Carrot seeds don't look at all like carrots. They look to me like little specks of dirt. They’re not orange. They’re not shaped like carrots. You couldn’t take them to a picnic. Well, I guess you could, but there’s no way to make carrot sticks out of them, and those little seeds can sure get stuck in your teeth. I’ve tried eating carrots that way. Not satisfying. Those little specks aren’t full of vitamins and good stuff yet.
And there’s another thing. The seeds look alike. They really do. They’re tiny, but if you look at them closely, you see that they’re pretty much the same size, shape, and color. And yet even in the pictures on packages of seeds, where they’ve lined up a few of the best carrots they can find for a family photo, those carrots are just not exactly the same. Each one is unique—different from every other carrot.
Now of course, if I keep the seeds in the package (which I’ve done with a few hundred of them, and I feel bad about it, except that it helps me to make this point from time to time), they’ll never become carrots. They’ve got to be planted. They’ve got to be given a chance to release the power that is in them, and there are certain conditions that have to be met for that to happen. I can’t just put them on the sidewalk, or in a drawer, or even on top of pretty good dirt, and say, “Go to it!” They need to be planted. They need to have water and sunshine and time and care. And oh—the miracle as the green comes up and the orange goes down and another unique carrot is born!
Maybe people are like that—waiting for the miracle that will help them become who they are. My sister Charlotte and I used to work together in the nursery at the hospital, and we were convinced that each baby was absolutely unique. Sometimes we even gave them code names, especially the newborns who stayed for a few days or weeks. They seemed to have arrived with personalities and unique characteristics already in place.
It is a sobering and tender experience to look at a newborn baby and wonder about who he or she is. Do those children know who they are? Do their parents know? Maybe they’re like little seeds, with the potential in them to become unique, special, wonderful children of God.
Some of the same questions we asked about carrots come into this wondering about children. How do they know? How do they know they’re Charlotte and not Mary Ellen? Frank and not John? What kind of care is needed for the miracle to happen? How do we “plant” a person? How do we help provide the sunshine and water, the weeding and care and time? We can’t just put the baby on the sidewalk or in a drawer and expect that something miraculous will happen.
Yet here they are, millions born every day, and their potential is part of their heritage: Each one is a child of God. Their Heavenly Father is a King. They are born with the potential to become as He is! Pondering that is even more wonderful than looking at a tiny carrot seed and being awed that the little speck can become an orange carrot with a green top.
Author Timothy Gallwey draws a similar analogy: “When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as ‘rootless and stemless.’ We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. . . . At each stage, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is” (The Inner Game of Tennis [New York: Bantam Books, 1974], 29).
Roses and carrots and people. They don’t look (or behave) up to their potential in all circumstances, in all stages of their growth and development, but they always have the power in them to become, especially if careful attention is given to helping this process happen. And I do feel that it is a process, this becoming who or what we really are.
When I was first called as a missionary, people told me I was going to a place where everyone looked the same. Having not had much experience in my life up to that point, I didn’t know what they meant. Then, in August of 1962, I arrived in Hong Kong. Wow! Because I lacked experience, all the people did look alike to me.
I found myself wondering, “How do they know they’re them?” (not worrying at all about the grammar in such a question). They looked so much alike that I wondered, “How do they know if it’s their children coming home for dinner?” I could almost picture a wife asking, “Are these ours?” and the husband responding, “I’m not sure.” She: “How many are there?” He: “Six.” She: “Well, we have six. Let’s feed them. They might be ours.”
Then people began to have names. Mickey Chang. President Hu. Sister Lin. And I looked back and laughed at myself for ever thinking that they looked alike. Each was so wonderfully individual. How could I ever have thought all the people looked alike, any more than I could go to a market and think all the carrots were exactly alike? I loved getting to know and love and appreciate my friends in Asia one by one. In fact, when I returned home it seemed that people here reminded me of people there.
Is there someone in your life whom you treat as real who needs that more than you may realize? Is it someone older? Younger? Taller? Shorter? A longer carrot? A different-colored rose? Oh, if we could only enjoy our diversity, our differences! It seems that God must have made us different on purpose. Is it so we can find help for our needs? Is it so we can find others who need us? Is it so we need to team up with others to find our wholeness and completeness?
Carrot seeds are all around us waiting to be planted or watered or weeded or tended in some other important way. May we watch over and care for each other, helping the miracle of our uniqueness to happen.
Lead image from Getty Images
Love Is a Verb is filled with charm and insight that Mary Ellen conveys through personal experiences she has felt, observed, and acted upon over the years. We learn from watching others, and mostly they don't know they're providing a learning experience for us. She tells about touching and tender moments with people who have been examples of Christ-like love. She also tells of funny incidents with people who have brought pure joy to others through love and laughter. Mary Ellen teaches that charity, the pure love of Christ, is something everyone deserves to experience—by both giving it and receiving it.