Lessons from the Pandemic

Yellow Flowers in Vase by Sheila D of Sheila’s Corner Studio

I confess. I sometimes feel like a slacker. Sure, I am always doing something, but as I said in an earlier post, I’ve been getting nowhere.

Everywhere I turn, it seems someone has completed a book, started a new venture, traveled the seven seas, or even managed to purge and organize their home during the pandemic. I’ve done zip! I’m usually adept at side-stepping the comparison trap, but lately I have wondered if I’m just plain lazy!

Over the last year we’ve been given many tips on how to thrive, how to stay motivated, and how to do this, that, or the other during the pandemic. It was refreshing to join Pastor Lola Johnston’s Bloom in the Pandemic webinar a few weeks ago and hear her offer, instead of tips for thriving during the pandemic, two reassuring pieces of advice—to simply believe God is who He says He is and practice the principle of Matthew 6:33. She encouraged participants to refrain from practicing belief in our outcome and instead practice belief in the God of the outcome.

Whew!

It was nice to be let off the hook, to release the feelings of failure or guilt for not being completely awesome during the last 15+ months.

Of course, I wasn’t a slacker. I did not reach some of the goals I set for myself, but as I revisit those goals, some of them were way too big and way too much for our present circumstances. But during an actual, maddening pandemic, I held down a full time job, ably managed a leadership position that I was suddenly thrust into, taught overloads each semester, and operated fully in my family without losing my mind. And I actually managed to accomplish a few other things.

It helps to pivot our perspective. Doesn’t it?

If we focus on the gains instead of the unchecked items on our goals list, we’ll find ourselves in a healthier mental space. I realized this while writing a list of lessons learned in response to the final prompt of Love Notes 35. Even though I didn’t achieve some of my biggies, I’ve gained in ways that expanded my soul tremendously and I’ve learned so much.

I’ve learned to listen for the silence.
I’ve learned to find the path to stillness no matter where I am.
I’ve learned to adjust.
I’ve learned to keep moving.
I’ve learned to find time to write and “just be” in small moments because there will never be enough time, otherwise.
I’ve learned to appreciate the questions.
I’ve learned the answers do not always come.
I’ve learned [again] to accept sorrow and grief as necessary parts of life.
I’ve learned to let the deep, aching pain of loss do its work.
I’ve learned that my being vulnerable frees others to drop their masks.
I’ve learned that everyone is indeed fighting a battle.
I’ve learned that there’s very little I can control, but what I can control makes all the difference in my attitude and outlook.
I’ve learned that those who need our compassion most are those for whom compassion is a difficult exercise
I’ve learned to walk in the truth that everyone is made in the image of God.

Even though I sometimes feel like I should be doing so much more, I am learning that continuing to breathe and walk with joy during the pandemic are extraordinary accomplishments.

What have you learned in the last year or so?


About the Image: The bright yellow flowers were sent to me by my blogging pen friend, talented artist, and Love Noter, Sheila D. I actually wrote this blog post more than a week ago, but refused to post it because I wanted this particular piece of art to lead the post. I misplaced my “to be blogged” art file and it took me a whole week to find it! Why this postcard? In the face of difficult challenges over the last year+, Sheila has maintained a beautiful outlook on life. I find that inspiring.

100 Things That Bring Me Joy

Joy

Hello, my bloggy friends! I hope you didn’t miss me too much during my break.

While I was on “blog vacation,” I realized I didn’t need a break from my blog at all. I needed a break from some other things in life. In fact, work has been all-consuming. A few days ago, I was speaking with my colleague Ramona about our desperate need for seven consecutive days of not thinking about work. She replied that we need 10 days of doing the things that give us joy.

Wow! That’s a beautiful thought.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the whole world slowed down and took 10 days for joy? I know…I know…not realistic at all.

There was a time not so long ago when I made a point to do something “joyful” every day. These days…that’s a struggle, so the occasional afternoon nap is the best I can do. Lately, however, I’ve been wondering why it’s so difficult to muster the energy for things that bring joy. There’s still a month standing between me and an actual vacation, so I figured to save my sanity I must make a conscientious effort to take a joy break each day.

To jumpstart my return to joy, I pulled out the very long list, “100 ‘Things’ That Bring Me Joy,” I wrote seven years ago. I made some minor updates, and I’m sharing it with you as the first post of “10 Days of Joy.”

The list is pretty long, so you might want to grab a cup of your favorite warm beverage before you get started. 😉

First on my list are the basics, the foundation, so to speak.  Nothing else would matter without these entities and individuals who bring not only joy but meaning and purpose to my life:

  • God the Father in whose will I try to walk, who knows me intimately but still loves me, who pursues me relentlessly
  • God the Son who sacrificed His life for me and who loves me like no other
  • God the Holy Spirit who chides me when I’m heading in the wrong direction, who comforts me, and makes sense of my woe and pain
  • My hubby to whom I’ve been married for almost 27 years, who shares this world and this lifetime with me
  • My now 15-year-old son who from the time he was born has been teaching me what true joy looks like and how to focus on what really matters
  • My parents who have been supporting me all my life, for the love and loyalty evident in their 63-year marriage, for their integrity, and perseverance
  • My sisters who are my forever and dearest friends. Each is a reminder of different aspects of my personality and character; looking at all of them at once is like holding up a mirror. We miss Karlette and Lori like crazy, but their hearts still beat in us
  • My brothers, who stand strong and firm and exhibit the positive values of manhood taught to them by my father
  • My close friends—my angels on earth. They each add something unique to my life and they have held me up and sat in dark corners with me more times than I can count

Then, there are the little whispers…the things that leave impressions and carry a touch of joy that sustains me and keeps me pushing through the day(s)—

  • God’s love enveloping me
  • Random daily hugs from my not-so-little one
  • The dawning of new knowledge on my students’ faces
  • An unexpected compliment on a day when I don’t look or feel my best
  • Good times with colleagues. We actually like each other 🙂
  • Hearing one of my favorite hymns beautifully sung: “It is Well With My Soul” or “Come Thou Fount” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (I’ll stop before this becomes its own list)
  • Doing something for others without recognition or reward
  • Meeting someone with a beautiful spirit
  • Rainy days with a good book
  • Beautiful words/quotes
  • Baby smiles and giggles
  • Stumbling upon breath-taking beauty in nature

Of course, the natural world offers so many moments of joy.

  • Cloud formations
  • The ocean because of its vastness, beauty, and the salty air surrounding it
  • Bodies of water in general…something so peaceful about them and they seem to make me a little giddy
  • A mountainous landscape—mountains add such majesty to a place
  • The view from my office @ work because of all the gorgeous trees
  • Beautiful, colorful flowers! If you check out my Instagram page, you’ll see that I can’t resist snapping photos of them!
  • The view from my home office because of the beautiful clouds and the visits from my feathered friends.
  • A cool and breezy summer day—rare here in the South, but it happens
  • Autumn for all that autumn means: cooler temperatures, changing colors, pumpkin everything, beautiful clothes and sweaters (Not sure this should be under nature)
  • The moon!
  • Falling leaves
  • Red leaves
  • Spotting a deer, rabbit or other animal in its natural habitat
  • SUNFLOWERS!
  • Morning dew
  • The pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof
  • Frolicking squirrels
  • Spring revival, especially the short but sweet awakening of cherry blossoms and dogwoods
  • Birdsongs in the early morning
  • Butterflies fluttering from flower to flower
  • Long walks/hikes in nature
  • Sunrises and sunsets
  • Found hearts!
  • My favorite colors in nature—purple, red, and pink

Then, there are those things that help my spirit recall joy

  • Quiet mornings of prayer and meditation
  • Meaningful conversation
  • A good church service (good music, connection, and cerebral sermons)
  • A good day’s work
  • Singing my heart out
  • Listening to good music with meaningful lyrics
  • Writing in my journal
  • Poetry—reading it and writing it
  • Reading my favorite scriptures
  • Getting so absorbed in well-written fiction that I can’t put the book down till I finish
  • My son’s reading list–an opportunity to revisit great literature, read something I missed, or catch the newer writers
  • Looking through old photos and photo albums
  • A finished blog post  🙂
  • Museums
  • Children’s art
  • Illustrations in children’s books
  • Making lists
  • A finished “to do” list—a very rare thing indeed!
  • A spotless and well-organized house
  • A piping hot cup of herbal tea
  • A guilt-free afternoon nap
  • A boxful of Bath and Body Works products
  • Tree walks
  • Good falafels
  • Publix brand Chocolate Almond ice cream

The things others do (or did) for me…

  • My son’s poems, stories, and essays. He’s been telling stories and writing all his life and doesn’t yet realize he is indeed a writer
  • My hubby taking care of things around the house that I normally take care of
  • Little surprises from my hubby
  • My son’s artwork
  • Gifts from my sisters, especially those with a “sister” theme
  • Teddy Bear bookends my mom gave me years ago. There’s a story behind the bookends and that makes them extra special.
  • Teddy Bear gifts—including Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington
  • Bookstore gift cards
  • Gift boxes from my bestie
  • Sunflower mail!
  • The “sister spirit” sun-catchers my sister Karlette made

Sometimes, just looking at pretty, artsy things brings me joy, especially when I can use those things to do something for others:

  • Colorful stickers
  • Nice pens–ink or gel and Sharpies of all kinds!
  • Craft scissors
  • Craft punches, including corner rounders (they make everything elegant)
  • ATC blanks, sketchpads, and art journals
  • Rubber or acrylic stamps
  • Postcards
  • Photo apps
  • Pretty stationery, journals, and notebooks
  • Fine art, including photography
  • Handmade envelopes and cards
  • Washi tape!
  • Scrapbook materials, including Project Life and digital/printables
  • A good mail day, especially unexpected letters from friends
  • Apple products (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop—all things Apple)
  • Martha Stewart Scorer and Envelope Maker
  • Cricut—cutting is so relaxing!
  • My camera, of course!

My social media indulgences:

  • Pics and Posts!
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Flickr

Revisiting this list (of slightly more than 100) certainly offered today’s joy moment. I’m going to make a concerted effort to take time for joy each day–beyond morning prayer and meditation. Would you like to join me in taking (at least) a 5- or 10-minute joy break every day for the next 10 days?

Let’s see the difference joy makes!

Fall in Love…

Daffodil

I had planned to share poetry on the blog every day this month–as I did last year–but reality dictated otherwise. What was I thinking, anyway? Last April we were “sheltering-in-place,” so I had time to read and think about poetry for pleasure. This April, hmm…not so much.

However, I will take advantage of the last three days of National Poetry Month and share a few poems.

For today’s literary treat, I’m sharing one from Morgan Harper Nichols‘ book, All Along You Were Blooming, which I talked about in a previous post. She has a gift for speaking to whatever moment I’m in; I am sure many feel the same way. The poem I share today is a lighthearted reminder to love life in all of its simplicity and complexity.

Fall in love with the art of living.
Fall in love with letting things be.
Fall in love with listening.
Be still in the sun,
where the winds ever-gently blow,
knowing it is here,
in moments like this,
you are living,
and you will grow.

Morgan Harper Nichols, from All Along You Were Blooming

Tomorrow is “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” so let’s have a link party! Join me by sharing a poem on your blog–yours or someone else’s. Be sure to come back here and add your link to the comments. I don’t want to miss your poems! Maybe, I’ll “discover” a new poet!

Let’s share until the very last minute of National Poetry Month, 11:59 PM.

Check out some other ideas for PYP Day by downloading a PDF filled with ideas and poetry from the Academy of American Poets.

Student Post 7: Wisdom from The Magician’s Nephew

Sunflower PhotoArtStudents in my course are encouraged to shape their blogs in the way that serves their blogging purposes, but there are obviously some skills they must exercise to become strong non-fiction writers. To that end, we do some workshopping and writing exercises in class that help them stretch their writing muscles. Some of these exercises are developed into blog posts. Some are submitted to literary journals. Some remain in the students’ writing journals while they continue to work with them.

One of the exercises required students to reflect on a significant quote. In today’s post Markus of Mark’s Art Stew talks about a quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, “The Magician’s Nephew”, and its recent impact on his life. Be sure to read his post and follow his blog. He offers a little something for everyone.


About the Image: The image above is one of the [far too] many pieces of sunflower photo-art hiding in my files. I might have to compile them into a book or start a sunflower blog. 😉

Student Post 5: Autism Awareness

autism-2377410_1280

It seems that for success in science and art, a dash of autism is essential. — Hans Asperger

Today’s post was written by the broadcast journalist of the group, Patricia of Patricia’s Corner. In the post she writes candidly about her experiences with Asperger’s Syndrome. She also invites us to look around and find others, like her, all around us. “They may seem different, but they’re the same.”

“Autism Awareness Month, or How I Learned to Cope and Accept My Asperger’s Syndrome.”

Patricia is, of course, in good company. Poet and artist, Morgan Harper Nichols, similarly shared about her recent autism diagnosis and how she’s learning to cope.

Favorite Moments of 2020

My blogging friend, Akilah of The Englishist, recently posted her favorite moments of 2020. I’m “stealing” her idea because I think we all need a reminder that despite the icky, crazy of this year, there is also a lot of good. Plus, as you know, I love making lists.

So here are some of my favorite moments of the year of (mostly) sheltering-in-place and almost running out of toilet paper.

Trip to New Orleans. Along with my dad’s three sisters, the guys and I visited New Orleans and returned to ‘Bama just before the Coronavirus outbreak. It was a desperately needed trip for all of us. I am so glad we were able to see my parents and some of my siblings before the pandemic forced us all to stay put. I am missing them like crazy, so I’d probably be out of my mind if we hadn’t taken that short trip.

Brooklyn Arts Library Sketchbook Project. As you read in an earlier post, I completed and submitted a tiny sketchbook to Brooklyn Arts Library. Here’s the link to my mini sketchbook of doodles and quotes if you’re interested: #facethesun: Sunflower and Her Friends.

Try not to judge me too harshly. I’m so not a sketch artist. I didn’t realize I should have only doodled on the front of the pages. I’m definitely going to participate again, with a full-size book and my photography—the art medium with which I’m most comfortable.

Book Talk. Literally two days before the University decided to transition to online learning because of the pandemic, I had the pleasure of coordinating a panel discussion on the book, When Saints Sing the Blues for Wednesday night services at the University church. It was well-attended and well-received. I enjoyed listening to the stories of each of the panelists and speaking with attendees afterwards.

Lettering with the Creator of Cuteness.  Thanks to the gift of time due to the pandemic, I joined Creative Hand Lettering and Doodling with Lindsay. For the first couple of months (or so), I watched Lindsay’s informative and humorous live videos, practiced lettering, and downloaded her free Corona coloring pages and other goodies. The photograph to the left features one of my first projects. The assignment was to use “tinker toy” lettering with a line from a song. This was the perfect creative outlet for our “Corona times.” I don’t have much time to view Lindsay live, but a friend gave me a gift of the workbook, Creative Hand Letter with Lindsay, so I practice whenever I get a chance.

Write Together. Jennifer Belthoff, who coordinates Love Notes, also hosts Write Together, Art Journaling, and other classes. I joined Write Together one evening, and it was such a healing, soul-filling experience that I rode the high for weeks. Life got in the way for a few weeks and when I found time again, I felt a little weird about joining after having missed so much. If Jennifer continues to host next year, I hope to join at least twice a month.

Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt. My son’s (middle school) teachers assigned a “pandemic-style” scavenger hunt for the students. They had to find a list of items in their own neighborhoods. We had fun running (and driving) up and down the street looking for the items, and of course, I took advantage and captured some roses.

Eighth Grade Graduation. My not-so-little one “graduated” from 8th grade! So many things were canceled for the students, but the school administrators decided to hold a scaled-down graduation program with social distancing measures in place. It was held in July–almost two months after the planned date–but we were all so happy for this moment of celebration and to see other people! 🙂 My son, as class president, delivered an excellent speech. This was a proud Mommy (and Daddy) moment.

Spectrum Publication. One of my blog posts was reprinted in Spectrum Magazine (online).

The Chair. I accepted the role of Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages. This isn’t exactly a moment, but a shift. I’d served as department chair at another university for several years. I’d also served in other administrative capacities, but even though I enjoy administrative work, I’d made a decision not to go down that road again (for many sound reasons). God had other plans and He let me know very clearly in a moment that can only be described as an epiphany. I don’t know [yet] why He called me to this task, but I promised to walk in obedience, so here I am.

Three Sundays with David Whyte. David Whyte, one of my favorite poets, hosts poetry seminars via Zoom, typically three Sundays in a month. I participated in three–The Courage in Poetry (April); Just Beyond Yourself (May); and Half a Shade Braver (September). In each session, he shared poetic wisdom, stories about his travels, anecdotes about his friend John O’Donohue, his own poetry and the poetry of others. The sessions were life-changing, and I wrote so much poetry as a result.

A Moment with Raven. One of my former students, Raven, came into town to visit family, and she took a moment out to visit me! We met just outside campus at the Farmer’s Market. It did my heart good to see her and know she is doing well! Of course, I tried to get her to leave California and come and work with me, but she makes more than we can pay her. :-/

Sunflowers in My Backyard. My guys planted sunflowers right outside my office window. I watched them grow from seedlings to 6-7 feet tall. They brought so much joy to my days. The sunflower pictured here was the first to bloom. I have many, many more to share, but it’s so difficult to choose!

Moulin Rouge. You read about my encounter with the Moulin Rouge sunflower in an earlier post. This might be one of my top ten favorite moments of the decade.

Sunflowers in My Mailbox. Sunflowers in my mailbox always create a “favorite” moment, and my friends have kept me and my mailbox happy with sunflowers. In addition to the lovely cards and postcards, I received a number of sunflower packages–a boxful of sunflower goodies from my bestie, a personalized sunflower Starbucks cup from my “niece,” Christian, sunflower stickers from Raven, a package full of sunflower postcards from Debbie T, and a beautiful sunflower teapot from Christine B, two of my Love Notes friends.

Christmas Card Lane. I shared the Christmas Card Lane experience a couple of days ago. I needed that strong dose of Christmas joy.

When the year started, we had grand plans, but before many of those plans could be executed, without much warning, everything changed. Instantly. For everyone. In the entire world. As the days rolled on, things got stranger and more complicated and more twisted, and here we are at the end of all that crazy. And I am grateful for these favorite moments and for the many, many beautiful, everyday moments of 2020–(almost) nightly movie nights with my guys, Zoom calls with family, long walks, putting up lights and balloons for birthdays, trying new vegan recipes, opening a mailbox full of happy mail, drive-by visits with relatives and friends, singing and praying with my guys, listening to them play various instruments, and church services in pajamas.

I’m not sure what next year will hold, but “I know Who holds the future.” Therefore, I am looking forward to new moments–ordinary, extraordinary, and beautiful.

Live Your Best Life Now

Thanks to the Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-a-Day” program, I was pleased to find “The Rainbow,” a poem by Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960) in my email this morning. Even though I studied and taught early African American literature for many years, I’m pretty sure I have not read any of her poetry before today.

Smith produced three books of poetry–Songs of the Months (1904); Rhymes from the Cumberland (1909); Rosemary and Pansies (1909)–and was even published in the highly regarded Harper’s Magazine. I downloaded Rosemary and Pansies, and will be reading it over the next few days.

“The Rainbow,” from Rosemary and Pansies, is a sweet poem, and perhaps that’s the one I should share today, but “Preparation”–from the same collection–spoke to me, as I’m working on being more intentional about taking time for the things that matter most.

Preparation
Effie Waller Smith

“I have no time for those things now,” we say;
“But in the future just a little way,
No longer by this ceaseless toil oppressed,
I shall have leisure then for thought and rest.
When I the debts upon my land have paid,
Or on foundations firm my business laid,
I shall take time for discourse long and sweet
With those beloved who round my hearthstone meet;
I shall take time on mornings still and cool
To seek the freshness dim of wood and pool,
Where, calmed and hallowed by great Nature’s peace,
My life from its hot cares shall find release;
I shall take time to think on destiny,
Of what I was and am and yet shall be,
Till in the hush my soul may nearer prove
To that great Soul in whom we live and move.
All this I shall do sometime but not now—
The press of business cares will not allow.”
And thus our life glides on year after year;
The promised leisure never comes more near.
Perhaps the aim on which we placed our mind
Is high, and its attainment slow to find;
Or if we reach the mark that we have set,
We still would seek another, farther yet.
Thus all our youth, our strength, our time go past
Till death upon the threshold stands at last,
And back unto our Maker we must give
The life we spent preparing well to live.

Any Road Will Do: “Response to Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken'”

Photo by Jirí on Pixabay

Today, I am sharing a poem written by James E. Dykes, one of my undergraduate English professors. He taught research so well that I knew the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems by heart. He retired shortly after I took my first-year composition course under his instruction and passed away, unfortunately, weeks after I graduated from college.

To my knowledge he wrote two collections of verse–Cosmos Electric and Variant Verse and Graffiti and Grace.  I have not been able to find Graffiti and Grace, but [many, many moons ago] I found Cosmos Electric on clearance at a bookstore and bought every copy available.

The poem below is one of my favorites from the collection. I often use it as an example in my introductory literature courses of how to respond creatively to a poem and to show students that it is okay to critique and question what some consider great literature.

I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I do.

Response to Robert Frost’s “Road Not Taken”
James E. Dykes

“Any road will do, if one knows not where he is going.” —The Talmud

In that famed yellow wood, where parting ways
diverge, I, too, have stood with eyebrows raised;
weighing the iffiness of this or that–
transfixed as the Stylite who sat and sat.

But one must move, or else be swept along.
Not choosing is to choose the right or wrong;
or share the irksome fate of those who learn–
too late–that they mistook or missed their turn.

By signs, by compass pints; by sun or star,
a pilgrim journeys homeward from afar.
Some seamen reach the East by sailing West.
All circuits parallel lead to one’s quest.

Though course correction or reversal might
improve or solve a wanderer’s plight,
if one should take a road that leads to nowhere,
what difference can it make in getting there?

“A Psalm of Life: Let Us Be Up and Doing”

I thought about posting a biblical poem today, but once again, I was overwhelmed by my choices, so I decided to share Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “A Psalm of Life.” I happened across the poem this morning as I was reading through Our Daily Bread: Timeless Wisdom to Nourish the Soul, a gorgeous book I purchased nearly 20 years ago. The book is overflowing with scripture, poetry, and meditations.

Longfellow’s message is timely–life is real and we should live it to the fullest.

A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.


About today’s images: Today’s images are from a set of photo cards designed by my photographer/art journalist friend Diane W (midteacher on swap-bot). You have seen Diane’s stunning creations on the blog many times. She sent the photos in a beautifully designed handmade envelope filled with photo goodies and design surprises (like hidden pockets filled with photos, stitching, and butterflies). The set has been sitting in my “to be blogged” bin for nearly two years! The two included here are perfect matches for Wadsworth’s poem. To see what Diane has been up to lately, check out her Instagram page: A Focused Journey.