Beneath the surface.
Bougainvilleas are my absolute favorite. There are oranges, purples and pinks but my favorite is that bright magenta. I love it so. On the way to the grocery store, on the way to the gym, on the way to Target, on the way to our favorite park, pretty much everywhere we go because we live in Southern California, I’m pointing them out to Jesse. “Oh, did you see that one?! Look at that color against the turquoise garage door! Oh, that Spanish arch with the pink, don’t you just love it, babe?”
And so, this is life as we know it. Jesse humors me, smiles and nods and responds, “Yes! So pretty!” about 19 times a day.
Someday, we’ll have a house with cobalt tiles in the kitchen, fruit tress in the back and magenta bougainvilleas draped over a wooden gate and a little girl who stops and picks up the sun-faded flowers that will fall on the path to the door. Someday.
When we moved into our current home a couple years back, I was determined to make even the tiniest piece of my dream home dream come true. And so, I made a handful of trips to Lowe’s, purchased a handful of plants that needed attention and even more that didn’t (I’m aware that really, I’m a hands-off type gardener) and excitedly turned our patio into my happy place.
One of those plants I purchased, was, of course, a magenta bougainvillea. I found the perfect home for her in a big old Arizona-orange pot. Our first months together were brilliant. Hot pink fireworks. Me smiling every time I walked up to the house. Pruning that bright bougainvillea of mine. Sweeping and hosing down the patio around her, so she and the twinkly lights above truly sparkled and shined.
It was during Bougie’s glory days that we decided to adopt. My prized plant was flourishing. I was experiencing all the highs and goodness of saying, “Yes, Lord. I will do this!” The relief of surrender. The excitement of all the joy we were going to live because we were being obedient to Jesus. All was right in our little world.
But, somewhere in there, some tiny little bugs got to my bougainvillea. I don’t know what kind or where they came from, again, that hands-off gardener thing. But they got Bougie and they got her good. I watered her. I didn’t water her. I pruned her. I doused her with some Bugs Get Out of Here spray. Nothing was working.
I like to think she was having sympathy stress for me.
My proclamations of overwhelming peace had slowed and quieted. The mountaintop experience of aligning my choices with God’s will had started to feel a little less mountaintop-py. And it wasn’t the actual work that got me down, it was the emotional and spiritual work that whisked its way right by that once-cheerful bougainvillea on the patio, pounded on my front door and wouldn’t take, “No, thanks, I’m not interested right now,” for an answer.
I was having a hard time blooming where I was planted. He had spoken a beautiful, colorful calling into our lives and I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be. Maybe not my original dream home dream scenario, but His.
But, saying yes to Jesus doesn’t mean hot pink fireworks all of the time.
Adopting from Nicaragua fell through after 10 months of progress in that direction. That’s like getting pregnant, delivering the baby and doctor saying, “Well, nice job on getting her out, but we’re going to put her back in until…well, actually I’m not sure how long! Good luck. Have a nice day.”
We were left with another decision, as we felt heavy and unsure. Redoing appointments. Redoing paperwork. My desk was a disaster and my mind wasn’t far behind. The agency wasn’t moving as quickly as I wanted. Mistakes and miscommunications eating at me like tiny pesky bugs. I started to feel left out again, because of this wretched infertility. I felt a million miles away from the day my phone would ring and the agency would say, “We have a match for you!” My bright, happy sort-of rooted joy was withering away.
I longed for that relief of surrender and joy I experienced at the beginning of all this. But instead of seeking the only sure-fire place to find it, I put more on myself. I tried harder.
My spiritual gardening skills we’re looking a little too familiar to my real life ones.
All the hustling to move things along, all the doing, all the crying out, all the salvaging of old…
It wasn’t working.
Sometimes, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you work to move forward to grow, the only answer, the only way back to where you want to go, is to start over. To tear down. Rebuild. Be still and wait.
One afternoon around Christmastime, my mom and I stood outside my front door, analyzing Bougie, in that big Arizona-orange pot. We searched for signs of life but came up empty. No green leaves. Definitely no magenta. Not even a tiny sprout of hope. And, so, we got out the pruners and started cutting everything back. At first, it was the obvious long, bare twiggy branches. Then, as we got closer to the foundation, we decided, “Nope, even this has to go, and that, too.”
My pride and joy was now a 6-inch pile of gray sticks. I was pretty certain she’d seen her day. But, that’s just like me. Quick to judge, slow to wait and see.
If life was a constant celebratory announcement of vibrant bougainvilleas and good news, I think the excitement would fade. It would become the norm. I’d get used to that, too, and eventually appreciate its grandeur less and less. There’d be no room for humility and falling to my knees. But, it’s so easy to wish and hope things were easier and outcomes were more obviously beautiful.
But, there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes in real life. More God being an almighty, powerful, all-in, loving, kind and brilliant God. More purposeful processes. More plans and beauty that’ll blow us away. And more of me not trusting that this is the truth when the chips are down. More of me lamenting and complaining and feeling sorry for myself. More wondering why my leaves are withering and my branches are gray.
I may not know what’s happening in these months and years of waiting, I may not see the whole picture, but I can trust that He does. He didn’t call us into relationship with Him to bless us with easy answers and more obviously beautiful outcomes. He chooses us because He wants to change us. Change our hearts. Change our frantic, desperate, withering lives to richness in Him. And He wants us to not only invite Him to be part of the process, but cling to Him the whole darn way. It takes discipline to throw our hands to Heaven and say, “Take me! Change me! I’m here, Lord!” It takes coming to Jesus time and time again. Every day. Being still with Him. Letting Him orchestrate the pruning. The growth beneath the surface.
And if you let it happen, if you surrender your agenda, your control, your doubts, your everything, if you let refining and healing mix and meld and sweep over your soul, the awkward discomfort, the rush, the anxiety…well, they begin to melt away. There may be dead wood on the surface, but hope will stir and rise in your heart.
A couple weeks after we pruned the bougainvillea back to practically nothing, I spotted the tiniest little sprout peeking its way from the base of the plant. I texted my mom. I was so excited! There was hope for this little plant I loved so much. The one whose vibrant colors brighten up our patio and my days and make me dream of all to come, that house with cobalt tiles in the kitchen, fruit tress in the back and magenta bougainvilleas draped over the wooden gate. That little girl who will stop and pick up the sun-faded flowers that fall on the path to the door.
Weeks and months have passed since. Still no magenta flowers, but I know they are coming. I have proof of the work that’s been happening below the surface because now Bougie is dressed in an abundance of green leaves. And so, I prune, I water, I sweep and hose down the patio around her, so she and the twinkly lights above have room to truly sparkle and shine. Isn’t that just like God? If we obey. If we seek him and the fullness he offers us, he blesses us with glimpses, nudges and beautiful, telling gifts like green leaves that revive our faith even more.
One day, when I least expect it, all that work beneath the surface work, well, one of its greatest rewards will arrive, a celebratory announcement of hot pink fireworks. Bougie will bloom, my phone will ring and His dream home dream for us will come true.