Growing up, my family was heavily involved in a performing arts ministry at our church. One year, I was somehow wrangled into singing a [horrific] solo while wearing a gigantic sunflower on my head, complete with a hole cut out in the middle for my face. Sometimes saying “yes” takes us to the most unexpected places.
I’m recalling this memory so vividly right now because I want to write about how we should be more like flowers. It’s a strange concept and not a perfectly formed analogy, so I thought I’d begin with a story of a time when I was, almost literally, a sunflower. How smooth was this intro?
Last week, I spent several days with my best friend and her family as they planned and prepared for the funeral of my friend’s dad. It was a powerful experience on many levels, but I was particularly struck by how familiar the to-do list felt as we planned for the funeral.
Nine months earlier, I was in the same home with the same family, helping to plan and prepare for my friend’s wedding. It’s amazing how such different happenings bringing up such different emotions can require such similar measures, from seating and music, to the food and order of service.
What sticks out to me the most about the days before my friend’s wedding and her father’s funeral are the flowers. There were so many flowers. Leading up to both events, I found myself cutting, arranging, and watering countless bouquets.
“It’s incredible,” I thought to myself as I made room for another vase on the coffee table after the funeral, “that flowers are appropriate for such a wide range of events.”
Flowers speak. We find that they belong in weddings, funerals, graduations, anniversaries, apologies, and expressions of varying levels of love. They may be saying different things with each person they’re gifted to, but they seem to say what needs to be said, and they can do it so well.
In graduate school, I had to write a paper about community and its importance in our lives. I cannot remember the paper’s thesis or the sources I leaned on to support my position, but I remember this line: “Community is about showing up.”
That line has stayed with me, probably because it feels so true. When we are in community with others, it means we show up for them, even if we do it imperfectly. We show up, even if it costs us something—time, money, or rapport at our job—because that’s what it means to be in community.
I know that line in my paper was born out of my own experience of having friends show up for me, even (especially) when no part of me felt deserving of their presence or love. My friend who was married nine months before her father’s death is among my greatest teachers in the power of showing up. She has stayed with me when I didn’t even want to stay with me.
So I water the flowers given to her family during this time of deep mourning, and I think nearly nonsensical thoughts like, “I want to be more like the flowers.” Because, here’s the thing: flowers show up, no matter the occasion. They are there for the celebration, the sorrow, and the sorry. They show up at the front door in the fullness of whatever color they are, and they sit right in the middle of whatever it is that is happening—in the goodness or the grief.
They don’t have to find the right words to say (because, oftentimes, there are none). But they sit there, in the muck and the madness and the magnificence of it all, and they represent beauty. They are not without need, which is somehow comforting because it reveals how full of life they are. It’s life’s beauty showing up in the middle of life’s sweetest or sourest realities.
As I was considering my desire to be more like the flowers—to be someone who is willing to stand in the midst of others’ pain and celebration and bear witness to their experience, offering beauty and comfort, even if only through my presence—I was reminded of Romans 8:26. Like the Spirit, who intercedes on our behalf with groanings that cannot be expressed in words, we can stand in the gap for one another, even if we have no words.
There are a lot of hard things happening right now—funerals, critical surgeries, dire illnesses, fear of safety or acceptance, and so much discord in our nation. We need the Holy Spirit, we need the support of one another, and, goodness, we need beauty. When there are words to be said to support, love, and offer care to another—say them. But where there are no words, let’s head to the front lines of whatever the circumstance may be in the lives of those in our community and stand in solidarity, offering the power of our presence.
For our neighbors who need us to join them in their joy or their grief, in their fear or their anger, may we live like a flower [with a human’s lifespan, of course]: Show up at others’ front door, stand tall, radiate beauty, lean towards the light, and drink lots water.