#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.

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.

#ThursdayTreeLove | The Prayer I Needed

Impressionist Cherry Blossoms

A brief encounter with the cherry blossoms was the prayer my soul needed.

Praying
Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.


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. If you need more cherry blossoms, click the link.

I Can…

Earlier today I had a conversation with one of my students. She was having a moment—one of those moments when getting out of bed is difficult and facing the day feels impossible. I’ve been having those days quite a bit lately. In fact, today was one of those days.

I felt it as soon as I forced myself out of bed at 5:09. It hung over me like a heavy weight while I showered. It stuck “in my craw” while I prayed and journaled. It slowed me down as I dressed and packed my bags and offered all the reasons to hide under the covers and try again tomorrow. But, of course, being an adult, I had little choice but to “suck it up” and face the day.

It’s not anything in particular that places us in these “ugh” moments. It’s the accumulation of “life stuff.” Our operating in a pandemic for the last year certainly doesn’t help—the isolation from those we love, the death toll, the uptick in technology use. It’s downright wearying. It’s depressing, and we have to do everything we can to take care of ourselves and avoid slipping into a deep well of despair.

I told my student to get out of bed, open her curtains, let some light in her room, seek counsel, and meditate over scripture. I shared with her on those days when I feel like I just.can’t.do.life, I repeat over and over and over again the only Bible verse I have the energy for—

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. —Philippians 4:13

I can. She can. You can. And we wake up the next morning, realizing, we’ve survived another one of those moments.


About the Image: My Love Notes friend, Arielle W, sent the sunflower above for International Women’s Day 2021. She sent it with IWD wishes and a cheerful spring greeting. What a beautiful way to begin the week!

#ThursdayTreeLove | Precious Joy

Even though there are signs of spring, many of the trees around me are still skinny, naked, and exposed–shadows of their spring, summer, and early autumn selves.

I thought about those trees this morning as I watched the sun fill the sky, a backdrop for the leafless trees. I contemplated one of the passages of scripture I studied yesterday–

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of His faithful servants. —Psalm 116:15

I turned toward the computer to begin the workday, and my eyes met the pink sticky note on which I had written Psalm 96:12b a couple of weeks ago, anticipating the arrival of spring.

Let all the trees sing for joy.

Somehow, these two Bible verses are connected for me.

Today marks eight years since my little sister was taken from us. It’s strange how my body knows when the date is nearing. The grief and sorrow over the losses of both my sisters [and so many more since] are palpable, but it firms me up to know that God feels each individual loss intimately. We are precious to Him.

Maybe, the verses are connected in my mind because they point to hope.

Hope is in the “spring” of that soon-to-come Great Reunion when the trumpet sounds and those who have fallen asleep in Christ will rise first and meet our Savior (1 Thessalonians 4:12-18). Oh, how we’ll sing and rejoice!

In fact, all the earth will worship, and the trees will sing for joy!


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.

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.

Sunflower Love

The kind of Shalom we’re trying to give to people around us requires us to take an active interest in their physical and spiritual well-being. –Lisa Jo-Baker, Never Unfriended

Welcome to Sunflower Month on Pics and Posts!

Since I’m usually a bit overwhelmed with “the beginning of the semester” and unfinished business from the previous semester, I considered taking a blog break this month to focus on all the getting-things-going-in-January stuff.  Then, I remembered, my blog is a happy place, and I need it to escape the madness whenever I can.

So here I am escaping for a moment. I won’t post every day (obviously), but with the exception of the two #ThursdayTreeLove posts, I will share lots of sunflower love this month. Why? Because, as one of my friends pointed out when I questioned whether a sunflower month would be too much, “we need the bright and beautiful right now. ”

As for the gorgeous image above, it was crafted by Kim B, one of my Love Notes friends. I met her when she reached out to me as my sister Lori was nearing her last days. Kim wanted to offer hope and encouragement to both of us and she did just that. I shared her sunflower, which she “grew from a tiny seed,” on Instagram a few months ago, but it came to mind immediately when my hubby told me that instead of focusing on “one little word,” this year, his prayer is that he loves as God loves.

I swoon.

Can you imagine the exponential potential of his interactions with individuals he comes across? How many lives can be charged with even one encounter?

To tune in to others and offer love, unrestrained and without strings, is the best gift we can offer the world.

I am joining him in this prayer. Won’t you?

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. 🙂