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  • Writer's pictureJanet Richey

Free Range Children



Aside from his quick wit and the occasional ability to misinterpret Scripture, one of the things I inherited from my dad was his instantaneous allergy to poison ivy. The angry, blistery rashes displayed across sixty percent of my body the day after playing near a local pond confirmed it. While there were bigger threats like snapping turtles and copperheads lurking among the tall grasses and cattails, poison ivy in its multiple varieties was harder to identify. Worse, all it took was an imperceptible brush with the toxic oils to send my skin aflame. As a bored, free-range kid desperately seeking adventure, I was repeatedly lured to that living, breathing, poison ivy-infested playground, not caring that each encounter ended in an overkill application of a rancid-smelling lotion the color of faded red beets.


That seasonal biome of my youth was a feast for all of the senses that begged to be explored. Bravely taking up residence among the hidden dangers were native flowers like lady slippers, tiger lilies and butterfly milkweed, songbirds that could out-perform any professional musician, clumsy bumble bees, and delicate butterflies. And then there were frogs, toads and their tadpoles, the latter of which met untimely deaths because I thought I could raise them as my own.


An actual image of my poison ivy playground in the quiet of December.


Twenty-plus years later, I was working in a flower bed alongside my mother-in-law who was a gardener longer than I'd been alive. She said in her staccato Korean accent “That’s poison! Don’t touch!” Because I obviously had more experience on the subject, I ignored her warning. The next day my jagged fingernails were at my wrists, clawing at my regrettable decision.


Sometimes we learn our lessons the hard way.





There’s another lesson to be learned here. In the same way that God put Adam and Eve into the garden of Eden, and granted them free will, I believe that God has done the same for us in this unpredictable, postmodern world we live in. Adam and Eve lost their collective minds when they thought they could be more powerful than God. What humanity is doing today isn’t much different. It feels like they’re all competing to see how they can out-defy God. As Christ-followers, I believe He challenges us to do otherwise. And God doesn't say it will be easy.



You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

r do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand

From the ivy-like morning glories that inexplicably showed up in the back yard of my rented duplex in uptown Harrisburg, to the mighty Susquehanna River that offers endless opportunities for awe and recreation, and all the way up to the darkest skies of the northern Pennsylvania Wilds that illuminate the stars like neon lights, God, in his extravagant love, created them all to point us directly back to His attributes, so that we will worship Him. And then, like free-range children, He loves us enough to let us run freely to both experience the painful consequences of our bad choices, and the blessings of submitting to Him in obedience.

d it gives light toll in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others,

But the most life-giving example of God’s love for us, was when He gave His only Son as a living sacrifice to atone for our sins. This gift is freely given when we submit to Him as Lord of our lives. That path is increasingly difficult to navigate through the antagonistic world we live in today. Fortunately he offers an instruction manual, His Holy Word, which is easier to understand when read together with like-minded friends and loved ones, and propagated when we share it with unbelievers, in love.


Nurture the relationships with fellow Christ followers, so you can blaze a trail through these rock-infested paths together. Fervently pray for God to put people in that path that you can share the gospel with like an invasive wildflower. There are endless supplies of both demographics.


Come. Let's be the light.

so that they may see your good works and give glory

ur Father who is in heaven

5:14-16 ESV




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