When we first moved into our new house in the silent neighborhood, my friend Jaimi gave us an orchid as a housewarming gift. Immediately, terror struck my heart because an orchid is delicate and beautiful and a living plant. Of all the things I am bad at, keeping plants alive is high on the list (as is generating regular blogs posts, apparently). The gift was placed, small and slender, in the center of our kitchen table, its neck curved over the weight of exotic fuchsia flowers. Artificial moss was piled thick and green over soil that was hidden like a secret.
“Give it one ice cube once a week,” Jaimi said, “When it melts, it is just enough water to keep it growing and thriving. Any more and it will drown.”
I nodded dutifully, thinking that icing an orchid would have never occurred to me. Then again, neither does watering a plant in the traditional sense or using ice cubes for anything other than mid-day coffee resuscitation.
But every Sunday for the past three weeks I have put a single ice cube on the center of the mossy dome. And by some miracle, this orchid keeps living, keeps growing and blooming and making my kitchen look rather sophisticated, which it absolutely is not. Molly stains the curtains with projectile watermelon and covers the floor in upended dog food, but it doesn’t matter. Look at the orchid! It is ALIVE!
The irony is that this plant is only living because I am watering it far less than I otherwise would. Living things, by my rationale, typically need to be flooded with more stimuli, more light and fertilizer and water. But an oversaturated environment isn’t always healthy; it’s just overwhelmed. And in the case of orchids, the quickest way to stunt their growth is to drown them with too much of what they need.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have had several friends around our table. In the moments before they arrive, I pull dried watermelon out of the curtains and sweep dog food off the ground. Inevitably, I forget to pre-heat the oven and beg Mike to grill so it looks like we planned ahead, when actually we didn’t. Actually we just drank beer while throwing meat at fire.
This is what we call “DiFelice hospitality.”
Each night when the food was ready, we would move the orchid off the table and onto the washing machine to make room for elbows and conversation and eye contact. And each night after the dishes were done and the guests were gone, the orchid would return to the table, its evening pilgrimage a sign that good friends had made this house and this heart full.
True friends are like water, nourishment for the soil of souls that grows parched in secret. God sources life into us, but I think he often does it through people who speak and laugh and exhale belonging into us when we are tired, when we are thirsty, and when we are unsure if there is any growth happening at all.
Community is easily misunderstand in a flat, broad sense— in social media interactions or a packed personal calendar that makes you so very tired and so very busy, but so very anonymous to the people you rub shoulders with everyday. Many of us have social networks that feel like an ocean of activity when really we just want to be loved with regularity by fewer people in a more meaningful way.
Boundless-God limits his essential community to a trinity of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus picked twelve disciples, but chose to invest specifically into only three best friends: Peter, James, and John. The early church in Acts kept growing in numbers, but was portioned out in tiny house churches around the neighborhood. So it seems to me that deep community grows best in small places. Our essential longing is not for more relationships, but for deeper ones. And it takes a bit of restraint, really, not to drown a thirst with too much of what it needs.
My friend Kenra often references a sermon by our friend Tom that compared humans to lego pieces. Tom said that we are like legos with a restricted number of circular connectors. Each connector represents a person we can lock into and foster deep and meaningful relationship with. Some people have four connectors, some six, but at the end of the day we all are limited in our capacity for connection.
This resonates with me particularly in this season of life when I’m acutely aware of my already-occupied connectors. There are days where I feel that a single toddler mysteriously overtakes all of my relational joints to the degree that when my own husband gets home, we rub shoulders instead of locking in. Then there are other days were I feel freer, more available and buoyant somehow, and I think that it’s all just a matter of motivation, a matter of putting more coffee in with my ice.
So clearly I haven’t yet figured out the ideal portion size for life-giving relationships. It’s different for everyone, I suppose, but for me, as a natural over-waterer and lifelong friend-enthusiast, it takes work for me to remember to narrow, to taper, to aim for deep instead of wide.
It starts at my kitchen table, as most things do, first with the orchid, then with the elbows that take its place.
Yesterday was Sunday, so I dutifully put a single ice cube in the center of the base of the (still living!) orchid. It was also Mother’s Day and we spent it at home as tiny family of three. I celebrated my motherly achievements by having four Oreos before lunchtime. Molly celebrated by only wanting to be held by her dad. It was outstanding.
And in this conversation about relationships and community, how appropriate it is to end on a holiday that celebrates the narrowness of family, that gives moms the opportunity to drink in the smallness of the task— the meals and diapers and teaching moments— a thousand tiny ice cubes that mysteriously empower little lives to grow.
May we give ourselves permission to invest narrowly, in the tiny portions we know how.
May we pursue intentionality and regularity in relationship over popularity.
And may my orchid continue to live, as this is a new and remarkable household record.