What’s Killing my Cactus Might Be Killing Me

I am a crazy plant lady.

It’s just as simple as that. I adore plants. I fangirl over greenhouses and scream loudly when I see fields of flowers. 

Hello, my name is Mariah, and I have a serious problem. 

The only downfall that I have is that although I love plants and continue to buy them quite frequently, I am also a plant murderer. I know, such a tragic story. 

Recently a friend commented that I should open my own greenhouse. She listed all the reasons why that would be a great career choice for me, but then realized that I have a bigger plant cemetery in my room than should be legal. 

I really wish that I had a green thumb, but I realize that I specialize more in plant hospice. Helping plants make an easy transition from life to death. I name my plants, talk to them regularly, and love them all the way to their new home in heaven (yes, my plants go to heaven. Don’t fight me on this). 

I have realized over the past couple of years that I’m not the best plant caretaker around. I quit buying potted flowers a long time ago because I know there is just absolutely no hope for them when I adopt them. I can hardly remember to change my laundry over, let alone remember to water a plant every single day!

So instead of flowers, I moved onto buying only succulents and cactuses (fun fact: cactuses is an interchangeable plural name for “cacti” and it doesn’t make me cringe like the other term does). 

This was all fine and dandy until one day I noticed that my succulents were really struggling. They were still alive, but they were looking a little sad. My room doesn’t get much natural light at all and my window doesn’t have a big windowsill, so I decided to get them out in the sun for the day. BIG MISTAKE. 

My thinking was good, but little did I know that too much sun too quick can cause your succulents to, get this, get SUNBURNT. Did you know plants that live in the desert can get sunburnt?!

I had no clue until later that night when I went to bring my succulents back in, I noticed that Sandy the succulent looked a little odd. I continued to pick them up one-by-one and noticed they looked a little pink. 

I decided that it wasn’t a big deal and brought them back inside to their rightful homes and went to bed. I woke up the next morning appalled when I looked over at my cactus garden and all of my succulents were pink and dying what looked like a slow painful death! I googled their symptoms like any good mom would do and realized that they were suffering from death by sunburn!

I have NEVER related more to a plant in all of my life!

As a transparent skinned red head, I know all about the pains of sunburns. I was distraught that I had killed my precious babies by allowing them to get sunburnt! 

Moral of the story is that until I move into a place with more natural light, I have restrained myself (it’s been extremely difficult) from buying any new plants. The only 2 that have remained my house of horror are 2 cactuses. Kenan and Kel (don’t hate me because you don’t name your plants) are the lone survivors. Kenan is kinda dead, but one part of him remains alive so I count him as living, but that’s not the point. Although I forget to water them and only quench their thirst once every couple weeks, they are still hanging on. 

For months Kenan has been growing this weird projection off the top (I promise I’m going somewhere with all of this). At first I thought it was strange, but then I decided that it was just probably how that kind of cactus grew as there are so many strange looking cactuses out there. It wasn’t until this weekend when I noticed that Kel has started to grow one too (he’s a different kind of cactus) that I started to wonder what the heck was going on. By now, the projection growing off of Kenan was HUGE. 

After some extensive googling, I came across other people having this same issue. What I found out was unsettling. 

The projections growing off of my cactuses meant that they were so extremely malnourished due to the lack of sunlight that the cactus itself was growing long and skinny in order to reach for the sun. These projections weren’t fun new growths to brag about like I thought they were, but they were a sign of desperation. A cry for help. 

And I felt like crap for dismissing their cries. 

As dramatic as all of this sounds, the moment that I read why my cactuses were growing these new projections was the moment that I realized that what was killing my cactuses might be what’s killing me. 

There are times that my soul, just like these plants, cry out for help. It’s longing to be closer to the sun/son. It’s trying everything in its power to reach out to Yahweh before it shrivels up and dies. And what do I do? Ignore the cries. Pretend that it’s healthy. Decide that the new growth is a good thing, not a bad one. 

How many times have we gotten wrong? How many times have we seen growth in our lives and/or ministry and decided that because there is growth that it’s good. My goodness, I know I’ve done it! I have NEVER looked at any type of growth and thought, “well that can’t be good”, but my cactus made me rethink everything! Just because there is growth doesn’t mean that it’s good. 

Without the son shining down on us giving us that nutrition, that love, that hope that we need, the growth is just a sign pointing us to what our Spirit really desires. And if we dismiss the growth as a good thing or as a sign of health when it’s a cry for help, we bring along its death. 

Sometimes instead of growth, we need to work on the health of the plant. When the plant is healthy, receiving the care and the nutrition that it needs, it’ll grow. Not in the way that the skinny, fragile projections grow when looking for sunlight, but in a way that the whole plant grows taller, bolder, and healthier as one. Both of these ways are technically “growth” from the original plant, but when you’re rooted and clothed in the son, everything is so much healthier and more solid than the other option. 

I also realized that this “growth” wasn’t a projection at all. It was the actual cactus growing thin. This was a real life example of what I look like when I don’t spend enough time in the presence. I stretch myself too thin, literally. Then I wonder why I’m so exhausted, why I’m so agitated, why I feel like I never want to be involved in any type of ministry ever again. It’s because when we love others, serve others, or encourage others out of our own strength, without spending time getting to know the Father’s heart, we stretch ourselves tremendously too thin. And that’s such an unhealthy place to serve out of. For others, and for ourselves. This is where “burn out” happens. 

As I continued reading about my plants’ condition, I searched desperately for a cure. I can’t lose the last 2 survivors just months before I move into a place with more natural sunlight! 

As I read, the article recommended that they be placed closer to natural sunlight each day until they are finally able to reach the windowsill a week later to prevent the cactus from getting burnt (learned my lesson the first time). However, although the plants are likely to survive this traumatic experience, they are forever marked by this event. They will continue to grow, but the misshaping that they go through during this time in order to reach for the sunlight won’t go away. The plant can continue to grow healthy from that moment on, but the plant will forever be scarred. 

My oh my can I relate to that. There have been seasons in my life where I have starved my soul from the son. I have flat out refused to bring any of that light into the room. I have hung the blackout curtains, shut the door, and sealed the borders. I have forced my Spirit to cry out for the son, and ignored those cries until I was on the verge of certain (spiritual) death. But little by little God has broken through those barriers. 

Little by little, a ray of sunshine started to shine through the curtain; little by little, God has inched me closer to Him; little by little, I’ve made it closer to the Son. But like a true gentleman, He’s helped me to take my time. To learn his goodness and faithfulness all over again, one moment at a time. Knowing that I needed the gradual progression back to life. 

And yes, those seasons have scarred me. I will never be the same. I will always be shaped by those dark times. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a reminder that I am completely and totally, 100% dependent on Jesus. And frankly, I’m absolutely, totally good with that. I need that reminder daily. 

What’s killing my cactus might just be what’s killing you spiritually. Just like the plant gurus recommended, all it takes it one step closer to the sun at a time. He’s waiting. 

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