off the light with one hand while hanging on with my other hand, and hope that the glass globe would not fall into the tub. After I successfully removed the globe, I then had to carefully unscrew a bulb that did not want to unscrew. I then found out it was a 40 watt bulb, and all we had in the house were 60 watt LED bulbs, so then I had to drive over to the store, put my mask on, pick out the single bulb, pay for it, and drive home again. Fortunately, the bulb fit, and using only 90 minutes of my life, the job was done…
But we were talking about flowers, right? When I woke up last Saturday (of course Cheri was already up), Cheri met me with a big smile and a picture on her camera/phone. I knew what it was immediately – the hibiscus had bloomed! It was different than we thought it would be, but still a very pretty flower the size of a luncheon plate, with deep pink and purple hues. We avoided the temptation of sending out birth announcements, but I did take a picture of it myself and sent it around to my siblings for their oohing and aahing. It was almost a miracle flower, and it brought a great deal of satisfaction to see something actually working out in a world that lately seems to have many more difficulties than pathways (like changing a light bulb).
When I woke up Sunday morning, it was dead. Not the plant, but the flower. Instead of a broad wide blossom greeting the world, all we saw was a limp, flopped down, barely hanging on dead reminder of what was. It would have been much sadder if it had not been for the fact that right beside it were two, almost-blooming buds, which appeared overnight. Before the day was over, they had opened up, taking the place of their fallen comrade, and shining for all the world – or at least the Cross family – to see. It was a nice reminder that God is in charge, and will always create beauty for our eyes to enjoy.
Monday morning – yesterday – they were both dead. Same as their big sister, just hanging limp and exhausted, with nothing else to give. However, in their place yet another bud was ready to pop open, and shower the world with a joyful celebration of color! Still, this was an odd occurrence, and I decided to investigate. Could it be a plant disease? Or had an animal brought its demise? I went to my office to my friendly Internet-connected computer and asked the question, “How long do Northern hibiscus blooms last?” (Notice that I put the “northern” in there just to be sure…) The answer was shocking, but not unexpected. Apparently, Northern hibiscus blooms last one day only—in rare cases, possible two. These huge flowers, with wonderful color have a shorter life span than a housefly loose in a house with three cats.
They bloom, they live, they die. Perhaps that’s why there are so many blooms-in-waiting on the branches of the plant. It sure seems like an exhausting effort for such little time appearing on this earth. You can compare the hibiscus with our giant hydrangea plant by the house, that started blooming in late May, and the same blooms – the same flowers – are on the plant here in the first part of August. I almost want to call the hydrangeas a bunch of show-offs, but I need to attend to the hibiscus right now.
Of course, the next reasonable question was what to do with the dearly departed, turning brown and just hanging there ex-blossoms. I was fascinated to find two differing opinions. The first said that you should “deadhead,” or pinch off the dead blossoms, which will in turn encourage the plant to produce even more live-one-day-only flowers. The second opinion was equally adamant: do NOT deadhead the blossoms – just let them hang there, and fall off on their own. This path, they said, would indeed produce more flowers, and keep the plant from actually being less productive next spring, after it dies down to the ground, and looks again like a stick.
For now, Cheri and I are taking the second path, and just watching, and mostly enjoying the new blossoms, and trying to avoid seeing the carnage of the one-day blooms. What give me even more to think about is that our backyard is fairly hidden from the world, and probably no one beyond our small family will experience the life and death of those flowers.
So a couple of observations. God grants us beauty if we are willing to see it, but sometimes that beauty is no more than a rare flower. How many things in your life have you alone experienced? Probably more than we can even detect, but they are given only to you, at that moment to enjoy, to celebrate, to live out. Things in this world also only occur by God’s hand, and God’s time. We may think we are so powerful and innovative, but it is truly amazing to come to understand how we are the recipients of simply all God wishes to make known to us.
Lastly, the best approach to life today and each day, is gratitude. A grateful heart for the Gracious Gift and gifts of God to us and our world is really the best and most honest way to explore and express life. Gratitude always arises out of humility, and an openness to surprise and joy in our world. Each person becomes a gift, each experience becomes a gift, and each response we are invited to make to the world around us – and to God – become opportunities to simply say thank you, and find ways in which we can share that same love with others.
Stop by sometime – I’ll show you our hibiscus…
Word for the day: umber. This is a good one, that involves many more words than itself. From the Latin (of course!) meaning “shade, shadow.” In the 16th century, it was used to mean a ghost or a phantom, but in more general use, it is a shaded area. When we experience a solar eclipse, with the moon passing between the sun and us, the darkest part of the moon’s shadow, especially when it is a complete eclipse, is known as its umbra, and the place of darkest shadow on earth is the umbra.
How about some words related to this core word? One important crayon color was “burnt umber” or dark brown – shadow brown. An “umbrella” is a little shade – its word friend is “parasol” which means to defend against the sun. “Umbrous” describes a shady part of the yard or field. “Umbrage” of course means “shadow,” and when one is insulted, one “takes umbrage” a the slight or the words spoken. In today’s slang, someone “throws shade” which means to insult – see how close they both mean.
And finally, “somber” is gloomy, shadowy, without much light, or lightness. It comes from sub-umber, as a gloomy person is under the darkness.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.