Some 40 miles west of Chicago, the Fox River winds its way through a dozen or so towns in north-central Illinois. This river has been part of my life as far back as I can remember. As a small child, I walked along its muddy shores looking for shells. As a teenager, I meditated along there. As a young mother, I led my little ones along the riverbank and showed them the beauties of the changing seasons.
Later in life, after a devastating divorce, I began working for a small engineering firm located on a road running alongside the Fox River. I enjoyed my work in mechanical drafting, but I disliked being 12 miles away from my five children, the youngest of whom was just four. Circumstances had forced me to be my family’s breadwinner when all I really wanted was to take care of my children.
On my way to work one beautiful spring morning, I decided that at lunchtime I would eat in a vacant lot on the riverbank. The lot was beginning to fill with wildflowers, grass, and weeds, and I felt it would be wonderful to spread my blanket there for 45 minutes and enjoy the spring renewal alongside my familiar river. I had been too busy to appreciate spring so far that year because of working, managing our home, and giving time to my children, who were still recovering from the divorce. Adding to my stress, I had been unable to pay some bills on time.
As I approached the office that morning, I was dismayed to see a grader busily smoothing the vacant lot. Two hours later, workers were spreading gravel, and then they began laying asphalt. My vacant lot was becoming a parking lot. With the many problems threatening to overwhelm me and my family, I felt I could relate to those tender spring plants as they were covered with blackness.
Some days later, however, I noticed a spot in the blacktop bulging just a little. Two days after that, three little sprouts broke through. They turned out to be dandelions. I don’t believe one dandelion could have broken through on its own, but together the three had gathered enough strength to overcome their obstacle. Heartened by their tenacity, I checked on them frequently. The crack widened as the dandelions grew, and even though cars sometimes ran over them, they eventually bloomed with wonderful yellow flowers.
One day after I’d experienced another crisis at home, the dandelions caught my eye as I walked across the parking lot. I stared at them for a long time, and then I walked to a nearby bridge where I had become accustomed to eating my lunch above the rushing river. “Please help me know what to do,” I prayed. “Help me find strength to meet all my children’s needs. I’m so tired.”
As I prayed, the image of those three dandelions rose again in my mind. While seedlings all around them had given up and withered, these three had pushed on, surviving together. Feeling a sense of great love from the Lord, I realized that, like the dandelions, I couldn’t make it alone. I needed the help of others, and they needed my help. Weeping as I walked back to the office, I felt grateful for this insight. At the same time, however, I wondered how I could overcome my fears of getting too close to people.
That night Sister Aranda from our ward called and asked me to come over. When I arrived, Brother and Sister Aranda made small talk with me for several minutes. Finally Brother Aranda said: “Sister, you have been on my mind all day. When I got home, Sister Aranda said the same thing. That is why we invited you here.”
My tears began again, and the couple moved near me and held my hands. I poured out my heart to them, and they were great listeners. We talked for a long time, and by the time I left, my burdens seemed more bearable. In the months that followed, the Arandas became a great support and encouragement to me and my family. They inspired me to renew my efforts to reach out to others with whom I was acquainted.
One very hot day in late July, I noticed that my dandelions were topped with fluffy, white puffs of seeds. The dandelions had made it! I felt like laughing and crying at the same time to see them fill the measure of their creation. I knelt down and cupped my hands and blew hard, filling my hands with seeds. Finding some moist soil near the river, I gently opened my hands and guided the seeds to a new beginning. A breeze took some, but many found purchase in the soil.
Years later, I still have a special place in my heart for dandelions. Whenever I return home and visit the Fox River, I count the dandelions and imagine they are descendants of my three great teachers. Often I think of President Spencer W. Kimball’s words: “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other” (“The Abundant Life,” Ensign, Oct. 1985, 3). I am grateful for brothers and sisters who have helped me push through times of darkness, and I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to help others do the same.