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When we moved earlier this year, I was pleased to see a couple of raised garden beds already in place in our new yard. However, we moved too late to really plant much. Not wanting to let the weeds take over, we decided to plant some sunflowers. An interesting plant with a long history, sunflowers are pretty, attract birds, and help cleanse the soil (which clearly seemed needed as it appeared the garden beds hadn't received much attention for some time).

The sunflower project also gave our son a wonderful outdoor activity. He loved every part of it. He helped his Grams clear out the weeds. And he especially enjoyed watering the plants, frequently prodding us to let him water them. He even wanted to water right after it rained, so we tried to explain God had already watered them (though that may not be a good explanation because it might make him mad at God for taking his job).

Then the sunflowers grew beyond our expectations, which particularly thrilled my son. Hopefully he will continue to enjoy working hard and seeing the impact of what he sowed.

Perhaps such simple gardening efforts will someday help him understand some of Jesus's parable better since Jesus often used planting examples as he addressed a society much more agrarian than ours. Sometimes it seems our concrete streets and glass skyscrapers cut us off from our Creator. Watching the sunflowers come alive, helped bring back the simple wonders of creation.

The rich history of the sunflower goes back thousands of years. Native Americans found them useful and harvested them. Perhaps some even dotted the hillside where our little garden now sits.

Eventually, someone exported sunflowers to Russia where they took off. The Russian Orthodox Church banned the use of oils during Lent, but since sunflowers were a new crop they were not on the list. Sunflowers quickly became popular as a way around pharisaical rules (so I like them even more as rebellious plants). There's something poetic in a simple flower beautifully dressed by the Creator helping people overcome burdensome rules established by ornately-robbed church leaders.

Russian Mennonites helped bring the transformed sunflower back to North America. With the pilgrimage across the world and back, the flower had changed some to more effectively produce oil. Soon, large commercial interests took note of the healthier oil and demand for sunflowers increased so we could have healthier potato chips (so thank a Mennonite for your yummy chips).

Watching my son's excitement as the sunflowers bloomed echos the sway this unusual plant has had from Russian Orthodox rebels to Russian Mennonite cooks. It stands tall even though its head seems too big for the stalk - and they now are as the plants head into fall (which leads my son to hug them as he tries to stand them back up). Some of ours came in with yellow centers, others as conjoined twins. Some grew quite tall, others bloomed smaller and closer to the ground. Yet, they together brought life to a dying garden bed and joy to a young boy (and his family). They may not quite be like the lilies of the valley, but they were the stars of our yard this summer.


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