Waiting for new growth is a gamble sometimes.
At what point do you call it quits on something (or someone) that no longer serves you? What happens when systems, patterns, or relationships seem dead and gone but it feels hard to let go?
There’s heartache in holding on to dead weight or idealistic beliefs. But there’s something to be said for faith and belief in the possibility of something old giving way to new growth.
And that’s the gamble.
Do you let go of that person, that endeavor, that idea, or do you hold on for dear life with the belief that something good is still to come?
I have a B-minus green thumb. Mostly, my plants grow in spite of me and offer me much grace when I forget to water them in the scorching Texas heat.
One backyard trellis is enveloped in fragrant jasmine and stunning grapevines that cascade even more lushly each summer. My mandevillas wind up the other bright blue trellis, offering vibrant red and white blooms on each twisty tendril. I have potted hibiscus that grows sideways, orange honeysuckle that only occasionally flowers, a bougainvillia that is on its 7th life at least, and cheery pink petunias that have somehow teleported into a second pot that’s not their own. A big calla lily and Easter lilies from years past hide behind the deck because they’re happiest there in more shade. I like to stick little picks and gnomes in my plants, sweet twirly hummingbirds and ladybugs peeking from the leaves representing each of our children. Over in my yoga corner my little “happiness” tiki man nestles in the dirt under a canopy of ruby begonias. There are three fat palm trees behind our pool and four crepe myrtles lining the fence. Nothing matches and I don’t care. It’s green, and beautiful, and I love it all.
But my favorite plant in the yard is the plumeria we brought home from Kauai.
We decided in 2.0 that we were going to collect “life symbols” for our home – things that mark occasions or values. Some life symbols we’ve gathered so far are a framed picture of us at the Eiffel tower, our vows on canvas, the kids’ drawings of our family when we were slogging through muck, etc. It’s less about the things and more about the meaning behind them.
So as we came home from our second honeymoon, inspired by my dear friend who keeps beautiful plumeria in her yard, we scooped up several clippings from the airport in different color varietals with high hopes that at least one of them would bloom. I ended up giving them all away as gifts (I do that with stuff) but kept one for myself as our newest life symbol.
The neat thing about plumeria is that is goes dormant in the winter. So you literally cover it up, put it in the garage in the dark, and don’t touch it during the colder months. When it warms up, you bring it back out, give it some TLC, and watch it go nuts. It’s the craziest thing.
Last summer it grew the biggest most beautiful leaves but didn’t produce blooms. So this year I thought I’d experiment and make a second clipping from my one thriving plant. I cut the top third and repotted it. I watered it, peeked at it every day, and watched it…
Oh the tragic irony. Our second honeymoon life symbol was dying.
It started to shrivel and brown. Then it turned black. It never got spongy (sure sign of rot) but it definitely was not going to win a prize at the fair.
My original plumeria had already sprouted leaves, and then debuted two brand new chubby little arms. I’ll clip one of those to repopulate, hopefully with more success this time. I’m hopeful it will give us some flowers this year. I can’t even remember what color it is so that will be a fun surprise. (I caught G plucking the leaves off this week to make a tent for a lizard she caught and I totally freaked out and yelled at her. Ooops. Every moment is an opportunity to start over and be better, and thank you Lord Jesus for your grace in the moment.)
So next to the one gorgeous green plant, my useless rotting clipping just rested sadly in its pot. I left it tucked underneath the grapevines for weeks, partly because I didn’t have anything else to put in there, partly because I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it, and mostly because I didn’t have the heart to take it out and throw it away. It was special, you know.
And then I pulled up the grapevines.
Imagine my shock when I saw two tiny green leaves sprouting out of the side of my shriveled plumeria. I actually sat down and cried.
I fought every instinct I had to move it or change its soil, and simply watered it and left it alone. The leaves have grown bigger by today and that one little green side of the stalk has gotten a little brighter.
THAT little plant is more of a metaphor of our marriage than the big flourishing plumeria is.
Here’s what I’ve learned about new growth:
- Growth takes time and the right conditions. Give your marriage (or your job, your wellness, or anything else you’re white-knuckling through) what it needs to thrive. Rest, nutrition and exercise, positive input, prayer, and belief are just a few of the things a sick marriage needs. Shower it with patience. Offer it your daily investment of time and care and intentional love. Write the note. Bite your tongue. Grant forgiveness.
- You cannot force it. People will change when they are damn well good and ready. It might take forever. And even then, it might not be the kind of change you were expecting. So in the meantime, choose to change yourself in meaningful ways.
- The ugly stuff is still there. I cannot undo what I did. He can’t undo what he said. But in the going-forward we can choose to see the new growth – what’s green instead of what’s black. We can nourish what’s growing, tend to it carefully, and be mindful not to let the rot take over.
Survivor tree – new growth from wreckage
My favorite part of our visit to NYC many years ago was visiting the 9/11 memorial. Inside the grounds there is a Callery pear tree that looks totally out of place. It was planted in the 1970’s and was destroyed when the towers fell. But it was uncovered from the rubble, smoking and burned and barely alive. Someone brought it to a nursery in the Bronx and they loved it back to life. It now stands over 30 feet tall and is a breath-taking feature back at the memorial. The original salvaged 8-foot trunk is scarred, dark, weathered, and worn. You can see where the new growth emerged because the younger branches are smooth and light. Even more beautiful: its seedlings have been planted at more than a dozen places around the world at memorials for natural disasters or attacks.
I sat at the foot of that tree and cried too. For the gift of new life out of the wreckage. For the beauty that rises from ashes. This visit to the Survivor Tree was shortly after we lost our son yet long before we almost lost our marriage.
What new growth is still to come? What seedlings of our stories will become a source of hope for people in mourning all over the world?
I’d love to see that tree again, and I’m sure I will. In the meantime, I’ll revel over my Little Plumeria That Could, and my Amazing Marriage That Did, and treat them both with the loving care they deserve.