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Once upon a sunflower

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

The real story of sunflowers extends beyond the sunshine they exude.

Photo by Jordan Cormack on Unsplash

I don't know if you have ever seen how sunflowers glow. Their bright yellow faces embody their namesake, with their thick green stems holding them up to the sky.


Here in Tanzania, I see so many sunflowers. Local villages depend on them for oil to cook and sell, so as we drive through the countryside we see rows upon rows of bright yellow specks. And every time, we sit in some sense of awe at their brightness and their subsequent beauty.


What strikes me is that their bright, sunshiny outside is only a fraction of their appeal. Their ability to provide both oil and financial stability to these communities is what defines them beyond their outer shell. They fulfill a purpose while bringing sunshine to the lives of those that behold them.


However, what strikes me the most, even more than when they stand tall and fearless, is their behavior when the clouds come.


We were standing in one of the many fields of sunflowers we've seen, and on this particular day, we were taking pictures. We were looking for ones that were facing upwards, but of course, they were all curled inward, looking toward the ground. I like to think that they were protecting their energy, conserving their resources, and preserving their peace in their time of depletion or need. That didn't stop my photo session, but it certainly made me think.


A few months back, I asked God a question. Someone had just told me that I bring sunshine to the rooms I enter. And I deeply value and cherish that comment; hearing it brightens my day. But I remember sitting down after they walked away, and honestly asking God - "Lord, how is it that others see light in my presence while I feel this thick darkness?" A darkness that settles in and around me, like a deep dark storm cloud that the sun cannot break through?


In seeing the sunflowers, I got my answer.


Often, in fact, more often than we would like to think, life is stormy. Or there are at least patches of storm clouds that threaten to burst over our carefully maintained lives. And those storms shake us. Sometimes, they break us, and we feel like shells and pieces of ourselves. Sometimes, coming back requires deep inner work, healing, and restoration, all things that take energy and time. Two things that we often lack in the 21st century.

So we must navigate the balancing act of living in the storm. However, what many of us are tempted to believe is that the storm steals our light, and renders our witness pointless. We feel that because we are struggling, we have no right to share or encourage others. Because we haven't 'figured it out' or we can't physically or emotionally afford to be present in spaces the way we are used to. We render ourselves obsolete or unuseful until we reach some kind of clarity and can come out the other side, ready to share what our big 'fix' was. We feel like we can no longer shine while we exist in the dark.


But, what if we reframed this friend?


Just like the sunflowers, we still shine. We still bring joy. We can still exist at reduced operating capacity. We may need to conserve our energy, curl into ourselves, and preserve our peace. We may need to turn off our notifications, delete some apps, or cut some commitments. But unlike the Instagram ideal, we are not only valuable at our point of highest achievement. We are not only powerful when we are operating at our best. And we are not only exceptional when our lives are in order. Productivity never reflected healing. In fact, sometimes it can be the enemy of it.


I believe that even when we are not at our best, our lives can serve as proof that real sunshine comes from within. Anything outside is an enhancement to what is already in us. And when what is in us is revealed, others will see it for what it is worth, even in our shadows.


The clouds may gather incessantly. But for all the darkness they hold, they may also give you perspective on what it means to be human, and how much we all need to divorce ourselves from the illusions of success and productivity that rule and dictate all of our lives. We live by the clock, by comparison, by a constant sense of inadequacy. We live by a vision of our self-built glorious futures, futures that aren't even promised to us. This societal obsession comes at the cost of our sanity, at the cost of our souls, and at the cost of our humanity.


The darkness in your life is only a fraction of your experience. And it doesn't jeopardize what is for you. That cloud of anxiety, the cloud of hopelessness, imposter syndrome, or depression does not define you. And as much as you feel the weight of it pressing on your soul, seemingly crushing the life out of you, please remember that others see your strength. They see your talent. They see your passion and your resilience. They see your worth. I pray that the lies told by your circumstances would be broken, and you would see that even in the storm, you still shine. Even when your head is bowed, you are radiant. Even when your leaves droop, the strength of your core and stem is still carrying you. And I pray that when you are in the midst of trying to look back at the sky in hopeful anticipation, navigating the confusing mess that is healing and restoration, you would allow yourself the space and accept the grace to live in harmony with your needs, conserving your energy and existing at reduced capacity, and not remaining a slave to the demands of anyone or anything else.


Show up honestly friend, without shame for your lived experience. In living authentically, others - those who are in tune with the nuances of life, those who value you and your worth - will forever see and be inspired by the radiant sunflower that you are. And you, my friend, will feel the warmth of light's reflection penetrating back into your life.


With love and joy,

Bel



P.S.: The storm will pass. And you will withstand it. I know so. Hang on friend.

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Who am I? Just a girl pondering the meaning of life and what it means to live joyfully, regardless of the circumstances. Welcome to my "Notes Corner" aka my thoughts on life - sit back and read awhile, I love company!

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