Sunflowers and dragonflies. That's August.
Growing up, August days were filled with the essence of summer. My childhood was spent roaming the untamed woods and fields on my parents' property with my four siblings. There were August gatherings of family and friends to celebrate birthdays, meadows in which to sit among wildflowers and watch dragonflies hover and dart, and always a quiet spot to get lost in a good book.
Looking back, those days were a gift, and I'm so grateful for a childhood that held love, contentment, and joy. Today, now in my 52nd August, I have to admit that lately, joy has been allusive - a bit like the dragonflies. There has been a deep sadness that fills me due to a loss of relationships, and there is some grieving that goes along with that. Grief has replaced joy, or at least has stifled it. I could easily allow that sadness to dwell inside me indefinitely. But after a month of intentional reflection and collecting the quiet, I've come to realize that I cannot let outside circumstances consume me. I cannot let them control my life. I have a choice! I can let the sadness pull me into depression, or I can choose to fill that void with something uplifting.
So I choose joy. Just saying those words is empowering, like taking the first step forward. Joy. It's different from happiness which is based on circumstances - like a rollercoaster of emotion. But I can be joy-filled despite circumstances. Joy comes from a spring deep within, drawing life from a well of gratitude and contentment. Author Ann Voskamp writes, "Being joyful isn't what makes you grateful. Being grateful is what makes you joyful." In her book, One Thousand Gifts, she shares a profound connection between gratitude and joy. Are you ready for it? The Greek word for joy is chara and the Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharisteo - euCHARisteo. It's right there! Joy (chara) is literally found in the word thanksgiving (euCHARisteo)! I read those words for the first time several years ago, and I still get goosebumps when I read them.
There's one more missing piece to the joy puzzle, at least for me, and it's another Greek word - charis. It means grace. Grace that comes from a God who loves unconditionally, and who is the source of a deep, holy joy. Charis - eucharisteo - chara. Grace, thanksgiving, and joy. I want that again. I NEED that again. So I choose to be joyful and it starts right now - today - at this moment. And it will be how I start every day, no matter what is happening in the world, in our country, in my family, or in my personal life. Those things are beyond my control. However, I can control one thing, and that is my response.
Did you know that sunflowers follow the sun from east to west as young buds? Then, when fully mature, their flowers face east to greet the sun every morning. And did you know that dragonflies begin life in dark water before rising up to the light? When sunlight hits their colorless bodies, they become beautiful, colorful, and iridescent - transformed by the sun. They continue their homage and begin each day drying their wings in the warmth of the sun. Like sunflowers and dragonflies, I invite you to join me and begin each day this month with gratitude. Let's be thankful for at least one small thing, because that one small thing will lead to a little bit of joy. Speak it or write it - it doesn't matter. What matters is acknowledging it. Let's mark the days of August by listing more and more small things, so August can become filled with joyful moments. Each day a step forward. Each day a step towards transformation and a joy-filled life.
I'll leave you with this thought:
"If you let something steal your thanksgiving, you let something steal your joy, and if you let something steal your joy, you let something steal your strength." - Ann Voskamp
and this encouraging scripture:
"Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times." - Romans 12:12 (NCV)
Two books I recommend:
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and the devotional companion
The book of Philippians which is known as the Letter of Joy
At the top of today's gratitude list: sunflowers and dragonflies. What's on yours?
It amazes me how plants can be so tender and vulnerable yet so powerful. They depend on us for nurturing and in return they nurture us. We plant, cultivate, and water. In return, flowers, vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs - all nurture us in some way, either physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Lately I've been thinking about filling my life with more joy which has led me to lemons. Yes, lemons and all things lemony like lemon balm, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, and lemongrass. It shouldn't surprise me, I guess, that my search for things that bring joy would lead me to lemons. Even a lemony-hue can be cheery. Yellow daisies, Coreopsis, marigolds, sunflowers can brighten up a landscape or a bouquet. But lemons? The same fruit that can make us pucker, has a fragrance that can be uplifting! It seems like such a contradiction held in one plant.
As I dig deeper, I discover that lemons have a strong connection with mental health. The vitamin C in citrus have been found to lower levels of stress. It helps restore our adrenal glands when we are under too much stress. The smell of lemons can calm our nervous systems, help with anxiety and depression, and give us a boost of energy. Aromatherapy is definitely a super power of plants!
Here are a few ways to add lemon's uplifting essence into your day:
- Add lemon slices to your water. To take it to the next level, combine 5 lemon slices, 5 crushed lemongrass stalks, 1/2 c. fresh lemon basil leaves, and 1/2 c. fresh orange mint leaves in a carafe of water. Let it steep in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours. Strain and enjoy.
- Diffuse lemon essential oil to improve your mood. It energizes and invigorates. The essential oil is extracted from fresh lemon peel, so just a few drops will do. Read more about it's benefits here.
- Add fresh lemon balm and lemon verbena leaves into salads, especially fruit salads. This Roasted Fruit Salad looks especially delicious.
- Make lemon herb tea with dried lemon balm, lemon thyme, and lemon verbena. Click here for several recipes.
For creative ways to use lemon herbs in place of lemons, check out this site.
No matter how you slice it, lemons and all the lemon herbs offer something powerful that we need. So plant them in your garden or in a pot, tend to them, and nurture them and they will nurture you in return. That gift of reciprocity itself is a joy and one that keeps on giving.
It is often in August that the earth’s flowers are singing their loudest. Cosmos, zinnias, self-seeding annuals and native perennials have taken this long to reach their full potential and offer their nectar as a sweet treat to the flocks of bees and butterflies that are drawn to them.
The meadow is like that. Flowers and grasses intermingle in an open expanse and August finds it quiet, calming, but buzzing with activity. What if we could experience the joy of meadows close to home? What if we each planted a mini meadow - a little patch of colorful flowers in our yards?
A mini meadow does not require much: a patch of earth and a handful of annual and perennial seeds. It does not have to be, and should not be, manicured, but rather a loose, informal style as found in nature. A mini meadow could be as small as a container on your deck, or as large as your entire backyard. It is not time-consuming because once established, they require little maintenance.
MINI MEADOW BASICS
WHAT TO DO NOW
Late summer is not the time to plant except for perennial transplants. However, it is the time to plan and prep for next year’s mini meadow.
PLANTS TO CONSIDER
Annuals: Bachelor Buttons, Borage, Calendula, California poppies, Cosmos, Feverfew, Sunflowers, Zinnias
Perennials: Black-eyed Susans, Butterfly weed, Coneflowers, Coreopsis, New England Asters, Liatris, Vernonia
Grasses: Prairie Dropseed, Little Bluestem, Switchgrass
The best part of mini meadows is what they teach us: to loosen our grip of order and control in the landscape, to embrace nature’s free spirit of intermingling plants, and to do our part on our own bit of earth. They also offer this:
In the meadow I found my place, In serenity and silence of grace
My spirit calm, I linger in the breeze Under the rays of sun, I found peace. - Alexis Kho
Mini Meadows by Mike Lizotte is the best book out there on the subject. His detailed lists and the beautiful photography by Rob Cardillo will inspire you to create your own mini meadow.
Tracy Hankwitz is a Horticulture Adjunct at Gateway Technical College and owns Bella Botanica, LLC in an old church located at 1787 Walworth Street, Springfield, WI. You can learn more at www.bellabotanicaboutique.com.
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!