In early December, I bought five amaryllis plants for three friends and I to plant in pots in our kitchens. I kept two for myself, and even as I made that choice, it seemed superfluous. The amaryllis bulbs were meant to teach and remind us that God works under the surface, that He can make something as ugly and dead-looking as a bulb bloom into something beautiful, just beyond our reach. Surely I needed just one plant to teach me that lesson, but here I was with two. One was blooming right out of the box, with green shoots and a pink and white flower ready to unfold. Apparently it can happen this way sometimes; a bulb can require no intervention at all, but just grows on its own in time. It blooms in darkness. The other had started a little growth at the top of the bulb, but otherwise, nothing. I planted them both.
I am a sucker for a symbol, so not surprisingly, the two plants for me took on the role of two areas of my life that needed growth and blooming. One was easy, I hardly needed to do a thing. The other was, well, another story.
Two of my friends had bright red flowers in their kitchens within a week or two. My pink and white flower had passed its bloom by then and I was focused on the one, stubborn pot. Why wouldn’t it grow, I thought? Why do other peoples’ flowers grow and mine don’t? It was an ugly reaction, and unfair, but I watered and I waited and as time went on, I began to think I had given it too much care. I do that sometimes. As it turned out, I was overwatering, like, a lot. The bulb was drowning in water, really, and I was convinced I had ruined everything. I drained muddy water from the pot and checked the bulb bottom for roots. It came up easily as it had really no root system to speak of, but there were some small, wet stragglers. Tempted to throw the plant away, I decided that instead, I would leave it entirely alone. No water, no examination, no prodding, nothing. If God wanted it to grow, as a symbol and gift to me, then He would make it grow. As a wise friend once told me, you can’t make a flower grow by pulling on its stem; the same is true for a bulb.
Christmas came, and New Year’s, and still nothing. It seemed silly to leave the pot on the dining room table, simply mocking me with its emptiness. By now, I was all in with the symbolism of the stagnant plant, and I angrily laid down a marker. If the bulb produced nothing, surely this area of my life would be barren as well, a victim of my suffocating care. If the bulb did grow, then it would be all God, and not me, a miracle. He would, in fact, be fixing the very mess I had created and showing me His compassion and sovereignty in the process. Just as that time in Genesis, when God credits trust as righteousness, I would consider growth as mercy. God in the details. God who sees.
By mid-January, my husband was looking to the bulb almost as much as me, and he saw my pain and sorrow surrounding it. One day, with my permission, he carefully lifted the bulb and added more soil from a bag in the garage. It couldn’t hurt, he reasoned. The additional soil lifted the bulb a little higher to the reach the light it needed to grow. And it’s true, sometimes we need someone else working alongside of us and making their contribution to help raise something up.
By late January, there was still nothing, and as I cleaned my kitchen, I made the decision to throw out the bulb, pot and all. It was too painful to look at, and a fruitless exercise. My imagination had gotten way ahead of me, again. God is big and very busy, with lots of real problems to tend to. And sometimes a bulb is just a bulb.
As I picked at the paper-like leaves at the top of the bulb, I was in full dissection mode. Peeling them away, I found the smallest spot of green. I gasped. It was a miracle, however tiny.
A couple of weeks later, there are four leaves in a tight cluster slowly making their way up and out. They are tinged with red at the tips, and it looks like a sign of struggle. The leaves now stand about two inches high. It is taking a long time for them to grow, and I can only guess at the existence and color of a flower, but as the plant grows, so do I. I’ve learned a lot.
First, I realize that when things look impossible, I tend to think they’re impossible. This denies the faith I profess, but it’s the case too often nonetheless. I don’t give God credit for the possibilities that can come, even when I look at the many ways He’s worked real live miracles in my life. I have to work on this. Secondly, there was really nothing I could have done to make this bulb grow any faster. My own efforts likely inhibited its growth, actually. Things grow, sprout, and blossom when they should, on their own timetable, so I don’t need to look to anyone else’s flowers when judging my own. I need to remember this. Thirdly, it’s good to have a fellow gardener, someone who’s watching and waiting along with you, adding their bit of soil to the mix. That’s a real blessing.
In the end, some amaryllis bulbs bloom and some don’t. I’ll let you know when and if I see the first peek of a flower. But this one is growing, however slowly, up to the light, without my help. For today, that’s a tiny miracle I hope will grow strong roots in my heart.