SUNFLOWER SISTERS

It’s that time of year again. My three favorite months of the year are now behind us; it’s always hard for me to leave summer behind.

There is one grace, one gift of late August/early September that gives me an unparalleled high: the Kansas sunflower is in full bloom. Around Labor Day, the sunflowers start showing off again–and they have every right to.

Our mom loved sunflowers. In yet another effort to keep our parents’ spirits alive and well, Gail, Suzanne and I have taken her affinity for the Kansas state flower and formed a new appreciation for this beautiful gem.

Perhaps I am a little more extreme than they are in many ways, but I took it to the next level, complete with Mom’s signature in the leaf:

My long-lived affinity for blue moons is celebrated as well, wrapped around the sunflower. It just seemed right to pair them.

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What a gift it is to be born into a family with sisters whom you love so much. Many women aren’t so lucky, and we are fully aware of this. We had no choice but to be together, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. They are not only my sisters, they are my best friends.

Other friends are in our lives by choice. We decide who to let in, and who to keep. Sometimes friendships are made because we are drawn to a person, other times they are formed by chance.

When I went to college in 1984, I was assigned a potluck roommate. You take what you get, and this means taking a chance. I hit the jackpot with Marilyn. She was a sophomore, having learned the freshman ropes already. She was majoring in speech pathology, and I always admired her dedication to this field. It sparked my interest as well, but it took a master’s degree, and I knew I would be lucky to finish with a bachelor’s.

Greater than my interest in her field of study was our friendship. We hit it off, and we welcomed others into our circle, including my dear friend from my hometown, Tracy, as well as Denise, a friend from close to her hometown.

The four of us lived together in an apartment the next year, and the memories we made will last forever, even if some of us can’t remember certain ones. I will never forget, and will always be grateful to Marilyn for inspiring me to pursue the career I chose.

We had the opportunity to fill in each other’s memory holes this past weekend. Two years ago, we gathered to celebrate our 35-year-bond (A Time to Reap, July 2019).

We vowed to gather again every July, but last year, well, it was 2020. This year, however, we had a grand opportunity to meet. After being delayed twice to COVID, we took in a concert in the grand theater in the downtown of my small city.

This was no average concert. This was another Kansas girl, our very own Martina McBride. Even more cool than that, she hails from very close to Marilyn’s and Denise’s hometowns. When she spoke to the crowd–she made it clear how much she loves to be back home, mentioning her hometown of Sharon, Kansas, as well as her family band she grew up in: The Schiffters–her maiden name was Schiff. We were among the few hooting; Marilyn and Denise knew exactly where Sharon, Kansas was, and we were in the area to hear her years ago. Her musical family played at festivities in the area and when I went home with Marilyn in 1984 (85?) for a weekend, we had the privilege of hearing her sing at a wedding dance.

Martina played at this same theater five years ago, and we were there, too. Her legendary voice comes from such a small dynamo, but we know that Kansas girls are big, strong and mighty on the inside. Martina exemplifies this in her voice; we all waited for our favorites to be belted out, and she didn’t disappoint.

We know we are truly Blessed, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear the every day should be Independence Day. If I’d had one request, however, I would have asked for the all-time great Christian song, the song that has the power to bring so much peace to a funeral: How Great Thou Art. We had it as one of the songs at our parents’ funeral, and I will never forget it. Perhaps, however, that request was granted long ago, as I will detail in a moment.

All three of these friends-for-life made the trip to be with me that day, and I will never forget that, either. All three of them know the joy of having sisters, but all three of them also know the pain of losing a sister. I cannot fathom that pain, because, as Martina sings in Blessed, I love them so much it hurts.

But both joy and pain in life, as we all know in our own ways, and from our own losses, have a way of waxing and waning. Joy, if we work at it, and let our loved ones and friends help, can override the pain. It takes work, and it takes letting those people in to share the pain, but it can be done.

Remember, sharing joy multiplies it, while sharing sorrow divides it. And never ever forget there is a force stronger than any of us at work all around us. Love is our proof of that. I have a story about more proof I found on my own, the story of my request granted.

It was in the 90’s, and my husband and I were visiting Mom and Dad on the farm. It was late summer, and the sunflowers and other wildflowers were in bloom, and the road west of our farm was a great place to take in this natural beauty. I headed out for my morning run, and put on my music–this was pre-iPod days, and the best I had was a bulky set of headphones that would tune in to local FM stations.

I almost always run to music, and these usually got me through. It was a Sunday morning, and there was a local station with a Christian music show at that hour, so I tuned in.

When I got to the curve about a mile west of the farm, the DJ announced a song from Martina McBride. I was hopeful that it would be How Great Thou Art, of course. Just two weeks prior, we were visiting Mom and Dad, and when I ran, I had the same station tuned in and her masterpiece rendition of that song played. Further, it was in almost exactly the same place I was running at that moment.

The song began, but it wasn’t that one. I don’t recall which one it was, but I know it was beautiful. The FM signal wasn’t always consistent, and it began to fade. That song faded out, and another song faded in: it was Martina McBride singing How Great Thou Art. She finished, and her first song faded back in, and it finished. The DJ came back on, commented on her beautiful voice in the other song, and went on with the show. No mention was made of what I heard. I do know what I heard, and I will believe this was a show of that great force that is always at work all around us. Sometimes we have to look for it, but sometimes, like that Sunday morning so long ago, it was presented to me, and could not be missed.

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There are many things that bond sisters together. Love and loss, life and shared memories. Friends have those same bonds. It is often said that friends are the family we choose for ourselves. I am speaking for myself, but I couldn’t have chosen better sisters. I do get to choose my friends, but they have to choose me as well, and for that, I am so thankful that Tracy, Denise and Marilyn chose me back. We are celebrating 37 years as friends this fall; we came two-by-two to Fort Hays State University, and became a circle of four.

Tracy’s gift to us two years ago were the bracelets pictured above. This year, these rings are our new shared treasures.

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The Kansas sunflower never fails to share its beauty at the close of every summer. My husband, knowing how much I love them, tried to plant a patch for me in his garden, with only one showing up.

Mark and The Sunflower Stalk

It seems that, much like some Kansas girls, they have a strong will to thrive in the wild, making their own decisions about where and when to bloom, choosing to do it in their own way. They prefer to share their gifts on their own terms, and they do it well. Leave them to act on their wisdom, and they won’t disappoint. But they never forget, just like Martina said to do as she left the stage, to take care of each other.

Just like some Kansas girls do.

THIS ONE’S FOR THE GIRLS

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