Blending In


Sometimes, I feel like my white garden. I’ve spent most of my life “blending in.” You know what I mean. Standing at the service desk at the department store, you wait while the clerk smiles and serves six people around you. Or you’re sitting in a job interview, and the interviewer, despite your impressive resume, says, “You just don’t come across with the leadership qualities we’re looking for.” A nice way of saying, “No one’s going to follow someone who blends in with the woodwork like you do.”

Or maybe your friends plan a quick get-together, but they simply forgot that no one told you. You feel like a TV screen—that dull grey glass everyone looks through but never at.

All the cum laudes written all over my curriculum vitae mean little to a world straining their eyes and ears for the sound bite star, the charismatic, toothpaste commercial candidate who grabs their attention.

I’m not sound bite material.

I like to choose words too carefully and slowly to garner that kind of following. Written indelibly on my first-grade report cards are my teacher’s shocked and thrilled words—“Jill actually spoke in class to day!” (Wouldn’t she be surprised to find me a professional speaker today? You just never know!)


I’m too short to stand above any crowd. When I tried our for the junior high cheerleading squad, they said I had the skills but not the volume. I’m usually too shy to break into that circle of women who seem so friendly.

I’ve gotten much better. Once you reach a certain age, I think boldness kicks in easier. Also, you start to recognize what is more important than your own insecurity. But that was not the case ten or twenty years ago.


So what does this anonymity have to do with my white garden? It’s just a little spot I’ve carved out right next to the house, tucked between the deck and the sunporch. In its often blazingly hot confines grow dozens of flowers and foliage plants linked by one common thread–they must be white. Silver, cream, green, and blue leaves and grasses all mingle with pure white blossoms. Noncolor has its day here, in blooms both giant and strong and diminutive and delicate.

But directly across the path from this monochrome lies a real attention getter—the butterfly bed. Here, flowers whose firepower could launch a NASA rocket dance and boast and draw the attention of people and butterflies alike. Serene and thoughtful they are not. One could easily miss the charms of that boring stretch of white when ‘cosmic orange’ cosmos demand the eye. But one would miss so much.


One would miss the bowing tresses of bridal veil spirea—my nod to sentimentality. I grew up twining such branches around my head, dreaming of brides, princesses, and fairies.

A person would miss the soft felt spread of artemesia ‘silver brocade,’ a carpet invoking thoughts of bare feet and snuggly blankets.

How would you miss the twinkle of silver thyme, a variegated pixie that stole my heart the first time I saw in it a garden center, with nary a flower necessary for its starry show. Or the innocent voluptuousness of white lilies showing off, nodding at the equally aristocratic white delphiniums across the way.

Don’t Miss It

Only those who take the time to stop and look closely will appreciate this one-color spectrum of beauty. You won’t see it if you walk quickly by, looking for what catches the eye easily. But for those who slow down, investigate, and take time to know each plant’s gifts, the white garden yields a rainbow.

Such rainbows lie hidden among the people you interact with every day. They may not seem like spotlight material. They may prefer to serve in the background, never seeking awards or recognition. You may have even felt (or said) they were insignificant in the total picture, not harmful but not vital either. You may have passed them by as coworkers, friends, or volunteers. Next time, stop and look. Investigate. Probe the gifts you don’t readily see. You’ll be surprised.

And, if you too are a white flower in a sea of color, don’t yearn to be orange. Though you may seem overlooked, the garden would miss something vital without you.

One Man’s Weeds . . .


The irony of my struggle with the shady semi-circle bordering our front driveway does not escape me. When we moved into this house, the “garden” consisted of two peony bushes in the backyard, a few pathetic irises that seemed apologetic for their existence, and a semi-circle of wild daylilies in the front bordering said driveway.

It Creeps . .  

Valiantly, I spent many summers trying to rid the area of creeping bellflowers. When we moved in, I thought the purple bell-shaped wildflowers were lovely. Soon, I understood just why that “creeping” part was in the name.

With amazing resourcefulness, they attempted to overtake the entire front yard–and largely succeeded. Pulling one accomplished nothing but, I suspect, encouraging quiet snickering and a renewed zeal for life. The root systems infiltrate the soil faster than a fiber optic connection. Not liking chemicals, and liking very much the native violets that would also perish, I refused to spray.

I have never seen a more capable plant.

Meanwhile, in that semi-circle I try to establish ground covers. Lamium, bugle, sweet woodruff—all happily adapt to the shady crescent of dirt. A couple plants in particular seem bent on sending adventurous runners outward at an astonishing rate.


As I weed out the unwanted, I laugh at the irony of it. Both plants would fill in this space joyfully, yet I strive to eliminate one and establish the other. What annoys and frustrates me in one plant delights me in the other. One plant I want to do exactly what I hate the other one for doing.

If we gardeners were truthful, we’d recognize this happens more often than not. One gardener’s weed is another’s native wildflower.

Many of God’s gifts also act that way in our soul gardens. Used as intended, His presents can give pleasure and beauty. Uncontrolled, they can override the good things we try to establish.

God intended sexuality, for example, as a lovely flower in a person’s garden, to excite pleasure and create families and to perfume the entire garden of a permanent relationship.

Outside those boundaries, however, it quickly becomes an invasive weed, crowding out important aspects of your relationships, strangling your emotional health, and cropping up unexpectedly long afterward, forcing you to deal with hurts you thought you’d already eliminated.

God’s Gifts Cover Our Ground

The same applies to our God-given personalities. Our greatest strengths, it seems, can become our greatest weaknesses with frightening speed. Every thing God gives for His glory and our good can be easily twisted to its negative potential.

So when they were younger, I told my firstborn daughter—God gave you a gifted intelligence. You can use it to learn about Him and help others understand His love, or you can become prideful and cynical. God gave you sensitivity to lavish compassion and encouragement on others, or it can be used to make you defensive and paranoid instead.

I knew both of these truths first hand.


I told my second daughter, God made you tall and loud (!!)—a natural leader. You can display a good example for others to follow, or you can become a domineering slave to popularity.

One day, she told me about the little girl in her second grade class whom the others teased and shunned, a child who couldn’t keep up with normal tasks like reading and adding. She looked down as she told me about the other kids, her best friends, refusing to use the drinking fountain after ‘Melissa’ had touched it. Then she looked up. “But I don’t think Jesus would do that, Mommy. I think He’d be her friend. And I’m going to be, too. Maybe, the other kids will be nice if I am.”

She could have easily planted weeds in her garden (and in Melissa’s) by using her leadership to secure popularity. But instead, she used it to teach others how to treat one of “the least of these.”

As they grew, I continued to watch both girls as those realities played out. Some days they chose to let those strengths work for good—some days for evil. We all do. Their mother didn’t do much better. But the truth is, we choose what we allow to overrun the garden.

God’s great gifts can make a stunning masterpiece of us, or they can run rampant, taking over our soul garden with our idolatry and misuse of them. The same plant can be a weed or a wildflower. It all depends on how we use it.

The Accidental Gardener


Sometimes, serendipity is the best garden designer.

Our ever-changing, ever-expanding perennial bed fronting the previous owner’s chicken coop had a precise plan once upon a time. In my imagination, I had a color scheme of pinks, blues, and purples, some mellow pastels, some bold fashion statements.

I wanted pink plants with cerise blooms that would scream Hawaiian luau, not baby blankets and little girl cheeks. Running through them would be pools of pale yellow—coreopsis, daylilies, and others. For harmony’s sake, the yellow could definitely not shriek like the pinks.

The pinks next to, say, the bright gaillardia (which had to be transplanted away), looked like the outfits my young daughters once came down the stairs in some mornings. (Their inability to understand that red checked pants and purple floral shirts do not complement one another definitely changed over time.)

It Has To Go

One plant that I decided must go was the bold rudbeckia goldsturm in the corner. Gold is in the name for a reason. No subtle yellow tones there. At least, I thought it had to go, until I looked again.

Behind and to the side of the plant, a red barberry bush extends its prickly arms. (Designed to keep the kids away from the lead-paint laden shed windows, the barberry did its job with thorny vigor). In front of it, an aster ‘purple dome’ begins its long-running show. The three together made a combination so breathtaking all thoughts of banishing the offending golden flowers disappeared. Perhaps, so late in the season anyway, the plant could be allowed to stay.


Stay it did. What I first thought an unlikely combination, destined to quarrel with one another endlessly, became one of the late-summer focal points of the bed.

Plants Are Like People

It reminds me a bit of my two oldest girls. (No, they’re not prickly in general, although at times. . . .) Just eighteen months apart, they were a combination I certainly didn’t intend.

As the two girls grew, my husband and I quickly realized that we were the proud progenitors of night and day, yin and yang, hybrid tea and wild rose. However would we survive the sibling conflicts of two such different girls? Then, they did something surprising. They became best friends, inseparable, rarely erupting into argument, let alone all-out war.

The oldest—sensitive, awkward with people, perfectionistic—depended on her younger sister to draw her into social interactions. She needed Emily’s easy come, easy go life attitude to balance her more dramatic viewpoint that life consists of tragedy and ecstasy with no middle ground. Her somewhat insensitive, bulldozer of a younger sister, on the other hand, needed Becca’s keen perception and deep feelings to check her “I’ve got things to do so get out of my way” ways.


And People Can Be a Mess

Do you recall the story of Paul and John Mark in the Bible? There’s another unlikely pairing for you. Paul, the “roll right over ‘em” firebrand of an evangelist got frustrated with young John Mark’s apparently more sensitive, tentative nature. When a homesick John Mark left Paul in the middle of an arduous mission trip, the older man vehemently refused to consider him for future service. Their differences seemed too great, their incompatibility too evident.

Yet, years later, hear Paul’s words to Timothy regarding that young man. “Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me” (2 Timothy 4:11). Is he talking about the same person? Apparently, as both men matured in godliness, Paul realized that the younger man’s differences might be complementary rather than repelling. The once good-for-nothing boy had become an indispensable man.

In another letter, Paul explains why.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only one body. So it is with the body of Christ. Suppose the whole body were an eye—then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything? But God made our bodies with many parts, and He has put each part just where He wants it” (1 Corinthians 12:12,17-18).

In his wisdom, God made each of us different, giving us different gifts. Those gifts He meant to complement one another, making a beautiful picture out of what may appear to be wildly disparate individual puzzle pieces.

Perhaps there are people in your life you would prefer to dig up and transplant far away from you. They just don’t seem to fit with the picture you’ve planned. Maybe they’re folks at your church or workplace. Maybe even parents or a spouse. Can you step back and see the whole frame, as God sees it? Can you perceive the checks and balances the two of you might use to help one another, if you could only stop clashing long enough to look?

You’re not together by mere chance. God has an ultimate design He’d like you to be a part of. But if one puzzle piece declines to interlock with another, that “big picture” loses something.

Some of my best garden combinations came unexpectedly. So, too, might some of your best people combinations, if you allow them to grow with you, enhancing one another with your contrasts.

Higher Up and Further In


I don’t care what the calendar says, February is the longest month of the year. The plant catalogues have all been dog-eared and highlighted and sighed over until their covers dangle by a half-staple. Teasing thaws blow in, followed by more blizzard.

Lovesick Teens

In February, I get a nearly uncontrollable itch to visit the area’s nurseries I know so well. Once, I took a roundabout way to a friend’s house just so I could drive by my favorite garden center, though snow covered its benches. Like a lovesick teenager driving by her crush’s house, hoping to get a glimpse of him through the window, I just had to see that familiar place where my beloved plants lived.

My husband shares my gardening passion, but even he thinks such behavior may be one plant short of a flat. I can’t help it. When February arrives, we’ve turned a corner in the tunnel, and I can glimpse spring light flickering in the distance. The dreary skies cannot dampen my certainty that those nurseries must soon open their doors.

Forever February

Some days, this world feels forever February. Its dark chill can overwhelm the winter-weary soul. The false hope of leaders who promise integrity and deliver self-preservation. The endless rain of racism, poverty, and violence. The blizzards of war. The fear of simply sending your child to school.


It’s difficult to imagine on this warm July morning with birds outside my window, but the news this week has been chilling, which seems to be a trend.

That’s when I glimpse eternity flickering in the distance.

“Then I saw a new heaven and new earth, for the old had disappeared. I heard a loud shout saying, ‘Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrows or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever. To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life without charge! All who are victorious will inherit these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.’” (Revelation 21:1-7)

The new heaven and earth. Do you give it much thought in your day-to-day? Have you endured the February chills of life, never divining that a day will come when eternal spring heals all pain and banishes all coldness of heart?

Or do you, like me, sometimes glimpse teases of eternity, like February thaws, that make you ache for the real thing?

Everything Is Meaningless . . .

Moments of such closeness with God you know what it would be like to look in Jesus’ eyes and fall into His arms. Moments of nearness to nature that make you wish all creation could stop warring with itself and live in peace. Times of pain, when you want a “do over” in life, and you know all foolishness and weakness will one day fall off like an ill-fitting jacket, leaving you to be what you always wanted to be.

The book of Ecclesiastes attempts to depress us with its unrelenting dirge—“everything is meaningless.” In a book that totally reversed my thinking years ago, Bold Purpose, authors Dan Allender and Tremper Longman argue that we could (and should) view such hopelessness as a gift from God. Run that by me again?


Indeed, God intends our feelings of futility, the despair that tells us life isn’t a quick fix, to awaken our winter-slumbering souls to the reality that this life isn’t all there is. He desires us, in our personal Februaries of life, to long for the time when all pain, injustice, and despair will be melted forever in the spring sunshine of His presence. Through that longing, we can see glimpses of the eternity ahead, and we do not lose hope.

Truly seeing the reality of life in winter plants in me the hope of spring so real that suddenly this life seems less so.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, Jewel the unicorn longs to go “higher up and farther in” to taste the wonders of his final destiny—eternity in God’s land. So do I.

And sometimes, I long for it so deeply I just want to drive by, taking in the sight of what will be when the darkness is destroyed.

Strangers Together

20170701-Richardson-ReachI am not good at making friends. I don’t approach people. I don’t know how to start a conversation. I don’t engage first. When that conversation has to happen partly in charades, I’m ready to bow out and let someone more intrepid than I give it a try.

But those eyes told me she could be a friend. They also told me she needed one.

I’m over at (in)courage this morning sharing a story of courage and conversation–but not my own courage. Have you ever found an unlikely friend? Did God turn it into a journey you never expected?

Click Here  to read the rest of the story.

Sign up here to receive free daily notes from (in)courage, sent right to your inbox!  (I love this site!)