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Green Thumbs and New Places

Posted by Margaret Ma on


 “I think you should face the facts—you just don’t have a green thumb.”

Those were the words of my husband to me as we stood in Trader Joe’s deciding whether or not to get a few more herb plants. At that point, I had already killed three herb plants, four lavender plants, and two household plants. I also had a dwarf lemon tree that was barely hanging onto life. Despite all that, I was determined. I mean, plants just need water, sun, and good soil, right? How hard is that? Besides, I am a second grade teacher, which means I need to teach kids about the plant life cycle. I have to be able to model some ability to keep plants alive!

Well, we didn’t get any new plants that day. A few weeks later, we were told the balcony of our townhome needed to be redone. It would require moving all the plants. I brought a few of them to school, a few inside our home, and the dwarf lemon tree was moved to a shaded spot right outside our front door. I was concerned because the balcony received so much more sunlight than our front door. I was sure this meant the end of the dwarf lemon tree.

The balcony renovation dragged on for weeks. Not a big surprise. What was a surprise was my dwarf lemon tree. A few leaves grew. Then more branches and leaves. Before I knew it, the tree was actually thriving in its new spot! Seeing its success, I bought a new mint plant just to see what would happen. I’m happy to report that five months later, it too is thriving in this shady spot right outside our door.

Image courtesy of Margaret Ma

As I reflect on my green (or lack-of-green) thumb, I am reminded of how much we are like these plants. Sometimes we put ourselves in places like my balcony, where we are determined to see growth. Maybe it’s a relationship, a career, or a specific job. We water; we strive. The conditions seem perfect. Yet they are not. We somehow can’t imagine that there is a better place. 

The Old Testament is full of stories of people who left what they thought was an ideal place for something less than ideal. Most notably, I think of the story of Joseph. First, his brothers sell him into slavery, and the traders end up taking him to Egypt where he was purchased by an Egyptian officer named Potipher. A less-than-ideal place, for sure! But what happens there? He thrives in Egypt! Joseph ends up being placed in charge of Potipher’s entire household and everything he owned

From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.
(Genesis 39:5 NIV)

But that’s not the only time Joseph is moved. Fast forward to later in Genesis 39, and he ends up moved again—this time to prison! Another less-than-ideal place. And yet again he thrives.

The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
(Genesis 39:21-23 NIV)

As we go into this new year, my prayer is that we are open to movement. May we be pleasantly surprised to see ourselves thriving in unexpected places. Just as I may see lemons grow this summer, may there be fruit born out of our thriving!


Margaret Ma is a native of the Chicago suburbs but has been calling The River home since 1999. In many ways she feels she has “grown up” at The River. She went from being an idealistic “dot-comer” in the early 2000s to finding her calling as a teacher. She is also a wife to Jack, mom to Lucas, sister to Angela, daughter to Sophia, aunt to Jeremy, and sister-in-law to Steve (yes, she has numerous family members at The River). She is currently a small group leader and member of the Giving Team. She enjoys watching movies and TV shows that make her cry, playing board games, and traveling.


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