False Bird of Paradise

I visited the Missouri Botanical Garden for the first time earlier this month. A lovely friend had tickets for the Children’s Garden inside, so we took our three-year-old daughters and 9-month-old(ish) sons. The day was absolutely wonderful, full of exploring, giggling, and a little bit of getting lost. We didn’t spend much time in the rest of the gardens, but we did take a short walk through the Climatron, a geodesic dome dedicated to propagating tropical plants. One plant caught my eye: False Bird of Paradise (Heliconia stricta). This plant’s name – its essence – is dedicated to being the “false” of something else.

As any good millennial will do, I got home and Googled to learn more. According to bioexplorer.net, “the False Bird of Paradise is so remarkable that once you’ve seen it, you will never forget it!” An unforgettably beautiful plant…identified as a fake.

I grew up in a tropical area, and I can vouch personally for the beauty of real Bird of Paradise plants. But I am confused as to why the also-beautiful Heliconia stricta lives in its shadow.

My original picture of the sign.

How many of us are content being a false bird of paradise? Insecure and unsure of who we are, we scroll, click, copy, shop, and rearrange in order to match someone else’s standard. One drawback to our uber-connected world is that we’ve got a million apps to track everyone else’s opinions on everything from beer to hikes. Now, some of you might be thinking, Oh no, Molly. I do what I like. I hike where I like. I make new recipes that don’t have any stars and if I’m the only one that likes it I don’t care. Good. I’m happy for you. Sometimes I have your confidence. But too often I make choices and second guess them.

God made me who I am. Yes, I am sinful. I have flaws in my personality. But that doesn’t take away from the unique preferences, thoughts, and quirks he gave me. He made those parts of me, and he wants me to live them out to glorify him. When I am constantly modeling my life after someone else, I am missing my God-given purpose.

But Jesus came to die for this, too.

Jesus died to redeem all of us. He redeemed people who value adventure and the outdoors. He redeemed people who would rather curl up on their couch with a cup of tea and a good book. He redeemed people who like cleaning and people who are ok with a little mess. He redeemed the naturally patient and those (like me) who are a constant work in progress. And he made us all different to complement one another. The Missouri Botanical Garden wouldn’t be quite as spectacular if it only contained one plant. Ok, it would be rather lame, actually. It needs variety.

We don’t want to spend our lives identifying as the fake version of someone else. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t seek wise counsel or find admirable qualities to learn from heroes of the faith. But the way we live out our faith should be unique to us.

And let me leave you with one final thought. Another part of this curious plant’s name caught my attention.


In the book of Revelation, God says to the church in Ephesus,  “He who has an ear, let him hear and heed what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes [the world through believing that Jesus is the Son of God], I will grant [the privilege] to eat [the fruit] from the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:7 (AMP). 

We don’t have to be false birds of paradise when the real paradise has already been promised to us. We are unique and unreproducible miracles of God, and with his leading, we can live out who we are with confidence for his glory. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and be your own bird of paradise.

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