Saturday, September 28, 2013

Week of Love: Day 4

A story

Once upon a time, there was a lovely little hibiscus plant that had shiny, dark green leaves and a bright red blossom. She lived in a single plastic pot with her brother and sister and they were all quite happy together. Their pot was covered in shiny foil paper and they knew they looked very attractive. 

One day, a nice lady came to the store where they lived and she fell in love with them. They were so bright and lovely that she swooped them up into her cart and, having paid for them, soon proudly carried them out of the store. She put them in a special place where they would get plenty of sunlight and their fiery red flowers would brighten the days of all who saw them.

For a short time, the little plant and her brother and sister were content with their new life. They enjoyed greeting the people who came and sat around them in what they later learned was called "the waiting room". They also noticed, however, that the nice lady seemed awfully busy and she gradually spent less and less time with them. The little hibiscus, being a sensitive sort, even wondered at times whether she still loved them. 

The little hibiscus longed for the love of the nice lady and looked forward to those occasional times when she rewarded them with a drink of water. Her roots were getting a bit cramped, as she and her brother and sister were growing just a bit too big for the original pot. The little hibiscus did not say anything though, not wanting to complain, as she didn't want to seem ungrateful to the nice lady.

One day, however, something very alarming began to happen. While resting in the afternoon sun, the little hibiscus looked down at her leaves and noticed that they had lost some of their luster. She knew that her bright red bloom would fade and die - that is the way of things - but she did not think her leaves were supposed to be changing in this way. 

She glanced over at her brother and sister and found them to be in an even more frightful state. Their leaves were starting to curl and become limp. Some had even fallen off! Now she knew for certain that there was something seriously wrong with her siblings and she was frightened for them. She hoped and prayed that the nice lady would come around soon and take care of them.

Through the night, when the waiting room was always empty, more and more leaves fell from her brother's and sister's limbs. Her own leaves seemed to be holding on but she was starting to feel weaker and she began to panic. "O nice lady," she whispered frantically into the dark night, "please get here soon and save us!"

The next morning, as light entered the waiting room, there was a small pile of leaves surrounding their pot. The little hibiscus was afraid but remained hopeful as she waited for the nice lady. Others entered and departed the waiting room but, as the day wore on, the little hibiscus realized that the nice lady wasn't among them.

She watched desperately as the last of the others prepared to shut off the lights and lock the door to the waiting room. She knew that she and her brother and sister didn't look attractive anymore but she fervently hoped that the other would notice their plight. She felt so weak that she could barely remain upright. Yet she knew that this might be the last chance for her brother and sister - and maybe even for herself - so she cried out with all her might. 

At the sound of her cry, the last of the others - the little plant now recognized her as someone who often came through the waiting room - looked over at them with compassion. She approached them, tenderly examining their soil and remaining leaves, looking gravely concerned. As once before the nice lady had swooped them up when they were beautiful, this compassionate one now drew them up gently into her arms to carry them. 

The little hibiscus was relieved but also afraid. She didn't know where the compassionate one was taking them and she watched with horror as more and more of her brother's and sister's leaves fluttered to the ground as they headed out the waiting room door.

For a while, there only a feeling of movement in darkness for the little hibiscus and her siblings. She was shaking so much from fear that she was afraid that her own leaves, which were still holding on fairly well, might start to fall just from the fright. 

Before long, however, the movement stopped and the compassionate one was lifting their pot out of the darkness and setting them in a bright sunny window. And, much to her relief, the compassionate one gently removed the three of them from their tiny pot and planted them in a larger one, surrounding their roots with rich soil and a generous amount of water. 

There was no more shiny paper around their pot nor visitors coming in and out to admire them, but the little plant did not care. She rested well that night, hopeful that they would all feel better in the morning.

However, when morning came, the situation could not have been more dire. The little hibiscus looked at her brother and sister in shock. She barely recognized them for they hardly had any leaves left at all! When she peered carefully at their limbs, she noticed what looked like tiny spider webs at most of the joints. 

While she had lost a couple of leaves herself, she couldn't see whether she too had the dreadful looking webs on her. But she knew it was only a matter of time. Whatever was attacking her siblings appeared to be attacking her too and soon she too would be like a skeleton of her old self as were they.

The compassionate one stopped by several times during that next day and treated with them with care. At first, she tried to just wipe away the webs from the ailing plants. But this was futile. Even the little hibiscus plant herself could see that the webs had reappeared on her brother and sister by the next morning. 

The following day, the little hibiscus watched the compassionate one studying their problem with great seriousness. Grateful as she was, however, she couldn't help but wonder what the nice lady was thinking. Was she worried about them? Again, she remembered how delighted the nice lady had been with them when they first came into her care. Did she not still love them, even though they were sick and not nearly so pretty as before?

Hence, it was with excitement that the little plant awaited a response when she heard the compassionate one talking about their condition with the nice lady on the phone. But the words she overheard from her beloved friend shocked her. "Why don't you just throw it out?" she heard the nice lady say about them, as though they were now but a bit of garbage. 

With these words still ringing about her, she began to droop in despair, no longer caring if she lost her leaves or even her life itself.

However, before death could descend upon her, the little hibiscus noted that the compassionate one was suddenly becoming quite active, bustling about her and her siblings as though preparing for some important effort. Soon a large soft cloth was being wrapped around their pot, leaving only their stems and few remaining leaves exposed. 

The ailing little plant did not know whether to be frightened or excited about what she saw coming next. Before her, she saw a large tub of hot, steamy water. She knew this was going to be uncomfortable - very, very uncomfortable. And yet the compassionate one was doing her best to reassure her and her siblings that this might just be their one hope...if it wasn't already too late.

The time submerged under the hot water seemed interminable. There was no coming up for air since the compassionate one kept pushing them down and even piling things on top of them to hold them under water. She apologized to them as she did this, explaining that it was necessary to destroy the spider mites that had infested them.

Spider mites? The little hibiscus recalled the hushed whispers back at the greenhouse about these dreaded demons and the power they had to destroy. But she had never thought that she or her brother or sister could fall victim. They were all so healthy and beautiful when they arrived at the store... 

A flash of pain again came upon the little hibiscus, a pain so deep that it hurt more than the suffocating sensation of being submerged under blisteringly hot water. The nice was clear that she no longer loved them, now that their beauty and health were gone...

At last, the compassionate one drew the sibling plants out of the water. What came next was very messy and sad. Despite the protective cloth, much of the rich soil that had surrounded their roots had washed away and was clinging to the cloth and not them. Patiently, the compassionate one gathered as much of the soil back as she could and, along with some new soil, carefully piled it back upon their roots.

And then the waiting began.

At first, it was just a waiting for the excess water to drain out of the pot so the little hibiscus would not drown in it. That was over in the couple of days that followed. The worst part was the waiting that came next. Day after day, week after week of waiting - to see if any new leaves would sprout on her brother and sister, now both totally barren; waiting to see if she herself could begin to grow again. 

The compassionate one stopped by and spent time with the little hibiscus at regular intervals, checking carefully for the appearance of any new webs that would signal the return of the enemy. She seemed content with what she saw. 

However, the little hibiscus, for her part, was very, very discouraged. It was so hard, day in and day out, to look at the empty frames of her brother and sister, without seeing a single sign of life. They appeared cold and brittle - they appeared dead. While she could see that she still had her leaves, she could see no change in herself and that made her wonder if she too was about to die.

Even though nothing seemed to change, the compassionate one continued to stop by, occasionally watering the soil around the little one. She would gently touch her leaves now and then - and the little hibiscus found that she looked forward to these visits. 

Together, she and the compassionate one would gaze out the window, watching the panorama of life on the other side of the glass. Together, they saw flocks of sparrows sparring for seed and squirrel pairs playing and romping in the grass. They watched the garden flowers bloom, with butterflies and bees paying their visits before the blossoms faded. They even saw a beautiful doe one day who simply folded up her legs and rested quietly in front of their window. 

Gradually, the little hibiscus noticed changes occurring outside the window. The time of sunlight was getting shorter and some days it was not nearly so warm and cozy to sit near the glass. She knew that the time called summer was drawing to a close. 

And she was sad - for many weeks had passed and still her brother and sister showed no signs of stirring back to life. 

One day, the compassionate one told her that it was time. The little hibiscus knew that this was true yet she did not want it to be so. Although the compassionate one tried to be gentle, the dumping over and separation of her roots from those of her brother and sister was painful beyond anything she had ever known. She had never had to try to live apart from them before.

She watched the compassionate one carefully wrap their stiff dry limbs in paper so that they could be put to rest. At one time, she would have feared that she too was about to be wrapped up and thrown away. But she discovered on this day that she had no fear. She trusted the compassionate one. She now knew that she was loved in a manner far deeper than what she had experienced with the nice lady.

Though still sad, it was with a deep peace that the little hibiscus settled alone into the pot she had once shared with her brother and sister. The compassionate one patted more new soil around her roots and gave her a lovely drink. She tied a ribbon around the pot and put a bright red bow upon it, both to memorialize the two whose lives had slipped away and to celebrate the new beginning for the little one.

It was only then that the little hibiscus noticed that she herself had changed. While she had been busy watching the comings and goings of life on the other side of the window during the summer, she had begun to change without realizing it. Her reflection in the glass now showed broader, shinier leaves - and, of all things - a new bud!

The little hibiscus was so excited that she didn't know what to do. While in her early days, this new bud would have been cause for pride, now it stirred in her a humble sense of gratitude to the compassionate one who had loved her through her good times and her bad. She wanted to tell her that she loved her but she didn't know how...

The compassionate one, sensing her struggle, silently sat down beside her. Together, they gazed out the window once again, as they had throughout the summer. 

Breaking the silence, the compassionate one spoke aloud for the first time.

"My dear little hibiscus, I have indeed loved you but it is not me that you should love in return. For I am not the One who makes the flowers to grow - or the sparrows to fly or the squirrels to romp and play. I am not the One who healed you."

The compassionate one paused, allowing this truth to sink in.

"I was sent to you by One much greater than me. It was He who directed my heart to claim you, He who instructed my hands to nurture you and free you from your demons. I was simply there to be by your side while He worked within you. He sent me to be with you - just as years ago he sent others to be with me."

She paused again, her heart a deep well of His love.

"Thank you for letting me share your journey. May we journey together through this life and on into the next. Let us praise Him without ceasing - for endless is His love and gracious mercy."