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Dandelions in Concrete: How to See Hope Amid the Rubble
By Tara Johnson
Several things are synonymous with summer: fireflies, the scent of honeysuckle, and dandelions. Even as a child, I’ve always been fond of those downy domes of fluff. I would clutch a stem in my fingers and blow, watching its feathery wisps dance and scatter through the air.
Beauty in one eye is misery in another. My grandmother used to wrinkle her nose at the buttery heads poking up in her flower bed.
“Ugh! Dandelions.” She always mentioned them as if tasting something sour.
“Don’t you like dandelions, Grandma?”
She shook her head. “No, honey. They are ornery little things.”
She frowned as she plucked the offensive blossom from the dirt. “Because there’s no taming them. Those white fuzzies scatter all over, sprouting weeds everywhere imaginable.”
That very trait is what makes this little flower—some would say weed—so unstoppable. You can mow them down, but they come back over and over again. They grow and bloom in the harshest of conditions. The taproot that allows them to burrow in green meadows also allows them to flourish in concrete and brick.
In my latest novel, Where Dandelions Bloom, Cassie Kendrick is running from her abusive father. When war is declared, she disguises herself as a man and enlists as a soldier in the Union Army. Gabriel Avery is desperate to escape his past and make a name for himself as a war photographer with renowned photographer Mathew Brady. Both bear witness to the devastating horrors of war, but the moment Gabe spies a lone dandelion left in a scarred battlefield, Cassie realizes their perspectives about life, and difficulty, are vastly different.
As a child, Cassie had woven the yellow blossoms through her hair, pretending to be a princess . . . until her drunken father had yelled with his slurred bite, “Weeds, Cassandra. You’re not a princess, and you never will be. . . You’re playing dress up with a crown of weeds.”
Gabe’s perspective was quite the opposite.
Kneeling down, he lightly ran his fingertips over its feathery top. The leaves were wilted, but the flower was mostly unscathed. A memory of his mother pierced the shadowed fog of his mind.
“I was only a boy of seven or eight, walking with Mither down the street in New York.” He could yet hear the way her boots had clicked sharply against the cracked pavement. Could still smell the smoke from fireplaces, the spicy sausage hanging in the butcher shop, the scent of baking bread mingled with the stink of refuse and urine as they passed alley after alley. Her brown skirt swished against his side when she’d halted.
“I remember her stopping to point at a flower. She said, ‘Look there, Gabriel. What do you see?’ I squinted and saw a dandelion popping through the cracked concrete of an insurance building. ‘It’s a flower.’” He smiled softly at the memory. “‘Aye,’ Mither said. ‘A dandelion. Do you know what that means?’ I had no idea. She pulled me closer and said, ‘Wherever dandelions bloom in mortar, it reminds us hope is still alive.’”
It really is all about perspective, isn’t it? Hope, like beauty, can be found if we train our eyes to see it.
The problem is too many of us live in fear. It’s the one thing every human being on the planet shares. We’ve all felt it. We all know that dark, encroaching panic that claws at our hearts.
For years I’ve heard the same pat answer, the same verse over and over until I can quote it verbatim. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, NIV).
Okay, so to get rid of fear, I need perfect love. Got it. But then I’m faced with a scary diagnosis, the bills that keep piling up, rebellious loved ones, and the coffeepot that no longer functions. Suddenly I realize I have no idea what “perfect love” means. The conditions are too hard. I’m surrounded by concrete.
God recently revealed the beauty of this verse to me in a very tender way.
We had just left my son’s elementary school after a difficult discussion. His therapists knew something was going on with my joyful little firecracker but were unable to pinpoint the source of his issues.
“It might be time to test for autism.”
I agreed but as we pulled out of the parking lot, I was overcome with an onslaught of what-ifs. What would happen to my curious little boy? What kind of life would he have? Would he be bullied for being different? On and on the thoughts tumbled until the icy tentacles squeezing my heart grabbed me by the throat.
“Mommy, sing to Jesus!”
I blinked away the tears blurring my eyes. Peering into the rearview mirror, I watched Nate’s sunny smile and heard his sweet voice as he sang, “Jesus loves me. Jesus is mine. Jesus loves me. Jesus is mine . . .”
I sucked in a breath. Here I was, worrying over things I had no control over, and the source of my angst was lifting up praises to Jesus. I pushed down the stinging tears and smiled. “Good idea, buddy. Let’s praise Jesus.”
We sang song after song on the car ride home. With each melody, my fear evaporated. Why? Because fear dissolves in the presence of praise.
Fear cannot exist in Jesus’ presence. It scatters like darkness shattered by light. Revelation twisted my heart with a surge of joy.
Perfect love casts out fear.
Suddenly I understood.
Perfect love is Jesus. Turning our focus on him, choosing to praise despite the turmoil, looking for the beauty within the shadows . . . all these things keep us blooming. Growing. Learning. And they chase the darkness away.
Fear has no chance against such a hope . . . despite the conditions surrounding it. Just like dandelions blooming in concrete.
Q&A with Tara...
Q: Thanks so much for the reminder that hope can be found amid the rubble! What inspired the story line and characters found in Where Dandelions Bloom?
A: The inspiration for Where Dandelions Bloom was birthed as I read the journal and multiple biographies of Sarah “Emma” Edmonds. This incredible woman enlisted as a female during the Civil War to escape her abusive father. Emma, a hardworking farm girl, found herself disguised as a male and teaching the young city-bred recruits how to load and aim a gun. Her abilities were so impressive, she was soon pressed into the delicate but grueling work of spying for Allan Pinkerton, head of President Lincoln’s intelligence service.
Yet despite her fiery independence and bravado, Emma carried deep scars from her childhood, and that was the story I wanted to tell. Cassie Kendrick is a fictional character inspired by the wounds and fortitude of countless women like Emma who enlisted to hide from their pasts or escape futures more terrifying than the horrors of war.
Q: What role does faith play in this story?
A: Cassie leaves everything she’s known and throws herself time and again into danger, trusting that God will show her the next step, even when the pathway seems dark. Although she struggles with deep wounds, her childlike faith in his ability to carry her through impossible situations gives her the courage she needs to face down formidable enemies.
Q: Tell us about some of the core themes of Where Dandelions Bloom.
A: Cassie faces abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father. Gabriel Avery has grown up in the slums of New York, unable to care for his ill parents or erase the ugliness from the world around him. Both he and Cassie struggle with the bitter sting of unforgiveness— both with forgiving the ones who have hurt them and with being able to forgive themselves for poor decisions they’ve made. Another central theme in Where Dandelions Bloom is relentless hope, especially amid pain.
Q: How do you hope these themes will resonate with and challenge your readers?
A: All of us have struggled with forgiving someone who has hurt us or our loved ones. The inability to let go of the offense, or the desire to replay it over and over or even to seek retribution, is a very real emotion. Harder yet is forgiving ourselves when we mess up. I want my readers to know there is freedom and life-changing power in forgiveness beyond anything they can imagine. I also want them to know there is hope, even in the darkest time of their life. Tragedy often births beauty, though our eyes may be blind to it at times. So much of how we live our life depends on our perspective.
Q: How is the perspective of Where Dandelions Bloom unique compared to other novels in the Civil War genre?
A: There have been some amazing novels and biographies written around heroic women of Civil War, but I believe Where Dandelions Bloom is unique because it delves deeply into the emotions and wounds driving the choices these women made, as well as the trauma they endured while serving.
Q: Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?
A: I just finished the draft for my next novel with Tyndale, tentatively titled A Song for Cadence. It’s a story loosely based on the life of Elida Rumsey, a woman denied the opportunity to nurse wounded soldiers by Dorothea Dix but who found a way by singing her way into the hospitals. Her life becomes entangled with a surgeon battling a powerful enemy . . . a secret society determined to end the clandestine activities the surgeon has unknowingly led to Cadence’s door. I’m also finishing up the draft of a second story based on Sheridan’s burning of the Shenandoah Valley. The working title is When Fireflies Dance and explores the life of a deserter from the Union army, one of Sheridan’s personal spies, who unknowingly seeks shelter in one of the homes he helped destroy. This story has been the most difficult and raw for me to pen, but I pray my readers will be able to grasp the life-transforming truth that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. He removes sin as far as the east is from the west.
Cassie Kendrick decides to join the army to escape her abusive father and an arranged marriage. She is part of a secret mission, and she meets Gabe Avery, a young man trying to make a name for himself as a war photographer. Will she be able to keep her identity a secret, and can he escape his past, which continues to haunt him?
This is a wonderful example of historical fiction. It's well researched, and Johnson makes the reader feel a part of the action. Themes of faith, hope, courage, and forgiveness are key. The author seamlessly weaves in factual details, making history come alive. Where Dandelions Bloom is a beautiful love story, with the horrors of the American Civil War as the backdrop.
One of my favorite quotes: "Beauty can always be found if we train our eyes to see it."
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, but I wasn't required to leave a positive review.
Tara Johnson is an author, speaker, and passionate lover of stories. She loves to travel to churches, ladies’ retreats, and prisons to share how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled as a people-pleasing preacher’s kid.
From the time she was young and watched Gone with the Wind with her mother for the first time, the Civil War has intrigued her. That fascination grew into all aspects of American history and the brave people and stories who make up its vibrant past.
She says, “History is crammed full of larger-than-life characters. Doc Holliday, Annie Oakley, Helen Keller, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Amelia Earhart, and Frederick Douglass are just a few examples of flawed, wounded humans who battled their demons with determination and left an indelible mark on the pages of history. I suppose that’s why people are so fascinating. No matter the era, we all battle the same wounds. Abandonment, abusive fathers, overprotective mothers, loss, grief, rejection, addiction, crippling anxiety, loneliness, or the yearning for unconditional love, to name a few. We all battle the same junk and have to decide whether to fight or cave. Run or stand. Cry or smile. That’s what great characters do. They are a reflection of our struggles, our own wounds. Our own need. And, when written well, they remind us whom we need to turn to for healing.”
Tara has written articles for Plain Truth magazine and has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth Radio and Enduring Word Radio. Tara is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Todd, live in Arkansas, and the Lord has blessed them with five children: Bethany, Callie, and Nate, as well as Taylor Lynn and Morgan Lane, who are with Jesus.
Visit her website at www.TaraJohnsonStories.com and connect with her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TaraLynnJohnsonAuthor/) and Twitter (@TaraMinistry).
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