Outside the window where I sit and write, the sunflower burst to life this morning. Yesterday it was just bud on a stem. Today it is cloaked in golden glory.
The sunflower grows wild in my garden. I didn’t plant it there. We lived in this house for many years sans sunflowers. But then a few years back, a crop of sunflowers shot up among the monkey grass and cone flowers. Most things in the garden have perished this summer under the blistering heat too wicked for even the heartiest of roses. But the sunflowers seem to bloom to spite the heat. As if to say, we are strong enough to stand no matter what wickedness comes our way.
The sunflowers started appearing in my garden shortly after my girlfriend The Redhead died. Yellow was her signature color, as we often teased. I wore a bright yellow sweater to her memorial service in 2009, a nod to the way in which she brightened up our lives. She wrote to my own daughters that the reason she loved sunflowers is because they always turned to face the sun.
Surely, this beauty that bloomed this morning did that, greeted the sun with her petals in a wide-open fashion.
Whenever I see sunflowers, I am reminded of the ways in which The Redhead loved others, fully, completely, with utter intention. When she died I lost not only a dear friend, but one of my best prayer pals. I have missed her prayers over the years.
She was one of my greatest cheerleaders in everything I did. (And yes, I know it was her way with everyone. She was everyone’s greatest cheerleader). She believed in me in ways that I didn’t believe in myself. If you have had someone believe in you that way, then you know the value of that. How such a belief can make you rise to be a better person than you would be otherwise.
My children and grandchildren do that for me, too. Entice me to be a better person than I might be otherwise.
I hope you have people in your life like that.
I hope you are that person to others.
We live in a world that is burning up with spitefulness and meanness and bullies.
So many hurting people all around us.
Perhaps those hurting the most are us.
The sunflowers in my garden grew up on account of the birds. The year the Redhead died, 2009, was also the year in which I lost a dear Tennessee friend. The Veteran. (You can read about these folks in Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide?) One of my favorite things to do whenever I visited The Veteran in his home in Crossville was to sit in the sunroom and watch the birds. His backyard was heavily wooded. He had several birdfeeders outside and we would sit and watch the nuthatches climb up and down the trees and the cardinals and blue jays feed. Cardinals and bluebirds are my favorites because they remind me of my youth in Georgia.
After The Veteran died, I bought a couple of birdfeeders and put them in a little garden spot outside the window of my Oregon home. We don’t have cardinals or bluebirds in my neck of the woods, but the robins came and the brown thrashers and even the mourning doves. They ate the seed I put in the feeders. Some of the seed fell to the ground and the next summer, the sunflowers bloomed.
I didn’t plant the sunflower in my garden, still they bloomed – the result of caring for the least of these, the birds.
When we care for the least among us, hope rises up, strong and tender, in all of its golden glory.
Beautiful, like the sunflower.
Beautiful, like the God who awaits to greet us each and everyday.
Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of the forthcoming CHRISTIAN BEND (Mercer Univ. Press)