#ThursdayTreeLove | The Legend of the Dogwood

The tree blossoms have pretty much come and gone in these parts, so it’s nice that #ThursdayTreeLove gives us an opportunity to revisit the blossoms of early spring. Since we celebrated the Resurrection of Christ (Easter) a few days ago, I’m sharing my bunch of dogwood photos along with the “Legend of the Dogwood.”

There is a legend that at the time of the crucifixion, the dogwood had reached the size of the mighty oak tree and other forest trees.

So strong and firm was the wood that it was chosen as the timber for Jesus’ cross.

To be used for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the dogwood.

While nailed upon it, Jesus sensed this, and in his compassion said: “Because of your regret and pity for my suffering, never again shall the the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used for a cross.

Henceforth, it shall be slender, bent, and twisted, and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross–two long and two short petals.

In the center of the outer edge of each petal will be the print of nails.

In the center of the flower, stained with blood, will be a crown of thorns so that all who see it will remember.”

Even though this is a cute story, keep in mind that there is no truth to this legend. Dogwoods do not grow naturally in Israel and would not have been used for the execution stake.

I shot the dogwood photos with my iPhone one cloudy day and with my “real” camera another  [brighter] day. The first three shots in the posts are iPhone photos; the others are Canon photos. Although I’m impressed with the flexibility of the upgraded iPhone camera, it’s still no match for my Canon.  🙂

Be sure to tune in to the next #ThursdayTreeLove. I have more tree blossoms to share!


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.

Crucifixion: The Hard Part

[…]crucifixion was not the hard part
for Christ. Incarnation was.
How to squeeze all of that
all-of-that into a body.
Alison Hawthorne Deming, “Resurrection”

They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they compelled him to carry the cross. –-Matthew 27:30-32

This moment in the scriptural account of Christ’s crucifixion moves me. It depicts Jesus at one of his most human moments. With the literal weight of the world on His shoulders, He succumbs to the weariness of all this humanity and simply needs help carrying the cross from which He will soon hang.

Paradoxically, it took divine strength to walk that path of humility. It took every bit of His divinity to remain fully human and achieve for all humanity the ultimate victory over the enemy of our souls.

Light and Miracles

My friend Kemi gave me a handout on navigating grief written by Chrystal Evans Hurst. One of the tips is to “keep going;” another is “get to work,” to keep doing life. Although it seems easier to curl into a ball and hide under the covers till the worst of the grief passes, the reality is the longer I stay down, the more difficult it will be for me to get up. Besides, too much life requires my actual presence. In an effort to “keep doing,” I’m at work seeing students and working on a report that’s due in less than a week.

In that same effort, I’m blogging today because “Microblog Mondays” are part of my normal, and writing and blogging provide healing and escape, when necessary.

As part of our “Brothers’ and Sisters’ Tribute” at my sister’s “Celebration of Life” service, I read an excerpt from e.e. cummings’ poem, ‘i carry your heart with me’ and a brief “statement” about Lori’s gift. Many people asked for a copy, so I decided to share here so that they–and any others–can read it whenever they wish to do so.


Photo by Soorelis

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;

[…]

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart) –e.e. cummings

After I told Ramona, one of my colleagues, about Lori’s being moved to hospice and my utter despair that her situation had so progressed, she suggested that I focus on the gift Lori gave. That instead of focusing on the possibility of her end, I hone in on the gift she gave me.

This was apropos because Lori loved giving gifts. She was particularly tickled by finding unique sister gifts. But, of course, I was to look for Lori’s intangible gift to me and to the world. As I contemplated Lori’s gift, I came face to face with it during our last visit with her, mere days before she expired. Lori’s cancer had metastasized and covered 90% of her brain, but there was so much light emanating from her that it gave me pause.

Throughout her entire ordeal, Lori kept her mind stayed on Christ. There were times when I’d check in on her and she’d tell me she’d just had a high time in praise and worship.

She was so filled with the light of Christ that I firmly believe that though we didn’t get the miracle we prayed for, we received a miracle of light. It was no less than divine intervention that allowed her to have such peace throughout her trial, no less than a miracle that she clung so fiercely to Christ, no less than a miracle that she trusted His Sovereignty above all else. No less than a miracle that with only 10% of her brain spared this dreaded disease she recognized us, acknowledged our presence, and responded with the little physical strength she had. No less than a miracle that as the life was waning from her body, she still reflected light. She still reflected Christ.

Lori’s gift was her light. She taught us how to walk in light through impenetrable darkness.

“He Comes Walking”

During my prayer and meditation period this morning, I ran across a Sheila Walsh quote printed in my Women of Faith Study Bible, a couple of pages away from the psalm I was studying. I am moved to share it here:

When emotions beat against our souls like wave after wave in the worst of a storm, there is nowhere to turn but to Christ. As I sit for a while and think about Him, I hear the loneliest words in the world: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). On that brutal tree Christ embraced total isolation so that you and I never have to be alone. I am learning that doesn’t mean that life will be free of pain; it means that in the midst of the darkest night, He comes walking. Along the bleakest hospital corridors, He comes walking. When you think the world has left you all alone, listen closely. He comes walking. –Sheila Walsh

It is natural for us to feel alone when we’re struggling with everything that comes against us, when we’re desperately seeking answers that make sense. Rest assured. Things are not as hellish as they seem. We are not alone. Christ our Strength is walking with us, standing us upright, carrying us through.

I hope Walsh’s words rest deep within your soul. I hope when you are in the darkest places of human loneliness–where it seems no one knows or understands–you will remember Christ. He is well acquainted with human suffering. His light penetrates. His love and comfort reach even there.

He comes walking…

If We Love Each Other…

I read something this morning that nearly brought me to tears–a comment written in response to a blog post about God’s love for us. The post, written nearly two years ago, had few comments, but one comment in particular caught my attention. It was written by a man who for several years dealt with a series of really bad circumstances and came to the conclusion–after a lifetime of belief–that God does not love him. The saddest thing, however, is that the comment sat beneath the blog post with no response for a full year before another “random person” stumbled upon the post and read the comment.

A full year.

Even after the “random person’s” response, neither the author of the post nor the Christian organization that hosts the site responded. In nearly two years.

If it hurt me, imagine how much it affected the man who so bravely and desperately cried out. He needed an answer. He needed a virtual hug and assurance of God’s intimate concern and love for him.

He got crickets.

The thing that keeps me sane and walking upright in this world is knowing that God absolutely loves me, but I first experienced God’s love through others.

It is God’s love for and in us that allows us to love sincerely and deeply; it is His love that permeates our being and generates love action. It’s nearly impossible to experience or “possess” Divine Love and not be transformed.

Loving God and understanding His love for humanity results in reaching out to hurting people, living out His presence in our lives, and showing the world who He is–through acts of love.

Without human manifestation of God’s love, His love is simply theory.

The Fortunate One: St. Josephine Bakhita

Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself, ‘Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?’ I felt a great desire to see him, to know him and to pay him homage.    –St. Josephine Bakhita

Today’s “Focus on Black” post comes because I was a little surprised to learn that many people I spoke with could not name one Black saint, though even if not Catholic, they knew the names of European saints. Indeed, the only individuals I spoke to who knew about Black saints were two students who attended Catholic primary and secondary schools.

So, though there are many Black saints, today I’m introducing you to St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), Patron Saint of the Sudan.

Saint Josephine Bakhita, 2003. Oil on canvas. Artist, Janet McKenzie

We know very little about Bakhita’s early life, but she was born into a prominent family in the western Darfur region of Sudan. Her path to sainthood began with terror:

She and a friend were walking through a field in her native Sudan when she was abducted by armed slave traders.  She was so terrified upon capture that she forgot her name. The slavers called her “Bakhita,” which means fortunate.

Bakhita endured terrible cruelty at the hands of a succession of owners. Her fortunes truly changed when she was

purchased by Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who treated her with kindness and respect. Legani left her with a friend, Augusto Michieli, and his wife in Italy.  Bakhita served as caretaker of their newborn daughter, Mimmina.  When business required the Michielis to travel, they entrusted the girls to the Canossia Sisters of the Institute of the Catechumens in Venice. There, Bakhita came to understand the God who had given her the fortitude to overcome the hardships of slavery. After several months, she received the sacraments of initiation and was given the name Josephine. She remained with the Sisters and served as a nun for the rest of her life, beloved for her kindness to children and visitors to the Institute.  When she died her body was displayed for several days as thousands came to pay their respects. –from 365 Days of Black History, I Only Know the Story

St. Josephine Bakhita, the first saint of Sudan, was canonized–made a saint–on October 1, 2000.

At her canonization ceremony, Pope John II said of her:

In today’s world, countless women continue to be victimized, even in developed modern societies. In St. Josephine Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.

To learn more, see:

For more black saints, see:

Until next time…

 

“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!