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Late Bloomers
By Patricia Sheets

Here in Virginia, the long, cold winter is finally on the brink of surrender. Nature seems to change daily with the emergence of new life and rebirth.

Spring has always been my favorite time of year. Planting, pruning, and digging seem to somehow calm my soul and give me a new perspective on life. Maybe itís the "dust to dust" thing, but I always feel closer to God when Iím digging a hole in His earth.

I must admit that, even though I love gardening, I do not have a green thumb. Actually, Iím lucky to still have a thumb. Iím in the process of drafting a letter to John Deere requesting that the name of their "tiller" be changed to "killer". None-the-less, I trudge on and, through trial and error, learn a bit more each spring.

Last year when planting season arrived, I mentioned my love of gardening to a young man, at church, Randy. He too was interested in gardening and offered a clipping from his white clematis. In return, I presented him with a clump of my "Mowing Obsolete Sod Sensation", also known as moss. I took the green wonder home, prepared the soil and planted it in an area with just the mixture of sun and shade, hopeful it would thrive in its new home.

Randy was a new Christian trying desperately to leave his old life behind and create a new identity in Christ. Our common interest opened a window through which I could serve as somewhat of a mentor. As I came to know him better, I realized that Randy had been a "man of the world" and was having difficulty comprehending how a Christian should behave.

When an opening on the praise and worship team arose, I had the bright idea that perhaps Randy could benefit from exposure to the group. He attended practice on Thursday night and was all ready to go on stage for the first time the following Sunday. He seemed a bit nervous, so I encouraged him, "Randy, just go out there praise the Lord," I offered.

"But I donít know how," Randy debated.

"Just put your hands in the air and let the Spirit move you. Itís almost like a dance", I explained.

"A dance? Oh, I get it!" he said. I gave myself a pat on the back, smug in my ability to cultivate this young man. My pride, however, was short lived.

Seconds after the music started, I saw what appeared to be teeth falling from Brother Bobís mouth. Also known as "Bob the Baptist", he once threatened to have the pastor fired for using the word "hell" to describe the hot place that houses Satan, so I wasnít too concerned.

The next display of protest came when the Widow Faye took a large wooden cross from her purse, held it in front of her and shouted, "I rebuke you!" I discounted her outburst as just another of her supposed encounters with the spirit world. Since turning 90, she claims to have had encounters with Abraham Lincoln, Elvis, and Bart Simpson.

What finally captured my attention was the convoy of teenage girls swarming from the back of the church to the front. I looked to see what had prompted their sudden inspiration and found Randy with his hands held high in the air and his hips gyrating in a manner that would cause Sadie Thompson to blush.

My first impulse was to borrow The Widow Fayeís cross, but at 90 years old, I figured she needed it more than me. I opted for crumpling a tithing envelope into a ball and throwing it at his chest to get his attention. Never a good athlete, I missed and hit him in the head.

Completely startled, Randy screeched, "Ouch!"

The Widow Faye responded, "Serves you right! I knew the Lord would strike you down, you filthy heathen!"

"Randy!" I whispered as I motioned for him to get off the stage. He picked up the crinkled envelope and walked off the stage with a puzzled look on his face.

"Iím sorry," he said. I was planning to tithe, but I had to pay my personal trainer this week, and God understands that a guyís gotta look good, so . . ."

I stopped him in mid sentence. "This isnít about tithing, itís about you dancing the hoochie-koochie in church! Have you lost your mind?"

"No. I was doing what you asked me to do! I used to be a dancer, and I got paid a lot of money!" he responded. He turned and was headed back for the stage but "someone" lassoed him with a microphone cord and tied him to the kneeling bench.

When the service ended, I was invited to meet with the pastor to explain the burlesque performance that had occurred on stage. My explanation that it was a seizure didnít fly and it was strongly suggested that if "Rockiní Randy" had a repeat performance, his hips and my neck would be permanently removed.

I went home and decided to work in the garden to relieve some stress. The fragrance of the flowers lifted my spirits as I plucked and pruned. The garden was beautiful and everything was in full bloom except the white clematis Randy gave me. "Maybe itís out taking dancing lessons!" I thought to myself.

A closer look, however, revealed that its wilted leaves were still struggling. I gave it a drink of water and a dabble of fertilizer but had no faith that the struggling plantlet would survive.

The following week at praise and worship practice, I talked to Randy and explained that once you become a Christian, your talents should be used to please God, not people. After we read scripture and prayed, I felt secure in Randyís understanding of true praise.

The following Sunday, which happened to be Easter, the pastor asked the rhetorical question, "Does anyone know what happened on Easter?"

Randy was quick to answer. "Of course! Jesus was reincarnated on Easter Sunday!"

The pastor chuckled. "Now, where in the world did you get an idea like that?" he asked.

"From you!" Randy responded. "You said in Bible study that Jesus was crucified, but on the third day He was reincarnated!"

The congregation gasped in unison. "I knew we should have fired him for saying the "H" word!" shouted Baptist Bob. He looked towards the Widow Faye. "Get your cross out. I think weíre gonna need it!"

In an attempt to redeem himself, the pastor spoke. "No, Randy. Jesus was resurrected on the third day, not reincarnated."

"Oh! I thought they were the same thing," confided Randy. "After all, Heís called by lots of different names. Thereís Emmanuel, Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace . . ." Randy might have rambled on for days had I not thrown a hymnal and hit him behind the knees, taking the wind from him like popped balloon.

Again that Sunday after church, I went to my garden for solace. All my plants were beautiful except the white hydrangea. It was now just a brown vine that would surely be blown away with a breath of wind. All the hard work and special attention I had given the flower had been in vain. I wrote if off as another of my blooming blunders and forgot it had ever existed.

As the summer progressed, so did Randyís escapades. Christianity was a foreign concept to him and although he attended Bible studies and Sunday School classes, I could see that he was flailing. I talked with him and prayed for him but by summerís end, he had succumbed to the beckoning of his former world.

The first Sunday after Randy left the church was difficult. I had done everything within my power to help him survive as a Christian, yet I was unable to save him.

When I went to the garden that evening, I was saddened to see that cooler temperatures and shorter days had caused the flowers to wane. Just like Randy, there was nothing I could do to stop their eventual demise. With tears streaming down my face, I closed my eyes and asked, "God, why must this happen?"

As I opened my eyes, God answered. In the midst of fading pedals and falling leaves protruded the most beautiful white clematis I had ever seen. As I studied the delicate flower I realized that even though I had given up on it, God had not. He kept the sapling dormant, not allowing it to bloom when the larger, brighter flowers might hide its splendor. I could not coax the seedling from the ground with any amount of fertilizer or water, but when its time came and God called it from the soil, it was the most magnificent sight in the garden. This beautiful creation had not died. It was simply a late bloomer.

Walking from the garden, I was comforted by God reassuring words; "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? (Matthew 6:30 RSV.) Those words assured me that Randy was a plant in Godís garden.

A few days ago, I noticed that my tiny wonder is stretching its leaves towards heaven as it climbs the trellis. Perhaps it is Godís way of reminding me that not all who leave the church are dead. Some are simply late bloomers.
Pat Sheets is a freelance writer with an offbeat sense of humor. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with the three men in her life: Jack, her husband, is a pastor. Duncan and Barkley are pound-saved mutts but none-the-less, her "boys".
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