I was standing in front of Rachel's casket a couple days later when Lori got to her service. She gave me a hug and we both cried. Seeing the loss for words, and through my deep sobs, I blurted out "How often should I water that plant?" She told me as she wiped her tears. I don't even remember her answer... perhaps I did at one point, but that moment in my memory really only recalls tears and an attempt to break the silence.
Well, I put the cactus on the back of Desirae's piano. I decorated around it that year for Christmas and watered the plant regularly as directed. Somehow in my mind, this plant (as many of my other plants and things) represented Rachel to me. A part of something that I had in those days when I still could touch her body and kiss her cheeks. The cactus has sat on the piano for the last 2 years and 2 months. We moved the piano to another location in the room once and I wondered if it would do better with the change of scenery...nope. This thing was wilting... I knew it needed re potting, but I continued to neglect it. And I've been watching it fade for a long time. I even talked to Lori last spring asking how to help nurse this cactus back to life....to no avail.
I wondered if it would bloom last Christmas... Lori told me hers do. Nope. Not a single flower. I wondered again this year... Nope. I started considering buying a new one this year when I saw them out in the stores during the holiday season. I wanted the flowers, but couldn't get myself to be able to forget that this is Rachel's Christmas Cactus...little pink pot and all... and maybe hers just wasn't meant to bloom again.
I decided to move the cactus and another plant (A Jade that I've been trying to bring back to life - I have an obsession with saving dying plants, I guess. they are all over my house!) up to my room. I don't keep plants there as a general rule because it's cold, kind of dark, and we don't have a bathroom upstairs which makes watering them a pain - and because I hate stairs, unrealistic. These are not usually the best conditions for plants. I moved it up there a couple months ago and I have watered it once since. I pretty much have been waiting for it to look bad enough that I can just detach my heart from it and let it go...
Friday (yesterday) morning, I woke up and lay in bed for a while before getting up (every morning for me!) I gazed over at my plants in my still dark room... the Jade has just about had it. I felt a little relief as I decided I'm gonna throw the ugly thing away. It's not a "Rachel" plant, so it's not hard on my heart, just a failure, but I can handle that if it doesn't have to do with my children. I looked at the cactus and wondered if I should just toss it, or maybe I should replant it into the Jade's pot... still undecided, I went about my day.
We used to have a really good system down for keeping the house before I started working. Fridays were our bedroom cleaning day, but we have been gone every Friday till noon, so we stopped that a while ago. Since I didn't have to work yesterday, we got up there to clean. We were each in our own rooms cleaning, shades all open and it looking pretty bright - and finally clean! - up there when I saw it....what I couldn't see in the darkness of the early morning hours....9 pretty pink buds!
I stopped to consider the date... is it the 3rd? Another important anniversary? That's when things like this usually happen to me. But, nothing. I couldn't think of why I might need the extra love from above today. I shrugged and thought to myself I guess He must know something I don't. It made sense later in the day when I realized how much I needed to be reminded that she isn't really gone as I pulled out of her cemetery leaving behind the "Thank heaven for little girls" flag with tears streaming down my face.
I wondered if I should still re pot it... or maybe it likes to be in a small pot... I looked at the roots
I decided to look it up to see what I need to do to help it continue to bloom. And I came across something I did not expect. I was right that it should be in a bigger pot... but this is what surprised me:
"Christmas cactus will bloom if given long uninterrupted dark periods, about 12 hours each night. Begin the dark treatments in about mid-October to have plants in full bloom by the holidays. You can place the plants in a dark closet from about 8 P.M. - 8 A.M. each night for 6-8 weeks or until you see buds forming. Christmas cacti will also bloom if they are subjected to cool temperatures of about 50 to 55 degrees F, eliminating the need for the dark treatments. Plants should be blooming for the holidays if cool treatments are started by early November."Who would have ever thought that when I moved my Christmas cactus to my room in December to wither and die that it actually would be made alive again? Not me. Apparently, my Crown of Thorns like the cooler weather too because they are in my mudroom where it gets really cold and they are blooming like never before too! And I thought they needed a warm comfy spot to thrive!
But you know, there is something about these little flowers in a totally unexpected place and time - against the odds and in spite of the circumstances - that reminds me of my Christmas baby.
|Yes, that is dust on the leaves.....|
Ironically, all the "Rachel plants" I have also have thorns of some sort. I didn't plan it that way, but the 3 plants I have here for her all have thorns... yet when they bloom, it's not only the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, but also the most rewarding for me as the one who continues to care for them long after they look 'worth it'. Just like my girl.
I guess the moral of the story is that when beauty seems the least likely, when the situation seems the darkest, the driest, the coldest.... when your roots seem to be smashed against the wall and when growth feels impossible... you can still bloom. And in fact, you could be just about to without even knowing it. When everyone around you thinks you are going nowhere, when you appear to be withering away, when you look like death has gotten the best of you... LIFE can still take over. And in those moments, when you see the beauty you have been longing for and the color you thought would never return... when you smell the fragrance of new life and sense that you are not forgotten.... a tiny little bud of hope on wilted plants with thorns can mean more than a giant flowering tree in the perfect weather of summer. Because in those moments you are reminded that you can overcome. You are not bound by your circumstances, by the size of your pot, by the brightness of your journey. There is joy in the midst of some of the darkest times... and just when you think you will give way to the conditions that seem to be enveloping you.... you will bloom. Because God is bigger than anything that can stand against His children.
I'm so thankful that I held on. For Rachel. For these plants. In these times, I am reminded over and over that I could not have experienced any of the beauty without the pain...the discomfort...the dark days... the months of fighting the cold hard ground. And it is worth it all. Every tear has been blessed with a bud of hope... a story of a baby saved, a person encouraged, another's new found or renewed relationship with Jesus, my own revived heart for the Lord, a grieving mother knowing she isn't alone in the darkness of this pain.... I have literally been exchanging tears for blessings for 2 1/2 years now as I've watched death gain no victory as life has taken over.
I plan to thoroughly enjoy each and every moment these flowers bloom....feeling a little closer to my girl and knowing how God pulled together each and every detail to give them to me in the middle of this cold winter...to warm and brighten my heart. He is so good to me...and she is so very much still alive - more alive than ever before. Even though I still miss her like crazy and hate every second she's gone.
I challenge you to look for buds of hope in unexpected places.... especially if it feels impossible. Open your eyes to His goodness - and when you see it, give credit where it's due and thank Him for His love. It is life and it can never be overtaken.
Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (NLT)