Attacking ugly bushes

Published 6:28 pm Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Many years ago, when my sons were still small children at day care and my wife was an elementary school teacher, I found myself in an amazing situation — I had a day off.

As my wife left for work, she asked me to do a little yard work.

“Would you cut down that ugly bush out front? I can’t stand looking at it anymore,” she said.

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I assured her I would, since I thought that bush was hideous, too, but assumed she liked it since she’d never mentioned it to me. So when I got to that task in the early afternoon I approached it with gusto. I was going to eradicate the bushy blight from our front yard.

I gathered the necessary tools and wheelbarrow and headed out to meet the offender.

There it stood, directly in front of our porch steps, just a couple of strides away — a big, malformed azalea that looked like someone had gathered up all the discarded pieces from a play date with one of those Play-Doh barbershop sets, wadded them up and tossed them aside onto some toothpicks.

I was going to enjoy this.

I set about clipping the limbs back as far as I could with hedge clippers, then attacked it with a bow saw until I had it all the way down to a thick stump and its roots peeking up through the soil and grass. I gathered up all the limbs, leaves and blooms into the wheelbarrow and then attacked the stump.

I should have started earlier. I wanted to be finished by the time my wife returned from work, so she could see the end result of a job well done.

As I dug into a stubborn root with my sharpened shovel blade, her little black sedan turned into the driveway. She stopped suddenly and jumped from the car, yelling.

“What are you doing?!?”

“I’m almost finished getting rid of the ugly bush,” I said, a bit confused.

“No! That’s not the ugly bush!” she yelled. Then she pointed at a little piece of scrub a few yards farther out toward the street, near the magnolia tree. It was a bush I never saw from the porch because the azalea hid it from view.

“THAT … is the ugly bush!” she yelled, wide eyed. “You just killed my azalea!”

“But … it was ugly,” was my feeble response.

Later, after I had removed very quickly and effortlessly the scrub brush from the dirt and tried feebly to resurrect the gasping vestiges of the plant I had wrongfully murdered, I heard my wife on the phone with her mother, animatedly describing how I’d committed floral homicide.

That has been my problem over the years a lot, I believe. Attacking the wrong ugly bush. That wife and I are no longer married. It wasn’t because of the bush. I don’t think.

If I have misunderstood instructions at any job I’ve had, I have at times been told, “If you didn’t understand what I meant, you should have asked.”

But the problem is not that I didn’t understand and refused to ask. The problem is that I thought I did understand very well.

I was just focused on the wrong “ugly bush.”

It happens more often than I care to admit, this focusing on the wrong problem that wasn’t a problem in the beginning but certainly became a problem once I got hold of it.

With the stress of the Christmas holidays plopping down on some people as if Santa had dumped the full contents of his magical toy bag on your shoulders all at once (and it was coal, no less), some of us may find ourselves focusing on the wrong bush. Keep your head together. Breathe. Lend a helping hand to a neighbor in need. Pray for one another. Help each other.

I’ll wrap this rambling nonsense up with a final thought. As a Christian, I think of God speaking to Moses through the burning bush on Mt. Horeb, giving him clear instructions as to what he was expected to do for the Lord. I picture myself standing there instead of Moses, God speaking clearly to me in love and with wise direction.

And I’m over there staring at the wrong bush.

Just a reminder … always make sure you know which bush is which.

Brett Campbell can be reached at