“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows. It’s what the sunflowers do.” ~Helen Keller
4 Lessons from the Sunflower Farm
Last fall I photographed my niece’s senior pictures at a sunflower farm. The contrast of golden sunflower orbs against the cornflower blue sky was a spectacular backdrop. As the day progressed, a chill rippled our skin as the September sun set behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. The sunflowers, which earlier faced east, now faced west toward the setting sun. Upon reflection, I discovered four lessons from the sunflower farm.
Lesson 1: Seek Truth
Months later, a social media post about sunflowers caught my attention. This post described how sunflowers face each other on cloudy days to share energy and suggested we too should be a sunflower. While the concept is cute, my degree in Biology reminded me it is scientifically wrong.
Sunflowers are a part of the (Asteraceae) family, which tracks the arc of the sun in a phenomenon known as heliotropism.During their growing season, sunflowers track the movement of the sun throughout the day from east to west. Overnight, sunflowers reset their position, swinging their head eastward.
Lesson 2: God is in the Details (Okay, I nerd out on this!)
Our Creator and Sustainer genetically wired the sunflower plant to follow the sun. A study published in Science magazine reveals sunflowers track with the arc of the as a result of genes clicking ‘on’. At night, these genes click ‘off’ while another set of genes switch ‘on’ to move the heads back east.Even on cloudy or rainy days, a growing sunflower will track the sun from east to west. Heliotropism is the manner in which God strengthens the sunflower stalk to carry the weight of the giant golden head. As a Christian and a scientist, I am in awe of the tiniest of details God uses in His creation to echo His compassion. He also wired us to follow the Son.
Lesson 3: Spiritual Parallel with Sunflowers
Sunflowers represent a spiritual parallel for those growing in Christ. Like the growing sunflowers, we need to track the Son and follow His direction daily. During tough times, when trouble rains and our vision is cloudy, we must continue to seek the Lord and his face, follow His heart even when we can’t see His hand.
Lesson 4: Created for Community
While the social media post about sunflowers facing each other on cloudy days was scientifically incorrect, it is important to not to live in isolation. God desires us to be in relationship with Him and with others. Isolation is not good for our soul. Spending authentic time with friends refreshes the soul and lifts each other’s burdens. Calling upon authentic friends unlocks the door to hidden strength to carry on.
When we cannot see the Lord working and cloudy vision blocks our way, we need link arms with our fiercest friends and prayer warriors and to press on like the sunflower and face the Son.
Our world is complicated, uncertain, and harsh. Would you agree? Too many demands morph our Instagram worthy, color-coded weekly schedule, into illegible graffiti. Dare I even mention our own self-imposed (unrealistic) expectations?
It has taken me five years to develop the solution for a complicated life:
I get by each day with Jesus, coffee, and afternoon naps.
Before my feet hit the floor, I thank God for another breath and another day. While that may sound cliché, it is true. The current Covid-19 world has taught us not to take a breath for granted.
In 2018, I was hospitalized for innumerable pulmonary emboli. Blood clots filled my lungs and threatened my life. My medical team couldn’t believe I was still alive. But God stepped in and rescued me. It was His hand on my life, holding me up (Psalm 63:8). His hand prevented the blood clots from going too far while the hospital staff pumped me full of clot busters.
So when I returned home from my hospital stay, I return to my morning routine.
After my initial good morning prayers of thanks to God, I pad into the kitchen. Muscles groan and joints pop as I fill my mug. My fresh-brewed morning coffee reminds me of God’s fresh-brewed mercy new each morning.
Cupping the mug, warmth radiates through my hands and arms, reviving my soul. Leaning on the counter, I savor the aroma and offer my second series of prayers. These prayers are the moans of my heart with reoccurring or yet-to-see-an-answer prayers.
Each morning I consume copious amounts of coffee and copious amount of God’s Word. Coffee perks me up while God’s Word keeps me on the right path. Daily #CoffeewithJesus reminds me, I am a work in progress.
At one time, I underestimated the value of naps. Back then, my Type-A, gotta-get-stuff-done approach to life left no margin for me or naps. The old me competed with a false identity of the perfect wife, mom, Jesus girl, friend, co-worker, housekeeper, chef, school mom, chauffeur, no-laziness-nap-for me, and tried to stay within fifteen pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight.
My health crisis catapulted my need for rest. My body needed the physical rest to recover from illness and my mind and soul needed to spiritually rest in the Lord. What once seemed like a set back was really a set-up for God displaying his provision, presence, and His rest in my life.
Now, I am a nap enthusiast. I rest my body when it needs it and I rest my mind and soul with the Lord. We serve a God who never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4) but He designed rest for us.
Jesus, coffee, and afternoon naps may seem simple and trite, but this method helps me continue to walk in faith in the hard times and keep a hallelujah in my heart.
Friend, what hard time are you walking through? Can you muster the energy to sing a hallelujah?
I am in a reflective mood. I’m making sense of setbacks, praising God for my present messy life, and pondering His plans for my future.
Four years ago today, I stepped away from my full time pharmacist gig for what I thought was a temporary medical leave of absence.
When I climbed over the guardrail of security (my plan) and stepped off the cliff (into God’s plan) I free fall into grace.
When I stepped away from work for medical testing, my plan was to name the painful debilitating symptoms, seek treatment and return to work. However, days merged into months with no answer while my condition worsened. Without a diagnosis and title, my medical team was reluctant to treat my symptoms. Little did I know it would take over a year of testing to determine the nature of bizarre symptoms.
Making Sense of Setbacks
l am thankful God placed a chronically ill woman in the Gospels. Like the woman with the issue of blood in the book of Mark, I can relate to desperately seeking medical help without relief. By faith, the unnamed woman battling an isolating illness stretched out her hand and touched Jesus’ robe. She knew with one touch she could be healed. At this account, Jesus called her, “Daughter.” This is the only biblical account of Christ calling a woman, “Daughter.” Her faith healed her illness. His title relabeled her identity.
I’d like to say I’ve overcome all my hang-ups, but I haven’t. I still struggle with my identity as a forced stay-at-home-mom, rare illness warrior, writer, “retired” pharmacist and daughter. I wish I could tell you I no longer struggle with my current situation or my illness. But I can’t. Most days I feel like a stalled racehorse eager to run a race, only to discover my batteries are too low to get out of the gate.
Jesus, Coffee, & Afternoon Naps
This illness forces me to rest daily. I get by every day with Jesus, coffee, and afternoon naps.
God continues to teach me how to be productive for His Kingdom, His Plans, and His Purpose, which no longer includes me serving as the local pharmacist. With the insight of hindsight, I see these perceived setbacks were actually a set-up for God to work in me and through me.
Have you ever felt meh? Meh is the verbal expression equivalent to a shrug of the shoulders.
Meh days can result from physical, emotional, or spiritual battles. For those of us suffering a chronic illness, meh days are usually a combination of two or more of these factors.
I am writing this article on a meh day. I had a flare-up of my illness last night and today is a day of rest and recovery day.
My body is weak. I forced myself out of pajamas only to pull on yoga pants and t-shirt. I gave myself an imaginary gold star for changing clothes, even if I traded one set of comfortable clothes for another. Because conservation of strength is my primary goal, showers are optional these days. Showers require too much energy.
My favorite coffee mug is too heavy, so I traded it for a lighter mug. My thought processes are as slow as Eeyore’s trot. Between sips of liquid mercy (AKA coffee) I hurry to type before the fog completely enveloped my brain.
As I refilled my mug with liquid mercy, the phone buzzed with a text from my friend and spiritual accountability partner. The text reads:
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
(Lamentations 3:22-23, NLT)
I smiled at God’s timing. He knew I was having a meh day. He knew I needed an extra dose of encouragement. I sensed God nudging past the brain fog,
“My mercy is for meh days too!”
God met me in the kitchen, wearing my yoga pants and holding my I-feel-weak-today coffee mug. God knew my struggle. He knew I wanted to cry, but that would only make my body hurt more. He knew the true number on my pain scale, even if I tried to fake feeling better than I was so my family wouldn’t worry (again). He knew the brain fog blanketed my thoughts and that today I should not drive nor pay bills.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see All I have needed Thy hand hath provided Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Dear friend, God knows your struggle. His compassion and mercy are new every day. Every morning we brew our coffee with fresh coffee grounds, so is God’s mercy. We never have to live today on yesterday’s compassion or mercy. Whether you are a chronic illness warrior or a supportive caregiver, God’s mercies are new every day. His mercies are for the meh days too!
 Written by Thomas Chisholm, Composed by William Runyan, Public Domain
I originally published this article in the “Pressing On” column for the Broken But Priceless Magazine. Broken But Priceless, is an online quarterly magazine, which addresses the heartfelt needs of those battling chronic illness and their caregivers. If you or someone you know, would benefit from such encouragement, please share this article and/or link.
In today’s post, Leah Lively shares tips on overcoming Bible study obstacles.
Leah and I briefly met before her family moved to the Louisianan bayous. Years later, their family moved back to the east coast with her husband’s career. Between surviving gulf coast hurricanes and the storms of parenthood, she has written a new Bible study called, “30 Days with John: A Journey with Jesus’ Most Beloved Disciple.”
Overcoming Bible Study Obstacles
A few weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends to tell me some obstacles they faced when it came to studying the Bible. They echoed some of the same challenges: the Bible is difficult to understand, where do you begin, and an inability to stay focused. I understood the struggle all too well, until a couple of years ago.
In 2017, I attended a conference for writers and speakers in Christian ministry. A well-known Bible teacher organized this event and took us step by step through her time in prayer, in the Word, and writing. Two takeaways the main speaker shared were: we had to be in God’s Word if we wanted to share God’s Word in our world. Also, as believers, we had to know God’s Word because the world is constantly going to come against His Truth. If we don’t know His Truth we will be deceived.
1. Create Authentic Time
The speaker continued to give us the tools to create an authentic time of studying the Bible. It isn’t magic. It isn’t something some believers have, and others don’t. In the book of John, chapter 16, Jesus shares with the disciples in His final hours. He tells them He will be going away because if He leaves, the Counselor (Holy Spirit, Spirit of Truth) cannot come to them. “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13) Jesus promises that when the Holy Spirit comes to them, they would finally understand. Their eyes would be opened to all Jesus had been teaching for the last three years.
God offers us the Holy Spirit too. When we become believers, the Holy Spirit
becomes a part of us. When we open God’s word, the Truth comes alive in ways we
have never seen to the point that we cannot wait to discover all the Spirit has
to show us. The Bible was written through the help of the Holy Spirit, so we
need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for help in understanding the scripture.
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”
2. Read in Chunks
Another speaker at the conference addressed which scripture to read. She recommended reading the Bible in chunks. We tend to focus on a verse or two, which is fine, but to get a bigger picture and understanding of the passage, she said we should read the entire chapter or read through an entire book over the course of several days. To gain understanding, it helps to know who the author is, what perspective he has, as well as the time frame he is writing in. I had never read the Bible this way, but I was determined when I returned home from the conference.
I prayed next time I sat down to study, asking God (through the Holy Spirit) to reveal His truth to me. I asked for understanding. God led me to study the life of Paul. I started in the book of Acts, reading about his life, his conversion, and ministry. By reading Paul’s letters in the order he wrote them, I was able to compare them with details in Acts to see what he was experiencing when each letter was written. My eyes were opened to a greater understanding of Paul and the trials he experienced throughout his ministry.
Two years later, on May 1st, I published a study on the book of John titled, 30 Days with John: A Journey with Jesus’ Most Beloved Disciple. Each day’s study begins with prayer, a full reading of the passage, and then questions to take you back through the scripture to aid in understanding. The study is concise, yet in-depth, for those who get overwhelmed by longer studies and lack the available time to complete them. I hope the study I have written will help facilitate going deeper into God’s word. We don’t have to be pastors or teachers, speakers or writers to love and understand the scripture. It’s here for all of us. The more we know God’s Word, the closer we become in a relationship with Him.
There are always going to be obstacles when it comes to reading scripture because the enemy doesn’t want you to do it! That is a topic for an entirely different blog post. Don’t allow distractions and obstacles to keep you from growing closer to God. If you need more focus, pray and ask God. The more He draws you into His Word, you will find those distractions and obstacles won’t be a problem for you. I hope the suggestions I have given will encourage you and give you some confidence in reading and understanding God’s word.
30 Days with John: A Journey with Jesus’ Most Beloved Disciple,available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
Born and raised in Virginia, Leah’s faith journey began in a small church in a small town. She is a wife to one and a mom to 4 along with a sweet female boxer. Leah is motivated by 2 Corinthians 13:11 where Paul encourages the church in Corinth to “become mature and be encouraged, be of the same mind, be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” She wants believers to grow in their faith and discover a hunger for God’s word. Leah’s genuine and authentic style of presenting the gospel lays a foundation for readers to learn more of God’s Truths.
Mysterious medical marvels occurred during my fourth decade of life; a genetic illness, Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis which had been dormant in my past triggered on. In addition, my estrogen levels and metabolism plummeted while hot flashes and brain fog skyrocketed. Something caused my body to short-circuit. I scrambled to search for the factory default setting, but none existed.
Those of us with a chronic illness can relate to this story. While the period of time and disease name may vary the overall sense of our bodies short-circuiting is universal. We miss our old life “before” our illness and we grieve the person we used to be. That person is still inside of us, held hostage by an uninvited circumstance or illness.
For me, the good old days prior to my illness, I led a balanced and active life. I enjoyed working three days a week as the neighborhood pharmacist. During my days off, I volunteered at my kid’s school, served as room mom, baked special treats for the teachers, and served in various areas at church. Physical fitness was important to me. I ran three to five days a week, competed in Marine Corp Mud Runs, and hiked the Appalachian Trail. I did not need a fitness tracker to monitor my steps or track my activity level because I was constantly on the move. Now I wear an electronic gadget to monitor my activity level. This pesky device prompts me to move when I linger in one place too long.
If we’re not careful we can allow our minds to be held hostage by our uninvited circumstance or illness. If we are not careful, we can allow our minds to wander off God’s intended path of peace (Luke 1:79) into the thorns and thistles of stinkin’ thinkin’. I pray for my mind. I pray for the Holy Spirit to prompt me like a spiritual fitness tracker to notify me when my mind lingers in stinkin’ thinkin’ too long.
When my mind begins to creep into the stinkin’ thinkin’ and when I begin to grieve my old life for too long, I dwell on the words of wisdom by missionary Paul:
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
Philippians 4:8-9, MSG
We cannot control our unwelcomed illness or life circumstance. However, we can control how we respond. Whether we become bitter or better is our choice to make. When the Holy Spirit prompts us like a spiritual fitness tracker to move, will we follow the prompt or will we linger? The choice is ours to make. Triumphant faith presses on.
Images courtesy of SnockSnap and Melkhagelslag of Pixabay
P.S. If you like this article, check out the online magazine Broken But Priceless.This faith-based quarterly e-magazine specifically nourishes the soul of the chronically ill and their caregivers. I call it “comfort food for the soul.”