Just Being.

Colleen Persimmon

Sometimes just being needs space to relax. It needs time to pause from the pressure of living up to the duties and expectations of a rigid framework, or rest from showing up in full armor every day to protect a tender internal truth.

Colleen Blueberries-2

Or sometimes just being needs to cry and feel into coarse emotions for a while.

Colleen Blackberries-2

Whatever it takes for all the layers of what has built up inside begin to unwrap the gift you truly are, deep within, just being. —Susan Frybort


About the Images: The photographs in this post were all shot a few days ago in a moment of “just being.” The ripening persimmon, blueberries, and blackberries are just a few of the treats growing in Colleen’s garden–recently renamed [by me] “Colleen’s Private Farm and Botanical Garden.” Her father spends time in this garden planting and cultivating and just being–a reminder of the beauty that can be produced when we create space to just be.

#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.

Are You Languishing Too?

2021-06-09_151738The school year ended for my son last Wednesday. We have been looking forward to “the end” almost since the beginning. This pandemic year has been hard for everyone, and even though I’m still very much engaged in the daily grind, a tremendous weight has been lifted because at least my son can breathe a little easier and hopefully recuperate “enough” before August.

Some weeks ago, as I listened to Dr. Anita Phillips’ podcast, In the Light, she “hit a nerve.” As she introduced the episode “Beautiful Things,” I heard the word languishing and listened a little more closely:

It is a stealthy emotion […]. It sneaks up on you little by little […]. It is really easy to miss. The feeling of languishing is one of stagnation and emptiness […].

Phillips, a trauma therapist, also referenced a New York Times article, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing:”

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

I backtracked and listened to that part over and over.

Languishing.

Is this why I have little interest in doing things I usually enjoy? Is this why it seems I’m working all.the.time but have little to show for it by the end of the day? Why I don’t feel like cooking or cleaning? Why sometimes my brain seems completely devoid of thought?

I know I am not depressed, but I feel out of sorts and disconnected from my usual rhythms.

Languishing.

The word perfectly describes the state I’m in and the state of others with whom I’ve spoken recently about their mental and emotional state during this phase of the pandemic.

We once flourished; now we’re doing our best if we can climb out of bed in the morning. Of course, there are ways to combat this state of being, but for me, it really comes down to the very thing expressed in a Washington Post title on the same subject.

“We all need a break.”

We need time to take care of our mental health and process what we’ve just gone through and what we’ve come through. We need time to grieve the losses and celebrate the gains. We also need time to look ahead and dream of the possibilities once we are truly post-pandemic.

Is that doable right now when we’re barely doing life?

The whole thing is “a lot,” as some say, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the “too much” of it. But we must pay attention and we must deal with our languishing because as the NYT article points out, languishing, in some ways, may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness. Furthermore, as Dr. Phillips emphasized in her podcast, “the mental health impact [of this moment] will far outlast our return to physical safety,” so we must take the time now to “honestly identify and name how [we] are feeling.”

I have many coping strategies [journalingcreatingshutting down technologylisting, sleeping, spending time with trees, and praying], but I am taking Dr. Phillips’ advice of identifying and naming, expressing my feelings, and spending time with those I love. Additionally, because confronting the mental and emotional chaos can be all-consuming, I am processing in small moments. The few minutes while doing the dishes. The walk from building to building while running errands on campus. The half hour or so spent grocery shopping. Whenever I can find even just a moment of quiet, I take the time to process, to exhale, and to heal.

I pray you’re doing the same.


Note: I am not a psychologist or therapist, so I encourage you to read the articles and listen to the podcast linked in this post for more information, tips, and tools for dealing with this mental health challenge–and of course, seek professional counsel should you feel your issues are much larger than you can handle without help.

About the Image: The image above features the artwork of illustrator and designer Eunji Jung. It was this bit of gorgeousness that “introduced” me to my new Love Notes pal, Kathi G. I admired the postcard after another Love Noter posted it in the group, and Kathi kindly sent one my way. Thanks, Kathi!

Weekend Joy and the Clinton Row Colorwalk

A smile relieves a heart that grieves. Remember what I said. –The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

So far this long weekend has been exactly what I needed. When I left work Thursday, I’d planned to take the four-day weekend seriously re: self-care and joy breaks. I had some “unfinished business,” so I worked till noon Friday and I haven’t thought about work since then.

I have been just as serious about my 10 days of joy.

Yesterday, I held my first full “brain dump” session in a long time and ended up with a three-page list of all the things that have been nipping at my soul. Now, I know that doesn’t sound very “joyful.” And it isn’t. In fact, without context, the list is sad, stressful, anxious, but the JOY is in how I felt after writing the list! I have been carrying too much stuff internally, and when I don’t deal with it or even take a moment to acknowledge it, all that soul-gunk spills out in not-so-nice ways. So…taking an hour or so Sunday morning to detoxify my soul was beneficial in many ways.

I’m not sure I would have been able to even approach that list if the guys and I hadn’t taken time out for creativity Saturday afternoon. We grabbed our cameras, headed downtown, donned our masks, and took a two-hour photo walk. The weather was perfect—cloudy, cool, and breezy.

I noted the typical street scenes—musicians playing, private conversations, storefronts, architecture, diners—but, because I am nearly obsessed with street art, the Clinton Row Colorwalk was my favorite joy moment of the walk!

The Clinton Row Colorwalk is an alley filled with murals painted by Huntsville (Alabama) artists.

Mick Jagger with Frame

Needless to say, every single piece of work thrilled me, but the quote written along the frame of the Mick Jagger portrait transformed the art into a powerful statement:

I pray that looking beyond this day we can all work together to overcome the hatred and division and start to heal the pain and suffering that everybody is feeling in this country.

Here’s a collage of “sneak peaks” of some the other pieces:

To see the full pieces, see my Flickr album here > Clinton Row Colorwalk Album and for more information about the art and some of the artists’ processes, check out the Facebook page here > Clinton Row Colorwalk Community.

What is today’s joy break? I’ll be spending time with family safely celebrating my baby cousin’s kindergarten graduation!

Joy all around!

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.

“In This Here Place…”

Emilio Cruz. Figurative Composition #7, 1965, oil on canvas. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, Martha Jackson Memorial Collection, 1980.137.21

We are nearing the end of discussion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in one of my classes. My favorite part of the novel (and perhaps the reason I love it so much) is the sermon Baby Suggs, holy delivers in the Clearing. Instead of an actual Bible verse, love is her text. To those newly loosed [one way or another] from the chains and nightmare of slavery it is a reminder of their humanity and a call to release the atrocities of the past and imagine a new reality. After exorcising their demons through dance, laughter, and tears, Baby Suggs delivers a love letter to their beautiful souls. For me, this is the most powerful part of the book:

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.  –Toni Morrison, Beloved

I cannot locate a quality clip of Beah Richard’s phenomenal [understatement] performance of the second part [above] of Baby Sugg’s sermon, but here’s the first part.


About the Image: The artwork featured above is the work of Emilio Cruz, an African American artist of Cuban descent. You can see more of his work by clicking the link. It is one of the postcards in Paintings by African-Americans from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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. 😉

To Grieve? To Celebrate?

The holiday season is here in full force. Even though I love it, sometimes, I struggle to get into the “holiday spirit.” However, this year I wanted to begin the Christmas season months ago.

I need the tree, the blinking lights, the decorations, the cheer. There has been so much loss and chaos that it’s a relief to focus on something celebratory.

Conversely, there has been so much loss this year that it is difficult to be present for all the magic and beauty of the season. There are no words to lessen the burden of grief for those who have lost spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, especially when the entire world seems to be grieving.

I wish I could reach out and hug the world with my words, but nothing I write would suffice.

But there is healing in words. Especially those we speak. I know everyone grieves differently, but I wonder what would happen for us if instead of suffering in silence, we’d wail in agony and expose the gnawing ache and gaping emptiness.

How liberating it would be to not “handle it well,” but give into it en masse!

My favorite bard places words of wisdom in the mouth of his character, Ross, who, after relating the slaughter of Macduff’s wife and children at the hands of Macbeth, urges him [Macduff] to express his grief because unexpressed grief burdens and breaks the heart:

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 3, Lines 245-246

Maybe in speaking, those all-consuming emotions will begin to feel more manageable and we’ll eventually find our way to celebration. Maybe, we’ll breathe and feel alive again and welcome the sadness of loss as only one part of life’s story.

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?