If the Lord does not build a house…

I am finally getting around to telling the rest of the story.

Or, more probably, the next phase of the journey. Who knows where it will end?

In my last post, feeling saddened by the absence of butterflies and bees in the neighborhood gardens, I wrote: “If you plant it, they will come,” my mind had thought, revising the field of dreams refrain. But they don’t – they don’t come.

Camera and I had taken this stroll down the street on July 18th. I tarried over my article, not pushing the “publish” button until the wee hours of the following day.

When I arose the morning of July 19th, I was greeted by a skyful of blue and sunshine, all the makings of a hot day. Butterfly weather.

I remembered that I had promised camera we would explore the gardens on the west side of the street “some day soon”.

The previous evening they had been hidden in shadows. Why not today?! I had a bit of time. So off we went…

The fright instilled in us the night before still lingered. The emptiness had seemed almost surreal. Would we once again be greeted by nectar-gorged blooms with nary a winged guest?

With cautious vigilance, we approached…

Greatly encouraged, we continued winding our way through the city’s concrete and asphalt maze toward each little oasis of color and hope.

Much to our surprise, our dear cabbage whites were out in abundance!

Though a very “common” butterfly, today we almost wept for joy, camera and I, as we watched them flutter furiously while surveying and rejecting all possible landing sites.

It was almost as though, having just escaped the cocoon, they could consider nothing but flight. Glorious flight.

Yet this added to our excitement – for blessed were we to receive an image of one of these little ones as it danced through a field of wildflowers.

In less than 15 minutes, our worldview had begun to shift once more. They did come.

With joyful hearts, we headed home, stopping, of course, in my own humble garden.

Yes, they had come.


What does all of this mean?

It certainly does not mean that we have nothing to fear.

Climate change, pesticides and many other perils caused by humanity have resulted a very precarious future for our bees and butterflies. And this is no small matter.

As I was reflecting on my experience, I was reminded of a song composed by Dan Shutte, based on Psalm 127:1. The refrain keeps repeating in my head:

If the Lord does not build a house, 
Then in vain do the builders labour. 
And in vain does the watchman stand his guard, 
If the Lord is not his help…

In the movie Field of Dreams (1989), a different refrain sounded, “If you build it, they will come.” It was this line that had led me to think, “If you plant it, they will come.”

In other words, plant enough nectar and host plants in my yard and the butterflies and bees will come. And if enough of us do this, everything will be all right.

This summer has demonstrated to me the obvious: this is not true. It is simply not enough.

I cannot make them come.

It is a great gift when they do come as they did on July 19th. But it is a gift I cannot take for granted.

Neither you nor me nor watch-groups nor legislation can undo the great damage we have done to our beautiful planet and its countless species.

We cannot undo this anymore than we can bring about salvation for our own sins. We are too entrenched in sin to ever redeem ourselves.

And what we have done to our planet is indeed a sin – a great sin.


I want to write something cheery and hopeful. It is my way, to always carry hope into despair, light into darkness.

But I myself am not and never can be the source of that hope and light. If I try, I will certainly fail.

If the Lord does not build the house…

But how does the Lord build…? I do not know, but I will relate a little story. (Note: I am about to cross-blog here, alluding to a passage from one of my other blogs. Look here, if you wish to read.)

Today, a group of friends and I joined together to share our lives via electromagnetic energy (i.e. cell phones). Toward the end of the group conversation, I revealed a sadness that has recently come into my life.

Still feeling sorrow, I went out to work in my garden – yes, more planting. It is clearance season on perennials and I cannot stop myself from trying.

Planting is hot, dirty work, made more so by poor soil full of rocks and roots.

I was pausing for a moment to rest and survey the yard when I saw it.

A huge, perfect Monarch butterfly sailing through my yard.

It did not alight on any of my flowers, apparently not wanting to eat nor ready to lay eggs.

But it glided through as though it wanted to make sure I saw it and knew that it was a Monarch.

This is only the second Monarch I have seen this year. And it came to my yard. When I was sad. And it turned my sorrow to joy.

Indeed, He loves me and tries to please me.

He knows to send me butterflies – and He knows just when to send them.

We are not alone in our sorrows and our sin. We have help.

Shall we accept this help, you and I?

Our help has a Name. It is Love…


I am frightened…

Yesterday evening, when I got home from work, camera and I decided to do a tour of the neighborhood gardens. Evening sun will still shining brightly on the east side of W. 14th Street and the temperature was in the upper seventies.

A gorgeous evening. And just the time to revel in summer’s fullness.

Never mind my little garden. My soil is poor and much gets eaten, as my property abuts an overgrown strip of land that is my only protection from the freeway.

On the strip of land, live possum, raccoons, feral cats, and…well, a family of groundhogs. But you already know about them.

Now these other gardens – they are gardens.

So down the street we walked, camera and I, trying to be leisurely yet not wanting to lose the evening light.

We headed to our old favorite, the wonderfully overgrown garden where we (actually camera’s predecessors and I) started the wondrous adventure of receiving images.

It was impossible to encompass it all in a single frame but the garden was truly bursting with life. And yes, that large green plant on the left is common milkweed, of which they had a good crop.

Although a row of houses on the east side of the street sported lovely blooms around their doors and walkways, they were now deep in shadow. Some morning, we told ourselves, we must return.

Continuing back down the couple of blocks we had wandered, we made a new discovery. How had we not seen it before? What an exceptional patch of common milkweed by that house! Obviously intentionally grown. Obviously, a household not blessed with a groundhog family all its own. 🙂

We continued our walk. Too many images to receive as the sun was sliding down the sky behind the treeline. Surely we must receive at least a few!

And blessed we were with images of God’s handiwork…


and again…

We crossed back to our side of the street, easily jaywalking the otherwise busy street on this lazy evening. Pausing before a large shrub in full bloom, we were blessed yet again.

Lastly, stopping by the community garden – which seems to have lost much of its community – camera and I smiled at the site of more common milkweed (not shown). And daisies. And purple cone flowers.

After making one last pass through the backyard to bid the plants and creatures good night, camera and I came home to rest inside my little dwelling.

But instead of the usual exhilaration we feel after such jaunts, a pall of sadness – or was it fright? – hung over us.

We knew what we had seen. Or more accurately, what we had not seen.

The gardens had been empty. Totally empty.

Only at the community garden had we seen two or three bumblebees. And one of those was picking feebly at the yellow picket fence surrounding garden.

(I asked the little bumble if it was all right, as it didn’t appear well. Receiving no response, I asked again and gently stroked its side. Weakly, it took to flight, heading nowhere in particular.)

No other bees. Not a single butterfly. Not one.

I am frightened – this wasn’t just an anomaly this particular evening. I have been watching other gardens this summer, fully abloom, and I see nothing. Maybe one butterfly, if I wait and watch carefully.

Something is wrong. Terribly wrong.

I don’t know how to live in a world without butterflies.

And I’m not sure any of us can live in a world without bees. Shall we rely tiny artificial drones to pollinate our crops? (This is not something I made up. I wish I had. Read here.)

I don’t know what to do.

“If you plant it, they will come,” my mind had thought, revising the field of dreams refrain. But they don’t – they don’t come.

And so I pray. I plant and I pray some more.

Bless the earth, O Creator God, and change our hearts. Teach us how to stop the path of destruction we are on. Renew and regenerate what You have created. Bless the butterflies and the bees…may they surround us once again on sunny summer days, reminding us of the perfection of Your Word through Whom You fashion all things. Remain with us and cultivate in us Your Spirit of humility that we might learn to honor all of creation.