For the Times You Feel Unseen

loquat pots

Nothing impressive to see here. People would walk right past this, scroll right past this photo and would pay no attention. Why should they? Do you ever feel this way?

The girls and I ate loquats many months ago and they asked what we’d do with the seeds. I didn’t know much about loquats, but I suggested we plant them, water them and see what happens.

Months have gone by and the view of these dirt pots hasn’t changed. I shrugged and figured I didn’t know or do enough to nurture those seeds to get results.

So today, we took the pots to plant new plants but as we were emptying the first pot, we discovered a seed that had rooted beautifully and had started its slow but eager work of growing into a seedling! We marveled and then quickly repotted and watered it. I so hope  we didn’t disrupt anything crucial with my impatience.

Some seasons we can feel so dark, unseen, unfruitful, and alone. But there is hard work and real growth happening in those seasons, even if all of ZERO people can see it. God knows the work He does in us in the dark and quiet seasons. It is a good, good work.

Less is More

A common half-joke about Chinese cuisine is that the Chinese don’t waste anything. That’s why your most popular dim-sum items include chicken feet (which I’m fairly certain have no place in the USDA food pyramid) and tripe. I grew up eating liver, heart, and pig feet, though I could never get myself to stomach bites of brain or cubes of pork blood. Whenever the husband goes deep-sea tuna fishing, my mom will come over to watch him filet his catch, and will always insist that he refrain from throwing out the portions of fish with the bitter blood line. She remains convinced that it is perfectly edible, and scolds him for wasting ‘good stuff.’

This was, at first, the greedy mindset I brought into growing my herbs. My basil plant started off growing beautiful, large, fresh leaves. But as time passed, it began to produce flower buds on most stems, and the leaves, though many, were looking smaller and less substantial. I had read that once your basil starts to flower, you need to prune the plant or the leaves will become bitter. The plant will also wind up spending energy on the flowering process rather than on growing large, sweet leaves. I was reluctant and doubtful at first, so I only pinched the top flowers off. I wanted to somehow preserve as much as I could.  It quickly became obvious, however, that there were not only too many flowers, but too many stems and underdeveloped leaves competing for limited space and resources.

Reluctantly, I pinched off the first stem and mourned the loss of the accompanying leaves, some mature but others less so. I could hear my mom’s voice in my head. “That’s good stuff! Don’t waste it!” My reluctance soon dissipated, however, as I saw the healthier, younger leaves underneath with the real potential, if only they would be allowed. Pruning became addictive, fast. The loss mattered less than the gain that I could foresee. More than that, the gain necessitated the loss. I wanted my plant to grow, and grow well. A reluctance or failure to prune on my end would signal foolishness, neglect, or ignorance at best.

Father in Heaven, You are wise, loving, and so attentive in Your pruning of my life. Where I often look for quantity, You look for quality. Where I look for breadth, You look for depth. Now I understand a bit better that You want me to grow, and grow well. Now I understand a bit better how.

the worth of a less impressive answer

I have decided that gardening is a hobby that may cause the obsessive-compulsive part of me to run into a bit of trouble. I didn’t want to hire a gardener just to trim the shrubs and the bougainvillea gone wild in the front of our home. So I grabbed the shears, rolled up my sleeves, and went at it. Suddenly, every stray branch and every slightly awkward stem became ridiculously obvious. I could not stop, despite the sun beating down on me and the milk from newly cut stems covering me with stickiness. I am surprised there is anything beyond a stump left standing after all the trimming I did.

My parents came for a visit not too long after I finished. I apologized that I was worn out from doing a whole lot of yardwork. My mom wanted to see what I had done, but I had nothing special to show for all my hard work. She hadn’t seen how scraggly the shrubs were before I had attacked them. And so to her, things were “just as they ought to be,” nothing more. Just a bunch of trimmed shrubs.

Maintenance is that way. People ask what I do on my days off from work, and I feel so busy but I struggle to find an answer. Or perhaps a more honest statement is that I struggle to find an answer that sounds impressive. So much of my time is spent simply maintaining. Laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, organizing. Just maintaining.

But I think there is something about maintenance that reflects, or at least helps to cultivate, the virtue of faithfulness. Sticking to something not because you always love to do it, but because it’s important to be done. Cleaning house because it is a space that has, in a sense, been entrusted to me. For my friends who are new parents, changing diapers over and over again because that humble, humbling maintenance is sometimes all that separates a good parent from a dangerously neglectful parent. The baby who is well-cared for will still cry, but underneath, that baby’s butt is as clean and healthy as can be. It’s not anything special to show for all that hard work. But it matters. It’s important. We simply do not realize how valuable maintenance is until it is no more.

Let us then not despite the drudgery and humbleness of everyday maintenance. And perhaps more significantly, let us not despise ourselves when that is all we have given ourselves to for a day. It matters.