Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nine Gnarly Years

Don gave me the cactus the first year I came to Downey. It was a
gnarly looking cactus in a big clay pot. The thorns were long and
black and, unlike many cacti, could be easily seen and avoided. I
called it my Don Juan cactus.

Don was a very handsome and gregarious eighty-one-year-old man and as
charming as they come. He was very active in the community and the
church, and had a reputation for two things: the gift of gab and
public prayers. He loved both and often they would mix.  His public
prayers frequently became long and flowery gab sessions with God. He
loved plants, too.  He had a back yard full of plants. Plants of every
size and shape and type spilled over into every space. Don loved
giving away clippings or complete plants. He gave me a cute little
potted cactus for my office to welcome me to First Presbyterian Church
of Downey.  He also gave me a clipping of a long and winding cactus. I
had no idea what I was going to do with it, and it really was not much
to look at. But I had a new back yard and was eager to begin filling
it with native flaura. Don showed me the big gnarly old cactus in the
big clay pot and told me he wanted me to have it. What was I going to
do with this? There was no way I could get it in my car. Don said that
was not a problem. He would deliver it later.  Understanding the
importance of accepting generosity in developing new relationships, I
agreed.  A few days later the big gnarly potted cactus arrived.

For nine years I watered the cactus on and off--not very consistently.
It did not seem to matter.  It actually looked quite nice in our back
yard and was a consistent conversation piece with new visitors. A few
years ago I found a very large spider hiding in its gnarly and thorny
branches.  When the spider ventured out one sunny afternoon far enough for me
to get a look at it, I discovered it was a black widow. In a
cold-blooded attempt to kill the spider, I sprayed the heck out of old
Don Juan with insecticide, determined to drown the spider if the
chemical did not kill it. Surprisingly Don Juan wasn’t phased in the
least by the chemical warfare. But old Don did not seem to be growing
either. If it was, it was imperceptible to daily observation. I never
measured the height either so I am really not sure if it has grown at
all. And seemingly, no new branches (is that what you call cactus

At about seven years I realized the large and prominent thorns were
probably a danger to small children and since I had grandchildren on
the way we moved old Don Juan from along the main walkway to our
covered patio  into the back corner of the patio. Out of the way, it
posed less threat of harming anyone and it wasn’t doing much anyway.

Then it happened. In July of this year when I was watering plants, I
saw it. At the very top of the old gnarly cactus was a small bud about
the size of a large walnut.  After nine years the old gnarly cactus
was blooming! Just a couple days later a beautiful white and pink and yellow
flower opened atop old Don Juan. I was stunned. It was stunning. After
all these years with little sign of growth, this old cactus put out a
gorgeous flower.  The flower only lasted a day. Nine years of gnarly
waiting and then twenty-four hours of stunning beauty. I must say it
was worth waiting for.

And I must say that it caused me to think.  I thought about Don, who
gave me the cactus. He had died just three years after I arrived.
Every time I saw the old gnarly cactus I thought about Don. I thought
about how pleased he would be to know that I and the cactus had
persevered and now the cactus had bloomed.
It made me think a lot about people. So often I work with people and I
see so little visible sign of growth. Often, they also have thorny
exteriors that can cause others to avoid them or result in them being
put somewhere  more out of sight. Sometimes their lives hide things
that, when they come out--like the black widow spider--can cause an
overreaction in those around them who are trying to help.Thankfully,
these people often survive these ill-conceived remedies. And, like gnarly
old Don Juan, all of a sudden a bud appears. All of a sudden what
seemed to be a person who couldn't produce anything worth looking at,
presents a flower. A beautiful flower from a gnarly old cactus.

The analogy falls apart here because in my experience when this kind
of blooming happens with people, it usually lasts more than
twenty-four hours.  Although the flowering of a person might take a
long time, once it begins, it almost always continues, and the
blooming becomes more visible and more frequent.  I am so glad I
accepted the gnarly gift from Don. And I am so glad that I did not
kill it with chemicals. And I am so glad that, though I moved it to
the back of the patio, I continued to water it on occasion and that I
was there when it flowered.

The Lord has blessed me with many such encounters with flowering
people. I pray that the Lord will continue to give me the patience and
allow me to be in such places to see the flowering of his beloved gnarly