I hadn’t felt like I’d traveled backwards in time, and spent moments with someone I didn’t know, like this since I read Donald Miller’s, Blue Like Jazz. I’m serious. No hyperbole here. Sarah Cunningham’s, Picking Dandelions: A Search for Eden Among Life’s Weeds did that for me.
Do you know the feeling of seeing something you know you shouldn’t have? Remember catching mom wrapping Christmas presents and then stashing them away? You saw something you shouldn’t have, but seeing it opened you up to things as they really were. That’s the feeling I’ve derived after reading Picking Dandelion’s. She led me into her world- a world I should not and would not have seen otherwise- to find the truth behind the story that’s been hidden behind the veil for quite some time.
One can’t help but look at the world around him and think: “Something’s not right about all of this.” And one would be right. Things simply aren’t as they ought to be. And yet we pant and search and claw and pursue the thing to make it all right. Often, we are searching for the right thing in all the wrong places.
Part I begins with Sarah’s childhood. I was drawn into her experiences, seeing them open up, unfold and eventually shut. It makes you wonder if the Christianity we teach our children is something that will endure for the long haul. Are there too many holes? Too many voids? Could we be setting them up for major disappointment?
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I really wish I couldn’t empathize with her, but I do, and altogether too often at that. Where we are different is that she began picking up on much of it early on. As one who sat in on church business meetings at age 10, she took note of the things that were out of sorts. See saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. Gotta love this line: “It was clear, even to ten-year-old me, that a non-brown shingle would never be allowed to touch the church roof. If it came down to it, elderly men would lie down in front of bulldozers and choir women would chain themselves to the eaves.” This is so typical, but the last sentence of the chapter says it all. After the votes were taken and brown shingles “won by a landslide…we breathed a sigh of relief. Once again we’d narrowly escaped change.”
Part II takes us from adolescence to teenage Sarah. These days offered her new challenges. As most of us can somehow relate, it is the teenage years that cause us to begin to see ourselves in light of how others see us. It constitutes the beginning of a devilish trap that is immensely difficult to escape. And some never do. Identities are being formed and good direction always seems lacking.
Part III takes us into Sarah’s college years, where nothing is easy. But Sarah seemed to see and experience things that created unrest and discontent, but it really didn’t take her in the direction it took some of us. It seemed to do the opposite. Mission trips afforded her opportunities to see what she hadn’t before. I love the last paragraph of Chapter 2. A trip to Chicago left this impression upon her,
The thing that nagged my soul was knowing that some days the warming shelter was too full and we had to turn people away. The people would nod unsurprisingly when we told them to come back later, and they would shuffle away, down the snow-covered road and past the colossal empty churches that ten people attended once a week on Sundays when they made their weekly drive into the city from the suburbs.
More experiences, and eventually marriage, would make for more personal transition. One thing, though, was certain… she was forced to adjust. And that isn’t always easy.
Part IV introduces how the events of 9/11 changed so many things for so many people. Like many of us, one couldn’t help but wonder where God was in the midst of it all.
Part V begins with how a scoliosis prognosis would affect her, but the physical issues she experienced were simply a means for her to begin speaking to spiritual ailments that were really in view. These ailments had only one solution…Confession. Her confession? It was simple…”I hate. I hate, I hate, I hate.”
The remaining parts (VI-IX) are startling realizations about faith and how change happens in one’s life. Her testimony is as compelling a testimony there is, outside of Scripture itself. She lays it out there with potent transparency. Her flaws were many and all needed to be addressed. And she addresses them.
This is God’s great reconciliation project, and all who are willing may participate. It’s not the funnest project in the world, by any means. But in Christ Jesus, God is reconciling the world back to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). He is in passionate pursuit of us, God help us that we are equally as passionate in our pursuit of Him.
This, I believe, is to a large extent the gist of Picking Dandelions. Things simply aren’t always as they seem. People, well-intentioned people, did what they believed to be right in expressing to my generation how things are and how they ought to be. But being well-intentioned doesn’t make it right. The voids that were left in many of us were in need of being filled, and they would be or will be, in due time. And so we search. We search for Eden among life’s weeds.
The weeds are plenteous, but God sees us through them and we can find Him in their midst. He sees us in our pursuit of Him and he reveals the beauties of what was lost at the fall (Genesis 3) by giving us tastes of His grace. And grace is always sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). It keeps us sifting and searching for the real things that matter most.
Thank you, Sarah, for a great book and for letting me be a part of this. But before I close, Sarah has requested my Top 3 recommendations for a “Best of the Best” book list. My three are:
- The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
- The Jesus Way: A Conversation in the Way that Jesus is the Way by Eugene Peterson
- Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity by Mark Batterson