Coping with the Madness of 2020: List It

I woke up this morning with thoughts of an eight-year-old boy, the nephew of one of my kindest friends. He woke up this morning for the first time without his mother’s embrace. She passed yesterday after a very lengthy battle with cancer. Though I didn’t know her or her little boy, I felt myself spiraling for my friend, for her family, and especially for the little one.

As if the out-of-the-ordinary madness of 2020 isn’t enough, unfortunately we also have to deal with dreaded realities like illness and death. The everyday concerns and these hardships  combined with the abnormalities of this year can create a perfect stew of unmanageable anxiety and grief.

So how do I cope when life feels impossible and the emotions are too big to manage?  In addition to prayer (which we’ll save for another day), I make lists.

Lists, you ask? Not a typical task list but a lists of things I can’t control alongside a list of things I can control.

I can’t bring back the little boy’s mom. I can’t stop the hurt or grief, but I can pray and offer support.

I can’t singlehandedly eradicate the coronavirus, but I can do my part to stop the spread and protect my family and myself by wearing masks and avoiding situations in which social distancing is challenged.

I can’t control how the vote goes tomorrow, but I can control how I participate in the democratic process by exercising my hard-won right and responsibility to vote.

I can’t take away the abuse a friend suffered as a child that continues to hurt and traumatize so many decades later, but I can listen, affirm, pray, and hug.

I can’t make people not be racist, but I can educate and choose to operate from a place of love regardless.

When I was a teen, I encountered the “Serenity Prayer” on the front of a church bulletin, and the first part has been a mantra ever since:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. –Reinhold Niebuhr

The lists help me confront the big scary things in black and white, and then, determine my response to them. More often than not, serenity is the welcomed outcome.


About the Images: The images in this post are the full color versions of the grainy black and white photos in the previous post. I’d mentioned in my latest #treelove post that for Creative Auto shots the camera shoots an original color photo AND processes the “creative photo” at the same time. I don’t like these as much, but this is what happens when I don’t remember where I put the images I’d planned for today’s post. :-/

#ThursdayTreeLove | “When I Am Among the Trees”

As I’m nearing the end of this week of not feeling quite like myself, I am thankful for the time I spent with the trees–during one long walk on a path I hadn’t taken in years and in brief moments while running errands.

The photo above was from one of my shorter walks. As I walked, I looked up to behold the beautiful black walnut tree with its gorgeous branch extended over the path–an invitation to loveliness and light.

Being “among the trees” is therapy at its best. “They save me…daily.”

“When I Am Among the Trees”
Mary Oliver

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”


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.

There Is Joy…

But
isn’t it funny?
[…]
all they are interested in is our pain,
as if the joy-parts were accidental.

I write love poems, too,
but
you only want to see my mouth torn open in protest,
as if my mouth were a wound
with pus and gangrene
for joy. –Koleka Putuma, “Black Joy,” Collective Amnesia

People misunderstand Blacks in America. When we rise up against police brutality and other racial and social injustices in this country, when we speak the truth of our pain, we are not saying our lives are utterly miserable. There is joy, and–at the risk of sounding essentialist–that is part of our beauty and strength as a people.

I’ve run across many people who are interested in our pain, as the poet Koleka Putuma notes, but few who are invested in our joy. This strips us of our humanness and reduces us to “objects.”

I assure you. There is joy.

In spite of the pain that often comes with living in this world with Black skin, in spite of the economic barriers, in spite of the educational and health disparities, in spite of systemic oppression, we are able to thrive and embrace joy. We are able to live and worship and laugh and love and support our communities. We are able to forgive, to comfort, to heal. In spite of the struggle, there is much that is joyful and beautiful in our lives.


About the image: The photo was shot at my Dad’s 80th birthday party five+ years ago. I was searching my Flickr album for a completely different photo, but there was so much joy in this photo that it oozed off the screen and into my spirit on this gloomy not-so-wordless Wednesday.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Unbothered

“Oak Feet”

The campus trees and I have been reunited! I returned to work August 3 [technically], but it had been too hot to visit them. Yesterday was less oppressive, so I was happy to get outdoors when a colleague needed a favor.  While I was walking back to my office, I noticed how beautifully the oak near my building had spread.

“The Spreading Oak” [iPhone photo]

I had to get back to my office to complete a task before leaving for the day, so I quickly snapped the shot above with my phone and promised to return.

I made good on my promise today.

I worked diligently all morning. It was afternoon before I knew it, so I took a five-minute break to clear my head and energize before tackling another task on the ‘must do today” list. Of course, I headed to the trees.

“Intricate Pattern”

Oh, how I missed them the last five+ months! I didn’t have much time, so I walked the circle of trees nearest my building. I stood still for a moment to take in the scene–from the patterns in tree trunks (above) to the tiny magnolia [?] that took root in the foot of another tree (below).

“Magnolia Rooted”

Then, I turned my attention to the oak. I was simply mesmerized by its majesty and by how much it had thrived in the absence of an abundance of human activity. In fact, all the trees seemed unbothered by pandemics and human foibles.

“Hello, Beautiful”

I was reminded of a reading from Melodie Beattie’s Journey to the Heart. In the passage, she refers to the redwoods of California, but I will take the liberty and ascribe her words to “my” trees:

“A Fragment of the Majestic”

For hundreds of years they have been here, patiently seeing things through. Little ruffled them. They just kept on growing for all those years—steadily, patiently, peacefully, calmly. They have been through enough, seen enough, to know not to worry. Things work out. Change happens. Life continues to evolve.

I didn’t see one tree hurrying or worrying. They have been here long enough to learn life’s lessons well.  –Melody Beattie, Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul

“Strong Arms”

My first campus walk since March–a deep, cleansing breath.


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.

Like Him…

A person who claims to be continuing in union with Him ought to conduct his [her] life the way He did. –1 John 2:6 CJB

This morning as I was meditating on 1 John 2:6, I was struck by all that it means to live in union with Christ and to live as He lived while He walked this earth. I usually journal my explanations  and/or responses to scriptural passages, but instead of paragraphs, a list rolled onto the page.

Live in Him = live like Him.
Live in Him = speak like Him.
Live in Him = walk like Him.
Live in Him = listen like Him.
Live in Him = trust like Him.
Live in Him = pray like Him.
Live in Him = worship like Him.
Live in Him = heal like Him.
Live in Him = share like Him.
Live in Him = empathize like Him.
Live in Him = give like Him.
Live in Him = think like Him.
Live in Him = challenge like Him.
Live in Him = serve like Him.
Live in Him = shine like Him.
Live in Him = love like Him.

This is where my pen stopped, but I’m sure I’d have no problem adding more acts to this list. And that’s just it–this is a list of action verbs! Can you imagine how long [and daunting] this list would be if I had added stative verbs?

Walking in complete union with Christ is work. We are imperfect, fallible beings, so even if this work isn’t impossible, it is certainly exhausting! It is challenging to love and shine like Him when we add all the variables of our daily encounters with others.

But doing this work is worth it!

Through such soul work and through “living in Him,” we are crafted into His likeness, and that is a beautiful thing.


About the Images: I captured the sunset sky images above last month and shared them on Instagram. They “wanted” to be shared here on Pics and Posts too. 🙂

Be Like the Bird | #WordlessWednesday

Be like the bird, who
pausing in his flight
on limb too slight,
feels it give way beneath him
yet sings,
knowing he has wings.

Victor Hugo, Les chants du crépuscule (Songs of Dusk), 1836


About the image: Did you spot the bird? I shot the “birdie-in-tree” a few days ago while checking out the scenery of my aunt’s new home. Even as I captured the image I knew I would [post] process it as a silhouette. The final lines of Hugo’s Songs of Dusk are a perfect fit. Don’t you think?

“She Glories in Being Abandoned”

She says she glories in being abandoned.  –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Earlier this week while out for a drive, I caught a glimpse of an abandoned building I’ve photographed many times over the last several years. I’m always intrigued by how much the building changes, but I was stunned by the beauty of its neighbor [photos #1, 2, 4, 5].

I was pleased to find nature doing what it does–reclaiming what the humans left behind.

I had a difficult time choosing which photos to share for [not-so] #Wordless Wednesday–the originals or the edits. My hubby remarked that color photos tell a story, and the black and white ones are more artsy. Since I can’t decide whether I want to share a story or art, I’m sharing both sets.

Did you ever wonder
Why abandoned houses looked so sad

Much like the people
Their exterior was only for the function

We would not feel so sad
If we recognized

That the spirit of the house
Had already moved on

The dream remained.

Maria Lehtman, The Dreaming Doors

[For earlier shots of the building in photos #3 and #6, check out a 2016 post.  You’ll be able to note some of the changes in the building’s condition].

A Break with May Roses

May has been insane. I’m talking too much time in front of the computer, too little sleep, and no time for the things that nourish my soul. Therefore, I am taking a much needed break from the madness to share some rose photographs for a not-so-wordless Wednesday.

Since my son’s school couldn’t hold the annual Field Day activities, his teachers crafted an in-your-own-neighborhood scavenger hunt that served multiple purposes–socially distant fun in the sun, exercise, and healthy competition. While my not-so-little one hunted for items on the list, I captured the pretty hot pink knock out roses at the entrance of our neighborhood.

A few days later, my guys and I jumped into the car and took a drive to visit each of the aunts and deliver socially distant hugs. At Auntie Linda’s, I was able to give my camera a workout with the roses growing beautifully outside her town house. My favorite lens is on its last leg–it’s cracked–but it did okay.

After photographing everything green in our front- and backyards over the last few weeks, I desperately needed another color. What a gift the roses were!

And…whew! Thanks to this shift in focus, I feel so much better! Hopefully, I’ll see you tomorrow for #ThursdayTreeLove.

Gifts from the Earth: Mystery Solved

Two weeks ago I shared five images altered in Photoshop and left readers with the task of guessing the original images. Everyone who played along thought they were flowers. That’s not surprising, since most of the images I share on the blog are flowers. However, they were wrong, wrong, wrong!

Well…not exactly. In fact, they were more than half right. Three of the five images were indeed flowers or blossoms.

Have you been anxiously awaiting the answer?  🙂 Wait no longer! Here are the images in the order presented in the post:

Flowers in front of the Farmer’s Market on campus. Shot last June. I’m trying to remember why I was on campus in the middle of June. ???

Flying Dragon Trifoliate Orange [Hardy Orange] in the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. I photographed these a couple of summers ago. That reminds me–I still haven’t shared the zillions of photos my son and I shot that very hot summer day. Maybe, you’ll see them in next week’s Wordless Wednesday…

More flowers near the Farmer’s Market. These were “photoshopped,” of course.

A gourd from the Huntsville Botanical Gardens.

Azaleas from my parents’ neighbors’ garden. These beauties were in full bloom in the middle of February.

So yes, flowers AND no, flowers. But all gifts from our beautiful planet.

Gifts from the Earth and “A Brave and Startling Truth”

Today’s poem is a little lengthy, but it is worth the read. “A Brave and Startling Truth” was written by one of America’s favorite sages, Maya Angelou (1928-2014). She wrote the poem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations (1995), but when I saw an excerpt of the poem used in an Earth Day activity, I thought why not share the whole poem today.

After reading the poem, be sure to go to Earth Stanzas and write your own Earth Day poem. The activity comes complete with prompts and model poems.

A Brave and Startling Truth
Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn and scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.


About the images: I had a bit of Photoshop fun with today’s images. Each photo subject is a gift from the earth. I will eventually share the original images. Until then, do you have any idea what they are? No? Well, I’m pretty sure you can [generally] guess this one: