NPM | Black and White | Eternity

orchid everything beautiful

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. —Ecclesiastes 3:11

Ecclesiastes 3:11 is one of the most beautiful verses of Scripture to me. On the heels of the popular “To Everything There Is a Season” poem of the first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3, this verse reminds us that everything serves an ultimate purpose and happens when it should.

I’ve spent many days wrestling with God over the the whys and why nots, so I understand this knowledge is not always comforting, especially when we face horrific circumstances. The last part of the verse acknowledges this limitation of our humanity—our inability to comprehend God’s ways–and gets us off the hook of trying to explain the unfathomable. We need only trust His providence, long-range divine vision, and Sovereignty. 

I find the middle of this Bible verse most potent. God has set eternity in our hearts. This explains our thirst for water from an unearthly well. For we were never meant to have all our yearnings satiated in this life. We were created in the image of God, created to commune with Him “in the garden,” and, therefore, with the innate desire to spend “our always” with Him.  

NPM | Black and White | Joyful, Faithful, Patient

butterfly joyful in hope

For this third week of National Photography Month (NPM), I am sharing some of the monochrome photo inspiration “cards” I made during Sheila D’s September 2021 Creative Gathering. I divided the month of creativity into thirds—days 1-10, abstract photo art; days 11-20, doodle art; days 21-30 black and white photography. The common thread was scripture. I shared one of the photos for a #ThursdayTreeLove in January.

In light of the recent racial violence committed by one individual against Black citizens in Buffalo, New York, I am sharing images that feature Bible verses that can provide solace and hope. I will not comment (much?) on them. Sometimes the world is so absolutely crazy that I am convinced we need only the voice of God. Everything else is just…noise.

 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. –Romans 12:12

Sunflowers and Poetry | Who We Are Now

WHM-2 2022

I ran across a poem today that I didn’t know I needed till I read it. Isn’t that how poetry works?

We are two years into the pandemic that some think is over, and I find myself still trying to process all the lessons and losses. This poem–which is really a prayer–profoundly articulates the complexity of the moment–the conflicting emotions, the questions, the changes in us. It was written by Nadia Bolz Weber, a pastor who describes herself as “foul-mouthed for a preacher, grammatically challenged for a bestselling author, surprisingly hopeful for a cynic.” 

The poem was written after year one of the pandemic, but it is still relevant after year two.

Who We Are Now
By Nadia Bolz Weber

Dear God who made us all,
A year ago we did not know that we were about to learn:
what we could lose and somehow live anyway
where we would find comfort and where it would elude us
whose lives matter to whom
why we have kitchens in our homes.
In mid-March 2020 all I knew for sure is that
hoarding toilet paper doesn’t make you safe – it just makes you selfish.
But God, it feels like the world is about to open back up.
And I’m both thrilled and kind of scared about that.
Because I’m not who I was a year ago.
I want so badly
to hug my friends again
and laugh like hell again
and have amazing conversations again

and yet I am not sure how long I could do any of this before crying or just getting really quiet. My emotional protective gear has worn so thin, and grief just leaks out everywhere now.

I am so afraid that I will never be who I once was. And I am also afraid that I will be.

(Not to mention, I’m not entirely clear what size jeans I wear as the me I am now)

And yet, when I quiet my anxious thoughts, I start to suspect that I am now closer to the me you have always known and always loved. So help me trust that, Lord.

As things change, help us be gentle with ourselves and with each other. We are all wearing newborn skin right now.

Amen.


About the Image: I had plans to share a sunflower postcard from one of my pen friends today, but this is the image the poem required. It is an edit of a photo I shot last fall. I was trying to emulate van Gogh’s wilted sunflowers–with a camera instead of a paintbrush. See Allotment with Sunflowers in the post.

Two Poems for Your Monday

Agape Review published two of my poems last week (yay!), so I’m dropping in to share them with a just little background on both.

Unlike the Musings from My Younger Self I share far too infrequently, these poems were written in my adult years.

I wrote “Word Made Flesh” in 2017 after an exchange with a student in which we talked through the intense grief of losing our sisters. A third student entered the conversation halfway through and offered comfort and her own insights on life and grief. Though the interaction occurred four years after my sister [Karlette’s] death, it was the first time I had ever expressed my feelings over the loss so vulnerably. The title of the poem comes from John 1:14:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

The second poem, “God, You Are,” was written about 20 years ago. I scribbled it on a notecard and tucked it inside one of my journals. I rediscovered it a year or two ago, typed it, and added it to my “works in progress” poetry folder with the intention to tweak it. However, I made a split second decision to submit the unpolished version of the poem because that raw expression felt poignant in the moment.

Click the links below to read each poem:

Feel free to leave a comment there or come back here and comment. I look forward to your feedback!


About the Image: The photo art above features a moment of solitude and reflection at Green Mountain this past weekend. If time and energy permit, I’ll share more photos later in this week.

Daddy’s Gifts

Daddy by Darius T

“Daddy Second Lining.” Photo by Darius T/Tapman Media

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.  —John 16:22

My dad passed away February 12, 2022 at 86.5 years of age, and I have been struggling to put my thoughts and feelings into words. When my own words fail, I go to poetry. Having endured so much grief, the poem that speaks to my heart in this moment is Mary Oliver’s “Heavy.”

I adapted the poem for my purposes, but you can read the original poem here.

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
has his hand in this,

Still, I am bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

is nowhere to be found.
Then I remembered my father:
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I’ll go about practicing.

One day you’ll notice.

the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth.

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply.

This poem speaks to me not only because of my own grief, but because as I read it, I thought about the fact that my father had a lot of hurt in his life. To look at him–to even know him–you wouldn’t see it. Every now and then, it would eke out in small ways. He’d tell us about a painful memory from his childhood, a hurt that stung all his life. He wrote in the autobiography he started about being told the word “no” so much that he did not want his wife or children to hear that word. Despite the pain and disappointment he endured, my father found his way to joy. And his very soul was steeped in an infectious joy.

He never forgot those painful moments from his childhood. I believe he carried them with him his whole life, but “it’s not the weight [he] carried, but how [he] carried it, how [he] embraced it, balanced it, carried it when [he] could not, would not put it down.”

He parlayed all of that weight into beautiful gifts for his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and for generations to come.

They’re found in the music he gave us, the Sunday morning listening to everything from jazz to blues to ballads and everything in between that makes much of the stuff churned out nowadays intolerable.

The gifts are in the lessons about grit and hard work and striving for excellence, about making no excuses and owning our mistakes and allowing them to prod us toward growth.

The gifts are in the sometimes uninvited–a little too straightforward–but sound counsel that pushed us to do right and be better.

They’re found in the celebration of the good that life offers in all its forms, in the beauty of a deep, abiding appreciation for life and grace and a recognition that everything we have is gift and grace.

The gifts are in the joy in spite of circumstances.

The gifts are in his many unanswered questions about God and eternity, questions for which he left us to find the answers.

The gifts are found in the love with an answer, the way he loved and did life with our mother, a love not superficially crafted for social media, but one with deep roots and the abiding presence of the Divine. That autobiography I mentioned earlier, doesn’t start with “I was born.” It starts with “I began to live when I married my wife.” While I am incredibly grateful for my father’s joy, I know the love for our mom is the greatest gift he could have given his children. That love–that love with an answer–has made all the difference.

Sleep well, Daddy. We look forward to the “loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God” that will reunite us for eternity.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18


Written 2.22.22 for my father’s memorial service. Shared here for those who have asked for copies.

#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.

God of the Drop-Kick

Unrelated photo-art because I couldn’t find a “drop-kick” pic. :-/

I “found” the poem I’m sharing today “by chance” on novelist Alison McGhee’s blog. The poem, by 14th century Persian poet, Hafiz, reminded me of the conversation a friend and I had a few days ago about the narrow view of God as a docile, old man in the sky. Many of us “speak sweetly” of the gentle “Lamb of God,” but want to deal as little as possible with the Lion of Judah. We certainly don’t want to deal with a God who tires of human foolishness and foibles to the point that He might consider “drop-kicking” us.

Tired of Speaking Sweetly
Hafiz (Translation by Daniel Ladinsky)

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth

That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,

Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.

The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:

Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.

But when we hear
He is in such a “playful drunken mood”
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.

Thankfully, despite how impossible we can be, God does love us enough not to harm us. I’m grateful–though He might shake his head or “fist” at me sometimes–His deep love for me and His mercy and grace override any inclination to drop-kick me. This doesn’t mean I get a pass or that He doesn’t get tough with me. He does. But His ways are not our ways. Again…thankfully.


Interesting Fact: Bobby Bare recorded a song in 1976 entitled “Drop Kick Me, Jesus.” Go figure.

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?

May You Sing: Rest and Renewal

“Just Before Spring,” or “Last Day of Winter.”

Today is the first day of spring. There are few signs, but it is certainly on the way.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and planning this week. Universities, as most know, have transitioned fully to online instruction to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19.  Even though these are “troubled” times, I can’t help but notice a certain relief in the posture of my colleagues and students. Sure, there is disappointment and a little apprehension about this new way of doing things (for some), but there’s also a collective sigh, expelling loads of stress.

I am grateful.

I am not grateful for the virus. But I am grateful for the slowing down, for deliverance from the break-neck pace that had me feeling like life was spinning out of control and the only way to stop was to hit a metaphorical wall. I pray this wall is not as painful.

In the midst of the confusion, the questions, the planning, the poem below landed on my screen via a friend’s Facebook post. I felt every word. May the words carry you. May they lighten the heaviness of this load we’re all carrying. May they usher you into the magic and renewal of spring.

May you sing.

Lockdown by Fr. Richard Hendrick, March 2020

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
they say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
you can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
the sky is no longer thick with fumes
but blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
people are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighborhood
so that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting.
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way.
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality.
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that:
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul.
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.
the birds are singing again;
the sky is clearing;
spring is coming;
and we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
and though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
sing.

All Wrapped Up in Joy

I woke up this morning with all the “things to do” on my mind and all the uninvited annoyances that entered my sphere days earlier nagging my heart. Before jumping out of bed in a frenzied rush–15 minutes later than I’d intended and an hour later than I should have–I paused and convinced myself to spend my usual first moments of the day in meditation.

I thought about my blogging friend Rev Russ’s query in his post “It’s All Hard”: Is life hard or have we become wimps [not exactly his words]?

I mused for a moment about just how difficult it can be to navigate all the “stuff” that comes our way from day to day, just how hard it is to push past the everyday slights and disappointments, how hard it is to [always?] act and speak with prudence, how hard it is to accept [not tolerate] difficult people, how hard it is to forgive repeat offenders, how hard it is to love ourselves, flaws and all.

The thought of it all made rising from bed a bit challenging, so I asked God, “How can I face the day when I wake up bone-tired? Weary?”

He immediately answered with three doses of His Word, so I wrote them in my journal and determined to let them direct my day.

When things were said or done that had the potential to unsettle me–A person whose desires rest on You, You preserve in perfect peace because [she] trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3).

When a sense of my very present vulnerabilities threatened to overthrow me–My grace is enough for you, for My power is brought to perfection in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

When I felt like the tasks were unmanageable, too much, impossible–I can do all things through Him who gives me power (Philippians 4:13). 

Despite the disappointments, the distractions, the conflicting personalities, the tedious work, the “must get done” list, my step was a little lighter today; my mind at ease; my spirit unencumbered.

As I wrote the last scripture in my journal this morning and click-closed the pen, God whispered one more word into my heart–The joy of the Adonai is [my] strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The peace, the grace, the power–all wrapped up in His joy.


Forgive me for the wordy #WordlessWednesday. The image above is an edit of a fallen hyacinth flower. I visited my family in New Orleans last weekend, and the gorgeous and über aromatic hyacinth plant stole the show in my mother’s garden.

All scripture from the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB).