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Island of the Innocent

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The Sunflower Chapel

Every Sunday morning eight year old Nellie would go to church with her parents to worship God. Then the rest of the week would pass as usual and God was rarely mentioned at all until the following Sunday. Little Nellie thought it was strange that Someone as important as God was only given one day of the week to think about Him. She found herself wanting to think about Him more often. So one day she asked her mother, “Momma, why can’t we go to church on Monday, too?”
    Her mother was stirring batter for a cake and she almost dropped her spoon.“We don’t go to church on Monday because we don’t have to. One day a week is enough.”
    “But doesn’t God miss us when we’re not there?”
   “Of course not. He’s very busy running the universe. Now go to your room, finish your home work and stop asking silly questions!”
    Nellie obediently went back to her room, sat on her bed and spent a great deal of time thinking about God. Deep down in her little thoughts, she couldn’t help pondering if God was satisfied with a one day per week relationship with His people. Even if He was, Nellie decided that He probably deserved more.
    So her little child thoughts went rambling through a variety of possibilities for extending the worship season. She finally decided to construct her own church, and that way she could visit God any time she wanted. Then if He got lonely during the week, there would be somebody waiting to talk to Him even on a Thursday.
   Nellie was very excited about her plan to build her own church. As soon as her father came home that evening she was there to greet him at the door. “Daddy, can you get me some wood and some nails?”
   He looked at her over the black rims of his glasses. “What do you want them for?”
   “I want to build my own church so I can worship God any day I want to.”
    “Nellie, you don’t need to build a church. We already have a big white one in the center of town, and Sunday is the only day you need to worship God. You’ll come with us then and that’s the end of it. You don’t need to build your own church." Then he disappeared into the kitchen where Nellie overheard him and her mother ridicule their daughter’s latest fantasy.
    So once a week Nellie dutifully trotted off to church with her parents and she never mentioned her plan again, simply because she was tired of them making fun of her.
    But the dream wouldn’t die.
    One day in the spring, Nellie approached her mother and stated politely, “Momma, I want to plant a garden.”
   Her mother thought that was a good idea, so Nellie requested some seeds. “I want to plant flowers, morning glories and sunflowers.”
    Her mother smiled and her child’s request was granted. Nellie was given several hearty packages of seeds for her project.
    Nellie picked out an appropriate spot in the backyard, way in the back where it was private. Then she dug and she hoed a perfect square. Around the perimeter of the square she made a low wattle fence from sticks she found in the woods. At the base of it she planted the morning glory seeds, and in her mind she envisioned them growing a beautiful blue fence around her perfect square garden.Then she planted the sunflower seeds, each one very carefully around the inside of the morning glory fence, except for the space she had left for the entrance.
    It wasn’t long before the seeds began to sprout. Soon the morning glories were twining around the stick fence blooming vibrantly, and the sunflowers were growing tall, creating a smiling sunny wall all away around the garden. Nellie covered the bare ground inside with pine needles and in the center she placed a chair.
    Every afternoon from Monday to Saturday, Nellie would take her Bible, enter her sunflower chapel and worship God.
    “She really loves her little garden,” her mother commented one day to Nellie’s dad. “She spends an awful lot of time out there.”
    “That’s nice,” he replied, not looking up from his newspaper. “I’m glad she’s happy.”
    They were both glad she had found something to do and didn’t bother them that much anymore.
    So everyday Nellie would sing her songs, read her Bible and talk to God so He wouldn’t be lonely during the week when everyone was so busy they only had time for Him on Sunday. She’d told Him how sorry she was about that, and saw one of the sunflowers nod slightly, even though there wasn’t any wind.
    Then one day after she had spent a long afternoon in her garden chapel, when the sun was just beginning to lower itself for its evening rest, the sky that was the chapel’s ceiling began to glow and a shaft of light came down and to Nellie’s surprise encircled the little flower room where she was sitting. It was almost as if the light was inspecting everything, including her.
    “Is that you, God?” she asked.
    “Yes,” was the gentle reply.
    “Oh, I’m so glad You’re here!” she cried, clapping her hands.
    “I was always here,” He answered, “even though you couldn’t see Me.”
    Now she could feel the warmth of His presence and her eyes suddenly filled up with tears. He was embracing her with His Spirit. She felt as if He was dancing with her, even though she wasn’t moving.
    “Thank You, God,” she whispered, for she knew she was being given a gift, even though she didn’t understand it.
    Then she heard her mother’s voice calling her to supper.
    “Will You come back again tomorrow?” Nellie whispered.
    And she heard the Still Small Voice answer, “Yes.”
    The following day was Sunday, so as soon as Nellie came home from church, she hurried out to her sunflower chapel. She didn’t have to wait for God to come, He was already there waiting for her. The light was merrily glistening on the petals of her sunflowers making them smile and tilt their heads.
    Nellie rejoiced as she stepped into the light and their communion began. They sang songs together. He gave her new ones with intricate, lyrical melodies. He told her stories and she wrote them down; deep parables of life. She told Him how she was feeling and He told her why. He answered her questions and even some she hadn’t thought of before.
    This continued for weeks and at home her parents were noticing the change in their daughter. She was joyful and considerate and always did what she was told. But what really got their attention was her ability to suddenly expound on deep theological subjects like the Trinity, speaking with wisdom far deeper than what was normal for an average eight year old mind.
    Then one day, her mother snuck out to her child’s garden while Nellie was in the middle of her customary chat with God. She could hear her child asking questions, then pausing as if she was listening to the answer. She heard her sing and praise God in songs that could have been written by Beethoven.
    Nellie’s mother quickly returned to the house and confronted her husband. “Frank, Nellie’s in her garden playing church!”
    This time he looked up from the paper. “She’s what?”
    “She’s out there singing and talking to God. What are we going to do? We’re raising a religious fanatic!”
    He thought for a moment, and then he said, “Fall’s coming. The flowers will die. It’s probably just a phase she’s going through. She’ll grow out of it.”
    Then he turned his attention back to a newspaper that described all the horrors of a world that chose to live without God.

Fall came and the air grew colder. The sunflowers responded by bowing their heads contemplating the end of a glorious season. The morning glories shriveled in the cold and turned brown. Soon the sunflower chapel was gone.
    Nellie stood in what used to be the doorway looking through it to the woods beyond. The sunflower walls had long since dissolved, but by now she knew she didn’t really need them. Her sunflower chapel was alive in her heart where she knew it would bloom forever.
    She looked up as the breeze gently ruffled the curls on her head and she grinned as she watched the ceiling smile.

copyright 2003 by H.D. Shively

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