“In This Here Place…”

Emilio Cruz. Figurative Composition #7, 1965, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, Martha Jackson Memorial Collection, 1980.137.21

We are nearing the end of discussion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in one of my classes. My favorite part of the novel (and perhaps the reason I love it so much) is the sermon Baby Suggs, holy delivers in the Clearing. Instead of an actual Bible verse, love is her text. To those newly loosed [one way or another] from the chains and nightmare of slavery it is a reminder of their humanity and a call to release the atrocities of the past and imagine a new reality. After exorcising their demons through dance, laughter, and tears, Baby Suggs delivers a love letter to their beautiful souls. For me, this is the most powerful part of the book:

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.  –Toni Morrison, Beloved

I cannot locate a quality clip of Beah Richard’s phenomenal [understatement] performance of the second part [above] of Baby Sugg’s sermon, but here’s the first part.


About the Image: The artwork featured above is the work of Emilio Cruz, an African American artist of Cuban descent. You can see more of his work by clicking the link. It is one of the postcards in Paintings by African-Americans from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

At the Right Time…

I recently received Morgan Harper Nichols’s beautiful book, All Along You Were Blooming, as a gift. This book is filled with such beautiful soul-filling poetry that I can’t simply pick it up, select a poem, and move on. I have to wait for a moment when I can savor her words and let them sink deep into and soak my soul from the bottom up (if souls have bottoms).

I read the poem that follows this afternoon, and it feels like it was written for me in this moment. I’ve been operating in a fog and from a place of brokenness for far too long. I felt myself beginning to fall beneath the weight of it all, the pandemic, and being in crisis mode all.the.time. A few days ago–Sunday–I simply asked God to help me release the weight. I asked for clarity and direction. I don’t normally put in major [for my job] work hours during the weekend, but Sunday I work-worked for hours nonstop. Something in me felt compelled to clear several things off that particular plate.

By the next morning, I realized that there was a major shift inside. The Divine One had taken the whole load and kept me too busy to fuss and fret. The challenges are still here–obviously–but the weight is not mine to bear. I found myself really breathing again for the first time in a long time.

At the right time,
every broken thing
will come together for good.
You are more than your
failures,
successes,
more than your fears.
And far beyond the surface
of your desires,
there is a truer season
why you are still here.
If you find yourself struggling
to see past your imperfections
because you cannot figure out how
what’s torn apart can come together,
may you know in your soul
that the answer is not found in thinking,
feeling,
doing,
but in trusting what is Greater than you.

–Morgan Nichols, All Along You Were Blooming


About the Images: When I received the butterfly postcard [second photo] from my Love Notes friend Christine B, I was über excited because I knew somewhere in my 2016 photo library there was a twin butterfly feasting on yellow flowers [top photo]. Ha! I was wrong. The butterflies, though slightly similar in underside color, are different. My photo features a common buckeye; Christine’s a Melissa Blue.  Maybe, they’re cousins. 😉

Seven Practices for One Little Word

Do you have “one little word” for 2021? If you haven’t heard about it, one little word (1LW) is the practice of choosing one word to focus on for an entire year. Instead of–or maybe along with–New Year’s resolutions, individuals use the word as a path to growth and transformation in a particular area.

I first started the 1LW practice in 2015.  I’m not sure where I first read about it, but I liked the idea of intentional focus in one area of my life or on one spiritual discipline.

The practice of 1LW has increased in popularity significantly since my first word. There are many blog posts, worksheets, writing and creative groups devoted to helping you find and stick to the practice.

Keturah, a beautiful soul who was part of the youth ministry my hubby and I worked with some moons ago, reached out at the beginning of the year and asked for some tips on 1LW. My far less than prompt response was long enough for a blog post [and my time today is too short to respond to her and write a blog post], so I decided to kill the proverbial “two birds with one stone” and share it here in case some of you are interested.

It’s easy to get lost in a sea of words as you look for the right one word fit, so here are some micro-practices I use as I work toward finding the word I need and putting that word to work. Hopefully, they’ll help make your journey to and with your word meaningful.

  1. Partner with God. Near the end of every year I go through the rigmarole of claiming and rejecting one word after another. In fact, I have rarely chosen a word by the first of the year. It is only when I partner with God and seek His wisdom and insight into my life and character that I feel settled with a word. There are all sorts of things I would love to claim for myself, but sometimes those things just aren’t aligned with God’s desires for me. The beauty of partnering with God for your 1LW is that you get all the extra opportunities to dwell in His presence and listen for His voice.  When you let Him have some “say” in your one word decision, He places in your path little reminders all along the way.
  2. Define. When you accept your word, write down all its connotative and denotative meanings. Look for various nuances of the word in different languages, particularly the biblical languages. This exhaustive lexicon will help keep you engaged with the word as you seek ways to expand. It also reduces the prospect of boredom as you exploit all the possibilities of the word.
  3. Scripture and Other Inspiration. Make a list of scriptures related to your word. You don’t have to write the scriptures out just yet, but tape the list inside a journal for reference. You’ll find enough reason to scripture-journal the biblical texts that speak to you later in your journey. Select one scripture that will serve as your focus scripture. This is the one you’ll recite over and over and meditate on during your toughest moments. This also works with other sacred texts and forms of inspiration.
  4. Listen. As I mentioned in point 1, God will place signs of His presence and reminders along the way. Listen for God’s voice and embrace the markers related to your word as you go through your days. Journal your experiences and your encounters with God via your 1LW..
  5. Collect. Collect quotes, poems, and images related to your 1LW. Post them–on your wall, in your office, in notebooks, on mirrors. They serve as confirmation and affirmation for those moments when you feel a little lost and disconnected from your journey. You’ll be amazed how many things related to your 1LW meet your eyes once when you begin to pay attention..
  6. Pray, meditate, and act. The one word journey, if done right, is not for the faint of heart. The path is meandering and unstable. If you want a transformed life, then you must remain on the path and stay connected to the Source. Walk with prayer, take time for meditation, and as with all change, take the steps necessary to make changes when the time is right. You’ll know when the time is right because you’re connected to the Source...
  7. Journal. Maintaining a regular journal is key. Use it to collect your thoughts, prayers, quotes, musings, frustrations, victories, and setbacks. The journal ties it all together.

The one little word practice is not about achieving success or mastering yourself in a particular way in 12 months. It’s about challenging yourself and deepening soul practices, so release the notion that you must reach a particular state of being related to your 1LW in just one short year.

I only began to recognize the changes in me related to my first 1LW [six whole years ago!] within the last few months. And guess what. Last year’s word might be this year’s word too! 1LW is not a marathon or a task you must complete in 12 months. It’s fluid.

The goal is to realize a vision for yourself in one word. 1LW is a whole lot more practical and achievable than a list of resolutions and, if done sincerely, will become a consistent practice in your life–far beyond this one year.


About the Image: This is another beauty captured at Scott’s Orchard in October, the Chianti Sunflower . It is not as stunning as the Moulin Rouge, but I think it’s pretty close.

Coping with the Madness of 2020: Pray

If I practiced none of the other coping strategies I wrote about in the “coping” series, I might be okay, but the one thing that saves my sanity, my life, and probably the lives of a few others is prayer. In fact, journaling, creating, shutting it down, listingsleeping, and spending time with trees, would have little effect if I did not pray.

So I pray. I pray. I pray. I pray.

I’m not talking about begging and bargaining, though I’m pretty sure I’ve attempted some of that  this year. Instead, I’m talking about being in communion with God, listening for/to His voice, and doing my best to respond to the madness of 2020 and life in general  in ways that honor Him, deepen my trust in Him, and elevate my consciousness.

I am not overstating when I say prayer has kept me sane.

There are few words to describe our collective trauma this year, and I can’t say that I haven’t wondered or asked “why?” from time to time. But God is absolutely sovereign, so I try in all things to yield to His will–no matter how unfair, unreasonable, or impossible circumstances seem to me.

Moving toward prayer during difficult times challenges everything in me. It calls me out of self-centeredness, moves me away from my desires, and pushes me to higher levels of God-consciousness and light. The outcome is beautiful, but the work to get there isn’t pretty.

Moments like the ones 2020 has presented us with are tolerable and livable only when I am in constant contact, when my focus is heavenward and not on this tiny difficult moment. While I may not know the beginning from the end, prayer firms up hope and gives me a glimpse of the beautiful possibilities. For all of us.


Gracias: Thank you for joining me for the seven-part “Coping with the Madness of 2020” series.  If you’re interested, you can find a few more tips in two posts I wrote six years ago–different circumstances, but they still work: Getting Through the Crazies, Part I and Getting Through the Crazies, Part II.

And thanks to my friend Charmaine whose yellow iris is featured at the top of this post. I have difficulty shooting irises and expected little from the shots. This one turned out to be one of the favorites among those I shot from her garden. Who knew?

Like Him…

A person who claims to be continuing in union with Him ought to conduct his [her] life the way He did. —1 John 2:6 CJB

This morning as I was meditating on 1 John 2:6, I was struck by all that it means to live in union with Christ and to live as He lived while He walked this earth. I usually journal my explanations  and/or responses to scriptural passages, but instead of paragraphs, a list rolled onto the page.

Live in Him = live like Him.
Live in Him = speak like Him.
Live in Him = walk like Him.
Live in Him = listen like Him.
Live in Him = trust like Him.
Live in Him = pray like Him.
Live in Him = worship like Him.
Live in Him = heal like Him.
Live in Him = share like Him.
Live in Him = empathize like Him.
Live in Him = give like Him.
Live in Him = think like Him.
Live in Him = challenge like Him.
Live in Him = serve like Him.
Live in Him = shine like Him.
Live in Him = love like Him.

This is where my pen stopped, but I’m sure I’d have no problem adding more acts to this list. And that’s just it–this is a list of action verbs! Can you imagine how long [and daunting] this list would be if I had added stative verbs?

Walking in complete union with Christ is work. We are imperfect, fallible beings, so even if this work isn’t impossible, it is certainly exhausting! It is challenging to love and shine like Him when we add all the variables of our daily encounters with others.

But doing this work is worth it!

Through such soul work and through “living in Him,” we are crafted into His likeness, and that is a beautiful thing.


About the Images: I captured the sunset sky images above last month and shared them on Instagram. They “wanted” to be shared here on Pics and Posts too. 🙂

First Day: The New Academy, Hell, and Miracles

My favorite building on campus

Forgive me for what is sure to be a rambling, pointless blog post. Despite my weariness, I promised myself I would write a post today because Microblog Mondays are part of my normal. I need as much normal as I can get these days.

For many complex reasons, my university decided to offer in-person instruction, but students have the option to attend virtually. Today was the first day of classes. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I met students in my office via ZOOM instead of in a classroom. Only a couple of my students are back on campus for in-person instruction. The others are learning from their homes because neither they nor their parents are comfortable with the still rising [COVID-19] numbers.

There’s so much more to think about during these COVID times. There are so many ways of navigating academic life that has been remapped. We wear masks and face shields; place protective shields on our desks; check temperatures and sanitize our hands when we enter buildings; we carry gloves, hand sanitizer, extra masks, and disinfectant spray; we are overly conscious of our hands and face; we remind students to “stay back” the magic distance of six feet—no hugs for those beautiful ones we haven’t seen in five months; we teach fewer students in instructional spaces and try to construct our courses so the students build connections through the digital divide.

To make matters even more interesting–here we are in the hottest part of a southern summer, and the air conditioner in our almost 80-year-old building decided to go on strike. So 95 degrees outside. 105 inside while wearing a mask. I had a taste of hell today.

Strange start to the academic year after an odd too-long/too-short summer. In these first moments, getting through [another] COVID semester seems impossible, but I keep reminding myself, the impossible gives birth to miracles.

“Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church”

Please note:  WordPress coding is misbehaving, so forgive me if the line breaks are rather random and ill-placed in this post. I’ve followed all the rules, but I get a different result each time. :-/

Chapel of Peace, Whippoorwill Academy and Village, Ferguson, North Carolina. 2012

Emily Dickinson’s Poem 236, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church,” is appropriate for our Corona times. We tune into virtual services, but they’re not the same. After all, we attend services for reasons beyond a sermon and a song.

If you’re missing fellowship with other believers, try spending time with God in nature. “All the earth worships [Him] and sings praises to [Him]” (Psalm 66:4), so you will not be in fellowship alone. Maybe, you’ll find that you’ve needed this type of worship also.

Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church (Poem 236)

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.


About the image: The “Chapel of Peace” is an older image. It was featured on the blog about seven years ago.

The Gift of the Resurrection | “The Blessing of the Morning Light”

As usual, around this time of year, I have been thinking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ—about what it means for humanity but also what it means in other ways. Scripture says that Christ came that we might have life abundantly—not a life of material riches, but a life richly transformed by the power of Christ, one which, despite the vagaries of human life, rest in the joy and strength of His presence.

This is also a gift of the resurrection of Christ.

We have been learning over these few weeks of sheltering-in-place that, generally, we have been living shadow lives, chasing the entrapments of what others consider a good life. We’ve also been learning that we can actually live without much of the clutter and noise, that—no matter how much we want to be out and doing with the throngs—we are content with our simpler, streamlined lives.

We have time for thought. For listening. For embracing joy and sorrow outside the rush of our normal everyday existence.

We are experiencing a mass removal of “masks” that unfortunately cannot be handed over to health professionals. This presents us with an amazing opportunity to grapple with the messiness of our experiences in ways that lead to authentic connection with ourselves and others.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of listening to David Whyte read one of his poems, “The Blessing of Morning Light,” during session 1 of his workshop, The Courage in Poetry. The words coincided so intensely with my thoughts over the last couple of weeks that I almost exited the live workshop just to sit and process those few moments.

We have a genuine opportunity through this global travesty to allow Light to illuminate the dark places so that we may rise to morning light.

[The poem was written one Easter morning (2015) in memory of his friend John O’Donohue].

THE BLESSING OF THE MORNING LIGHT (Or, “Easter Blessing”)
David Whyte

The blessing of the morning light to you,
may it find you even in your invisible
appearances, may you be seen to have risen
from some other place you know and have known
in the darkness and that that carries all you need.
May you see what is hidden in you
as a place of hospitality and shadowed shelter,
may that hidden darkness be your gift to give,
may you hold that shadow to the light
and the silence of that shelter to the word of the light,
may you join all of your previous disappearances
with this new appearance, this new morning,
this being seen again, new and newly alive.

From the David Whyte, The Bell and the Blackbird (2018).

All Wrapped Up in Joy

I woke up this morning with all the “things to do” on my mind and all the uninvited annoyances that entered my sphere days earlier nagging my heart. Before jumping out of bed in a frenzied rush–15 minutes later than I’d intended and an hour later than I should have–I paused and convinced myself to spend my usual first moments of the day in meditation.

I thought about my blogging friend Rev Russ’s query in his post “It’s All Hard”: Is life hard or have we become wimps [not exactly his words]?

I mused for a moment about just how difficult it can be to navigate all the “stuff” that comes our way from day to day, just how hard it is to push past the everyday slights and disappointments, how hard it is to [always?] act and speak with prudence, how hard it is to accept [not tolerate] difficult people, how hard it is to forgive repeat offenders, how hard it is to love ourselves, flaws and all.

The thought of it all made rising from bed a bit challenging, so I asked God, “How can I face the day when I wake up bone-tired? Weary?”

He immediately answered with three doses of His Word, so I wrote them in my journal and determined to let them direct my day.

When things were said or done that had the potential to unsettle me–A person whose desires rest on You, You preserve in perfect peace because [she] trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3).

When a sense of my very present vulnerabilities threatened to overthrow me–My grace is enough for you, for My power is brought to perfection in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

When I felt like the tasks were unmanageable, too much, impossible–I can do all things through Him who gives me power (Philippians 4:13). 

Despite the disappointments, the distractions, the conflicting personalities, the tedious work, the “must get done” list, my step was a little lighter today; my mind at ease; my spirit unencumbered.

As I wrote the last scripture in my journal this morning and click-closed the pen, God whispered one more word into my heart–The joy of the Adonai is [my] strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The peace, the grace, the power–all wrapped up in His joy.


Forgive me for the wordy #WordlessWednesday. The image above is an edit of a fallen hyacinth flower. I visited my family in New Orleans last weekend, and the gorgeous and über aromatic hyacinth plant stole the show in my mother’s garden.

All scripture from the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB).

Are You Happy with Your Story?*

“Story Girl” by Connie S.

I received the most adorable tag this weekend! It came from my penfriend Connie S. I sort of coveted the tag when I saw it in a Facebook photo among several tags she crafted a few weeks ago for a “Little Wings and Tim Holtz” challenge on swap-bot. This one was an extra, so she sent it as a gift as I “get back into teaching mode.” Happy dance!

Connie wrote a note on pretty floral stationery and ended with the question–“Are you happy with your story?”

On this rainy, bluesy Monday when the headaches are unrelenting, it’s difficult to answer when my mood and pain are trying to do the typing.

Interestingly, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about “my story”–the narrative of my life that shapes who I am, my path, and who I am becoming. Particularly, I’ve noticed  just how often other people insist on writing my story or are set on what they think I should do and be; I’ve also taken note of just how often what they think I should do, think, and be benefits them in some way.

Though sometimes [most times, maybe?] individuals are actually advocating for us, I realize if we’re just going along and not paying attention, we can make it easy for someone else to write or rewrite our story. Therefore, we must be intentional about guarding our own developing script.

My life isn’t perfect–it’s certainly “been no crystal stair,” but those ups and downs and all arounds have developed in me a deep sense of empathy and compassion. The questions yet unanswered have taught me to love the questions and either seek the answers with an open heart and mind or patiently wait through the process. I’m learning still that sometimes the answers will come on “the other side of glory.” In my weakest moments, through Christ I’ve found strength–grace sufficient–to overcome the seemingly insurmountable.

I have an amazing family, the best friends, and good energy in my most important spaces. When I count my blessings, they far outnumber my setbacks and disappointments. Even in my most dejected state or my hour of most profound need, my gratitude deepens and widens over the blessed life God has given me and over His indescribable, incomparable love for me.

Am I happy with my story? Yes indeed. I’m not sure I’d know how to behave with a different story.

Are you happy with your story?


*My apologies to those of you who received a draft of this post via email or in your reader. Somehow the WordPress bot decided to publish before I hit the publish button.