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By Hannah Bemis

In fourth grade I became captivated by sunflowers. I attended a small elementary school that had a community garden full of these happy flowers, and as part of our science curriculum, my class would go on “nature walks” during which we got to sit and try to write about or draw what we saw in the garden. I would use the time to try to perfect my sunflower sketches. My love for writing was also just beginning at this time, and for my tenth birthday my friend Rachel bought me a journal that had sunflowers all over it. It was the first of about 157,000 journals that I have filled.

Fast forward about 20 years, and it was a no-brainer that when my husband, Jordan, and I began to grow our backyard garden, we planted sunflowers. We planted only about three our first year and a few more our second year, but after that, sunflowers started popping up in random places, wherever the birds happened to drop seeds. They were everywhere, and several started growing along the fence line we share with our retired neighbors, the flowers peering their cheerful faces over the fence as if wanting to view the perfectly manicured lawn and impeccable landscaping next door.

I was laughing with Jordan a few days ago about that fence line, bordered by an open farm-style fence instead of a privacy fence. I wondered aloud what things Bob and Diana, our sweet and quiet next-door neighbors, have seen and heard through that fence over the years, telling Jordan I hope they don’t resent the chaos coming from our side. Despite my love for quiet, I haven’t managed to raise a quiet family, so…sorry, neighbors.

It was only a couple of hours later that these same neighbors headed over to our side of the fence. I should mention that we have a good relationship with these neighbors. We’ve exchanged cookies and other baked goods, traded produce from our respective gardens, and even had a few deep conversations over the fence line. But in the past, reasons for them heading over to our side have also included comments such as “Did you know your kids were climbing on top of your van earlier?” or “Just to let you know, your puppy got out earlier and bit me when I tried to get her back into your yard” or “It really is fine that your kids are picking and eating our grapes that grow through the slats in the fence.” Not knowing which sort of visit this was to be, I was nervous.

This time though, Bob greeted us with “We have something for you!” and Diana shyly held up a gorgeous quilt she had designed and made by hand that had — wait for it — images of sunflowers covering the front.

Bemis picture of quilt
“I thought you should have it since you planted the inspiration for it,” she said to me. “All summer I would just come out here and sit and look at those flowers, and I would be filled with such peace. Then I would go down to my sewing room and sew, then come back out and sit and look, and then go back and sew. I couldn’t believe how peaceful they made me feel.”

Diana has pretty advanced M.S., and it’s astounding to me that she is able to sew such creations with her limited mobility. From a few conversations we’ve had, I understand that for much of her life peace has been scarce. And Bob, ever the practical one, told me that he was just glad he’d get to see his wife again because she had disappeared “for months” making that thing. He was skeptically asking us if there are any actual benefits from planting sunflowers other than the seeds when Diana interjected and firmly declared, “Peace.”

Peace comes in many forms. It doesn’t always have to be paired with quiet for it to settle in and begin transforming things. It can come in the guise of many people and objects, but in this case it came in the form of a sunflower (actually, a lot of sunflowers).

While I was worried that our way of life was disrupting the peace of our neighbors, God was busy instilling peace in an entirely different way. He knew what He was doing when He planted us (and our sunflowers) next to Bob and Diana. Good fences don’t always make good neighbors. Sometimes good neighbors are made by the sharing of life that happens between the open slats of a farm-style fence.

About The Author

Hannah Bemis

Hannah Bemis lives in Spokane, Washington, with her husband, Jordan, and their three kids. She works as both a mom and as a private tutor, and loves writing about what God reveals to her through the chaotic and mundane events of everyday life. She and her family attend Turning Point Open Bible Church, also in Spokane.