Sunny Inspiration: Look Up!

My neighbor’s sunflowers came in beautifully and I made a few trips to capture them in their various stages. I managed to capture dozens of pics–one is featured in Finding Love Notes, Naturally, posted a couple of weeks ago.

I decided to work with a couple of the photos yesterday–one featuring a sunflower with its “face” turned upward and the other a “downcast” flower leaning away from another that is still full of life. The photos were on my mind and I wanted to combine them with words that speak their language.

The blooms are visual reminders that when the “stuff” of life is coming at us full force, all we have to do is stand firm, “face the Sun,” and rest in the embrace of the One who is always near.

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” Sunflower PhotoArt by Me!

Sometimes, it’s necessary to face our problems “head on,” stare them down, and conquer them. At other times–when things are out of our control and bigger than we could ever imagine–we have to turn away from our struggles and focus our attention on the One who handles the insurmountable and scary situations for us. Otherwise, the worry and stress can affect our health.

“God Is Near the Broken-Hearted,” Sunflowers PhotoArt by Me!

We feel alone in such situations–it seems no one understands, can provide the comfort we need or help us manage our problems. It is imperative to know that we are not alone, that God is near, cradling us in His protective arms, and carrying us through the difficulties.

When we train our focus heavenward, our problems are placed in proper perspective, and we learn to trust the “Lover of our souls” to manage all our concerns so we can go on living and loving without distress.

I prefer to see sunflowers with a sunny disposition, but the sunflower in the second photo communicated so profoundly and beautifully the message of Psalm 34:18 that I had to capture it–even with the photo-bombing bee. The bee might seem a distraction, an annoyance even, but without bees there would be no flowers.

Wishing you a week filled with sunshine and good things…

Mama Is a Saint!

snapseed

I woke up this morning thinking about my mom and the absolutely beautiful woman she is. Today is her 80th birthday and I am deeply grateful that God continues to gift us with her life.

I hear it over and over and over again.  “Your mom is a saint.”  She’s not simply a good, good person.  She’s a saint.  I’ve learned to accept that perhaps she is, and unlike many women, I wish I were more like my mother.

My mom carried 10 children in her womb, delivered us naturally, and took care of all of us.  As far as I’m concerned, this alone should be enough to qualify her for sainthood.

I lived in the house with us.  And it was a wonderful, noisy house with loads of love and fun, but it also had its fair share of the typical sibling rivalries, squabbles, and kids who always needed something or had a question that just had to be answered.  In my mind, I’m thinking my kid times 10.  No way!

Can you imagine this type of person who has enough love and patience for 10 individual personalities trying to find their way in the world?  Can you imagine worrying and fretting over not one or two or even five but 10 children? Parenting is scary, scary business, and I shutter to think of the challenges ahead for my one kid.  I can’t imagine having to walk with 10 heartbeats floating around in this world.

Mom with my sister Karlette (RIP) and nephew Eric

Mom with my sister Karlette (RIP) and nephew Eric

I distinctly remember my mom taking all of us kids on the bus to Canal Street in New Orleans [Canal Street was the shopping center of New Orleans then].  There might have been only eight or nine of us then, but we’re all pretty close in age. How did she do that?  With nothing less than amazing organizational skills and child management skills.

This explains why our house was impeccable at any time of the day–even with 10 kids.  Unexpected guests might have been met with an apology for her “messy” house, but they probably looked around confused.  My mom’s house was [and is] always clean.  There was no scrambling to clear the clutter when uninvited guests arrived. I don’t even know how she managed that with all of us running all over the house?

And just like our home, we were always clean and dressed and fed well with home-cooked meals every day.  This is no overstatement.  My mom cooked every. single. day. for twelve people. My mom’s version of fast food? Burgers and fries she made herself that were way better than anything we could have purchased at a restaurant.

Mom let us grow and gave us wings.  No matter how many times we came to her with a problem or situation, my mom never directed our actions.  She may have made a comment or two about the situation, but she never told us what to do or tried to manipulate us into doing what she considered the “right” thing.  If we made the wrong decision, she let us fall and learn from our mistakes.  She was still mom, loving us without judgment and allowing us to become.

My mom sacrificed for us in ways that continue to impact our lives. I once asked her what was her dream career. She answered that at one point she wanted to be a nurse. That would have been the perfect career for her. She has a calm and comforting nature that others are drawn to and that would have been so beneficial in nursing. She chose, instead, to nurture the 10 of us into productive members of society.

I know, nowadays, we celebrate mothers who juggle family, careers, community obligations and still find time for themselves, but there was an incredible amount of security for us in knowing that mom was [still is] always there and would always find a way for the things we wanted/needed.

Besides qualifying for sainthood because she put up with us crazy kids, mom is a saint because she put up with my dad.  My dad is a wonderful person, but he and my mom are almost complete opposites.  He is always ready for a party while she prefers the quiet of home.  He spends a lot of time on Facebook baiting his friends and watching CNN and the other news channels while she sits quietly reading.  He loves long debates. She’s not having it.  She says “her piece” and nothing more.  She’s not having the back and forth for too long.  My dad goes on and on and on.

Mom and Dad in the early years.

Mom and Dad in the early years.

I think God chose my mom for us because only a person with her character and spirit could love us all to health and wholeness.  With her quiet spirit, she’s not easily unsettled, so people’s issues (read: craziness) don’t faze her.  She has a heart of gold and always sees the good in people.  She welcomes all and listens without judgment.  She is the embodiment of forgiveness.  She forgave our “wrongdoings” without making us feel rejected or small, and taught us how to forgive.  If we went to her with some “offense” committed against us, she’d basically tell us to shake the dust off our feet and move on.  That bit of her is so ingrained in me that I can’t hold a grudge if I wanted to.

My mom has a fierce, uncompromising faith that is simply inspiring. It is this faith that got her through the most difficult moments of her life and that prays her children through almost unbearable circumstances.

Of course, she’s not perfect–she is human after all–but I’ve not encountered anyone in my life whom I want to emulate more.

Happy Birthday, Mama, with all my love…

 

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…

 

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

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.