A Perfect Gift

Today began with grace. For the first time in six years, I woke up without the significance of the date weighing heavily on my heart. Though, this time last year, I could not imagine that I’d be mourning the the loss of another sister, I also did not imagine that we would welcome my sister Karlette’s first grandchild into the world.

Our Little Angel

And it is her beautiful presence that brightens today and gives a bit more of Karlette back to us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. –James 1:17a

Only Kindness: “It Is I You Have Been Looking For”

“Sister Sunflowers,” Card made by Debra D.

I had a hurtful unkindness earlier this week, a cruel one if I look at it closely. Emotionally exhausted and just plain weary of all the unkindnesses of life,  I was on the verge of giving in to the hurt and letting it win. But the God who heals me reminded me of all the beautiful people who shower me with love and kindness every.single.day.

My kindness jar truly overflows.

It’s strange, I guess, but I should be grateful for the unkindness. Such seemingly unnecessary hurts are indeed necessary because they reinforce the importance of compassion and deepen the experience with kindness. 

One of my favorite “kindness” poems, written by Naomi Shihab Nye, underscores the work that must be done before we “know what kindness really is.”  Though the initial landscape is bleak, eventually, we’ll learn to recognize in kindness the friend or shadow who accompanies us everywhere.

 

Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
.
Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.
.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.
.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Note about the image: One of my Love Notes friends, Debra D, kindly sent the card above to me as a “just because.” She filled the card with sheets of bright sunflower stickers. Through the card she honors my love for sunflowers and my relationship with my sister Lori. Isn’t there a purple sunflower somewhere? Debra makes the sweetest cards with markers, stickers, stamps, and various types of paper. You can find more of her “creative doings” on her blog, Meticulosity.

You can read about Nye’s experience which led to the poem in an interview here: The Incomparable Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness.

“You Will Love Again the Stranger Who Was Your Self”

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. 

We take a lot of abuse as we try to get through this thing called life, especially if we want to live with as little “drama” as possible. Little by little we give bits of ourselves away and suppress the best parts for the acceptance of others, until there’s little trace of our beautiful, natural self.

We can’t quite love this crafted version of ourselves, but we struggle to recall who we really are. All is not lost. Derek Walcott’s “Love After Love” offers hope for the journey to self-recovery.

If your true self has lain dormant, but you’re constantly at odds with this alien self, I hope you will take the hard road of self-love. Stand up. Advocate for you. Fight for you. Unearth your true self. Find her in the mirror and learn to love her again.


Postcard note: The absolutely gorgeous sunflower woman came from Geraldine (Nannydino on swap-bot).  She has been supplying me with some of the most unique sunflower postcards lately. “The Sunflower” was created by Canadian artist, Gabiioartist. Her inspiration was, of course, the sunflower.

Still. Covered.

“Be Still,” mixed media art by Lisa Larson

Thanksgiving Break ends today. The break I looked forward to since September. Time to be still and allow at least some healing to take place. A little time to just be and allow my grief to spill out without having to hold back or rein it in, without the persistent demands of first-year students or the expectations of colleagues.

But.

That didn’t happen. I’ll spare you the details of the “instead,” but tonight, I was noting how things sometimes come in a torrent. Without warning. The storm beats on us relentlessly and we can hardly catch our breath between lightning strikes. We want to do something, but the only thing we can do is take cover.

And that’s what I did.

I took cover from doctors who spoke doom and gloom. I took cover from the constant barrage of questions and requests from students (yes, during the break). I took cover from fear of all the “what ifs.” I took cover from the emotions that surged to the surface when my bestie told me she lost yet another person in her life to cancer. I took cover when my other bestie got a “not good” prognosis for her mother’s condition. I took cover when yet another bolt of lightning struck just yesterday. I took cover when the little frustrations of life were sure to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I took cover in the Word of God, in the knowledge and experience of who He is, and I rested in His embrace.  I found shelter there because when faced with the impossible, there’s nowhere else to be.

Some time last week, I received the card above from one of my dearest and most constant friends. It felt like a warm and much-needed hug, the hug that says, “I know…and this is the way through.”

I’ve been on a journey with stillness for years now. Some days, I’ve mastered stillness. Others…I stand in place, fretting and fidgeting. The card arrived when I was feeling the full brunt of all of the impossibilities that life has become, when all the disappointments were dancing before me and taunting, tempting me to fall apart. It was my call to do nothing. Be still. Relax against the onslaught and simply hold on to the God who will not, cannot let me go.

And that’s where I am tonight as I face the grueling last days of the semester with all the stuff that was there before and all the stuff that came up since…

Still. Covered.

#ThursdayTreeLove | The Oak and a Lesson in Self-Healing

Oak Tree in City Park, New Orleans, Louisiana, January 2017

This was not a good week. I was ready to throw in the towel by Wednesday morning, but I got up, dressed, pushed through the rest of the week, and kept Philippians 4:13 on repeat.

I’m taking a mental health day tomorrow.

In the last couple of days, I was told twice–in so many words–that I was being negative. Me? The person who always finds the rainbow and gives [almost] everyone the benefit of the doubt? The individuals who commented were right. The heaviness of unexpressed grief, of holding it together, and of having to navigate all of life despite my feelings was seeping out in unpleasant ways.

Each time, I went back to my office and asked God for forgiveness and a little more of His grace. He didn’t give the scolding I deserved. Instead, He gave empathy, reminded me of my humanness, and affirmed my decision to take some time away from the usual maddening routine.

Normally, when I’m in an icky place internally, my camera and a slow walk with the trees work together to adjust my mood. Not so this week. I walked almost daily, spent time with the trees, looked for unique perspectives to photograph and…nothing. My mood was unchanged. I realized, sadly, considering the trees isn’t always an effective panacea.

Today is #ThursdayTreeLove and I was so sure I’d write a post about the lovely trees I’d considered all week. I’m not fond of the idea of sharing this week’s photos, so I decided to share some from a happier moment–photos from a walk through City Park in New Orleans with my mom, one of my older brothers, and my baby sister.

We captured loads of photos on that walk, but today, we’ll take a look at one of the gorgeous Oak Trees in the park:

My photos aren’t great, but I’m sharing them anyway because I love the structure of the tree, the network of branches, and the way the tree seems to reach across the park toward the other trees.

You can somewhat see the massive size of the tree if you note my “tiny” brother in the lower right corner of the photo.

Trees and buildings in the background are puny by comparison.

The 1300-acre City Park of New Orleans is home to 30,000 trees, and proudly boasts “the oldest grove of mature live oaks in the world, including the magnificent Anseman Oak and McDonogh Oak, which are between 750 and 900 years old” [See Trees in City Park].

My guys and I spent so much time in the Park when we lived in New Orleans that we captured hundreds of tree photos. We were (and still are) especially fond of the Oak Trees. The trees are simply breathtaking. One day, I’ll go through my collection and select a few to share on the blog. For now, enjoy a little extra #ThursdayTreeLove with a few more City Park Oak photos on my hubby’s blog. I think you’ll enjoy “The Root of It All.”

I read somewhere that trees are self-healing. I don’t remember all the details of the process, and I certainly don’t expect to do the healing work alone, but there’s wisdom in turning inward, taking care, and doing my part. I coped a bit better last week because I was intentional about spending some time daily, allowing myself to feel and write and think. I did none of that this week and it showed.

Moving forward, I’ll put into practice the lesson of the trees.


I am joining Parul Thakur every second and fourth Thursday for #ThursdayTreeLove. 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.

A Written Word: I’m Here.

 

Tiare Smith Designs, from the Tia Playful Collection

“I’m thinking of you, praying for you, and I am here as your friend.”

–Cy–

We close “A Written Word” week with a postcard and note from my longtime friend Cy. She checks on me and sends a virtual hug regularly.

It was nice to find the super cute postcard in the mail with the simple message (above). The note warmed my heart and the Tiare Smith image of girls playing “jacks” brought back memories of childhood and playing “jacks” with my sisters. [Side note: I’m a “jacks” champion. In middle school, I won the competition during field day]. 🙂

“I’m here” is the most comforting phrase I’ve heard over the last few weeks. Even though I may never take some up on the offer to be a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on, it’s consoling to know that I have people to turn to should I need them.

When you don’t know what to say or how to approach someone who is grieving, know that the words above, spoken or written sincerely, are sufficient.


I trust you were inspired this week by the messages of encouragement and hope from my friends. It was certainly beneficial for me to take some time each evening and meditate on the precious words and just allow myself to be with my feelings. Thank you for taking a part in the journey with me.

A Written Word: The Purple Sky

You touched me and suddenly I was a lilac [purple] sky

Halsey [Ashley Frangipane], “Colors”

I’m pretty sure I learned to love the color purple and Prince–His Purple Majesty–from my sister Lori, so when I received a perfectly purple card and note from Bianca (another Love Notes pal), I smiled from ear to ear.

Bianca wrote that she sees Lori “as the purple, lilac sky–watching you, speaking to you, while guiding stars and pushing dreams your way.”

I love the element of fancy in the message. Now, how can I not  think of Lori every time I see a purple sky?