#ThursdayTreeLove (But It’s Friday) | Between Water and Trees

Joe Wheeler State Park-1

For I [fully] satisfy the weary soul, and I replenish every languishing and sorrowful person. —Jeremiah 31:25

I spent four days this week working, resting, and resetting in a tiny bit of heaven—between water and trees—at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, Alabama.

I resisted this work “retreat” because it was…well…more work, and I already had a long list of tasks that wouldn’t get done if I spent time there. My internal tantrums were driving me nuts, so I took a moment to whisper a prayer and ask God to help me change my attitude.

By the last morning, I had to apologize to God for my earlier grumbling. The mornings were work-intensive, but fun and interactive, which is my preferred method of collaborating. I am not a fan of long, long meetings, but I don’t mind getting down to business and doing the work.

Thanks to careful planning, this was the first time (for me) a “work retreat” actually felt like a retreat. I enjoyed the morning meditations, spiritual gems dropped throughout the sessions, the time spent in work groups, and getting to know my brilliant colleagues in a different way.

Most of our afternoons were spent in leisure and recreation, so I was even able to work some of the “long list” referenced earlier.

It rained most of our time there–offering a soothing, steadying rhythm, perfect for the contemplative soul. However, the weather did not hinder encounters with nature. I was able to participate in a two-mile nature hike, deer watch (deer post coming soon), and enjoy the sweet tweets of baby birds as I walked the breezeway from my room to meeting spaces.

Joe Wheeler State Park-3

I had time to sit, write, and think on a balcony with a gorgeous view of Wheeler Lake and time to spend with Sylvia G, one of my dearest friends who has known me since I was a child!

I did not realize the full impact of limited movement for 15 consecutive months on my mental and emotional state until I was able to spend significant time away from my home and campus. My being positioned between all that luscious nature offered the respite I needed to clear some of the cobwebs and move some thoughts forward.

If you know just a little about me, you know I find in trees my most experienced counselors. You also may know that something stirs excitedly inside this NOLA girl–who grew up down the street from the Mississippi River–whenever I am near any body of water.

Joe Wheeler State Park-2b

I’ve been languishing [see previous post]. Of course, the retreat was not planned for me, but God knew I needed a strong dose of therapy, that I needed to be situated between water and trees to truly rest, reset, and hear His voice clearly.

He always delivers, even when I’m standing in my own way.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Are You Languishing Too?

2021-06-09_151738The school year ended for my son last Wednesday. We have been looking forward to “the end” almost since the beginning. This pandemic year has been hard for everyone, and even though I’m still very much engaged in the daily grind, a tremendous weight has been lifted because at least my son can breathe a little easier and hopefully recuperate “enough” before August.

Some weeks ago, as I listened to Dr. Anita Phillips’ podcast, In the Light, she “hit a nerve.” As she introduced the episode “Beautiful Things,” I heard the word languishing and listened a little more closely:

It is a stealthy emotion […]. It sneaks up on you little by little […]. It is really easy to miss. The feeling of languishing is one of stagnation and emptiness […].

Phillips, a trauma therapist, also referenced a New York Times article, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing:”

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

I backtracked and listened to that part over and over.

Languishing.

Is this why I have little interest in doing things I usually enjoy? Is this why it seems I’m working all.the.time but have little to show for it by the end of the day? Why I don’t feel like cooking or cleaning? Why sometimes my brain seems completely devoid of thought?

I know I am not depressed, but I feel out of sorts and disconnected from my usual rhythms.

Languishing.

The word perfectly describes the state I’m in and the state of others with whom I’ve spoken recently about their mental and emotional state during this phase of the pandemic.

We once flourished; now we’re doing our best if we can climb out of bed in the morning. Of course, there are ways to combat this state of being, but for me, it really comes down to the very thing expressed in a Washington Post title on the same subject.

“We all need a break.”

We need time to take care of our mental health and process what we’ve just gone through and what we’ve come through. We need time to grieve the losses and celebrate the gains. We also need time to look ahead and dream of the possibilities once we are truly post-pandemic.

Is that doable right now when we’re barely doing life?

The whole thing is “a lot,” as some say, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the “too much” of it. But we must pay attention and we must deal with our languishing because as the NYT article points out, languishing, in some ways, may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness. Furthermore, as Dr. Phillips emphasized in her podcast, “the mental health impact [of this moment] will far outlast our return to physical safety,” so we must take the time now to “honestly identify and name how [we] are feeling.”

I have many coping strategies [journalingcreatingshutting down technologylisting, sleeping, spending time with trees, and praying], but I am taking Dr. Phillips’ advice of identifying and naming, expressing my feelings, and spending time with those I love. Additionally, because confronting the mental and emotional chaos can be all-consuming, I am processing in small moments. The few minutes while doing the dishes. The walk from building to building while running errands on campus. The half hour or so spent grocery shopping. Whenever I can find even just a moment of quiet, I take the time to process, to exhale, and to heal.

I pray you’re doing the same.


Note: I am not a psychologist or therapist, so I encourage you to read the articles and listen to the podcast linked in this post for more information, tips, and tools for dealing with this mental health challenge–and of course, seek professional counsel should you feel your issues are much larger than you can handle without help.

About the Image: The image above features the artwork of illustrator and designer Eunji Jung. It was this bit of gorgeousness that “introduced” me to my new Love Notes pal, Kathi G. I admired the postcard after another Love Noter posted it in the group, and Kathi kindly sent one my way. Thanks, Kathi!

Weekend Joy and the Clinton Row Colorwalk

A smile relieves a heart that grieves. Remember what I said. –The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

So far this long weekend has been exactly what I needed. When I left work Thursday, I’d planned to take the four-day weekend seriously re: self-care and joy breaks. I had some “unfinished business,” so I worked till noon Friday and I haven’t thought about work since then.

I have been just as serious about my 10 days of joy.

Yesterday, I held my first full “brain dump” session in a long time and ended up with a three-page list of all the things that have been nipping at my soul. Now, I know that doesn’t sound very “joyful.” And it isn’t. In fact, without context, the list is sad, stressful, anxious, but the JOY is in how I felt after writing the list! I have been carrying too much stuff internally, and when I don’t deal with it or even take a moment to acknowledge it, all that soul-gunk spills out in not-so-nice ways. So…taking an hour or so Sunday morning to detoxify my soul was beneficial in many ways.

I’m not sure I would have been able to even approach that list if the guys and I hadn’t taken time out for creativity Saturday afternoon. We grabbed our cameras, headed downtown, donned our masks, and took a two-hour photo walk. The weather was perfect—cloudy, cool, and breezy.

I noted the typical street scenes—musicians playing, private conversations, storefronts, architecture, diners—but, because I am nearly obsessed with street art, the Clinton Row Colorwalk was my favorite joy moment of the walk!

The Clinton Row Colorwalk is an alley filled with murals painted by Huntsville (Alabama) artists.

Mick Jagger with Frame

Needless to say, every single piece of work thrilled me, but the quote written along the frame of the Mick Jagger portrait transformed the art into a powerful statement:

I pray that looking beyond this day we can all work together to overcome the hatred and division and start to heal the pain and suffering that everybody is feeling in this country.

Here’s a collage of “sneak peaks” of some the other pieces:

To see the full pieces, see my Flickr album here > Clinton Row Colorwalk Album and for more information about the art and some of the artists’ processes, check out the Facebook page here > Clinton Row Colorwalk Community.

What is today’s joy break? I’ll be spending time with family safely celebrating my baby cousin’s kindergarten graduation!

Joy all around!

A Moment with Eric Carle

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar story is about hope. You, like the little caterpillar, will grow up, unfold your wings and fly off into the future. –Eric Carle

Beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Eric Carle, passed away May 23 at 91 years of age, but I learned of his passing just this morning. I spent today’s joy break revisiting Carle’s books and illustrations and thinking about moments I spent with my little one reading and rereading his books. I even listened to the recording of my son “reading” Brown, Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (1967) that I mentioned in a 2018 post (linked below).

It’s sad that we lost Carle, but it heartens me to know that he will live on and on through his works and in the memories of generations who were mesmerized by his colorful books.

If you’d like just a little more of Eric Carle, here are two more posts which feature Carle’s work:

Take a moment to (re)visit Carle’s work this weekend and have joy!

#ThursdayTreeLove | Golden Flame Tree

Golden Flame Tree-2

Since today is Thursday, I bring you a bit of tree love for today’s joy break. I’m not usually on campus this time of the year, so I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the transformations of trees I usually only see late summer through early spring.

While taking a short walk to escape the computer screen and the general madness of the day, I couldn’t help but notice the tiny bright yellow blossoms of the Koelreuteria paniculata. The tree, appropriately called the golden flame tree, is certainly a beauty, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. 

For now, the flaming yellow flowers against the dark green offer enough joy for the day. 

Golden Flame Tree-1

If you’d like to learn more about the tree, here’s an article from Dave’s Garden: Golden Rain Tree: Friend or Foe.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post

100 Things That Bring Me Joy

Joy

Hello, my bloggy friends! I hope you didn’t miss me too much during my break.

While I was on “blog vacation,” I realized I didn’t need a break from my blog at all. I needed a break from some other things in life. In fact, work has been all-consuming. A few days ago, I was speaking with my colleague Ramona about our desperate need for seven consecutive days of not thinking about work. She replied that we need 10 days of doing the things that give us joy.

Wow! That’s a beautiful thought.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the whole world slowed down and took 10 days for joy? I know…I know…not realistic at all.

There was a time not so long ago when I made a point to do something “joyful” every day. These days…that’s a struggle, so the occasional afternoon nap is the best I can do. Lately, however, I’ve been wondering why it’s so difficult to muster the energy for things that bring joy. There’s still a month standing between me and an actual vacation, so I figured to save my sanity I must make a conscientious effort to take a joy break each day.

To jumpstart my return to joy, I pulled out the very long list, “100 ‘Things’ That Bring Me Joy,” I wrote seven years ago. I made some minor updates, and I’m sharing it with you as the first post of “10 Days of Joy.”

The list is pretty long, so you might want to grab a cup of your favorite warm beverage before you get started. 😉

First on my list are the basics, the foundation, so to speak.  Nothing else would matter without these entities and individuals who bring not only joy but meaning and purpose to my life:

  • God the Father in whose will I try to walk, who knows me intimately but still loves me, who pursues me relentlessly
  • God the Son who sacrificed His life for me and who loves me like no other
  • God the Holy Spirit who chides me when I’m heading in the wrong direction, who comforts me, and makes sense of my woe and pain
  • My hubby to whom I’ve been married for almost 27 years, who shares this world and this lifetime with me
  • My now 15-year-old son who from the time he was born has been teaching me what true joy looks like and how to focus on what really matters
  • My parents who have been supporting me all my life, for the love and loyalty evident in their 63-year marriage, for their integrity, and perseverance
  • My sisters who are my forever and dearest friends. Each is a reminder of different aspects of my personality and character; looking at all of them at once is like holding up a mirror. We miss Karlette and Lori like crazy, but their hearts still beat in us
  • My brothers, who stand strong and firm and exhibit the positive values of manhood taught to them by my father
  • My close friends—my angels on earth. They each add something unique to my life and they have held me up and sat in dark corners with me more times than I can count

Then, there are the little whispers…the things that leave impressions and carry a touch of joy that sustains me and keeps me pushing through the day(s)—

  • God’s love enveloping me
  • Random daily hugs from my not-so-little one
  • The dawning of new knowledge on my students’ faces
  • An unexpected compliment on a day when I don’t look or feel my best
  • Good times with colleagues. We actually like each other 🙂
  • Hearing one of my favorite hymns beautifully sung: “It is Well With My Soul” or “Come Thou Fount” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (I’ll stop before this becomes its own list)
  • Doing something for others without recognition or reward
  • Meeting someone with a beautiful spirit
  • Rainy days with a good book
  • Beautiful words/quotes
  • Baby smiles and giggles
  • Stumbling upon breath-taking beauty in nature

Of course, the natural world offers so many moments of joy.

  • Cloud formations
  • The ocean because of its vastness, beauty, and the salty air surrounding it
  • Bodies of water in general…something so peaceful about them and they seem to make me a little giddy
  • A mountainous landscape—mountains add such majesty to a place
  • The view from my office @ work because of all the gorgeous trees
  • Beautiful, colorful flowers! If you check out my Instagram page, you’ll see that I can’t resist snapping photos of them!
  • The view from my home office because of the beautiful clouds and the visits from my feathered friends.
  • A cool and breezy summer day—rare here in the South, but it happens
  • Autumn for all that autumn means: cooler temperatures, changing colors, pumpkin everything, beautiful clothes and sweaters (Not sure this should be under nature)
  • The moon!
  • Falling leaves
  • Red leaves
  • Spotting a deer, rabbit or other animal in its natural habitat
  • SUNFLOWERS!
  • Morning dew
  • The pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof
  • Frolicking squirrels
  • Spring revival, especially the short but sweet awakening of cherry blossoms and dogwoods
  • Birdsongs in the early morning
  • Butterflies fluttering from flower to flower
  • Long walks/hikes in nature
  • Sunrises and sunsets
  • Found hearts!
  • My favorite colors in nature—purple, red, and pink

Then, there are those things that help my spirit recall joy

  • Quiet mornings of prayer and meditation
  • Meaningful conversation
  • A good church service (good music, connection, and cerebral sermons)
  • A good day’s work
  • Singing my heart out
  • Listening to good music with meaningful lyrics
  • Writing in my journal
  • Poetry—reading it and writing it
  • Reading my favorite scriptures
  • Getting so absorbed in well-written fiction that I can’t put the book down till I finish
  • My son’s reading list–an opportunity to revisit great literature, read something I missed, or catch the newer writers
  • Looking through old photos and photo albums
  • A finished blog post  🙂
  • Museums
  • Children’s art
  • Illustrations in children’s books
  • Making lists
  • A finished “to do” list—a very rare thing indeed!
  • A spotless and well-organized house
  • A piping hot cup of herbal tea
  • A guilt-free afternoon nap
  • A boxful of Bath and Body Works products
  • Tree walks
  • Good falafels
  • Publix brand Chocolate Almond ice cream

The things others do (or did) for me…

  • My son’s poems, stories, and essays. He’s been telling stories and writing all his life and doesn’t yet realize he is indeed a writer
  • My hubby taking care of things around the house that I normally take care of
  • Little surprises from my hubby
  • My son’s artwork
  • Gifts from my sisters, especially those with a “sister” theme
  • Teddy Bear bookends my mom gave me years ago. There’s a story behind the bookends and that makes them extra special.
  • Teddy Bear gifts—including Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington
  • Bookstore gift cards
  • Gift boxes from my bestie
  • Sunflower mail!
  • The “sister spirit” sun-catchers my sister Karlette made

Sometimes, just looking at pretty, artsy things brings me joy, especially when I can use those things to do something for others:

  • Colorful stickers
  • Nice pens–ink or gel and Sharpies of all kinds!
  • Craft scissors
  • Craft punches, including corner rounders (they make everything elegant)
  • ATC blanks, sketchpads, and art journals
  • Rubber or acrylic stamps
  • Postcards
  • Photo apps
  • Pretty stationery, journals, and notebooks
  • Fine art, including photography
  • Handmade envelopes and cards
  • Washi tape!
  • Scrapbook materials, including Project Life and digital/printables
  • A good mail day, especially unexpected letters from friends
  • Apple products (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop—all things Apple)
  • Martha Stewart Scorer and Envelope Maker
  • Cricut—cutting is so relaxing!
  • My camera, of course!

My social media indulgences:

  • Pics and Posts!
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Flickr

Revisiting this list (of slightly more than 100) certainly offered today’s joy moment. I’m going to make a concerted effort to take time for joy each day–beyond morning prayer and meditation. Would you like to join me in taking (at least) a 5- or 10-minute joy break every day for the next 10 days?

Let’s see the difference joy makes!

God of the Drop-Kick

Unrelated photo-art because I couldn’t find a “drop-kick” pic. :-/

I “found” the poem I’m sharing today “by chance” on novelist Alison McGhee’s blog. The poem, by 14th century Persian poet, Hafiz, reminded me of the conversation a friend and I had a few days ago about the narrow view of God as a docile, old man in the sky. Many of us “speak sweetly” of the gentle “Lamb of God,” but want to deal as little as possible with the Lion of Judah. We certainly don’t want to deal with a God who tires of human foolishness and foibles to the point that He might consider “drop-kicking” us.

Tired of Speaking Sweetly
Hafiz (Translation by Daniel Ladinsky)

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth

That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,

Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.

The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:

Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.

But when we hear
He is in such a “playful drunken mood”
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.

Thankfully, despite how impossible we can be, God does love us enough not to harm us. I’m grateful–though He might shake his head or “fist” at me sometimes–His deep love for me and His mercy and grace override any inclination to drop-kick me. This doesn’t mean I get a pass or that He doesn’t get tough with me. He does. But His ways are not our ways. Again…thankfully.


Interesting Fact: Bobby Bare recorded a song in 1976 entitled “Drop Kick Me, Jesus.” Go figure.

The Sacred | #PocketPoem

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Image by Lisa Runnels from Pixabay

I’m back with a poem in my pocket!

What am I carrying? “The Sacred” by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Stephen Dunn. The poem speaks plainly and authentically about an everyday occurrence in which we (can) find a small, sacred moment of freedom.

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

Life gets so busy, so complicated, so crazy at times that I look forward to those small moments in the car alone with my thoughts, my music, my podcasts. One of my colleagues gets in her car and drives to a parking lot to get work done. I get it. That cramped space with windows “uncurtained” is the perfect hiding place from the world.

Did you share a poem on your blog today? Be sure to drop your link in the “Comments” section below.

Fall in Love…

Daffodil

I had planned to share poetry on the blog every day this month–as I did last year–but reality dictated otherwise. What was I thinking, anyway? Last April we were “sheltering-in-place,” so I had time to read and think about poetry for pleasure. This April, hmm…not so much.

However, I will take advantage of the last three days of National Poetry Month and share a few poems.

For today’s literary treat, I’m sharing one from Morgan Harper Nichols‘ book, All Along You Were Blooming, which I talked about in a previous post. She has a gift for speaking to whatever moment I’m in; I am sure many feel the same way. The poem I share today is a lighthearted reminder to love life in all of its simplicity and complexity.

Fall in love with the art of living.
Fall in love with letting things be.
Fall in love with listening.
Be still in the sun,
where the winds ever-gently blow,
knowing it is here,
in moments like this,
you are living,
and you will grow.

Morgan Harper Nichols, from All Along You Were Blooming

Tomorrow is “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” so let’s have a link party! Join me by sharing a poem on your blog–yours or someone else’s. Be sure to come back here and add your link to the comments. I don’t want to miss your poems! Maybe, I’ll “discover” a new poet!

Let’s share until the very last minute of National Poetry Month, 11:59 PM.

Check out some other ideas for PYP Day by downloading a PDF filled with ideas and poetry from the Academy of American Poets.