Monthly Archives: June 2021

Sunflower Story

Who wouldn’t like to be cheered by sunflowers along the fence or by the mailbox? Who wouldn’t be thrilled to have a bouquet of sunny faces on their breakfast table, a perfect centerpiece for a big breakfast of eggs and bacon or blueberry waffles?

Sunflowers are growing under our bird feeders, planted by the birds. Our birds like black oil sunflower seeds the very best, much better than the mixed bird seed. They sit on the edge of the feeder cracking seeds held firmly between their feet or hauling them in quick flight to a nearby tree. A lot of seeds fall and then sprout. What a cheerful sight they make! Most years we have a few stalks but they only reach two or three feet. We had one this year that now, as it’s dwindling, is still six feet. It ‘s tall enough to smile in the window at us! Sometimes it’s fun to think the cardinals are considering what an amazing thing they’ve grown, like Jack’s beanstalk.

At the same time ours have been growing our great granddaughter Candi is raising a whole row of sunflowers. She and I have compared sunflower growth along the way, sending pictures back and forth, describing the size of flowers, maybe sometimes with a little fun exaggeration. Ours bloomed first but hers are bigger and there are many more of them. We’ve exchanged fun facts about sunflowers, as well as ideas, legends and such.

Sunflowers were so named, it seems, by Grecians of old. The Greek word “helios” means sun and “anthos” means flower. The name was so appropriate for a flower that turns all day toward the sun.

The name refers to more than a casual resemblance to the sun. Sunflowers actually do absorb and emanate energy. They might be described as some of the first agents of solar energy. In fact, there is an invention called “fake sunflowers,” manmade flowers that turn all day toward the sun thus reproducing energy.

Candi and I have talked about how the sunflowers face east in the morning, then turn toward the sun all day. I remember seeing a large field of sunflowers years ago. I drove past them many times during the flowering season and was amazed to see that they really did all face the sun. But our few are not in such harmony. They usually face different directions, west more often than any. Candi’s, however, really follow the legendary pattern. Consistently, they all face the sun. Supposedly, the flowers follow the sun until it sets in the west, then slowly through the night turn back east to be ready for the sunrise.

We think our sunflowers are not adhering to the directional story because they get very little morning sunshine. I guess they’re confused. Whereas a field of sunflowers “follow the leader” and all turn the same way, our pitiful few have no such firm examples. I love the idea that a row or field of sunflowers can consistently turn faces sunward, just as Christians, led by the Spirit, turn faces Son-ward and remain in harmony like a choir, even turning toward Him during the night times of the soul.

Sunflowers have ever been a source of great fascination. A number of famous artists have repeatedly painted vases of sunflowers and fields or fence rows of them. Monet, Gaugin, Picasso all painted the happy flowers. But the one who seemed most obsessed with sunflowers was Van Gogh, the Dutch artist who moved to France. He persuaded Gaugin to join him at The Yellow House in Arles, France to start an art museum around 1888. Paul Gaugin painted a picture of Van Gogh painting a picture of sunflowers. Van Gogh loved nature, especially flowers, and considered sunflowers to represent gratitude and, so important to any artist, light itself. He painted many pictures of “Twelve Sunflowers in a Vase” (yes, same title, many paintings), as well as five sunflowers in a vase, wilted sunflowers on a table, and fields of sunflowers with faces toward the eastern morning light. He must never have been satisfied with his sunflower attempts since he continued to do more and more. Or did he, like Monet with his water lilies, continue seeing intriguing differences he wanted to capture?

I asked Candi what she would do with her sunflowers when they bloomed themselves out and started to seed. Being a busy college student, she may not be able to do very much with her crop. But she’d like to harvest the seeds, save some for replanting, roast some, feed some to the birds.

Sunflower seeds are highly nutritious, high in protein, rich in antioxidants. They can be enjoyed sprinkled on salads, vegetables, and even pastas. They are delightful as a snack and are very healthy unless they’re laden too heavily with salt.

It’s obvious Charles and I lost the sunflower competition as to size and number. But we feel like winners having happily watched the progress (inflorescence) of our own tiny crop. More than that, we have so happily enjoyed interactions with great grandchildren, particularly Candi. I wonder if we’re going to be munching her roasted sunflower seeds this winter!

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The Cove

Cool, sweet, clear air; rich pink rhododendron blossoms amongst dark leaves; in the distance, layers of Blue Ridge mountains; great food and hospitality; AND an outstanding conference to feed the soul–all these were part of our first visit to The Cove. The Cove is the Billy Graham Conference Center near Asheville, NC. Established by Billy and Ruth Graham, the conference center more than lives up to its purpose of rest, relaxation, and renewal. Definitions of cove in Merriam Webster’s dictionary include “a small sheltered inlet or bay” and “a deep recess or small valley in the side of a mountain.” In other words, here is a place where folks can come to find peace and shelter from the storms of life. More than that, guests are renewed for going out to help others in the storms.

We arrived early on a Tuesday afternoon so were able to enjoy a tour of the magnificent chapel before checking in. Observing that I was not extremely agile with my walker, our guide readily offered us a wheelchair (poor Charles! the ramps were steep!). We were to learn that the staff throughout our stay was always just that thoughtful and kind. From the dining room staff, including Gigi Graham, Billy and Ruth’s daughter, to a warm welcome from Director Will Graham, Franklin’s son, to the front desk clerks and the employees in Ruth’s Attic, the book store, everyone seemed so happy we were there. As a joke, I took a picture of a reserved parking sign designated for “Graham” and sent it to a few friends with the caption “We are so welcome here!” Contrary to what one excited conferee believed when she saw our name tags, we couldn’t lay claim to being part of “the family.” We had to convince this disappointed lady we were no closer related than she was.

I could have sat happily for hours in that chapel. According to the chimes which ring every fifteen minutes, we were only there forty-five minutes. During that time we heard hymns played on request (we asked for “Amazing Grace”) by an accomplished pianist, basked in the beauty of the simple inspiring architecture, and prayed while sitting on 200 year old benches.

Our guide gave us a brief history of the chapel. The property was purchased in 1972, a vision of Billy Graham. It is named the Chatlos Chapel because of a very generous gift from the William Chatlos Foundation. Ruth asked for the height of the steeple to be increased several feet higher than originally planned. The 87 foot steeple was transported to the site by pickup truck. The chapel was open to the public in 1988, that steeple rising well above surrounding trees leading viewers’ eyes to focus on its cross against the sky.

The conference center and two inns are equally as beautiful. Billy Graham’s brother Melvin discovered the property when flying over in early 1970’s. Then Billy and Ruth walked over it as they envisioned this place for folks to come and learn in a relaxing atmosphere. I squinted my eyes and tried to imagine the mountain as it would have been when they first hiked it but I was unable to erase from my mind the simply lovely buildings fitting perfectly amongst the trees. The Grahams purchased the 1,200 acres in 1972 and would both live to enjoy the way the Lord pulled all their visions together and blessed its completion.

There are about 340 guest rooms, beautiful lobbies, auditorium seating some 400 as well as a small auditorium in the chapel, a light and airy large cafeteria, exhibit halls, classrooms and meeting rooms, a generous comfortable deck overlooking the valley and mountains beyond–all of this in simple and classic taste. Everywhere you go, in elevators, down the hallway to Ruth’s Attic, to comfortable roomy bathrooms, the details are eye pleasing and appropriate. One thing I particularly appreciated was the many splendid windows framing views of mountains and gardens. Also, we marveled at the wood work throughout the center. Everywhere there was a feeling of openness and plenty of light. And, as another conferee noted happily, there were scripture passages all along the way presented so attractively. What else could you expect from Billy Graham whose famous line in every sermon was “The Bible says…” ?

We have learned that the cost of a conference is only for one’s room and meals. There is no charge for the wonderful conference speakers and musicians, those being paid for by generous donors. Our conference speaker was Ken Ham, creator of The Ark and The Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. Speaking on the theme, “Thinking Foundationally,” Ken in his Australian accent kept us alert and stimulated. We came away with a new resolve to make a difference, even if tiny, in our changing culture. Some of the other featured speakers this year include Anne Graham Lotz, Richard Blackaby, Tony Evans, and Jerry Vines. Some seminars are especially for pastors and there are military marriage enrichment seminars as well as one-night concerts. I would love to go to one of the Christmas at the Cove evenings!

Michael O’Brien, song writer, vocalist, and pianist, led us in powerful congregational singing as well as giving us presentations of some of his own creations. Though he seemed so young, he was eager to get home to see a newborn grandchild.

In the words of one brochure writer concerning The Cove, “More than majestic views and natural beauty, the true wonder on this mountain is God’s work in the hearts of guests as they study His Word and open their hearts to Him through worship.”

As we drove back down the long curving road between tall evergreens and an under story of rhododendron and laurel, we were so thankful for our time at this beautiful place, for the legacy of Billy and Ruth, and for the astonishing ways God’s power has been manifested in and through them.

One of my favorite Billy Graham quotes is this: “You will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now…”

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Share the Space

When I saw these two trees a few years ago, I couldn’t resist taking a picture. I didn’t know why, just knew it was a very interesting sight. Recently, when I came across the picture it made me think of old and new sharing their strengths, sharing the space, living out whatever purpose they were sprouted for.

These trees are in a woods that was a favorite playground for my younger sister and me. I’m almost positive that the older leaning tree was one we climbed, a real challenge since it has no low limbs. That tree has to be pretty ancient now! The younger tree obviously hasn’t been there many years. It looks straight and proud and aggressive.

Only a short distance away is a cluster of rocks large enough that Suzanne and I climbed on them. We had picnics atop their mossy backs with imaginary friends, and claimed the rocks as the center of our lively village of interesting characters. We played there for hours at a time, only returning to our real house when it was time for dinner. Imaginary dinner doesn’t nourish very heartily!

Farther down the hill from the interesting pair of trees is an old family cemetery. Lilies of the valley used to grow there, their tiny white bells so pretty amongst the moss giving a sense of music to the place in addition to the wind in the numerous tall pines. Four graves share the space in a small enclosure defined by a dry stone wall nestled into the hillside. Suzanne and I were very respectful of those graves and the people there whom we’d never met. We were always quiet when we wandered close to the cemetery. But we were never afraid. We’d been told wonderful stories about Grandmother Grace, Great-Grandmother Amelia, Great-Aunt De and, especially, of our sister Carol who died at the age of four a few short years before the last three of our clan were born. We sometimes wondered how it would be if Carol could play with us. We wondered, too, if she were growing older in heaven or staying the same age.

Naturally, when I came upon these trees a couple of years ago, I was assaulted with memories of our playground, some of our imaginary friends whose names I could still remember, and vague images of the occupants of that cemetery. I should add here that my Dad was the first to be buried in the new cemetery on Tulip Hill when he died in 1959. He had planned it that way, partly because he didn’t want those tall pines cut down to make more space, and partly, I think, because he thought a hilltop from whence you could see sunsets and sunrises was a more hopeful place.

My parents both loved trees. Dad could lose his temper badly if some forester mistook his directions and cut down the wrong tree. Yet he was diligent in taking down trees in order to open a view to the mountains, or removing one that was diseased so a healthier one could use the space. A keeper of the woods has to cut out and prune some. But I do love to see old rotting logs, stumps with mushrooms growing on them, the old and the young together. And there’s something very artistic about crooked, gnarled, or leaning trees that show their wear and tear. That’s why I was so intrigued by these two trees. I wondered what my Dad would have done had he come upon these two when the young maple was a sprout proposing to grow in the same space with the old dogwood. Which one would he have cut? Or would he have left them both?

What a wonderful thing it is to have a mingling of old and young in our churches, amongst our friends, in the workplace. The older ones can offer wisdom and knowledge (maybe!) while the younger ones keep us up on technology, the newest music, as well as lending their strength when seniors get wobbly. My youngest great grandchildren helped me yesterday making a batch of cookies. I helped them learn to measure, sift flour, cream butter and sugar, and space cookies evenly on a cookie sheet. They fetched items for me and kept me from falling! As we worked we talked about old times of which they have no concept. They jabbered away about one of the new video games, just sure I’d want to play it. It was a good sharing time.

Looking again at the two trees I wonder–is the elderly tree helping with its strong deep roots to keep the young one secure? Or is the young one covering the older tree’s base with its claw like roots in order to keep the leaning tree from leaning right on over? This could be a picture of diversity, a difference in age, in strengths and weaknesses, not to mention a difference in appearance, in bark and leaves. What this says to me is this: as people, we, too, are all different, every one of us endowed by our Creator with a particular purpose, maybe multiple purposes at various stages of life.

One purpose is simply to share in the walk of life.

1 Timothy 5:1-2–Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.

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