I feel like I should forewarn you that this post is wordy and might be presented in a way that is similar to the way my journal tracked. But in a lot of ways this is the way it felt as it all spilled out before me. If you trust me, I will take you along into something unexpected-Joy in the midst of the hardest season. I also needed to document this for myself. It is easy to forget the important details of an important story and I didn’t want to miss a thing.
I told you about my dear Madie, but I didn’t tell you that she loved sunflowers. She even had a sunflower lesson that she regularly used with the teens we mentor. Sunflowers are bright, cheerful, and have a unique design that allows them to follow the sun! Incredible. This could also easily describe Madie. Bright, cheerful, and bringing sunshine into any room.
After we attended Madie’s beautiful memorial service, my daughter suggested we plant some sunflowers in Madie’s honor. Sure, we have spots to do that in our garden. No, she wanted something for Madie’s parents, husband and family, as well as the teens and community Madie impacted.
Oh boy. I loved the idea, but I was in no shape emotionally to figure this out. My daughter took the initiative to get the ball rolling and developed a game plan. She got permission to use a large parcel of the land that happens to be on the property where we work with our teens on Tuesday nights.
1. We needed land, check.
The next hurdle was the fact that we are not farmers. I have grown a few things in my backyard, but nothing like this. It felt extra heavy as it was going to be for others. I asked a local farmer for advice and guidance. She suggested I contact a guy who wrote a FaceBook post about growing sunflowers. WHAT!
After a little digging, we found a long-buried post on a community page. I called the number attached to the post and shared our idea and a little bit of Madie’s story. He agreed to see what we could do. I just needed to …
2. Map out the spot.
3. See if I could find someone to till it and get it prepped.
I was back to feeling like this was too great a task to take on right now. I had no idea where to begin.
Back to the community pages.
Out of nowhere, a post catches my eye of a fellow who was offering to till gardens. Ok! Call him and explain the plan. His name was Hollister and he was so kind and patient. We choose a small, easy to work plot. In general, the soil was sandy, so we decided to utilize a plot that had previously been a volleyball court. Here’s what we needed-
4. We needed black dirt.
5. We needed utilities marked before tilling.
This kind man, Hollister, took the initiative to call the utility company and get someone out there within days. We were under the gun as it was nearing July, and we had a short window to plant. He suggested I purchase some black dirt and have someone spread it in prep for the tilling. Again, turning to the community pages, I put out a plea for black dirt. Immediately I received a message to call a fellow named Dennis. So I call and go through this idea and Madie’s story. Ok, he is in. His price is reasonable, which helps as my daughter wants to cover any and all expenses. He shows up to look over the job, and we talk about Madie and how I am sensing that God has a plan for this project. We also tell him how grateful we are to have him join this project with us. He is moved and offers to spread the dirt for free and donate another load of black dirt! We are working around the holiday weekend and the potential of rain. It will be a miracle to get this off the ground. I feel uncertain, and a little like this is a crazy idea that will not happen. We keep this all under wraps from Madie’s family and the teens. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.
Each step of this has felt challenging, and I am so threadbare emotionally that I find myself easily giving up against any barrier or delay. I am surrendering it all in faith. Here’s the thing offering things over to God isn’t giving up. But it also means being carried when the answer is no.
I Can’t reach someone- ok, it’s not going to happen—they return call.
I finally meet the “Sunflower Guy.” He was delayed at another job, and so our meeting was late on a Friday evening. I felt bad as he has little kids at home, and I remember vividly what that was like. Instead of rushing along to the task at hand, he says, “Let’s walk the area and you tell me your story.” This guy is crazy busy, and he wants to hear my story?! Noooo. But he insists. So I tell him about my sweet Madie. I tell him what she meant to me and how hard this will be to go forward without her. I find myself telling him my story and how Madie’s story intersected mine in such a beautifully powerful way and how she was an answer to a deep prayer of my heart (to have someone to carry on my heart’s mission in the event I could not).
His name is Johnny, and he looks at our humble patch of prepared ground. He tries not to chuckle as he realizes that we have repurposed a SAND volleyball court. “This will be tough, not going to lie,” he says.
We walk a little further, and we see a beautiful open space surrounded by trees, and the grass is green, meaning that the soil is a little better than all of the sandy soil around it. How had I missed this? Although it would have been far too big a dream for us to have imagined initially. Johnny tells me that This is Madie’s field. He asks me if I know anyone to prepare this ground. I was honest and told him I had exhausted my connections. He doesn’t want me to get my hopes up, but he believes there might be a slim chance of pulling something together. I have to keep this on the down-low as it seems so impossible. We were running out of planting time for sure, and we were running on fumes emotionally. Johnny says he may know some people. (This would become quite ironic as we go through the summer. )
Remember the job that Johnny had previous to meeting me that Friday night? It was at the home of a man named Shawn. Shawn just happens to live just a couple of miles from our land. Johnny had called him and told him about our plan and Madie’s story. He googled Play to Your Strengths and listened to Madie’s message. He was moved to tears and so in to help! He drove a tractor across town to our site, and brush hogged something the size of a football field!
Remember how I hadn’t told anyone about the crazy big plan…a friend was at the site unloading kayaks stored there. I would get a text asking if I knew why a guy was mowing a large football field-sized plot on the land. WHAT!!! That is crazy! Could this actually come together? When I connect with Johnny, I find out that if we couldn’t find someone to prepare the land, he will try to figure something out. Still, no promises and we have to get this planted this week, or it is not happening.
It is ironic how all these pieces come together when they have to and in their perfect timing. As it turns out, Johnny decides to tackle this expanded project himself, which involves hauling lots of large equipment an hour away. He happens to arrive on a Tuesday night…when we are holding our weekly teen gathering called Connect. The teens get to hear about this project that has been under wraps for several weeks. They are so excited. They also get to hear from Johnny about why he does this.
Oh, I forgot to mention earlier- Johnny is not a farmer by trade. He is a real estate agent. Johnny is planting these fields in 2020 as a nod towards his grandpas, who were farmers. He is also doing these as a way to “spread the sunshine” during this time of stress and uncertainty. After sharing a little of his story and heart, Johnny has the teens take handfuls of seed and plant them in the plot that has been tilled and prepared (the volleyball court). We headed back to group, and Johnny stayed out in the field. He planted a mixed patch among the seeds we scattered and then went to work on the “football field.” He broke the turf, tilled the ground, fertilized the soil, and planted the seed. He was there until 1 in the morning in the dark amongst the bugs. Who does this for strangers?
Still, Johnny said we had challenges to overcome to reach the bloom. We needed rain. If the seeds take off, we need to guard against the deer. So many deer! By this point, my faith is steadying, and I remind Johnny that it is a miracle we have made it to this point! God has provided what we have needed when we have needed it. I think that He has got this.
It poured rain the very next day and the day after.
Followed by sunshine.