I lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for eleven years.
Several times I tried to grow bright blue lobelia in my garden. I could grow bachelor’s buttons with abandon and the paler blue love-in-a-mist, but the delicate tracery of lobelia defied me.
I once brought home two small plants. I instructed our gardener to plant them near the front door where I would delight in the lovely color whenever I went out or came home. I enjoyed them for a few days. Soon, I noticed that there were only a few flowers; then there were none. On examining the plants, I found that the gardener had planted them shallowly. The heavy rains had washed the soil from the upstanding center of the plant; it had fallen apart at the heart.
Another time, I liberally scattered seeds in a shaded flowerbed. They germinated beautifully, and I was delighting in the blue prospect to come. Then one day the bed was bare. The gardener, unfamiliar with “foreigners’ flowers,” had thought they were weeds and had dug them up.
Still later, lobelia seeds sprang up in a pot on my stone-paved patio. Somehow they never did well. The spindly seedlings had a yellow cast and soon died away even though they had plenty of water and light.
Friendships are like my lobelia. Some friendships fall apart at the center before they are even well started. Others are destroyed by a careless word or action. Others never seem to flourish in spite of the best care we give them. This is disappointing and even painful because all of us badly need friends.
A fourth time, I bought “bunch” lobelia, the variety that forms a bright blue mound. Again I gave careful instructions to the gardener to plant them by the stone birdbath against the garden wall. They did well there and delighted my heart for many days afterward.
In friendships, as in gardening, the secret is to continue trying. Try a different variety of friend. (Some of my dearest friends are from another culture.) Try a new setting or work again on a friendship that may seem broken. If we want friends, we need to seek them out; a smile and a pleasant word will mark us as persons one would be happy to have as friends.
Now that I live in Oregon I plant lobelia every spring. Seeds have scattered and I see dots of blue brightening even in the strawberry bed. My “dream” lobelia has proliferated, and I can’t have too many of them. My husband says we need to hoe them up, but I convince him that a spot of blue is lovely anywhere in the garden.
If we seem to be temporarily friendless, let us remember that we have “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Jesus, our “sticking friend,” is always near to bring us delight and comfort. Is our friendship with Jesus a growing friendship?