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The bean in the cup

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One of my most vivid memories from kindergarten is when my teacher, Mrs. Bentley, put a scoop of soil into a clear plastic cup and planted a small bean inside. She gave one to me and each of my classmates, telling us to place it in the sun and water it every three days. Within a few weeks, she said, the bean would sprout into a green, leafy plant.

I can still remember gripping that cup in my hand on the bus ride home. I had a strange, almost maternal, reaction to it, to the promise that lay within. Would that dried, white bean really turn into something beautiful? My stomach turned with excitement. 

I distinctly remember finding a place in my backyard --- far out of the reach of my three siblings --- for my little bean to grow. We had a wooden shed at the side of the house for firewood. I climbed to the top of it, found the sunniest spot, carefully set it down and stared. After a while, I reluctantly climbed down, relinquishing my cup to the elements. 

Let me change that: Actually, I did not relinquish my cup. To relinquish means to let go, to surrender. I did not do that. In fact, I did the opposite. 

Mrs. Bentley firmly directed us not to touch the bean; we were to leave it deep in the dirt. The next day, however, I climbed on top of the shed and eagerly shoved my index finger into the blackness. Once I found the hardness of the bean, I dug it out and examined it for any sign of life: a bump that indicated growth, a change of texture on the surface, a hint of green. 

Of course, there was no change. So, the next day, I unearthed the poor bean again. And, again. Not just once but several times a day, my finger pulled it from its place for a thorough analysis. Each time, of course, the bean looked exactly the same. 

How do you surrender --- relinquish --- your desires and just wait to see what happens? So far, two words seem to offer an answer: humility and trust.

About three weeks into this process, I was forced to face what I had done. My bean could never take root; it was still just a bean. The dream of watching it grow into something beautiful was never realized. I felt ashamed of myself. I threw my treasure into a trashcan. 

The next month, Mrs. Bentley asked her students to bring their bean plants to class. The plants were tall, lush and green. When she asked about mine, I could not answer. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that bean. In many ways, I realize that I am still that little girl on top of the shed: anxious, overly eager and impatient with the ways of the world, with the intrinsic order of things. I still allow my desires to get the best of me. I find myself wondering what beans planted in my life have not taken root because of my inability to let larger plans unfold. 

How do you surrender --- relinquish --- your desires and just wait to see what happens? So far, two words seem to offer an answer: humility and trust. I must have the humility to realize I am but a speck in the universe whose ways and desires are incidental, at best. And I must trust that I am loved by a God who has happy plans for me, if only I will allow them to be realized.

These are the thoughts I will hold onto when my finger gets itchy for some digging. Perhaps, then, I will behold the transformed beauty I so desperately wanted from that dirt-filled cup, a beauty that only requires me to stay out of His way. 

Christa Chavez is the external affairs coordinator for St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower and is a member of St. Maria Goretti Church in Long Beach. 

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