refuge

A celebration of National Homes for Birds Week and Random Acts of Kindness Day

My husband has long extolled the virtues of winter interest in the garden. I remained unconvinced for quite a while. After all, once the thermometer reaches a certain point, I consider the backyard hostile territory, inhabitable only by feeder-raiding squirrels and children who don’t know enough to be cold. Who needs anything to look at outside when I have seed catalogues and hot tea inside?

My husband, however, just took the wrong approach. I’ve recently discovered a reason for winter interest gardening that appeals to me. Basic laziness. An ideal winter garden, it seems, is supposed to remain kind of, well, a mess. Forget deadheading those old brown seedpods. Never, under any circumstances, lop down those fading grasses. Swear off raking and bagging leaves for all time. You see, when those perfectly manicured lawns and gardens die or are cut back to the ground by zealous neatnicks (ie, my neighbors), the birds and the bunnies have to look much farther afield for the things they need to survive the cold. They look in my yard.

Thus it is, the lazy gardener who neglects and procrastinates finds herself rewarded by a yard full of thankful cardinals and finches, flaunting their colors at nature’s buffet. What a lovely license—untidiness in my yard can actually make it more hospitable to others. My backyard brambles entice creatures who need shelter from coyotes and cold. Take that, Mr. I-cut-fancy-patterns-in-my-lawn next door.

I’m finding that can also hold true in the rest of my life. It always seems that the times my life is quite messy I find someone who needs refuge. Who wants to talk about fears and shortcomings? Have you ever told someone something excruciatingly painful, only to have him look at you like you’re the most deficient person on earth to have gotten yourself into that fix and he totally despairs of you ever “getting it”? Yeah, me too. Only someone who understands messiness can break the silence.


Where we live, perfection reigns. It also chokes. Perfect-looking people in perfect cars commute to perfect jobs, then come home to perfect children and perfect houses. Deviation from the script can get you excommunicated from polite society. Yet, sometimes, don’t you recognize the desperation behind those masks? People searching for hospitality for their souls, and they don’t find it in the manicured perfection of our self-protecting masks. They find it in our untidiness, our inability to make all our pieces fit, our willingness to admit our weakness.

“My (God’s) grace is sufficient for you. My power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). What an intriguing paradox of what I’m supposed to be. Transparent enough so that His grace shines through my cracks and blemishes.


I love the grass heads bowing under snow I now see outside my sliding glass door. I appreciate the beauty of black-eyed susan seedheads, lovely in their own right without the starry golden petals. The cardinals, goldfinches, and juncos that find my untidiness so inviting are welcome to show off any time they want in my backyard. When the lawn services come one last time to “clean up” my neighbors’ yards, I’m glad to remain a place of refuge.

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