Photo Walk: Praying with Trees

I had to take a walk today.  I had to get out of my office and soak in the sun and rid myself of some of the ugliness that had been clawing at my soul.

The last few weeks have been bad. Not because everything has gone wrong and life has been topsy-turvy, but in soul-killing ways.  I’ve been dealing with too many people who simply aren’t nice and it was making me physically tired.  Like, I-want-to-sleep-to-not-deal-with-people tired.

The “everydayness” of the pettiness and meanness and slights were taking a toll.  No matter how well I let things “roll off my back,” when the assaults are hard, fast, and consistent, tiny slights feel like boulders. They aren’t so easy to roll away.  They just sort of pile up and impede my ability to “move on” or not take things “to heart.”

I found it difficult to shake the mood that was gripping me and dragging me to a dark, dark place. I had to do something, so I “escaped” for a bit.

I didn’t take my camera. I didn’t plan to take photos.  (I had my phone with me out of habit and for security).  I just needed to walk and talk with God for a moment. I needed him to “right” my perspective and reset my mood.  I needed him to expel from my spirit the foulness that was intent on sullying my soul.

After a few steps,  I looked up.

The trees were communing and basking in the warmth of this so-called winter and playing against the clear blue sky.

I paused.

I took a deep, cleansing breath.

I listened.

I allowed God’s Spirit to bathe me and exorcise the yuckiness.

And fill me with good things–things that are lovely, pure, right, and true.

I’m light and airy and my gratitude is floating in the wind, dancing with the trees.

 

 

Morning by Morning…

When I awakened this morning, I felt overwhelmed by my external and internal to-do lists and deflated by life in general.  I pushed through my desire to hide from the world today and climbed out of bed only two minutes later than planned.

Shortly after breakfast, I heard my little one, who typically opens his blinds first thing in the morning, exclaim from his bedroom, “Wow, look at the sky!”  I raced to his window and beheld this gorgeous pre-sunrise sky.

Morning Sky

“Morning by morning…”

You know what happened next. I threw on a couple of jackets, grabbed my camera, and raced outdoors because an early morning sky can transform from dramatic to ordinary in the blink of an eye.

New Mercies

“New mercies…”

I didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors, but the few moments alone with my camera and the sky reset my mood.  While gazing at the sky, I began to sing a line from “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” one of my favorite hymns–“Morning by morning new mercies I see.”

All I have needed...

“I see…”

The sky led to the song and the song led to the biblical text which inspired the hymn:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

I’m walking with gratitude for the awesome promise of “new mercies” each morning, and I am a bit “lighter” knowing that God’s “great love” will rescue me, even from myself.

Guest Post: “My New Song” by Takiyah Franklin/Takiyah Suhail

Today’s post was written by Takiyah Franklin/Takiyah Suhail, whom I usually refer to as “My Tk.” Takiyah is a former student, mentee, and research assistant with whom I’ve always shared a spiritual kinship.  During her undergraduate years we ministered together–she through song, I through biblical teachings.  Over the 10+ years since she graduated, our relationship has evolved and I consider her a spiritual sister.  In January, I posted about Takiyah’s single, “My New Song.”  Today, Takiyah, talks about the song, shares the recently released video, a little about herself, her music, and her faith journey.

***   ***   ***

Takiyah Suhail aka Takiyah Franklin

Takiyah Suhail aka Takiyah Franklin.  Photo Credit: Denna Bendall

I am excited to introduce myself and share “My New Song,” my recent single release. I am a singer/songwriter from Oakland, California and I have the pleasure of working with Rev. Andriette Earl, the founding minister of an amazing spiritual community, Heart and Soul Center of Light, a world-class teaching and empowerment ministry located in Oakland, CA.

Theologian Howard Thurman’s essay entitled “I Will Sing a New Song” inspired Rev. Earl and Erika Luckett, a renowned Emmy Award winning singer/songwriter, to write “My New Song.”

Here’s an excerpt from Thurman’s essay:

The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit. It is a good song, measured to a rhythm to which I am bound by ties of habit and timidity of mind. The words belong to old experiences which once sprang fresh as water from a mountain crevice fed by melting snows. But my life has passed beyond to other levels where the old songs are meaningless. I demand of the old song that it meet the need of present urgencies. Also, I know that the work of the old song, perfect in its place, is not for the new demand!

I am blessed to have been chosen to deliver such an incredible life-shifting and affirmative song.

You can listen to “My New Song” and/or watch the music video on my website, Takiyah. Feel free to post the YouTube link for the music video everywhere:  (https://youtu.be/m-hK_kvP010).  The song is also available for purchase on all digital distribution music outlets: Search Takiyah “My New Song.”

I am a radical advocate of the transformative power of Love and it is my intention to use my music to encourage the conscious spiritual practice of being a Love Light. When I allowed the healing, transformative power of God’s Love to lead, guide, and direct my life, everything outside of Love steadily faded away. This is not an easy practice: it is radical and requires a lot of internal work.

I invite you to listen to my latest EP, Unfolding I Affirma brief collection of songs born out of breakthroughs of practicing faith through my life’s most difficult times. In my lowest points of being alone and raising three beautiful children, my faith in the Highest Power guided me to perfect Peace.  I’m learning how to live a life filled with joy, love, and peace in the midst of mental and emotional challenges. I want to share my journey with you.

You can find me on Twitter or Instagram @blackstarworld.

Love and Peace…

The Day After: God Is Still in Heaven

god-is-faithful

My hubby woke me up at about 1:00 a.m. with “the news,” and  I fell into a brief but desperate shock about the election results. To survive that moment, I turned away from news media and social media and inward and upward toward God.

Seconds later, one of my students messaged that “they,” the students, needed something encouraging from me.  I told her my mind and spirit were too hurt for wisdom and offered the only thing in my head at the time: The chorus to the song “Because He Lives,” written by Bill Gaither, has been playing over and over and over and over in my head since I heard the news.

Because He lives

I can face tomorrow

Because He lives

All fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

And life is the worth living

Just because He lives.

She responded enthusiastically, “Yes! That’s just what we need!”

I embrace the truth of those lyrics. God is Sovereign and that is why I was able to get up, get moving, and face today.  This moment is simply this moment.   It will pass.  We’ll work for change.  We’ll get beyond it. And eventually, we’ll be okay.

Everywhere I turned today, people asked questions, seeking answers that would satisfy their disbelief at the outcome.  In a pre-election interview with Christianity Today, Max Lucado responded to a question regarding his thoughts on the 2016 race.  For those of faith, his response is key:

There is still a God in heaven. Even when the person on the throne or in the White House or leading the country is far from God, God is not far from the nation. Books like the Book of Daniel give us hope during seasons when we don’t see any good options…We’re [the Church] people who lead forth in prayer. If we fail at that, then I don’t think we have much hope.

I am certain of this–God is still in heaven. [So] I will continue to make my life a prayer to Him.  My hope rests in Him, not in presidents.  This is what I told my son this morning. This is what I told my students.  This is what I will continue to repeat until the day comes when I will not have to repeat it.

Marching on…

 

My Stillness Model: Just Be

The Little One at Burritt on the Mountain

“The Little One,” edited in Snapseed, Retrolux Filter

Sundays are typically crazy-busy around here, but with my little one ill, the end of the semester imminent, deadlines pressing, and voting just two days away, today I found myself feeling particularly anxious about things I cannot control.  Then, while taking a short break,  I ran across this photo of my son which reminds me to be still and yield to a spirit of peace.

In this photo he is the embodiment of stillness to me. He is totally immersed in his own thoughts and completely comfortable in his world. Not a worry. Not a care.  He’s just “being.”

Isn’t that what stillness is?  Practicing a spirit so at peace that whatever is happening around us cannot disturb us?

The serenity of my little one’s face reminds me to surrender the reins, give God the whole burden, and “just be.”

Divine Rest…

Closed Bridge at Ditto Landing

Closed Bridge at Ditto Landing, Huntsville, Alabama, 2016.

The whole love of the “Law” has been lavished on and has cherished the Sabbath. As the day of rest, it gives life its balance and rhythm; it sustains the week. Rest is something entirely different from a mere recess, from a mere interruption of work, from not working. A recess is something essentially physical, part of the earthly everyday sphere. Rest, on the other hand, is essentially religious, part of the atmosphere of the divine; it leads us to the mystery, to the depth from which all commandments come, too. It is that which re-creates and reconciles, the recreation in which the soul, as it were, creates itself again and catches the breath of life–that in life which is sabbatical.”
― Leo Baeck, Judaism and Christianity

To My Colleague with Breast Cancer: You Have This Moment

faith

I read a little of your story today and it broke my heart. I see you wearing courage and faith openly, but I know you’re hurting, suffering, and perhaps afraid. I want to talk to you, but I don’t know what to say.  That I’m praying for you? I am.  But how many times a day do you hear that?

Whenever I see you, I think of Karlette, my little sister. The loss of her. The grief that still challenges every waking minute.  The sorrow that changed me. That changed all who really knew her in unspeakable ways.  Knowing this very real loss of her, I cannot offer you empty platitudes and mere words. I will not ever say to you what many cancer patients often hear:  “You’re a fighter. You will make it.  You will come through this.”

hope

I don’t know that. Neither of us do. Unless we are speaking of a future in the heavenly realms, earth offers no guarantees. Faith that can move mountains assures us that God is faithful. But. Faithful God allows grief, disappointment, and sorrow.  No matter how unfair or mean or downright unacceptable it seems to us—faithful God says, “some sicknesses are unto death, some for testimony.”  This can be a hard, hard pill to swallow.  But it is truth.

I wouldn’t say any of that to you either. You already know it.  You began this difficult line of thinking when you first heard the diagnosis or when the treatments did not bring desired results.

Then, I remember a conversation with Karlette on one of my visits.  In 2011 or 2012.  She had so many battles, so I’m not sure of the year.  She was weary of people seeing her as a cancer patient, as a cancer victim.  When people saw her, she felt, they saw cancer and not her.  She wanted to talk about MORE than that.  She was so much more than that, but when cancer takes over your body and your life and you can barely lift your head most days, even you begin to wonder.  I remember saying to her—you are not your cancer.  Or maybe, she said to me–I am not my cancer.

I say it to you–you are not your cancer.  You are more than this disease that disrupted your happiness and altered your life so completely that you are no longer who you were. I say to you–embrace the uncertainty.  Live and dance and love in beauty and in the sacredness of your being, and be everything you are in this moment.  Only this moment is sure.

love

“Firm in the Heavens”

"Dandelion Morning"

“Dandelion Morning”

I received an encouraging card yesterday from Joan, a “Christian Friend” on swap-bot.  She included with her note Psalm 119:89-91 (cited below).  Joan reminded me that though our world is uncertain and out of our control, “God’s promise to keep us” and His power are sure.

I’m still recuperating from a very trying spring semester, so I can’t adequately process the massacre at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, the mere “slap on the wrist” given to a particular rapist, or even the poisonous rhetoric spewing forth almost daily from a certain presidential contender. What I can do is trust the Sovereignty of God who “established the earth” and set forth laws that “endure.”

Despite the maddening, overwhelming realities (in our personal lives and the world around us) that have the potential to cast us into a well of despair, God is “on the throne” and we can celebrate all that is good in life.  There is still much that is good.

Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.

Psalm 119:89-91 NIV

 

 

Face the Sun: My Summer in One Photo

Today is the last “official” day of summer, and I cannot let the evening pass without posting about a summer-themed swap I hosted–“My Summer in One Photo.”

For the swap, partners had to “capture” their summer in one image. Literally. Not two, three, or four images crammed into one 4×6 print or notecard, but a single image. Quite a challenge for those of us who had eventful summers.

My photog pal, Cakers, sent this:

Patty's Box

“Needle Tips Box,” Photo by Cakers

Even though I didn’t know what it was, I immediately knew it had something to do with knitting because Cakers is an avid knitter, and possibly an addict. In case, you think I’m exaggerating about Cakers’ “addiction,” she has a knitting injury from too much knitting and her swap name when I met her was “midwestknitgirl.” Enough said. 😀

The photo features her needle tips in the “cool, funky” box she bought “cheap” recently. Thankfully, she gave an explanation. Needle tips are, part of what are called “interchangeables.” You can switch the tips with different length cords.

Her words, not mine. I have no idea what she’s talking about.

I had quite a number of major events myself–saying “good-bye” to friends, witnessing my little one’s choir join a 1000-voice mass choir to perform in front of an audience of 84,000 (and millions more? via broadcast), spending time with one of my beautiful best friends and her family, my dad’s 80th birthday celebration which was the icing on the cake of my summer. I probably should blog about all of that some time.

But when I sat down to think about how to capture “everything,” including the many things that are not listed here, one image comes to mind.

The sunflower.

I spent a lot of time during the summer looking at cheerful sunflower photos and mulling over a Helen Keller quote:

Doodled using the Art Studio App on iPad earlier this year. I can actually draw something that looks like a flower. ;-)

Doodled using the Art Studio App on iPad earlier this year. I can actually draw something that looks like a flower. 😉

My hubby’s back issues prevented his planting a sunflower garden outside my office window, but early one weekend morning, as I was having quiet time in my home office, I noticed bright, yellow sunflowers waving to me from our “back” neighbor’s yard. I grabbed my camera and hiked the grassy field separating us and spent some time with the sunflowers.

This was my favorite shot from the bunch:

Version 2

“Face the Sun”

It became a special reminder of a commitment I made earlier in the year when I was faced with one thing after another–to turn to the “Sun,” the Son of God, in all circumstances.

As summer progressed, certain situations intensified, and although I’d somewhat “mastered” coping well with things that affected me personally, I found myself slipping beneath the emotional weight of what was happening, not to me, but to people I love.  I had to constantly train my thinking and my attitude in the direction of “the Sun.”

What I love about sunflowers is their reminder to us that without the Son and/or when we live in the “shadows,” we are weighed down by heaviness and dark feelings. When we face the Son, we dwell in light and we stand tall and strong in the face of adversity.

“I know how the flowers felt…”

“After the Pushing and the Pelting” (Tulip with Texture)

Today has been one of those days. April has been one of those months.  “April is the cruelest month…” Yada, yada, Eliot…

The Robert Frost poem above so adequately speaks my mood these days.  April for me is usually a one-thing-after-another, stressful, demanding kind of month, relentless in its pushing and pelting.  It is sometimes easier to “lay lodged–though not dead” than it is to keep things in perspective and remember that this is just one “moment” that will eventually pass.

Though it is tempting to just “lay lodged” in this state of mind, I choose to rise and meet the challenges while focusing my gaze elsewhere.

I’d captured the red tulip and several others after the poor flowers had been pushed by the wind and “pelted,” no constantly pummeled, by rain for several days.  I was happy to see them still standing, though a bit bowed.  When I shot this photo, the message was powerful, empowering, and affirming.  It wasn’t just a thing of beauty, but a symbol of perseverance and will, its beauty magnified in its reflection of the Divine.

In fact, I used it a few days later to share a bit of inspiration with family, friends, and colleagues, because such (im)perfect beauty only intensified my longing for Perfection.

“The Beauty of Holiness” (Tulip Original)

It is a little curious that this one flower–one image–captures both feelings so effectively.