#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. 😉

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. 

Snapshots from an Early Evening Walk

As I mentioned in the previous post, my guys and I took an evening walk some days ago in a nearby nature preserve to see if we could spot the recently released rabbits that were under our care. We didn’t find the bunnies, but we found nature being her wild best.

We love walking in this park. We encounter beauty with each step, whether on the open trail which frames the pond, or the covered trails where we’re more likely to encounter the creatures that make the park their home.

Though much of the brilliance of summer has faded, there’s still so much to enjoy: Unloved flowers showcasing their beauty for those who have learned to see it.

Bugs that feast on the flowers. [Look closely]

Sun-kissed clouds floating above the trees, making way for night.

Random splashes of color.

Feasts for birds…

and the smallest animals.

Remains of fallen trees that continue to give life.

A surprise gift–a moth waiting patiently to be photographed.

A brightly colored flower captured as we exited a trail.

The final gift of the evening.

I hope you take some time this weekend to sit [or walk] quietly in nature, find strength, heal your soul, connect with the Divine.

Joy Break 1 | Discipline and Practice

“Barnsley Daisy” by Kelly of Happy Shack Designs

Around this time of the year, I usually begin a weeklong series of kindness posts, but this time around, I decided to focus on joy.

Despite the trauma and drama of the past several months (see last Monday’s post), I’m okay. As I mentioned at the very beginning of the year:

I’m learning to practice a steadying joy no matter the circumstance. This does not mean I work on being perpetually happy; it means that when LIFE does its thing, instead of driving myself crazy with worry or lying down in defeat, I rest in God’s presence and stand firm as His strength carries me.  Pics and Posts, January 1, 2019

Many people confuse joy with happiness. Unlike happiness, joy is not tethered to our emotional state. It does not depend on external circumstances or conditions. Joy is a discipline, and when we train ourselves in joy, we walk with knowledge that “a dark moment” is not the whole life. Therefore, in our innermost being, we are not held captive by our emotions–no matter what is going on around us.

I’m learning to lean in and remain in the Presence of my Heavenly Father. I need Him day by day, hour by hour, and being in His presence helps me confront my deepest aches and longings and experience life to the fullest even as I’m working through disappointments and pain.

The assaults can be wearying, but I’m convinced when we practice joy, we won’t succumb to the madness life tosses our way.


About today’s image: The Barnsley daisy above has been sitting in my “to be blogged” bin for a year. It was a side-swap from Liberate Your Art 2018. I’d planned to include them in this year’s LYA posts, but the swap coordinator, Kat, decided to take a much needed hiatus this year. The photo was taken by Kelly of Happy Shack Designs. Check out her website to see more of her photography and handmade jewelry. You can find her blog here, Artful Happiness.