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.

Loc’d: Second Journey

“Loc’d Defined,” Photo by Cy

I began my second locs journey a week ago.

When I first loc’d my hair 13+ years ago, I was five months pregnant, dealing with the losses of Post-Katrina New Orleans, and adjusting to a new normal. Although I had “gone natural” four years before, the time never felt right for loc’ing.

Until then.

I craved the permanency and flexibility of locs. I needed something that would connect me to my natural self and my cultural roots, and that would allow me to navigate the early years of motherhood with one less concern.

I’d planned to loc for only seven years–the spiritual number of completion. I considered cutting them off in year six, after losing Karlette, but I wasn’t ready.

“Loc’d Mommy,” Photo by My Hubby

My son, especially, wasn’t ready for a loc-less mom. Though I suspect he most enjoyed “pranking me” by tying my locs to the head rest in the car, loc’d Mommy was all he knew and he resisted the idea of my cutting them off.

My hair was a way to “mark time” as we journeyed through the first decade of his life. There was lots of growth for both of us.

In year 10, with my son’s “permission,” I convinced my bestie to cut my locs when her family came for a visit.

Good-bye Locs

That was March 2016.

Now that I’ve begun my second journey, I am asked “why?”–the same question I heard over and over when I began loc’ing the first time and when I cut my lengthy locs three years ago. The question is asked for many [complex] reasons, some of which are touched on in an earlier post.

I do not intend to go into those reasons in this post; I have only my answer to the question.

The last several months have been traumatic in some ways, and I’ve been feeling the drive to loc again. I first felt the inclination after Lori passed. I held back because I thought those feelings were a knee-jerk reaction to something I couldn’t control. However, as the months crept along, the desire grew stronger.

The losses have been significant, the pain unbearable at times. I needed to begin the process again, to mark the journey as I navigate the grief and trauma.

For me, there is incredible power in loc’ing–the patient waiting, the commitment to the process. As the hair locs and lengthens, I stretch. I strengthen. I heal.

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.