Twenty-four years ago, I was given a plant as a bridal shower gift. It was given to me by a friend in the church where I was teaching. She told me that it was a Swedish Ivy, and that it symbolized friendship. I was happy to get the gift, but quite sure that it would not last, as I have the proverbial brown thumb. A gardener I am not!
Never did I dream that such a simple gift would take up so much of my time and thought through the years to come. Never did I dream that in twenty-four years I would still have this plant—well, kind of.
You see, there are some characteristics of this plant that are very unique. First, I have seldom seen another one in flower shops or green houses. Second, it is quite fragile, it can die easily—because it seems to respond to its environment more than other plants. Third, in some ways it is very tenacious. In spite of being fragile, it also revives very easily.
My husband, Steve, was in the seminary when we married, and we still had 18 months before he was finished. The plant grew quite well during that time.
Eventually, we had to move to our first church together—all the way across the country to California. In the disruption of routine in finals and packing and preparation for graduation, the plant got ignored. After shipping our things off, I realized, somewhat to my dismay that I still needed to figure out what to do with the ivy, and what a bedraggled plant it had become! I think I would have abandoned it at that time, but Steve thought we should keep it. After all, it was a present.
I trimmed the long bare vines off, watered the plant and tried to find a safe place in our little car to carry it. As we drove across the hot August country-side the poor plant died more and more each day. We stopped off at Steve's parents place on the way for a few days. I cut back all but the barest growth. Since Steve was still reluctant to give up, we repotted the poor plant in fresh soil, in a styrofoam cup. We bought one of those cup holders, hung it on my car door, put the little plant in it, and headed off to California. How carefully we tended the plant! If we stopped for longer than just gas, we found shade, and left the windows down.
Our first assignment was pastor's meetings at the conference summer camp. We took the plant into the cabin with us and continued our watchful care. On the last morning of the meetings, we were finally ready to go see where we would start our "real" work. We were so excited!
We loaded the car again, putting the little plant back in its holder. After just a week, it was perking up and looked almost respectable—it even had two or three new leaves.
In our excitement, we forgot the plant was in the car and locked it up safe while we attended the final meeting. The car was sitting in the bright California August sunshine. When we got back to the car, it was to find a very sad-looking plant. It looked like it had been cooked clear through. Since there was no trash can handy, we carried it with us! Steve still did not want to give up on the plant. In the excitement of house hunting, unpacking and settling into our first "real" home, the plant was placed in the kitchen window, and ignored. Several weeks later, I noticed the plant again! To my total surprise, the last twig in the dirt had survived, and the ivy had once again turned into a thriving little plant.
Every move we have made, the plant has accompanied us. It's been thriving, half dead, repotted and back to thriving again at least once every two or three years. It has donated parts of itself to lots of friends and co-workers. It has lived through just about every kind of plant neglect you can imagine. Every time, given good fresh soil, a little tender care, and lots of water (by the way, it is a water hungry plant, and can grow roots and thrive quite a while in just water), it has taken off and thrived again.
After our last move, once again in a styrofoam cup of water, the plant's home is in a nice south facing sunny window. It has taken on a whole new character. It has grown very thickly with new leaves, and the sun has made the leaves reddish in color. (Little sun makes them a tender green.)
Now, I can't help but draw some comparisons between that plant and marriage. And after 24 years of being married and raising kids, I guess I am entitled to a little preaching, so bear with me!
Love is like my plant. It can take a lot!
Hot and angry words, sarcasm, blaming: create a harsh environment that will kill your marriage. lust like the hot environment inside the car almost killed the plant. Gentle, kind words, thoughtfulness, forgiveness and going way past halfway, combine to make an atmosphere that will grow a strong marriage.
The right exposure of sun to the ivy gave it interesting new leaf colors. The right exposure to the Son helps your marriage grow and gives it lots of new dimensions and interests.
Love for one another, starts off strong in a marriage. But a time will come when marriage will resemble my plant in its wilted, shriveling up leaves, and bedraggled look. (That's a sure sign that the plant needs to be repotted.) That's when you will need to spend some time with each other. Remember why you got married in the first place, adjust your priorities to fit life as it is currently, ask God for help, read about how to make your marriage better, and keep going.
Tenacity, like the plant's (and Steve's), is important in marriage. There are going to be days when you will be so frustrated with each other, that you will want to give up. Don't let that happen. Decide now that giving up is not an option. Look at the plant. Remind yourself to keep communicating. Keep forgiving. Keep asking Jesus to take control, and ride things out until your marriage is even stronger than before.
Water, which is so important for the plant, is like prayer in a marriage. It keeps the Holy Spirit there. The more you pray, together and separately, the healthier your marriage will be.
Even the very symbolism of the plant (friendship ivy) applies to marriage. Become each other's best friends. Stresses, kids, in-laws, job pressures, money problems, all are more easily handled when you have your best friend with you. That is even more true when the best Friend, Jesus is there.
So while you are enjoying and building your marriage, think of the lessons from my plant, and grow yourselves a wonderful, God-blessed marriage.