Growth and Care: What Succulents Taught Me

I have recently become a plant person. Prior to my 36th year on this earth I have been unable to keep anything green alive. I’m a chronic underwaterer and often toss the “how to” stick because it doesn’t look pretty in the pot.

Then I discovered succulents. This magical species of plants where being chronically bad at watering is not a problem, in fact it’s encouraged. Succulents love the dry soil and high sun San Diego provides. And I love that for the first time in my life something green has managed to live longer than 36 hours at my house!

In our current house we have a patio right in front of our office door. That patio is filled with succulents of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I love sitting at my desk and being able to look out at the concrete slab that is covered in vivid colors from magenta to electric green.

While I got into planting succulents because I thought they were cute, I have learned that I really love them because each day they show me the beauty of incremental growth and remind me of the love and care the Maker has for me.

I first felt this kinship with my plants a few months ago. A friend of mine came over one morning to help me repot some of my plants and add some new varieties to my garden. We spent hours in the early morning sun talking and playing in the dirt. We pulled out unhealthy plants. We treated several for a mealy bug infestation. We moved some around simply because they looked better in a different pot. At the end of gardening session the patio looked great. I was so pleased with how everything turned out and I couldn’t wait to see how my plants would flourish.

The next morning I went out to the patio to see the flourishing of yesterday’s labor of love. I was met with crushing disappointment. The plants looked exactly the same as they had the day before. I’m not sure what I expected but it appears that anything short of a miraculous growth spurt was simply not good enough to meet my expectation.

Day after day I went out to the patio to behold the wonder of substantial growth and day after day I was monumentally disappointed. Until one morning, I noticed that one of my plants had grown a pup (a baby plant). Underneath its leafy overhang was a miniature version of itself. I was amazed and excited. I began surveying my other plants. To my delight there was evidence of new growth and change in many of the pots. Little leaves here, a little color change there, new pups, and longer vines met my gaze as I looked with eyes to really see.

It’s the same with my own growth. I want a substantial change and I want it right now. Even if I start to feel the change on the inside, that isn’t enough for me. I want that growth to be so apparent to everyone else, that it’s as if I up and bloomed overnight. I want to shout the verse from the book of Isaiah, “See, I am doing a new thing! Do you not perceive it?” And in response I want a resounding, “Yes!”

But personal growth and change aren’t like that, they don’t shout and clamor for attention, they progress day by day until one day they bloom, and can be perceived by the naked eye. That daily progress matters and is fueled by both the soil and the nutrients I am grounded in and enhanced by. My growth is grounded in the community I share my life with and I am enhanced by the practices and work of counseling, program, reading and writing. The uprooting, the replanting, the soil, the nutrients, they all matter in the grand scheme of incremental growth. And succulents have taught this visual learner that truth.

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Almost every morning I go out and check on my plants, just as a mother hen checks on her chicks. Lately we’ve had an unusually high amount of rainfall and even this chronic underwaterer knows that overwatering can be just as deadly. So, I’ve spent countless moments moving my beloved pots of plants to and from the shelter of our covered walkway. Some of them have such wet soil that they are breeding ground for little gnat like flies. Gross. So with the diligence of an Olympic athlete I haul my pots from shelter to sun day in and day out, unwilling to let Mother Nature kill what I have put so much heart and time into.

Isn’t that just like the Maker? Caring so deeply for me, that day in a day out I am moved toward balance, knowing that both undernourishment and over nourishment will kill me. Or when I do become oversaturated and the flies of discontent and despair begin to breed in the dampness of dark and gloomy places of my soul, am I not turned toward the Light? The answer for me is a resounding, “Yes!” The diligence and care the Maker puts into my overall wellbeing far exceeds the Olympian efforts I feel I give to my plants. The Maker is simply unwilling to let anything thwart His good work.

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Each morning when I walk among my plants, I am reminded to not only appreciate, but delight in the small changes, that each slight difference brings greater beauty to plant. I’m also reminded to remember the Maker. To know that even when I careen between want and excess, and allow myself to become dried out or oversaturated, I am still being cared for, looked at adoringly, the same way I care for and gaze at my plants.

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