The Artist at Work in the Grocery Store

Ahn’s Flowers
“Something for Time:” Work that Endures
Racing through the grocery store I gathered items for my company’s open house, scheduled to begin in just over an hour. My cart bulged with party platters, soda, and wine; a huge bag of ice rested on the shelf beneath the basket. 
I returned to the floral department, where Ahn, the florist, was filling balloons that I’d tie to the end of our walkway to direct our guests to our suite. As she fitted the last balloon onto the bottle of helium, I glanced at the floral arrangements on display. 
“You want flowers?” She asked.
“Yes. Let me look.” 
In the refrigerated display I spotted a stately arrangement of white lilies and full-blown yellow roses. The lilies’ petals arched back towards their stems, fully open, already giving up their perfume. The roses were nearly the size of my fist, each bloom stuffed full with clear yellow petals. These flowers were ready for display today. They wouldn’t last long, but I only needed them to spill their beauty for a few hours.
“I’d like these,” I said, pointing to the vase. 
Ahn looked at my selection. “Oh, those are very nice,” she agreed, “but a few of the flowers start to spoil. Let me fix it for you.” 
While Ahn studied the flowers, I studied her. From her name I guessed she might be Korean. She’d drawn her long hair into a tidy bun, which rested, atop her head, at my shoulder’s height. She was about sixty, and slightly plump. Her hands were small and worn, but nimble as they moved among the flowers.
And she was working carefully, examining the flowers. She removed one rose whose defect I could not see, and two lilies that bore slight bruises on one petal apiece. Then she turned to me.
“All these flowers are for today. You wait. I add something for time.” She disappeared into the back of her display refrigerator, emerging with an armload of lilies, tightly closed, guarding their beauty for another day yet to come.
I watched as she snipped and trimmed and tucked the lily buds into the arrangement. She turned the vase, adjusted the flowers, turned, tucked, adjusted. 
Finally she was satisfied. “Here,” she said. “Now these will last awhile. You won’t have to throw them away tomorrow. You keep them with water, maybe another week even.” Her pleasure in her creation shone in her eyes as she smiled at me. 
“These are beautiful, Ahn. Thank you.”
I turned my cart toward the checkstand. As I waited in line I considered her work. 
What would it feel like, I wondered, to know that the product of my work would be on a compost heap, or stuffed into a trashcan, in just a few days? Would I be able to muster her passion for her work, her attention to detail, her great care in the quality of the flowers, knowing it would all be rubbish soon?
I was struggling to lift the ice into my car without marring my business suit when it hit me. All my work is ephemeral, too. That newsletter I edit, the accounting reports I prepare, the performance review I complete? They may seem enduring as I carefully save them to the right folder on the server, or print paper copies in my office, but eventually it’s all so much dust. 
If I want my work to last, then I need to add value in another way. 
When I remember to engage carefully and lovingly with the printer who produces the edited newsletter, with the clerk who files my accounting reports, with the staff person whose work I evaluate, then my work matters.
Only when I humbly reflect Christ’s love, live by the Word I believe in, do I have a chance to create something lasting in my work. 
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass. 
 8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever. 
Isaiah 40:7-8 (NASB)


  1. I was wondering what kind of fragrance, what kind of aroma do I bring into my workplace?

    I think about Shrinking the Camel's post a few months ago about the artisian worklife — small, handcrafted, loving things that we call work.

  2. That's a really great way to frame that question, David!

  3. Lyla Lindquist

    You're right, there's only one thing that makes work last, whether it's building cathedrals or arranging flowers that might, if you care for them, last a week. (Mine usually make it the day…) Beautiful picture of that, Sheila.

  4. Thanks, Lyla. So glad you came by.

    It's harder to think of the ephemeral quality if one is building a cathedral, hmm? Thanks for focusing me on that truth.

  5. Thanks, Lyla. So glad you came by. It's harder to think of the ephemeral quality if one is building a cathedral, hmm? Thanks for focusing me on that truth.

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