Self-Kindness and the (Un)Written Plan

Interior of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, DC. Digitally altered, of course.

The publicly announced commitments to change and other goals [seem to] have increased significantly for 2020, perhaps, because most perceive the new year as the beginning rather than the end of a decade.

This morning, I had a brief discussion with Paula, an inspirational writer friend, following her (re)posting of a devotional thought she wrote at the beginning of 2018. She commented in our discussion that not much had changed in two years.

That gave me pause for two reasons: (1) From my point of view Paula has made serious strides in recent years. And (2) when I considered what I’d hoped to accomplish the past several years, I confronted the reality that I missed the mark many times, in many ways.

But before I allowed myself to sit in a stew of self-pity and regret, I decided to make a list of all the things I have accomplished over the decade. Sufficiently sated, I stopped at the end of the first long page–with plans to “complete” the list and refer to it whenever feelings of failure and defeat surface.

While writing the list, I focused on the things others can see, things I can list on my curriculum vitae or include in a professional biography. However, there are so many victories, so many successes that would not be included on a CV or in a bio.

By the grace of God, I’ve done some hard things, faced and overcome difficult obstacles. Things that took time. Energy. And left scars. Things no one else will see. Things most will never know. Things for which I will never be publicly honored, recognized, or applauded. Things that firmed up my soul and impacted the lives of others in ways I may never know.

I learned long ago my value does not come from a list of successes (or failures), a title, a bank account, or even the people around me. I also learned what I achieve through and for the Most High is far more critical than anything I do for myself.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to make plans and act on them, but I invite you to do so with a little more perspective and self-kindness. Even if you don’t check everything off [the probably overly ambitious] list within the time frame expected, take into consideration the ways in which you slay and conquer that aren’t written into the plan.

Happy 2020!

Into Morning | #WordlessWednesday

Sometimes, it’s necessary to ignore the ice cold temperature and race outdoors at the first sign of light to catch a glimpse of God.

“I Wake Close to Morning”
Mary Oliver

Why do people keep asking to see
God’s identity papers
when the darkness opening into morning
is more than enough?
Certainly any god might turn away in disgust.
Think of Sheba approaching
the kingdom of Solomon.
Do you think she had to ask,
“Is this the place?”

from Felicity, 2015

Sunflowers in the Cosmos!

When I viewed the A New Moon Rises: Views from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera exhibit at the Huntsville Museum of Art in June, I was literally “over the moon” to find sunflowers on the moon!

What? You didn’t know there were sunflowers on the moon? Well, there are!

I shared photos from the exhibit in July, but withheld photographs of one of the craters because, although I didn’t have a date in mind, I knew I wanted to share the crater during “Sunflower Week.”

A Very Young Crater

Obviously, this is not really a sunflower; it is actually a “very young crater.” This is one of the images captured with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC):

Spectacular ejecta surround this very young impact crater about 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) across. Since there are no superimposed impact craters on the ejecta, and the delicate lacy impact spray is still preserved near the rim, this crater formed very recently, perhaps sometime in the past few thousand years.  –from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Isn’t it amazing how very much the crater looks like a sunflower? If you can’t see it, here’s a sunflower edit I did a year and a half ago that might help:

Finding a sunflower on the moon reminded me of the sunspot postcard Love Noter Arielle W sent, which also resembled a sunflower. [It was featured in a blogpost a couple of years ago].

Detail of a Sunspot. Big Bear Solar Observatory, New Jersey Institute of Technology.

These lunar and solar “sunflowers” underscore the reason sunflowers are so meaningful to me. They’re not just bright yellow blooms that look like the sun; they are my constant reminder of the Creator and His Sovereignty. If He can give us sunflowers in outer space, and if He can sustain every single atom and keep order in the Universe, then certainly I can trust Him to be faithful over every single thing that concerns me.


We’ve reached the end of NaBloPoMo 2019 and Sunflower Week 2019. I’m ever grateful to you, my readers, for tolerating my daily posts (and ramblings). I have many more sunflowers, stacks of postcards and other beautiful things to share, but they will have to wait, of course. Life is going to be super-busy with end-of-semester madness and holiday planning, but I’ll be sure to check in a couple of times a week.

Until next time…Have joy!

From the Shadows…Into the Light

I did not come to photography looking for magic. I came looking for a way to speak my pain. In the process of finding images to portray my darkness, I passed through the shadows into light. Now, I am one of photography’s many lovers, devoted to the art of seeing and revealing. […] There’s something holy about this work, something healing about this search for light. Like the pilgrim’s journey, it’s heaven all the way.

–Jan Phillips, God Is at Eye Level

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

–Mary Oliver, “The Uses of Sorrow”

Through a casual Facebook post featuring some of her favorite books, my pen friend Connie F, introduced me to Jan Phillip’s book, God Is at Eye Level [Thanks, Connie!]. With Amazon [birthday] gift card in hand [Thanks, Tee!], I ordered the book and two others on creative and contemplative photography. 

The photograph of the wilted sunflower is the result of an exercise in God Is at Eye Level that invites readers to use an entire [pretend] 24-exposure roll of film to explore one strong emotion. It is my attempt to capture the tension between the darkness that walks with me as I deal with grief and trauma and the light I feel I need to project.  

But I am learning, day by day, there is value in darkness, particularly if we are using it to move toward Light.

In the quote above, Phillips underscores the usefulness of darkness, its role in our creativity and healing. Darkness is a “gift,” a necessary part of process; therefore, it’s critical that we face the darkness, wrestle with it, deal, so that we might emerge whole, or maybe not as fractured. Running away from it—creating some inauthentic happy place—only imprisons us. The operative word is emerge. Eventually, we “pass through” darkness and into the fullness of Light.

#ThursdayTreeLove | A Study in Contrast

One of the trees I enjoy watching from season to season is the dogwood that sits in the middle of the tree-filled field in the center of “my part” of campus. Year after year, I gaze out my window and watch the tree transform–from summer to autumn, winter to spring.

The tree is gorgeous in all seasons. It has a predictable beauty that can become commonplace to some, but the shape of the tree and the lonely bench that rests beneath its branches always manage to draw my eye.

Many focus on the dogwood’s beauty in spring. They typically point to the the milky blossoms and the illustration of the Crucifixion of Christ the tree provides. For me, the dogwood is just as arresting in autumn. The red-orange blossoms with a hint of gold create a breathtaking scene.

Although I’m convinced these photographs fail to adequately capture the tree’s stunning beauty, I thought you might appreciate the contrast.

I’ll make a note to photograph the tree during the winter and summer for a more complete study of the changes.

The black and white versions of the photographs underscore the seasonal differences of the tree.

Obviously, we’re going to see changes in nature as the seasons transition. I’m [still] awed by those changes–not only for the visual appeal but for what they teach us about our Creator, about His consistency, constancy, and character.


I’m linking up with with Dawn of The Day After in the Festival of Leaves photo challenge. I’m also a week early for the Parul Thakur’s bi-monthly #ThursdayTreeLove because I have a different post planned for next Thursday. No matter. Every day is tree love in my world.

A Raindrop. An Image. A Reflection.

“Raindrops” by Rebecca R. (aka Beckra)

Each raindrop holds within its entity
an image of the vast and ageless sea.

The quote above was printed on a card I received from a friend when we were teenagers. The words struck me and I committed them to memory. When I received the riveting photo postcard featuring raindrops in the garden from my pen friend, Rebecca R., the words immediately came to mind.

Although I read, memorized, and understood the words, I’m only now seeing the significance of the quote as it speaks to my relationship with Christ. If in a single raindrop we can imagine the vast sea, can others see in my pitiful humanity a reflection of Christ?

The Gift of Rescue

I mentioned in my last post that my favorite uncle passed away last week.

Some time ago, one of my paternal aunts–my Uncle Joe’s wife–told me the story of when and where my bond with my uncle initiated: I was not quite two. The family had gathered and there was a heaviness in the house because of the passing of my paternal grandmother and one of my paternal aunts–my dad’s older sister–within six months of each other. With the curiosity of a toddler I was drawn to the trash receptacle, and my Uncle Joe patiently and repeatedly pulled me away. He followed me and stuck by me for the rest of our time there. Since then, she told me, we became each other’s favorite (Shhh…don’t tell the others).

My uncle served as a pastor for almost 43 years [in many parts of the United States], and I often called him my personal pastor. When I had a spiritual dilemma or crisis, I called Uncle Joe. When there was a wedding, Uncle Joe. When it was time to dedicate my child to God [christening in some denominations], Uncle Joe. When Karlette’s life was waning, Uncle Joe. When the family, again, needed ministering after hearing of the imminence of Lori’s passing, Uncle Joe. Funerals, Uncle Joe. No matter where he was in the country, Uncle Joe would come, my aunt a willing travel companion.

When my not-so-little one was baptized a few months ago by a pastor we respect and admire, if I’m being frank, our one disappointment was that Uncle Joe [because of a recent stroke] could not be in the water alongside him.

Beyond the rites and rituals of religion, Uncle Joe was my counselor, my spiritual advisor, and a friend of my heart. His compassion for others was palpable. It’s clear I’m not the only one who felt this way. Since their move to Northern Alabama a few years ago, I’ve noted the steady stream of former church members, friends, and people picked up along the way in their home.

I’m convinced he, like my mom, was a saint. He loved and adored my aunt and tolerated her strong will and the zaniness that comes with the family genes. [See the post on my dad to get a glimpse of my aunt’s personality]. He graciously tolerated my dad’s other two sisters, both divorcées, lightheartedly calling him their husband too.

My Uncle Joe had a keen spiritual wisdom that I rarely encounter. I’m not referring to religious rules or doctrine or biblical exegesis—though he was expert in each–but I’m referring to a wisdom that was steeped in a committed relationship [with God], in faith, belief, and trust; it resulted in a spiritual practicality that often unseated me.

When he preached my sister’s funeral sermon, in his urging us to take all the pain, anger, and suffering over the loss of Lori to God, he reminded us that God doesn’t cause death, that because God is Light and Life, death cannot abide in His presence. Instead, he taught, God stepped aside.

I’d never, ever thought of the relationship of God to death in that way, but there’s incredible [mind-blowing] common [and spiritual] sense in that statement.

While I don’t know all the whys and hows, I’m grateful for my uncle’s life. I’m grateful for his light and for the gifts he gave. He had a sharp wit and unique sense of humor that didn’t abate even though he experienced a brain injury.

Last November—out of the blue—he suffered a major stroke and a massive heart attack. Doctors did not think he would leave the hospital, but he survived and thrived for 10 more months. Fourteen years ago, he suffered a major heart attack—the one called “the widow-maker.” At my sister Karlette’s funeral six and a half years ago, he commented on the fact that the time of his heart attack [in 2005] and her first breast cancer diagnosis coincided. He mused that perhaps God kept him here so he could minster to us. Last year, he officiated my sister Lori’s funeral. Two months later, he suffered the stroke and heart attack. I’ve often wondered, was he kept here to minister us through two of the most difficult challenges of our lives?

When my sister Karlette passed away, another one of my dad’s sisters pointed out that by holding on till we could travel to her and say our good-byes, Karlette gave us the gift of time. As I think about my uncle’s crises last year, I’m sure that is exactly what God gave us—the gift of time. Ten additional months for the people in his world to go to him and love on him and support him and let him know how much he meant to them. Ten more months for his wife to dote on him and show him that she would be okay [eventually] if death were part them. Ten more months for his sons to express their love for him through giving their time and through the intimacy of care. Ten more months for us to witness his fight, his strength, his wit and his humor.

I’m grateful that I was given time to express to him how much he meant to me. I’m grateful that since their move here, my hubby and son were able to develop a relationship with him. I’m grateful that my aunt was given time to adjust to a different type of life and pull from stores of strength she may not have known she had.

The knife of grief is sharp and [seemingly] unrelenting, but I’m grateful for my uncle’s patience and the gift of rescue that brought us together. I’m most grateful for the power of the resurrection, the sure to come great reunion with our loved ones who fell asleep in Christ, and that final moment when “death will be swallowed up in Victory.”

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  (I Corinthians 15:51-54 KJV)


Note: No worries about the whole “favorites” thing mentioned above. It’s a game my dad’s sisters and first cousins started when they were young. I fully intend to keep it going, but we won’t let the others know there is verifiable proof that I was his favorite. 😉