Gifts for Today

“Hummingbird and Sunflower,” photo by Larry Keller. Click image to view in Flickr.

There is a long narrow table that spans the large window in my home office, made by my hubby, of course. This is where I sit in the early morning, as the sun rises, to spend time with God.  As I study and meditate, I witness nature awakening, and I enjoy the brief encounters with birds, butterflies, and bumblebees that apparently love the zinnias growing just outside the window.

We see many different types of birds in our neighborhood, but I rarely see hummingbirds. I’ve seen them only twice in the six years we’ve lived here, and both times were at my window.

My second visit with a hummingbird was this morning, as I was meditating over Psalm 27. I had just read about the psalmist’s desire “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple” (Psalm 27:4) and was praying the same for myself when the bird dropped by. How apropos! This was no coincidence. It was a subtle affirmation of the beauty of the holiness of the Most High and affirmation of His presence. A gift for today.


Note about today’s image: The photo was captured by Larry Keller who has an amazing Flickr feed filled with birds, deer, and other aspects of nature. Since there were still two more posts to complete “Sunflower Week,” I wanted an image for today that spoke to sunflowers and my early morning visitor. Larry graciously allowed use of his photo for today’s post. There are so many beautiful messages in nature, and I’m grateful for the many photographers who expertly capture what we miss or can’t experience for ourselves. Thank you, Larry, for your art and for your heart. Your photo is another gift for today!

“Sunning” with Poetry

“Das Sonnebad. Sun-Bath. Bain de soleil.” Artwork by Anne Freidank, artist turned gardener and fundraiser.

“Sunflower” by Frank Steele

You’re expected to see
only the top, where sky
scrambles bloom, and not
the spindly leg, hairy, fending off
tall, green darkness beneath.
Like every flower, she has a little
theory, and what she thinks
is up.  I imagine the long
climb out of the dark
beyond morning glories, day lilies, four o’clocks
up there to the dream she keeps
lifting, where it’s noon all day.
——————————————————————————————————–
Note about the postcard: The Anne Freidank postcard above graced my mailbox yesterday.  It was sent as a “random act of kindness” by swap-bot Geraldine aka Nannydino who lives in Canada. How thoughtful of her to think of me. How cool that the mail gods had the postcard arrive during “Sunflower Week.”

Wrapped in Love and Sunflowers

At the beginning of the year, after being cancer-free for 13 years, my sister Lori, heard the dreaded news–the cancer had returned. Initially, I shared this with just two or three close friends, soliciting their prayers. Out of respect for Lori’s privacy, I hadn’t talked about it much until I spilled to my penfriend Christine B, whose response prompted me to share Lori’s story with a group of my penfriends. They have been more than kind and supportive of me, and I knew they would embrace my sister and let her know that there are people all over the world who are rooting for her, sending her good thoughts, and praying.

Some of them went even further and sent supportive cheer mail my way as well–including three sunflower cards painted just for me!

“Sisters Dancing” by Trang K

Trang watercolored two flowers dancing–a sunflower and a purple tulip–Lori’s favorite flower in her favorite color. Her written note expresses sweetly, as only Trang can:

May you always dance to the sweetness of life in all its glory and fill your heart with everlasting joy and love.

“Time for Watercolor” by Christine B.

With her busy summer schedule, Christine B took the time to watercolor a new cheerful sunflower for my wall.

“A Note of Peace and Love” by Connie F.

Connie’s sunflower brightened a gloomy day. She slipped a beautiful bookmark (to be shared later) and a quote into the envelope with her sunflower:

It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos.  –Donna Karan

Knowing who God is makes horrific trials bearable. Lori is a bit more challenged this time around, but her faith is sure. Sometimes, it seems that worry is all I can do, but from her, I’m learning more and more not to worry. Her path isn’t easy, but through faith and fervent prayer, I can be a calming presence in the chaos of the journey just for her.

To my penfriends–Lori has received your beautiful expressions of love, hope, courage, grace, peace, and faith. We are incredibly moved by your sacred act of giving. Thank you, Christine, Trang, Lisa, Paige, Debra, Jennifer, Lori-Anne, Louise, Arielle, Sheila L, Connie, Suzette, Jacki, Gina, Andrea, Fran, Litsa, and Cricket. You have wrapped our hearts in love and have served as tangible evidence of God.

Hugs to you…

An Envelope Full of Sunflowers: Snail Mail Quick Tip

You have probably figured out by now that I receive a lot of cheerful sunflower mail, so much that I’m pretty sure I can start a blog just for sunflowers. I can’t let my second “Sunflower Week” pass without showing off the beautiful envelope full of sunflowers my Love Notes pal Lori-Anne C sent a few months ago.

Some contents from Lori-Anne’s envelope full of sunflowers

In addition to a stunning hand painted sunflower postcard, Lori-Anne enclosed a couple of sunflower tags (one for me to color), a paper sticker, and a painted wood sunflower magnet.

Note the gorgeous sunflower painted on the edge of the envelope.

Sunflower painted on envelope by Lori-Anne C

And of course, the stunning sunflower:

Live-Laugh-Love Sunflower by Lori-Anne C

Lori-Anne captured my heart–a sunflower with my little sister’s mantra. Absolutely perfect! I was headed to class when I opened the package, and my heart simply overflowed with gratitude.

The envelope full of sunflowers provides an opportunity to share another snail mail quick tip. This is slightly more challenging than the tip I offered some time ago, but it’s still pretty easy.

Tip: Send a themed envelope related to an individual’s interests. The options are endless–butterflies, foxes, roses, rocks, fairies, music, hearts, bears, plants, and so on.

Choose a family member or friend. Think about that person’s interests and fill an envelope with items related to one interest–stickers, note cards, magnets, quotes, postcards. Anything you think they’d like. If you insert just a few flat items, you’ll need only one postage stamp.

What I love about the themed envelope is that you can pack a lot of love with few words. So if you have little time to write or if long missives are not your thing, place a few “themed” items into an envelope, write a one-phrase note [“thinking of you” or “love you”] and send it on its way.

Trust me. You’ll make someone’s day.

The Sunflower Myth

The heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close;
As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
The same look that she turned when he rose. –Sir Thomas Moore

I read several versions of “the sunflower myth” a few days ago, and I can’t say any of them are pleasing. The story generally follows the plot below:

Clytie, was a water nymph. She was the daughter of the Titans, Oceanus and Tethys. She was the lover of the sun god Helios, who eventually deserted her to pursue Leucothea, the daughter of Orchamus. Clytie was enraged and told Orchamus about the love affair. He sentenced his daughter to death by burying her alive. Clytie thought that the death of Leucothea would make Helios return to her, but it only made him think less of her. In the end, Clytie lay naked for nine days on the rocks, gazing at the sun when he rose and as  he passed through his daily course to his setting. Her tears and the chilly morning dew were her only food. On the ninth day, her limbs rooted to the ground, and she was transformed into a flower, the heliotrope or turnsole [sunflower], which turns towards the direction of the sun.  –from Greek Mythology

Like the Disney princess stories, which either vilify or victimize women, this story bothers me for many reasons: the rivalry between women over a “man;” an overprotective and abusive father; a daughter’s punishment [in this case, murder] for disobedience(?); the scorn of a former lover.

The contradiction between the cheerfulness of the sunflower and the misery and rejection that birthed it in this story is troubling, to say the least. What bothers me most, though, is the romanticization of pain that sends the message that there is beauty in mutilating oneself or pining away for love.

I’ll spare you the full rant and focus on the sunflower’s devotion to the sun as described in the lines (above) from Moore’s poem–without the backstory.

Note on the image: The photo sunflower above comes from a “suburban sunflower field” growing inside my favorite grocery store (also known as potted sunflowers for sale). 🙂 I captured the sunny blossoms last summer. How could I resist their happy greeting? I isolated the central flower and post-processed it using 3 different apps. The original image is below.

Until tomorrow…

Sunflower Surprise!

About a week ago, my guys and I encountered sunflower fields during an early evening drive. I’m sure you can imagine my reaction. I was giddy. Seriously. I almost jumped out the car while it was moving.

The fields are part of a farm that was closed for the day. We parked. I swooned for a few minutes, zoomed in as much as I could, took a dozen shots, and made a note to start carrying the 300 mm lens.

Fortunately, the farm is only a few minutes away from home, so I plan to visit later this week for a closer look.

“Who’d a thunk it?” Sunflower fields in Northern Alabama. A beautiful surprise.

Get your shades ready. We’re going to have another brilliant week of sunflowers.  🙂

Sunflower Story: The Sacred Joy of Creating

Detail of Sunflower by Tyhara Rain

If you looked closely at the sunflower wall photo in my previous blog post, you might have noticed a sunflower sculpture adorning the space.

Tyhara Rain, a student whom I introduced on the blog a few months ago, created the sunflower for me. Isn’t she the best? Initially, she painted a sunflower, but even though I thought it was beautiful, she refused to give it to me because she was not satisfied with it.

Sunflower by Tyhara Rain

Before I give you an “up close and personal” view of the sunflower sculpture, I thought I’d share Tyhara’s words regarding her journey:

I’ve been doing art since I was 6. I dabbled in pencil/charcoal sketches, oil paints, even photography, but I felt I lacked passion and inspiration for it. I never considered myself an artist because I literally didn’t even enjoy doing art! It was something I could do because I practiced so much. This year, I begged God to help me find a medium I enjoyed. Even if I didn’t believe this was a talent, I understood that God expected me to use any abilities I had for His honor and glory. One of my favorite professors had a wall full of sunflower themed art and I really wanted my piece for her to be special. I remembered how much I enjoyed the process of trying to sculpt a tree last year–but it broke and I totally gave up–and since I had an idea in my head for a clay sculpture of a hand holding a sunflower, I decided to go for it!

Before Painting: Tyhara and the Sunflower

Tyhara shared much of the creative process via Instagram stories–very late at night. Sometimes during sleepless nights, I’d tune in and listen to her chat and watch her create for a few minutes:

When she finished the piece, Tyhara carefully walked through campus to deliver the sunflower to me before a Shakespeare class session. When she unveiled it, she learned that one of the petals had tragically fallen off during transport.

Two more petals followed. It sat in my office while waiting to be repaired:

Then, she visited one afternoon and repaired the sunflower while we chatted:

After a little artist magic…um skill…the sunflower emerged stronger than ever!

In her words–

[Creating this sunflower] was the beginning of a wonderful journey I’ve decided to embark on as an artist. (I finally feel comfortable calling myself that). I’m incredibly thankful for this talent God gave me. Not only did He help me find a medium I enjoy but He pushed me so far outside my comfort zone and far from the mediums I grew up using that I could never again deny that God blessed me with a talent to create as an artist and desired for me to find joy in creating just as He does.

Tyhara has created many, many sculptures since making the sunflower for me–each one more intricate, more detailed. Here are a couple. The vintage album piece is absolutely stunning–and I’m not just saying that because of the sunflowers. [Click an image for a closer look].

Tyhara’s inspiring “journey to the sunflower” underscores an innate desire to create that resides in all of us. Made in the image of the Divine Creator, we are drawn to the creative process and have an almost sacred urge to make our creative mark in the world–no matter how big or small. It takes different forms–art, music, a poem, a story, dance, food, a theory, a lesson plan–but the act of creation involves and allows us to share beauty, love, and light. Joy is the precious outcome.