A beloved colleague gave me a Christmas cactus last year, knowing I have a green thumb and that I love having plants and flowers in my office. I did my research and figured out everything I needed to do to ensure that there would be flowers blooming in time for the Christmas season. The leaves of my cactus were green and bright and the soil was the right consistency. I looked forward to the beautiful flowers the cactus would produce; a way to brighten up my office in winter. Despite my best efforts, there were no blooms by the end of the semester. I even snuck away to my office the day after Christmas just to check and see. But there was nothing to see...just beautiful green leaves and healthy soil, but no Christmas blooms.
I understood it was just a plant. I understood that nature works on her own time frame and not by an arbitrary date on the calendar. But at that moment, the plant felt like a metaphor for my life: healthy, planted in good soil, but waiting and waiting for something special to bloom. A Christmas cactus can survive all kinds of adverse conditions, but it takes something special for it to thrive enough to produce flowers. I knew all about being in survival mode, but lacking that "something special" to feel as if I were thriving and blooming where I was planted.
There is a tension between the gratitude you feel to simply survive life's trials and storms, even as you still long for a state in which you can thrive. You can count your blessings, name them one by one...even as you enumerate unfulfilled dreams and wishes. You can be grateful for all you have in life...even as you pray for a life exceedingly and abundantly beyond what you dare to hope. You can appreciate the simple gift of bread and water...even as you long for a feast. And so I am sitting with the first lesson of the new year: giving myself permission to long for a feast; to long for abundance; to long to thrive instead of survive. I give myself permission to dare to ask for a riot of blooms and not just healthy leaves.
I returned to the office this week for the first time of the new year and noticed one lone bloom among the many stalks of green on my Christmas cactus. It may be the only flower this year, or one among many. Only time will tell. But I took this picture to remind myself to hope, to long, to wish, to dream, to desire. And as I minister to people throughout the year, I will be sure to ask them: what are you longing for, but dare not name, for fear that your dream will never bloom?
© Yolanda Pierce