Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Ephesians 6:11
A change in landscape is good for the body and soul every once in awhile. The chance to escape from the everyday mundane into the new and exciting unknown, even for just a few days, can reinvigorate the mind. It can be just the spark we need to view things from a different perspective, to tilt our feelings just enough to better understand another person or another situation.
In Scottsdale over the past couple days, I’m currently finding myself in the land of scarcity. Not scarcity in designer shops, high-end boutiques or walk-in teeth whitening and laser facial stores. I’m talking about scarcity in the form of vegetation.
This is xeriscaping in its most primal state.
This xeriscaping is a result borne out of the sheer necessity of life to survive, not the latest green-growing trend. The landscape has been weaned of heavy dense, water-loving foliage. Their absence has given way to spindly bushes, spiky cacti and protective thorns.
My Dad likes to say that everything in Arizona either “pokes, scratches or bites.” While he enjoys visiting the area, he has a point. There are barbed cacti, desert tarantulas and scorpions lurking everywhere, just waiting, quite literally, to poke, scratch or bite you. If my two-year old nephew Bradley were here, I have a feeling he’d be pointing at everything saying “Pokeeeee! Pokeeeee!” My aunt once told me the story of a desert cactus that, according to folklore, throws balls of sharp thorns at you if you pass too close. As if the thorns, bristles, thistles and needles weren’t enough, now you have to watch for sharp flying projectiles! I tried to laugh it off, but a part of me steers clear of cacti that look predisposed to hurling things my way now. I guess you could call it racial profiling, of the cactus sort.
Even the names conjure up ideas of tall, gangly Mexican cowboys with blades drawn: Ocotillo, Palo Verde and Buckhorn Cholla. They sound scary. I know I wouldn’t want to meet any of these characters in a dark alley. We haven’t even gotten to the Prickly Pear and Cat’s Claw yet. There they are under the hot sun, in the dry, sandy soil fighting to survive.
And survive they do. The Saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert. This desert landscape in Arizona is the only place in the world where these cacti live naturally. Despite growing up to 40 feet tall, most of the roots of these cacti are only around four to six inches deep. With one tap root extending two to three feet into the ground, the smaller roots that radiate at the shallow depths actually give the giant cactus its stability. They weave outward, wrapping around nearby rocks to secure the cactus into the ground. The shallow roots also absorb what little moisture they can glean from the dry, sandy ground, their hollow arms swelling to hold up to one ton of water.
Saguaros are believed to live 150 to 200 years. It uses its time wisely, growing slowly and rationing its water supply carefully. After 10 years of growing, an adolescent Saguaro may be only an inch and a half tall. When you consider that it takes around 75 years of very slow growing before the Saguaros even begin to start growing arms, you can’t help but feel a deep appreciation for its ability to survive centuries in this harsh, arid landscape. It just takes a little time.
Everything is barbed and guarded here. This landscape is on the defense, and for good reason. Over thousands of years, this vegetation has adapted to survive in this area. Sometimes we can be guarded and thorny too. What have we adapted to that has caused us to have a hard shell on the outside? Those abrasive exteriors we see on others are sometimes just the protective cover for a soft and sensitive inside, struggling to survive and adapt to a world they didn’t necessarily expect. While our environments may pressure us to change daily, the decision is always ours.
So put your roots down and hold onto a nearby rock. Life isn’t always easy. It doesn’t always go as we expect. But even in moments where the wind blows and the hot sun drains the life from us, remember the giant Saguaro standing as a giant beacon on the rocky hill. We are still in our adolescent stages of development too, growing so slowly we may not even notice sometimes. Our hearts have the ability to swell, like the Saguaro’s arms, with hope, faith and love, storing it, living off of it and rationing it out to others when life gets tough and faith may be a little harder to come by.
When you feel you have no choice but to grow thick thorns or a prickly cover, remember that your shield is always through faith.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.