Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I still Wanna' Be a Sunflower

Sunflowers have lit up my dreams spiraling me into the depths of my truth –

Who I am essentially.

Sunflowers have lined the roads I have traveled welcoming this inner dance churning up

Emotions as I let go and allow more.

Sunflowers have mystically popped from paintings, greeting cards, trinkets mirroring

The beauty of this grand adventure

And I find myself saying silently:

I still wanna’ be a sunflower!


Below is an excerpt from my book Passing On Hope.  This piece still affects me in ways I can recognize and ways I cannot.  I have a sunflower pendant that I wear with a diamond in the center that my late-husband, John, designed for me after my book was published.  The diamond is from a ring he wore for several years that he dismantled to create the pendant.  He surprised me one afternoon with it.  Being a romantic, he tricked me into believing the box held my watch which he had picked up from the jeweler after being cleaned.  He handed me the box urging me to check it out and when I opened it, I burst into tears knowing the significance of this diamond and being touched deeply by this grand gesture of love. 


He said:  I want you to wear this every day and remember



The invitation this day is for you to remember:  You are a sunflower in this world.  SHINE ON!


I Want to Be a Sunflower

“How does one become a butterfly?…You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”—Trina Paulus

Three months shy of my 38th birthday, I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a sunflower. Its stem is a sturdy green rope tough enough to hold its own through the winds from the severe summer thunderstorms that produce golf ball-size hail. Its delicate golden pedals are able to endure whatever comes, while exposed so openly with bright unwavering smiles, inviting all who pass by to partake in its joy. Its core is the silent hardy heart residing in the backdrop of the stem and the pedals; it is filled with morsels of strength, beauty, and the great courage to drop her seeds in hopes of leaving something behind when her season is over.

My desire to be a sunflower began one morning while out on a bike ride when I glimpsed a spectacular sight out of the corner of my eye: A single sunflower stood brilliantly elevated and shimmering among a field of overgrown brush. Beyond its physical beauty, it spoke to me, essence to essence, infusing me with inspiration. A voice came from deep inside me, “I want to be a sunflower in this world.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but the idea came to me from a place within that knows far more than I do, and I trusted its wisdom completely. This realization made me feel good, the way I felt as a child when I thought of becoming a grown-up, out on my own. I didn’t know how I would get there, but I knew that I would.

Sunflowers had never been special to me. I can remember there being sunflowers on our dish towels and pot holders when I was growing up, and I found that horribly cheesy. Year round, Mom had artificial sunflowers in a pottery vase, as if she were trying to keep the sun shining no matter the season. I thought of them as gaudy, something old people must do because their taste gets stuck in days gone by. The only thing that I thought was nice about sunflowers was their bold shade of yellow—until I experienced the one that would inspire me to my new calling.

The day of my discovery, I was cruising along the countryside in Albany, Kentucky, the same countryside where I have put in hundreds of miles running and riding on my custom-made triathlon bicycle. Some of the locals who I adore have asked me if I am an Olympic athlete, which is unbelievably generous of them. That question makes me blush and wish I were a liar capable of playing out this old childhood fantasy of being an Olympian in any sport. I must look like a hard-core athlete slumped over my aero bars like Lance Armstrong cranking out a time trial during the Tour de France. More than anything, though, I’m a softy, full of fluff who enjoys more than anything just being outside surrounded by nature’s glory.

Before the mysterious sunflower grabbed hold of me, I had found paradise in most everything while out on my bike rides or runs, drinking in the views of the does dancing across the foothills and breathing in the fresh summer air laced with honeysuckle. I appreciated all of the gardens cared for so tenderly and the fields of wildflowers that held a canvas of pinks, purples, reds, and oranges. I admired the sheer magnificence of the butterflies floating about. All of these prior experiences were trumped by this sunflower that reached inside me, lighting a fire of passionate purpose.

The week before I had spotted the sunflower, I had bought my mom a fresh-cut bouquet of flowers at the Indianapolis farmers’ market from a vendor who I had always passed by in favor of another. Wanting to buy my mom something different, I was drawn to the uniqueness of this vendor’s designs that day. The bouquet I bought was filled with lavender, light yellow snapdragons, pink lilies, and a single sunflower.

When I called my mom to tell her about the sunflower that had grabbed hold of my heart and made me want to be a sunflower in this world, she surprisingly didn’t think I was crazy. She reminded me of the bouquet with the sunflower that I had bought her just a week before, saying that she had just thrown it out. Then she added in a whimsical voice as if joining me in my pursuit that the sunflower hung in there the entire week, never fading or withering. I wanted to be a sunflower even more after hearing this.

In my heightened excitement, I didn’t run out and have business cards made saying, “Kathy McHugh, sunflower,” because I knew it would take a conscious effort on my part to become a sunflower. I did tell a few others, though. Karen, my friend and editor, received an email from me announcing my quest. True to form, her brain filled with everything her eyes have ever scanned, her ears have ever heard, and her emotions have ever experienced, and this pure heart told me about a scene in the movie Calendar Girls where John, the gardener, expresses his love for the sunflower before he dies.

John says, “I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life than the sunflower. For me, that’s because of the reason behind its name, not because it looks like the sun, but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky, a satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. That’s such an admirable thing and such a lesson in life.”

This scene helped me understand more clearly what it would take to become a sunflower. My challenge would be to find the light in all people no matter how difficult, detecting their light through whatever darkness was obvious to me. This is what those dear people who saw me as an Olympic athlete did. It wasn’t about my high-tech bike or my fashionable running gear. These sunflowers saw me in an elevated state beyond my imperfections. Olympic athletes have compact bodies of steel, not bellies that jiggle up and down when they run or hang from their bodies when they slump over their aero bars. The Kentucky locals didn’t see me as I see me; they chose to zero in on the trace of goodness radiating from my spirit in action and drew an incredible assumption without knowing me apart from being a runner and a cyclist.

As I contemplated how I would become a sunflower, my friend Linda came to mind. She had introduced me to the Hindu expression namasté, which she explained means, “I see God in you.” She has a sticker on the back window of her jeep so she can send love to all those she passes or who pass by her, which is magnificent, just like she is.

This same expression is lovingly said at the end of my yoga class by our teacher, Chuck. Everyone replies namasté back to him and to the others in the class. This practice saturates me with love for myself and the others who I mostly know by face and energy, not name, occupation, social status, or place of residence. This is what it must feel like to be a sunflower, focusing on the light within us all and being elevated by it.

I see God in these people, not how proficient they are at doing the yoga poses or how ripped they look in their workout duds or how perfect their hair stays while mine is drenched in sweat. I see God in myself, leaving my class better than I entered, wanting to be kinder to myself and to others no matter the circumstance. My husband gets the full benefit because he sees me immediately following yoga, but I lose steam somewhere between falling asleep that night and waking back up in the morning.

The work would be not to let my commitment to being a sunflower waiver, to be consistent in what feels amazingly right to my heart. While out on a run, I spied the dirty man who was nameless and faceless to me. He always wore dingy T-shirts, yellow stained and riddled with holes. He was covered with cracked skin from working the fields all of his life and was far younger than he appeared.

This man had built a shrine for birds on his 2 acres of paradise, and he was much more than what I had labeled him to be. I felt the need to stop running so I could ask him about the birdhouses, each unique in size and design.
His voice was low, as he barely opened his mouth when he spoke. His pale blue eyes glazed from the sweat that dribbled in as he push mowed his land revealed an enthusiasm for life in his love for the birds. He created this sanctuary with his own hands and a heart bursting with reverence for these tiny creatures. God stood before me in the form of this man who I had passed by countless times over the past several years, waving politely but not caring to see him in his enormity. This experience began my sprouting.

Then I was challenged by the woman who is part owner of the dock where we boat. She is not known for her pleasantness among the patrons, who pay her a lot of money for her to then repay them by towing cars, towing boats, and kicking them off the dock when they have protested. She was easy for me to avoid, as I only saw her when I took off or returned from a run.

Well, she was easy to avoid until she placed not one but two extra sticky stickers that the sun baked on the front windshield of my vehicle. The stickers were warning that I had violated the parking policy because my right wheel was over the line in the parking space, and if I didn’t correct this problem immediately, my vehicle would be towed.

I wanted to choke the woman at the dock, tell her off and tell everyone who would listen what a crazy b--ch she was. I didn’t choke her, and I backed off when speaking to her because my head started spinning, my ears were on fire, and I was about to unleash the wrath of Kath, also known as white-trash me. I did tell all of my friends on the dock that this woman was a crazy b--ch, and they agreed, sharing their stories about her latest antics, making me feel much better, at least for the length of time I was riding on my wave of righteousness. My desire to be a sunflower had taken a backseat to my rage.

Seeing this woman continues to fill me with a sense of dread because I want to see God in her, and all I see is the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz delighting in her power to take Toto away from Dorothy. I don’t call her a crazy you-know-what anymore because I try not to say that ugly word, and I am able to bless her when I see her. I am still searching for that flicker of light because I know that when I can actually see it, not pretend to see it, I will grow into more of what I want to be.

Each day, I awaken asking to be a sunflower in this world, having a talk with myself about what that means and recommitting to the process. Doing a little research, I discovered that 10 years ago, the sunflower became a symbol of a world free of nuclear weapons. This has happened in some parts of the world, but the world is not yet free of them. After the Ukraine gave up its last nuclear warhead, the defense ministers of the United States, Russia, and the Ukraine met on a former missile base, scattering sunflower seeds together. The former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Perry said, “Sunflowers instead of missiles in the soil ensure peace for future generations.” This fills me with hope that as long as I keep progressing in my work to become all that I want to be, the seeds I sow will be planted in those who will be here long after my journey has ended.

Meditation: What kind of flower do you want to be in the garden of life? What kind of seeds are you planting in the world? Can you see the beauty in those who are different?

Action: Walk around the grounds of a spectacular garden that speaks to you and discover what kind of flower you are. If you enjoy the great outdoors, pay attention to the fields filled with wildflowers. Let wildflowers symbolize the magnificence of all that you are and the power of one seed planted.

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