When Cheri’s dad died two years ago, her clinic provided a beautiful yellow hibiscus plant for the funeral. After the service, we brought it home, and enjoyed it for most of the summer. With the weather getting cooler, we then explored how we could winter it until the next spring. Well, the big idea of the experts was simply to bring the plant indoors and give it lots of sun and water, and then take it out after the snow left. The experts, of course, had no knowledge of three cats who pretty much own the house, and who have a particular penchant for utter and total annihilation of anything even resembling plants. We did bring it inside and put it on the top of a large cupboard that allowed no access by furry creatures. We tried watering and doing whatever we could, but by spring, we had a flowerpot with sticks.
Now, it might have made sense to just plant the hibiscus out in our garden, but y’all (notice how I used a southern dialectic phrase to show what comes next – it is different than the way I would address a group of folks here in the Dakotas – that’s normally “you guys”) may not know that the typical yellow hibiscus is a southern flowering plant, and that fair flower cannot survive the -30 or -40 degrees, with piling snow drifts and wind chills that are far more than “chills” – we often are colder than Siberia… What I did discover, however, was that “they” have created an hibiscus plant in Canada – a hybrid, that they call a “northern hibiscus,” and it indeed enjoys bitter freezing cold, and comes back to life every spring. The main difference though is that it is not yellow. The huge flower it produces is a deep red color, about the size of a dinner plate. Last spring I ordered one, just to see if it might grow.
They sent me a stick. An $18.50 stick, to be exact, plus shipping. Well, we stuck the stick in the pot full of soil and watered it and set it outside to spend the summer. Miracle of miracles, it actually started growing, and became a nice little plant by fall. It was then, of course, that we were stuck with the same problem, as the days grew colder. Instead of bringing it inside, we had to find a place to plant it. We finally put it in an emergency spot in what seemed to be a few days before the first snow. We even put a Styrofoam cover over it, to keep the worst of the ice, and the worst of the rabbits from destroying it.
This spring, when the snow melted away, we pulled off the Styrofoam, and lo and behold, we had our stick back. No problem, we thought – with some warm spring sunshine and some good rain, it’ll put leaves back on… it didn’t. It just stood there for a few weeks in all its glorious stick-ness.
One day, I walked over to the northern beauty, and tested to see if the sticks had any hope left in them – they broke off in my hand. Our grand experiment had failed. Once again, trust very few Canadians…
About two weeks later, however, and Cheri and I looked out the window, what to our wondering eyes had appeared, but a tiny green shoot coming from the same place where dead sticks had stood. I thought it was perhaps just a weed, but over the course of three or four more weeks, the only thing we could call it was resurrection! Where there was nothing, there then came to be a nicely growing hibiscus. Perhaps the Canadians were not so bad after all.
Since we had planted it in an emergency spot last fall, we decided to move it out to our larger garden. It has been growing like crazy! It is now nearly 4 feet tall, on its way to being even taller, and within a week, we will enjoy the first flowers.
What I have learned from all of this – is to not give up. Even when it appears that nothing is working, apply some patience, some attentiveness, and some intentional observation before writing something off like a waste of time. That’s true for raising children, for gardening, for building anything of value – or for any discipline we attempt to assume. I also need to continually be reminded that the world and everything in it does not revolve around me, nor does it attend to my timeline. Instead, I and all of us are given the blessing of being present and open to what the world offers, even if it comes after a dead stick.
Just for the record – we bought another stick, have stuck it in the pot, and are now waiting for it to look like anything is growing. I think I see a tiny bit of green. I think…
Word for the day: Phalerate. Pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable, it means “to decorate or adorn, or to make beautiful.” It comes from the Greek phaleron or phalerae which were large discs made out of brass or other precious metal that would be worn as a military ornament, given to a conquering leader or unit to wear in a parade. It was also at times used to decorate the harness of a horse that led the military to battle. Nowadays, we would say someone is all “duded up,” or “fancied up” or even “gussied up” – just imagine how you would turn someone’s head if you were to mention, “My, but aren’t you phalerated today?” Words have power.
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.