Life Lessons from a Cactus 🌵

This past week I have been studying rocks and soil with one of my online students from China. We learned about topsoil, subsoil, and bedrock. And spent some time talking about why topsoil is so important for plants to grow. Did you know that the uppermost layer of the topsoil is called ‘humus’ and it contains lots of nutrients for growing plants? Or that the topsoil itself retains more water than the other layers making it the ideal landing spot for the roots of small plants just beginning to grow?

At the end of one of our lessons on soil we had some extra time and I began asking my student what strange or extreme plants she had heard of. She talked about tumbleweeds and water lilies. Then, I began to show her the small cacti I keep in my apartment and to challenge her to think about how a cactus might be able to grow in a desert area without much or any humus- that rich dark soil that most plants need to thrive. Without hesitation she was able to give an answer. And after showing her some more plants and a small cactus painting I had done we moved on with the conversation. It was fun to make a personal connection with the lesson and to have real live cacti to show her!

So the next weekend as I traveled out of the city my mind was still meditating on the ideas of how plants grow in less than perfect situations. And then I stumbled on something I hadn’t noticed before: these cacti sprouting from an old, dead cactus that had given them new life as it decomposed on the desert ground. The whole area was full of these large, dead cacti. Each one sprouting new life after the first spring rain that had come in weeks. The water had activated these little sprouts and some of them were already growing quite big! And that’s how I learned that not only can cacti survive in areas with no humus because they need little water. But they also survive by recycling the nutrients they do have- the old pouring into the new what it so patiently took from the imperfect earth it was planted in. Those years of growth and pulling out water and nutrients from dry, rocky ground weren’t wasted. They were used as a starting point for the future cacti generations.

Several cacti sprouting from a much larger one

And so I present you with some life lessons I learned from a cactus. (And from my very clever student who inspires me to think more deeply and teach more passionately about otherwise boring topics like soil.):

Life Lesson #1: We won’t always be planted in humus.

There are a lot of people out there who try to sell you the idea that if you work harder and have a good attitude then good things will always come your way. More specifically in the Christian world we can buy into the lie that if we serve God and act good enough then we will have an easy life full of blessings. And often when we say blessings what we mean is a life where we have all of our needs met based on what we think we need. But the truth is that this life is hard. It will bring with it moments and seasons when we feel anything but abundantly blessed. When things we thought we needed God shows us we do not. A good friend often told me that if I didn’t have it, it’s because in that moment I didn’t need it. Not just with material things, but with anything I think I can’t live without apart from God. Things like a good church, a thriving ministry, a tight-knit circle of friends: all of these are good things that I should seek to cultivate and find in life. They’re the humus that helps me grow spiritually in an ideal situation. But I won’t always have them. When I moved to another country it took years for my church home here to really feel like family. Friendships wax and wane as we move through seasons and sometimes we are in between tight-knit friendships for quite a while. Put simply, we all go through moments that are more like desert sand than a comfy layer of humus. But the nutrients we gathered in the good times, along with God’s grace, will see us through times when we find ourselves in less rich soil.

Life Lesson #2: Persistence and Perseverance through drought will never be wasted.

When we choose to press on and remain faithful through those dry times it makes us stronger. And while we may not see the fruit of our labor in this life, new life is coming.

These were some of the smallest ones that we found growing.

Life Lesson #3: The quality to which we live our lives will inevitably affect future generations.

If I spend my drought and desert days persevering I will be a blessing to those that come after me. If I waste it, refusing to take from it what good I can, future generations will find that they have to start with nothing when I could have provided them the chance to start building over a legacy that began long before them.

Life Lesson #4: Don’t wait for perfection to do something.

For those new little cacti the humus was never there. They could have waited for better soil but it may have never come. Instead of waiting for their perfect situation to happen they chose to began a new thing with what they had. And that new thing was well worth the risk it takes to start something in an imperfect situation. Likewise you and I shouldn’t wait until we are perfectly prepared to act. We must act now with the preparation we have and trust that the best is yet to come.

Life Lesson #5: Wait with hopeful expectation for the rain. It will come.

The best is yet to come. No drought last forever. I have no idea how long those old cacti lay on the ground without soil or rain to nurture them. I know it was for long enough that they hardly looked like cacti by the time I got to see them. But there they were just waiting for the rain to come. And when it did, they were ready. I’m willing to bet that they always knew this would happen. That’s why they had held on tight to the water and nutrients they had absorbed over the years. Because they knew the rain would come sooner or later. All they had to do is watch and wait with patience.

I took this little guy home.

I think I would make a poor cactus. I’m not very good at waiting. And I’m even worse at hoping while I wait. But I hope that I can learn to live out these 5 lessons as life goes on…un día a la vez. One day at a time. And I hope you will join me on the journey. For us, for you, for future generations who will have something to build onto when our journey on this earth is done. Just like a baby cactus. 🌵

I brought home a total of 3 cacti from the spot I write about. The succulent was bought at the local market (more pictures below).
The cactus in the yellow por was growing out of this one! As you can see, it’s in pretty bad shape on the outside but was still green and full of water on the inside.

Which life lesson was most relatable to your current season? Do you think of yourself more as a baby cactus or as an older one who has already weathered some seasons of drought?

Until next time,

Ashley 💕

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