Leaving the Darkness

I can’t honestly say I didn’t know better. I went into the relationship with my eyes open. I read the books, watched the training films, even listened to Neil Sperry’s home gardening radio show once. I was properly warned, but improperly prepared.

I knew there were potential risks. I didn’t buy my deck plants last spring unaware that difficult decisions loomed in the fall.

I remember that dreadful day last November when the season’s first frost spent the night in Abilene before getting up early and cruising east down I-20 toward my backyard. As the angel of death drew bead on my ferns and tender tropics, I had to make a life and death decision.

I had grown intimate with the greenery over the course of the summer. We had developed a friendship. They trusted me. I was their primary caregiver. They depended on me. I felt a great obligation to sustain their lives. They needed me. All that stood between them and Old Man Winter’s first freeze was meeze.

I hadn’t planned on becoming emotionally involved.

I felt like Boaz when Ruth and Naomi stood shivering before him in the winter fields outside Bethlehem. In some small way, I understood what it was to be a “kinsman-redeemer,” responsible for the lives of others.
I couldn’t just let them die. They deserved better. I may not be able to stop all the injustice and pain in the world, but at least I can display mercy in my own backyard.

I fought my way into the garage. I battled through mounds of keepsakes and half-broken former appliances (hey, they have feelings, too!) until I reached the far corner, a section of turf I hadn’t visited since we bought the place. There I created space, a safe haven for deck plants too young to die.

I carried each one to safety. Stacked them to the ceiling. Said a blessing over them (hey, it’s no weirder than organized pet ceremonies!), and promptly forgot about them until March 9, about 3 pm, when I got lost in the same garage looking for an old toaster.

Four months without food, water, and light constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. It would have been more humane to let nature kill them back in November (I’ve heard rumors out of the Yukon that freezing to death is a relatively painless way to go). Four months in the hole, deprived of contact with the outside world, alone with nothing but your thoughts, must have been a nightmare experience for the innocent begonias. I hope the plant-rights people don’t visit soon.

It’s hard to describe their condition. They lack pigment. I’m not a botanist, but it appears they are chlorophyll-deprived. They look like albinos. If Gollum was a plant, this is how he would appear. The asparagus fern has about twenty shoots, each about six feet long, and all the color of fresh fallen snow. The cocky Boston ferns, so alive after the World Series triumph, look like Yankee fans without the steroids. My once proud fig tree, lush and full like a peacock in season, now resembles a naked chicken hanging from a steel hook just before its parts are separated. And the begonias, like I mentioned earlier, have serious health issues. Is there a cure for scurvy?

Maybe I ought to consider raising mushrooms instead.

What was I thinking? I know a thing or two about living things. They need food, water, air, and light to grow. Like me. My neighbor next door has a beautiful greenhouse, climate controlled, full of a variety of orchids in constant bloom. They thrive in a hothouse environment. They respond to loving, tender care. They are grateful for their daily bread and extra vitamins. They wake early every morning to greet the sun. They have it made in the shade. Forty feet away, my poor plants languished in the darkness without the basic staples of life for four long miserable months. What kind of a father am I, anyway?

As I sit on the deck this morning, writing about my guilt and shame, I am reminded about some important matters regarding life and death. Speaking on behalf of the ferns, I want to remind you that living in darkness will kill you. It will slowly and painfully suck the life out of you.

And the same goes for spiritual darkness. Jesus loved to speak about reality in terms of darkness and light. Looking out at the masses of folks who tagged along behind Him, he stared them directly in the eye and said: “I Am the Light of the world!”

It is God who said in the beginning, “Let there be light!” It is God, who today, brings light and truth to bear on the human heart. It is God who penetrates the depth of darkness and shines His light of revelation upon the far corner of your garage. God is the source of all light and life. He wants to shine on you.

The apostle Paul, in one of his more profound moments, most likely echoing the rhyme of a contemporary hymn, enlightened us with the eternal truth, “that in Jesus Christ we have been transferred from the domain of darkness into the marvelous light of His kingdom.” In Jesus, we have been salvaged from the far corner of the garage.

It’s remarkable how quickly living things can recover from essence-of-life-deprivation. Repositioned to a place where they receive light, nutrients, and love, they can regain their former glory in a relatively short time.

I expect sometime around Memorial Day my ferns will be lush and full again, recovered from their need to retaliate. The same thing can happen to you. Ask the Holy Spirit to reposition you from the domain of Satan’s light-starved world over to the bright, Sonshine of Jesus’ kingdom. Feast on His word. Be enlightened by the truth. Be fed by His gardeners. Be energized by His power. Bloom again in His love! Live in His light!