I will tell you a story of my cactus. It is a story of hope, and perhaps you will find in it something of hope for you, too. Because my cactus is ugly. Sometimes I am ugly. Perhaps you are, too?
A friend gave it to me. I didn’t ask for it. She thought, no doubt, that she was giving me something beautiful. I sighed, not so that she could hear, and made a place on the crowded windowsill for it and grudgingly gave it water. Just a little bit, because cacti don’t need much water. My cactus sat on the windowsill for weeks, gathering dust. I considered throwing it out. But I thought of my friend who gave it to me. I did not have the heart to throw it out because of my friend.
I loved my other plants on the windowsill. There were ivies, saw-toothed and varied. There was a waxy plant with tiny pink flowers that dripped a sticky substance. There was a philodendron with striped green and white leaves, winding its tendrils and changing from day to day. There was a spider plant that put out little, dangling, baby spider plants, and I loved those little babies and tenderly cared for them. There were African violets, all pink and purple and ruffly and profuse with their golden centers and fuzzy leaves. Near the window was a tall, tall Ficus tree with its arching branches, tender green, and I loved watching it grow.
I heard once that if you loved a plant, it would grow and thrive. If you did not love a plant, it would wither and pine away and be puny.
I did not love my cactus.
It had thick, dead-green shoots coming out from its center, not spiny like many types of cactus. In fact, there was no interest whatsoever. It was just there, just dead-green. But I kept watering it, just a little, you know. Because of my friend.
Truthfully, I forgot about my cactus. It was just there. Months went by.
Then—something wonderful happened. I began to notice a swelling at the ends of some of the shoots. Not a dead-green, but a pale, the palest, pink. I began to watch, fascinated. Day by day, the swelling increased. The pale pink grew to a definite pink, rosy and lustrous. Mornings now, I could not wait to gaze at my cactus. Every day brought more and more swellings, more and more lovely pink. Now, the shoots were taking on a new tenderness, supple and glowing. My cactus was no longer ugly.
But then—the most wonderful thing happened.
One morning, I was busy and had forgotten to look at my cactus. I was busy, you know, with the daily things. There are always so many daily things that take my attention. Surely, this happens to you, too. So I forgot my cactus and went about trying to right wrongs and clean up messes, the kind of messes that life brings, daily. The kind of wrongs that happen because we are human and tread carelessly on our neighbor, our child, or our husband. These happen daily, too. So I was busy and distracted and forgot.
Sometimes, it is just then, just when we forget, that the most wonderful thing happens. Sometimes, when we are a little bit damaged or harried or dull or slack, the thing we forget to notice will grab at us as if something were calling to us, something without words. Or something without eyes is staring at us until we are suddenly face-to-face with it.
And so it was that day. That day, when I was despondent with my shortcomings, I went to my place of refuge, just for a minute, just to ponder some things in my heart. I went to my chair by the windowsill. And then it was that the staring thing, the calling thing, grabbed at me.
It was the cactus, and I caught my breath. It was blazing with pink stars, brilliant pink shooting stars, all over my cactus, which was no longer dead-green but vital and vibrant and burning with that blaze and that beauty. I stared and gazed and felt a swell rising in my throat, and I began, slowly, to understand. To understand what my friend had not told me. For it was a Christmas Cactus, and it blooms only once a year, at the time of year when the days are short and dark, and the daily things crowd out wonder.
And I loved my cactus.
Did I love my cactus because it was no longer ugly, because it was now beautiful? Well, yes, of course. Because I love beauty more than ugliness.
Did I now love my cactus because I understood that maybe I, too, in place of my own ugliness, could glow with beauty? Well, yes, it did give me that hope.
But that is not the most wonderful thing about my cactus or the most wonderful reason I now loved my cactus. My cactus, my Christmas Cactus, gave me true hope because it reminded me of the one who had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. It is at Christmas that his beauty blazes out, and we remember—oh, we remember—that when the days were dark and short and crowded with shortcomings, when winter was on the world and when we least expected it, he came. And his coming blazed through the darkness and the dailiness with shooting stars, and we gazed in wonder at this wonderful thing.
Oh, my cactus. It is the season of your blooming. And his.[i]
[i] From the Bible, Isaiah 53:2, “…like a root out of dry ground, he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”