Life Lessons from the Suburban Battlefield

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My lawn.Six years ago in March, we moved to the suburbs of Charlotte from a little condo next to a highway in Los Angeles. I remember walking outside at night and standing in the street and being amazed that I couldn’t hear any traffic. It was glorious.

What I didn’t know is that paradise comes with a price. Lurking in the shadow like a cougar ready to pounce… was spring. And as April blossomed, I got my first taste of an epic battle between good and evil that has raged war against suburban men for decades. This age old struggle has chewed up and spit out even the toughest of men – leaving only shattered shells of failure.

It is the quest for the perfect lawn.

When we bought the house, I didn’t think much about the grass. All you have to do is mow, right? Apparently not in the Carolinas. It didn’t take long to see that without purposeful effort, the lawn quickly digresses to a patchy weed garden.

Being a type-A first child – I determined that no weed would conquer my land. I marched into the local Home Depot and bought my ammunition. And I waged my war - hand-spraying weed killer, sometimes several times a week. But the weeds kept coming and I battled that entire first season, and it made hardly any difference.

So the next year, I decided to get even more serious. When I saw crabgrass sprouting, I bought some Round-Up (which basically kills anything that grows) and I started in the back and sprayed any weed I saw. And yes… that finally killed the weeds! Unfortunately…it also killed pretty much all the grass. I had sprayed right before we hit a draught and subsequently the entire back yard turned into a big patch of red clay! That summer, the kids left red footprints anytime they walked through the house.

I was a broken man - cruelly humbled by the bladed beast…and I finally stooped to do what all men do in desperate times. I talked to my dad. 

And like a wisened sage of the turf, my dad shared with me a little secret that turned my battle plan on its head. Three words that reversed my thinking. 


My dad encouraged me to quit focusing on the weeds and instead turn my attention to the good grass. True well-bred grass thrives when watered, fed, and given good ground to grow. It will actually grow up strong and force out the weeds.

So the next couple years I completely flipped my plan. I fertilized and aerated and we even had a sprinkler system installed. I was all about the good grass. Now… nurturing good grass is not a fast process. It took multiple years of feeding and seeding and patching bad spots to slowly take back the dirt field I had created. But each season it got easier until finally - this year - the real grass is thriving and the turf is thick and the weeds are becoming few and far between.

So I was mowing the other day and enjoying the fact that the mower was finally filling the bag instead of blowing dust everywhere… and it suddenly hit me.

Isn’t this the same error that I make in my life all the time?

Whenever I have a problem, I try to solve it by attacking the negative item. If I’m getting overweight, I diet and try to weed out the bad food. If I’m busy and stressed, I try to evaluate and weed out items from my schedule. If I’m having trouble being a great father or husband, I try to crack down on myself and weed out anger or impatience. But these techniques almost never work in any of these situations.

What creates real life change… is feeding. Investment in positive growth is far more effective than attacking the negative. If you’re overweight, start a new exercise program and you’ll find that your body naturally wants better food. If you’re stressed, force yourself to add time in your schedule for reading and taking a walk with your family, and watch how you’ll naturally eliminate other items. If you want to be a great father and husband, try saturating your mind in scripture and prayer, and watch how growth comes from the inside out.

Browse the news and you’ll see lots of examples of weeding. Recently a big executive started a campaign to stop funding politicians in order to try and root out corruption. On Wall Street, jobless workers are currently protesting to try and force changes in business ethics. Even if the goals are admirable, in my mind, all this is going to do is create more dirt. If you really want to see change – in your own life or the world around you –

It’s all about feeding.

Be gone ye evil weeds.

Posted by Dan Rutledge

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Posted by Dan Rutledge on Tue Nov 15, 2011 10:36 AM EST
Hey Tammy - thanks for the encouraging note and the book recommendation. Sounds like a very interesting one! I hope you have a fantastic day!

Posted by Tammy Fareed on Tue Nov 15, 2011 8:47 AM EST
Read a book called Whale Done. It's a little self-help thing written from the point of view of training orcas at Sea World. The trainers point out that you can't train a killer whale by punishing failure..... Some time outs to regroup, redirecting toward good behavior, and rewarding any little success builds relationships with the whales that result in those extraordinary performances. And every whale has its bad day, which is just normal, and those days are set aside, then the whole positive reinforcement process picks up again. I wish I could live like that every minute of every day. Your weed story is awesome and offers me that positive reinforcement that myself need and don't get very often!

Posted by Dan Rutledge on Mon Oct 31, 2011 8:24 AM EST
Thanks Edith! Hope you have a great week!

Posted by Edith Ramos on Fri Oct 28, 2011 9:25 AM EST
I sooooo needed this today! Thank you.

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