Reality Chuck


The poor little guys never had a chance. For several weeks, we had tended our broccoli and cauliflower seedlings, planted from seed and lovingly grown under lights in the basement. A couple dozen strong baby plants grew happily there until the spring thaw, when their hardy souls could easily handle the cool early spring temperatures other less capable vegetables could not.

Already I counted the harvest, imagining how many Ziploc quarts I would be stacking in the freezer a few months hence. With this healthy spring crop and then one more in the cooler fall weather (to be seeded in July), we’d be in broccoli Valhalla all year. I could see the brilliant green color of just-blanched heads clearly in my harvest dreams.

Broccoli Dreaming . . .

The dream didn’t last long. One day, to be exact. After carefully plugging those babies in the ground one afternoon, we went out the next morning to see how they had fared.

They were gone. Not a leaf, not a stem, not so much as one tiny green straggling shoot poked out of that desolate ground. My brain could not register what my eyes relayed to it. How could every last plant vanish without a trace?


The responsible party soon showed his unrepentant furry face. Under our shed, an old chicken coop in the backyard, lived one very wily, very hungry woodchuck. He must’ve thought that broccoli-cauliflower smorgasbord worthy of his first meal after a long winter’s nap. Nothing remained of our long work and anticipation. To add insult to injury, he repeated his vegetable orgy in the fall when we tried again, along with the ornamental cabbage we put in the kids’ garden. Clearly, this particular rodent had a fondness for anything in the cabbage family.

When Dreams Get Eaten

The woodchuck’s transgressions remind me of a reality I don’t always like to face. This life devours things we hold dear. Something, or someone, we’ve built our dreams upon may be gone tomorrow. We only think we can control the future. Fact is, we have absolutely no say in what may happen tomorrow.

“A rich man had a fertile farm the produced fine crops. His barns were full to overflowing. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. And I’ll sit back and say, “eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘you fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get it all?’ Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” “How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like a morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that” (Lk 12:16-21; Js 4:14-15).

One passing of the moon was all it took for an entire counted-on harvest to disappear from our yard. But other more serious raids on my security have happened just as rapidly. A few quick months destroyed my lifelong dream to return to small town, country life. One brief morning’s surgery severed my mother for our family. “Overnight” devastation shouldn’t surprise us in this blemished world, but it does, over and over.


“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” “I AM who I AM, I will be what I will be, I AM the one who always is.” “His faithful love endures forever” (Rev 22:13; Ex 3:14; Ps 136).

How long? Forever. Regardless of any overnight devastation.

I didn’t get to store that broccoli in the freezer. Not should I store up treasures that don’t really matter, won’t last, and can’t be counted on. I dare not fasten my dreams and security to anything, no matter how precious, save God alone. I must learn to hold the broccoli patches of my world lightly, for they come with no guarantee.

But the love and character of God—now that’s a treasure to hold as tightly as ever I held anything. Besides, it doesn’t need a freezer to keep it fresh every morning.

In Praise of Dandelions


My neighbors probably hate me. Every summer, white trucks emblazoned with various clever slogans (“Jeff’s Chem Control—We Get the Bugs Out”) make regular visits to their yards. With military precision, lawn tractors, string trimmers, and sprayers seek and destroy any weed so bold as to stick its fuzzy seedhead aboveground. Then they pack up and convoy to the next reconnaissance point.

If we cut our grass before it reaches knee high by the Fourth of July, we pat ourselves on the back. I’m really thinking of just applying for a meadowlands permit and forgetting the whole mowing business. Except it makes for a very challenging game of croquet. Not to mention the occasional toddler who wanders back there and isn’t found until winter.

But the real area of contention, I bet, is those dandelions.

In the back where the grass remains healthy, they’re not too problematic. But in the side and front yards, where grass competes with tree roots, shade, and creeping charlie that could smother Texas? It is quickly losing ground to dandelions.

And I don’t really care. OK, I admit it. I like dandelions. Those seas of yellow shrieking “Spring!” to the world make my heart do a little dance. No subtlety for these tough guys of the plant kingdom. I love to watch little girls squeal with delight as the white fuzzy seeds they just launched with a whoosh of their breath float in the air, or come backward to tickle their noses.

The same girls’ dandelion chains, crowns, and necklaces remind me of a time when creativity was where kids made it, not on an iPad. Not so long ago, I was a total pushover for a small fistful of those bright yellow balls in the hand of one of my daughters, who too soon grew too sophisticated for giving me common weeds as if they were a golden treasure from her heart (which they were).


But dandelions are bad, right?

I agree that I hate to pull the things out of my garden beds. Kind of like trying to pick up a semi by the antenna. But in my lawn, I’d just as soon leave them alone.

I even have justification.

One morning, as I sat sipping tea at the breakfast table, I noticed a rabbit in the front yard semi-circle. Rabbits are another neighborhood bane. No one’s garden, it seems, remains immune to their appetites for all things green and growing. We see dozens of the cuddly critters around, and we hear tales of their destructive habits.

But as I watched this one, I realized he was in the throes of a gourmet bunny’s delight—eating dandelions. He would pluck one out of the ground, then blissfully chew up the stem as a child would slurp a spaghetti noodle. I swear I spied a smile on his fuzzy little face. Then he’d head to the next one, totally ignoring all the expensive garden center perennials.

I must tell you, bunnies have never eaten a thing in our garden. (We do have a resident woodchuck—that’s another story.) Now I knew why. We graciously and abundantly supplied them with what was obviously a favorite taste treat—why leave the all-you-can-eat buffet for lesser fare? Dandelions, the bane of a lawn care fanatic’s existence, were actually saving our plants.

We never know what unexpected bane will turn out to be be our salvation.

Seventeen years ago, my doctor noticed an enlarged thyroid on the right side of my neck. After unsuccessful treatment, a specialist performed surgery to remove half my thyroid. Surprisingly, she confirmed the next week that it had been a cancerous growth.


The interesting part of this story is the chain of events that led to the discovery. I had gone to my doctor for a blood pressure check when she discovered the lump. My potential high blood pressure had been discovered under sedation for surgery on my toe. I had sliced a tendon in my right foot in what surely should make insurance record books as a freak accident.

Innocently washing dishes one morning, I stacked a cutting board on top of something else on the counter. A few moments later, the board slipped down, knocking a giant serrated knife off the counter and onto my foot, followed by the cutting board, which drove the knife in. So while the surgeon repaired the tendon, he also discovered my high blood pressure, leading to the discovery of a cancerous thyroid.

You can’t make this stuff up.

While watching blood cover my kitchen floor and screaming for help, I never once thought, “Hey, this is going to turn out to be a great thing!” While eliminating dandelions and cursing bunnies, my neighbors have never once considered how God maybe made these things to work together and serve a tandem purpose.

Time and perspective can change a lot.

“Shall we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10, NLT).

In time, I’m betting God will use our dandelions to make the whole garden glorious.

Just like the lawn care trucks, our attempts to control, sanitize, and tame the stuff of life can eliminate the things that would have made us better in the end. It’s worked well for the dandelions. Now I wonder what eats creeping charlie . . .

Unexpected Joys


So, last week was a heavy post. I know. But sometimes, heaviness is needed. Sometimes, it’s like a weighted blanket for us–helping us to center and recognize where we need to focus and what we need to prioritize.

Sometimes, though, God knows we need light. For the Richardson clan, it’s serious gardening season. Yesterday, we created a fairy garden waterfall and put in plants along the neighbor’s fence.  We planted beans and sunflowers and tomatoes. My husband checked on the bees to see if their little lives were buzzing along happily. And sometime this week, he thinks I am going to sew together fifteen yards of tulle to protect his blueberries from the birds and bunnies. Ha. He does not know my week.

So, a summer garden series. Because life began in a garden. Some of God’s finest beauties and best lessons are learned in a garden. Here we go.


In The Garden . . .

As I may have previously mentioned, lawn mowing around our house usually only get done when a) company is coming for a backyard cookout, b) we lose something valuable in the undergrowth (like a kid), or c) the neighbors ask us if we’d like to borrow their mower since ours must be broken. It’s not that we don’t like mowing—I really enjoy it. It’s just difficult to find a long enough chunk of time in my schedule to mow an entire acre.

After a few passes around the yard one morning, I noticed a bird swooping closer and closer to my head. After another pass, I realized that he was actually following me, darting and gliding close, but not too close, in the mower’s wake. I recognized the outline and colors of a barn swallow and smiled at my new friend. He must have thought he’d bellied up to the All U Can Eat Bird Buffet, as the tractor kicked up hundreds of tiny insects from the grass, destined to be a smart swallow’s breakfast.


Apparently, the feast was too good to keep to himself, because before long, at least six swallows dined and rolled about me, coming so close I could see the light bounce off their almost iridescent deep blue backs. We finished the lawn together, my aerial pals and I. I provided them with breakfast; they provided me with entertainment and kinship.

The antics and evident satisfaction of a half-dozen strangers the size of my hand unexpectedly enlivened my morning. They came so close of their own accord, to join me in a kind of interdependence that God must have intended from the very beginning. Those magic minutes gave me a glimpse of the delightful intent of God’s creation and His final plan for its culmination when the lion and the lamb will indeed lie down together, and the bird will no longer justly fear the human. The birds’ brief “friendship” brightened the rest of my day.

One of my husband’s friends and coworkers has a saying, “While I was doing my duty, joy overtook me.” Real joy can come, and often surprise us, not in our zealous pursuit of it but in our daily activities, just doing what must be done.


The Joy set before Him?

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross and obeyed even to death for “the joy set before Him.” Joy? Yes, that’s what it says. It’s not the word we expect. Pain? Agony? Necessity? Maybe those. But joy? Somehow, in doing the things one must, in submissive obedience to God, joy overtakes us.

I mowed the laws because it needed doing. No other grand motivation—just plain duty. But in that obedience, I found a joy that lasted all day and that I still smile to remember.

You’ve felt that joy, too. When what you offered under tight circumstances gave people in even tighter ones a gleam of hope. When a church service you didn’t feel like attending reached your heart with a new vision of God. When a note of encouragement you sent reached someone on the very day she needed it.

In dutiful obedience, joy overtakes us. Let it swoop and glide about your heart sometime today.

“While I was doing my duty, joy overtook me.”