Baby, It’s Cold Outside: The Gifts of Winter

Visitor by Irina Garmashova

Brrrr…It’s cold outside.

The postcards from a couple of my love notes pals–received a couple of weeks ago–seem to predict the weather we’ve been having in Northern Alabama lately. I’m convinced this winter’s frigid temperatures (so far) are payback for last winter’s warmth.

It’s no secret. I’m not crazy about cold weather. But there are good things about winter, so I won’t complain too loudly. Interestingly, I just read the quote included with the holiday postcard from Suzette R., another Love Notes pal, that reminds us that winter has its gifts.

May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter, so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within. May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping into the ground, so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow. May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core. May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air, so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.  –Br. David Steindl-Rast

Stillness. Silence. Hushed expectation. These are the gifts that winter offers as we await awakening in the spring.

Photo by Lisa C., Chasing the Sun 

[Notes on Postcards: From Eileen V., “The Visitor,”Artwork by Irina Garmashova-Cawton Fine Arts. From Lisa C., “Winter Bird,” Photography by Lisa Comperry].

Dining on Books: What I’m Reading Now

I have been reading voraciously the last week or so–as if I had been locked in some bookless prison the last few months, though that cannot be true. I teach literature after all!

Even though I seriously enjoy the texts I use in the classroom, that reading list is not for me. It’s for students–the texts I think best speak to the people, the milieu, the genre and will best prepare them for work beyond their degrees. After so many readings, those texts no longer feed my soul, fill me up or shake something up inside.

So what have I been reading? And what’s on my reading list for the next week or so?

  • As I mentioned last week, I completed Denis Thériault’s The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman. Immediately afterwards, I quickly devoured The Postman’s Fiancée, the (stand-alone) sequel. Both are excellent reads–particularly if you are into haiku. These novels were passed on to me by my friend Cy and I think it’s a good idea to keep them moving. I have in mind who should read the books next, but I’d like to figure out some sort of tracking system, so as the books change hands, we know where they land.
  • Poetry! Thériault’s novels guided me back to my daily readings of the haiku masters. But I’ve been reading other poetry as well:
    • rupi kaur’s the sun and her flowers. Finally, finally I have time to savor every raw and simple line of her poetry.
    • I’m also reading Fractal Song: Poems by my friend (and retired? colleague), Jerry W. Ward, Jr. He signed and gifted the book to me when he came to my university to deliver a lecture in October. An incredible gift! Jerry’s poetry is a bit more heady, so it requires early morning reading and contemplating in silence.
  • At the recommendation of one of my besties, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. The chapter titles alone have me on the edge of my seat.
  • Max Lucado’s Be Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World. The book seriously parses Philippians 4:6-7, a Bible verse I know backwards and forwards and in various translations because I repeat it constantly.
  • A couple of books I rescued from Cy’s toss heap:
    • The Dance: Moving to the Rhythms of Your True Self by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Love her name!
    • The Simplicity Reader which combines in one volume three of Elaine St. James’ bestsellers–Simplify Your Life; Inner Simplicity; and Living the Simple Life. The book is a little dated, but I love the short, common sense, no nonsense readings.
  • And to balance the list a bit more I’m going to hit the public library tomorrow to pick up some “Shakespearesque” novels and the last book in Francine Rivers’ series, Lineage of Grace.

This should keep me busy till the middle of next week. Then, I’ll shift gears and start thinking about spring semester. 😉

What are you reading for the long holiday weekend?

“Random Acts” of Christmas/The Intentional Gift

I’d planned to drop by today with a quick post about goodwill and the holiday season, but then this happened:

How could I resist sharing such a gorgeous Christmas morning sky? It’s a gift–a reward really, for having to wake up so early after being up so late last night (read: early this morning).

I love the Christmas season. I enjoy the lights, the colors, the various interpretations of the Nativity, Christmas trees, Santa, reindeer, the movies, cartoons, the glitter, glitz, and traditions of the holiday. I even like the hustle and bustle–to an extent. But what I really love about the season is that it generally brings out the best in us and reveals the goodness in our hearts. We’re kinder and gentler, more giving, and more patient with each other.

A few days ago, our new neighbors did something that we haven’t experienced from neighbors in more than a decade. They dropped by with a Christmas gift–a delicious assortment of cookies and holiday goodies they’d made themselves!

Despite my love for the holiday, my Christmas spirit remained dormant for much of the season, buried beneath exhaustion and a far too long to-do list. This neighborly act began a shift in my state of mind, particularly as I thought about how these same neighbors have performed other random acts of kindness for us over the last several months.

But here’s the thing–I don’t think my neighbors’ acts are so random. I think they’re specifically for us and intentional, with a particular result or reaction in mind.

It is this thought that led me to Christ and “the reason for the season.” The gift of His birth was specific and intentional (John 3:16, 17).

Just before falling asleep [this morning], I read a few devotional thoughts from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young that underscored my thinking. Thus, my Christmas spirit was recharged. Here are the parts that resonated most with me:

As you celebrate the wonder of My birth in Bethlehem, celebrate also your rebirth into eternal life. This everlasting gift was the sole purpose of My entering your sin-stained world. Receive My gift with awe and humility. Take time to explore the vast dimensions of My Love. Allow thankfulness to flow freely from your heart in response to My glorious gift. Let My peace rule in your heart and be thankful.  –December 24.

I set aside My Glory so I could identify with mankind. I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions–a filthy stable. That was a dark night for Me, even though angels lit up the sky proclaiming “Glory!” to awestruck shepherds.  When you sit quietly with Me, the process I went through is reversed in your experience. As you identify with Me, heaven’s vistas open up before you–granting you glimpses of My glory.

I am the gift that continuously gives–bounteously with no strings attached. –December 26

May you find the true joy of the season in the Gift of Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Let Us Be Grateful…

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.  –Marcel Proust

Early yesterday morning, I realized that I’d been “unfriended” by an acquaintance on Facebook. It made me feel “some kind of way.” Normally, I couldn’t care less because Facebook is Facebook. People come and people go. I don’t even spend a lot of time on it. But the person is someone I communicate with regularly, so this came as a surprise (and yes, she’s still on FB).  I prayed about it–asking God to free me from the icky feelings that were creeping in–and moved on.

Less than an hour later, when I’d moved on to other matters, I was overcome by an overwhelming appreciation for the wonderful people God has placed in my life–people who have held me together when I was clearly falling apart, people who have provided joy and laughter and deep friendship, people who know me and get me and expect nothing more from me than who I am, people who make much over me and shower me with love and good things, expecting nothing in return, people who make my “soul blossom.”

It was clearly a lesson in “gratitude”–and when it comes to the people in my life, I am more than grateful.

Recently, I received the beautiful card [above] in the mail from Amy, @outofbroken, whom I met via Instagram. I initially encountered her when my Brittany tagged me in one of outofbroken’s “giveaway” posts. [I ended up winning Redefined, a beautiful journal from Well-Watered Women]. Amy’s posts are inspiring, and one evening we had a spirited conversation in which we shared our spiritual struggles and committed to praying for each other.

Some time later, the card came filled with encouragement, blessings, and uplift. Her message ended with one of my favorite phrases–one of my mantras, really–God is faithful.

And He is…and I’m grateful for the people He has placed in my life–for a moment or for a lifetime.

A Last Nearby Song: Ending Autumn with Haiku

“Native Awareness.” Photo by Gale D. (grstamping on swap-bot)

I just completed the novel The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault. It’s the kind of read one can finish in one sitting, but it took me a couple of days because I read slowly while waiting in the carpool line or just before falling asleep. The book is based on the Zen concept of ensō. It feels a lot like Kafka, whose absurdist works I love, but it also feels like haiku, which is a prominent feature of the novel.

And that might be the reason I returned to my favorite book of haiku and have been reading haiku all week. However, [Kobayashi] Issa’s poem, which I didn’t see in the collection, is worthy of the last day of autumn:

evening cicada–
a last nearby song
to autumn

Gale D’s photos are brilliant reminders of the best of the season and an appropriate end to the autumn posts for the week. The photos were sent for an “A Thousand Words” group swap. The top photo was shot in Mattawa, Canada. The photo below in Orillia.

“Drive by in Orillia.” Photo by Gale D. (grstamping on swap-bot)

Somehow, the novel set in Canada, the Japanese haiku, and photos captured in Canada come together and make perfect sense for the last day of autumn–in my mind at least. 😉

Mid-Autumn Hijinks

I took several walks this autumn, some to capture the scenes and some to escape my office and enjoy the sun, crisp air, and brilliant colors. I usually walk late morning or early afternoon when my office begins to close in on me and the needs of students (and others) begin to take a toll, but early one November morning I noticed an unusual sight as I glanced out the window on my way to make copies. An early morning lightning storm took down a huge limb from a favorite tree. I grabbed my camera, raced outdoors, and explored the area before the grounds team came and removed the limb which blocked an entire sidewalk.

[Click an image for a closer look]

I’m not sure if you can tell from the pics, but the limb was pretty large. It blocked a wide, well-traveled path and even almost consumed another tree (see last pic in the collage).

Once outside, it was difficult to simply go back to my office with papers, students, and last minute class prep, so my camera and I took a short walk to capture more of the season on that post-rainy morning.

There was so much beauty in the trees as the summer green slowly gave in to the autumn glow. [Click an image for a closer look]

Of course, the leaves deserved a bit of “close up” attention.

[Click an image for a closer look]

I took many photo walks alone during the last few months. My friend Cy, who often enjoyed campus photo walks with me, was rarely available to walk this past semester because our schedules conflicted. This turned out to be practice for my future campus walks because Cy moved “far, far away” today to explore “new territory” with her camera. 😦 The good news, though, is that she finally started a blog to share her unique images and experiences, so be sure to welcome her to the blogosphere and show her some blog love: Pink Nabi.

Until tomorrow…

Autumn Bliss: Bursting With Its Last Beauty

Autumn Leaves: Image by Martha S.

Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.”  –Lauren DeStefano, Wither

As I was out and about yesterday, I noticed that autumn is hanging on fiercely in some places. The colorful display in mid-December compensated for the too cold weather we’ve been having lately. But the trees I glimpsed on campus when I made a quick stop at my office this afternoon proved that we are certainly facing the last days of autumn.

Of course, I cannot let the season end without sharing a bit (more) of it with you, so I’ve decided to dedicate (some of) my posts this week to my autumn bliss. I’ll try to contain myself and limit the season’s posts to three, but I’m not promising.

The mixed media postcard featured above was made by my penfriend Martha S. Life has kept her busy, so it was a too pleasant surprise to find this bit of autumn love in my mailbox. This beauty has found a home in my notes and quotes journal.

Thank you, Martha, for this lovely rendering of autumn bliss!