Madie’s sunflowers were planted in early July. In Minnesota, that means that these have to be vigorous and a little faster growing than the average to bloom in the short season of frost free summer. My estimate put us into early October. Fortunately, Johnny knows a thing or two about the types of sunflowers and the time each needs to hit their bloom. I was learning a lot about sunflowers in my time traveling from field to field. Did you know that sunflowers track the sunlight? Their immature heads follow the sun’s pattern from east to west, taking advantage of all the bright sunlight they can take in. When the flowers burst open into full bloom, they remain facing the east. So a whole field will be seen facing the same direction (minus a few rogue blooms that get stuck in the shadow of trees or some other twist of fate).
In late July, our sunflowers were a field of short sprouts. These are interesting to observe and tasty for deer to consume. I had to heed Johnny’s warnings about protecting our crop from the many deer that inhabit our area. As fate would have it, this week we were holding a leadership camp experience for a half dozen of our mentoring students. I researched and came up with a plan to trick the deer- Pinwheels and stinky pods of deer deterrent. The teens and I headed out to load up the field! It was quite the sight of spinning flashes of light guarding our precious new growth. Ben, Madie’s husband, joined us that day and helped us put up a stretch of fencing along the backside of the field that faced the woods. We prayed this would be enough. I had seen another planting that was destroyed by deer. That would be so disappointing, to say the least.
As summer went along, I discovered that our sunflowers were on a different bloom schedule than I had guesstimated. That meant that the story of our field was next to be recorded. I wasn’t sure I was ready. I could be brave, supportive and walk beside all the others telling their stories, explaining the heart behind their individual field- but our story of loss still felt raw and fresh. The Fish Sunflower momentum had also taken this project to a much larger scale! The Facebook site following was growing by leaps and bounds each day. The crowds finding the fields were also growing a lot!
This earlier timeline also meant that I had to get going on a surprise I wanted to place in this special field! Madie had a degree in music ministry. She often used her gift of music to connect with others. I wanted to place a piano in the field. I wanted to surprise Ben and Madie’s family. I rallied Ben’s brothers and father along with my husband and his trailer. They moved a very solid old piano! It was so cool that they were making this vision a reality. While watching the guys load this heavy piece, I found out that it was rescued from an old church! (of course it was!) We got it loaded and I receive a text from Ben, “I am here at the field and it looks amazing!” OK! Well I guess the surprise is on us! We still brought the piano out and met Ben there. It was still a grand surprise and maybe even more so when we recruited him to help move it into place!
Perfect timing provided the ideal telling of Madie’s story.
The patch that our students planted popped in late August!
The larger field started maturing at the very beginning of September.
From the beginning, I had promised Madie’s family that they would be allowed the space to gather in her field before opening the blooms to the greater community. Madie’s husband and his family were planning to meet there that first Saturday as the blooms were just beginning to pop across the larger field. Friday night, I get a text from Johnny- “hey, we need to get Madie’s story recorded. I can be there tomorrow.” Perfect. Wait! Text Ben and make sure he is aware of this new development! If he still decides to visit the flowers, we can give him space. But it would also be nice to introduce him to Johnny. Ben ultimately decided to visit that Saturday. After introductions, Johnny gently invited Ben to walk the field with him (tossing the microphone clip back to us). Johnny asked Ben to tell his story. Johnny knew that even if Ben wasn’t ready to be recorded, it was a sacred space to honor his experience and story as it was embedded into that of Madie’s. By the time they returned, Ben was beaming. He also surprised us and decided that he wanted to share his wife’s story of loving others generously. Tears still stream down my cheeks as I recall such a beautiful moment. Ben was graciously sharing Madie’s story. It was precisely as it needed to be. Better than I could have imagined, much less, planned- much like all the previous steps to this project.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that this peak bloom was landing precisely three months after Madie’s passing. This incredible timing allowed all of us to safely gather in community and surround Madie’s family and friends with love and support. This was time when most had gone back to “normal” living, but those closest to Madie were still reeling from the shock of her passing. It was perfectly timed.
This week felt different than I had imagined. I had stepped into this crazy adventure and I had the opportunity to meet some new friends along the way. People who inspired me, made me laugh, cried or prayed with me or even just passed by offering up a friendly smile among the sunflowers. What do you do when you gather so many that have travelled the summer together? You welcome them with open arms into this space. You share stories. You take pictures to try to capture the beauty of the moments. Cherish life being lived. You might also do some crazy things like handout bubbles, hotdogs or balloons. Or, like Johnny did, call in an awesome ice cream truck to provide a bonus bit of joy! It is bittersweet to see the sunflowers fade and bow their heavy heads after they have brought so much joy and healing in their presence. As I quietly walk from the summer of Madie’s Blooms I will cherish the gifts I have gathered along the way-
Show up even when it is hard.
Receive even when it is uncomfortable at first.
Our stories matter and need to be shared. Share them generously.
Community shows up when you need it and sometimes where you least expect it- like a field of sunflowers.
One man’s generosity can create a momentum of sunshine and a summer full of beautiful stories and moments.
Most importantly- Remember that God is still good, even when life is painful. Look for Him. Remember these moments and carry them in your heart.