Cognitive Champagne (Thought Bubbles): Green Thumb – Reflections on House Plants and People


I thought I had a green thumb until I actually had a plant in my possession. In the 13 months that I have lived in Serendipity, I have successfully exacted the slow, painful death of one innocent succulent, and I recently, narrowly, escaped a second casualty with an aloe plant.

I thought houseplant care was instinctive. Water it when the soil is dry. Give it space and sun. Sing Carole King songs to it while I’m getting dressed in the morning.

But I managed to overlook the fact that both plants were thriving to extinction. They had overgrown their pots; their roots were too big for the space and the soil they occupied, and so they began to whither.

My succulents needed new territory to conquer so that they could thrive. But instead of taking the time and care to repot and transplant them, I let the succulent crinkle and die in its pretty blue pot. The aloe leaves became yellowed and weak.

At the end of the summer, my mom gave me a basil plant from her garden to grow at my apartment. This plant, I vowed, would not be one I would kill. Basil tastes like summer. Basil smells like hope.

This is my new chance.

So, naturally, after it was ceremoniously deposited on the sunny Serendipity balcony, it was wilted and shriveled within 3 days time.

Neglecting to water a plant in the bright glare of Indiana August is, apparently, a death sentence.

I want to reap the benefits without putting in the work. I want the appearance of life without taking the risk or the bother to maintain it. This is me through and through.

But when I saw the drooping leaves of my dear, dear herb, my well-meaning heart remembered its duty and I rushed to water it. The amazing thing about plants, and all living things, is resilience. What was dying was revived in a matter of a few hours because I intervened before it was too late.

People, like plants, are fragile. Our spines wilt under the weight of the world and in the heat of the sun. People do not always get what they really need. I see this in schools and in churches and in homes and in the people around me. People, small and tall, need community, validation, security, adventure, challenge, and empowerment. And when those things are absent, when the soil is arid or the water is bitter, growth slows, vitality dims, potential lurks overhead like a droopy balloon, and survival takes the forefront.

People, like plants, can be revived. Sometimes, a lot of the time, it doesn’t take that much. Listen to what children have to say. Affirm someone you love, and mean it. Make someone feel needed and valuable, and then say thank you. Ask for help, and offer it. Bake something. Write a note. People are fragile, but maybe we can help revive one another, even in the most hostile soil.

Ephesians 3:42

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

My mom has a green thumb, maybe a green heart. That doesn’t sound quite as good as I thought it would. The point is that she could have taken care of that basil plant and made far better use of it than I have. She would have been a good steward. But she entrusted me with a little bit of plant life and let me learn how to sustain it.

We’re going to hurt one another, even with our best intentions. People are fragile. But we have been given an opportunity to help heal as well. And because Jesus is the one actually taking care of the things we really need, we get the adventure of pouring out his love like a watering can. It’s time I looked around me, beyond my own flowerpot. That seems like a good way to start.


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