#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).

Are You Happy with Your Story?*

“Story Girl” by Connie S.

I received the most adorable tag this weekend! It came from my penfriend Connie S. I sort of coveted the tag when I saw it in a Facebook photo among several tags she crafted a few weeks ago for a “Little Wings and Tim Holtz” challenge on swap-bot. This one was an extra, so she sent it as a gift as I “get back into teaching mode.” Happy dance!

Connie wrote a note on pretty floral stationery and ended with the question–“Are you happy with your story?”

On this rainy, bluesy Monday when the headaches are unrelenting, it’s difficult to answer when my mood and pain are trying to do the typing.

Interestingly, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about “my story”–the narrative of my life that shapes who I am, my path, and who I am becoming. Particularly, I’ve noticed  just how often other people insist on writing my story or are set on what they think I should do and be; I’ve also taken note of just how often what they think I should do, think, and be benefits them in some way.

Though sometimes [most times, maybe?] individuals are actually advocating for us, I realize if we’re just going along and not paying attention, we can make it easy for someone else to write or rewrite our story. Therefore, we must be intentional about guarding our own developing script.

My life isn’t perfect–it’s certainly “been no crystal stair,” but those ups and downs and all arounds have developed in me a deep sense of empathy and compassion. The questions yet unanswered have taught me to love the questions and either seek the answers with an open heart and mind or patiently wait through the process. I’m learning still that sometimes the answers will come on “the other side of glory.” In my weakest moments, through Christ I’ve found strength–grace sufficient–to overcome the seemingly insurmountable.

I have an amazing family, the best friends, and good energy in my most important spaces. When I count my blessings, they far outnumber my setbacks and disappointments. Even in my most dejected state or my hour of most profound need, my gratitude deepens and widens over the blessed life God has given me and over His indescribable, incomparable love for me.

Am I happy with my story? Yes indeed. I’m not sure I’d know how to behave with a different story.

Are you happy with your story?


*My apologies to those of you who received a draft of this post via email or in your reader. Somehow the WordPress bot decided to publish before I hit the publish button. 

Crucifixion: The Hard Part

[…]crucifixion was not the hard part
for Christ. Incarnation was.
How to squeeze all of that
all-of-that into a body.
Alison Hawthorne Deming, “Resurrection”

They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they compelled him to carry the cross. –-Matthew 27:30-32

This moment in the scriptural account of Christ’s crucifixion moves me. It depicts Jesus at one of his most human moments. With the literal weight of the world on His shoulders, He succumbs to the weariness of all this humanity and simply needs help carrying the cross from which He will soon hang.

Paradoxically, it took divine strength to walk that path of humility. It took every bit of His divinity to remain fully human and achieve for all humanity the ultimate victory over the enemy of our souls.

No One Ever Told Me…

Purple by Lynda F.

Is a Saturday morning post the same thing as a Friday post?

I crashed (on and off) after getting through the short Friday workday. When we arrived home at about 1:30, I made lunch for the kiddo and went to sleep. I woke up in time to make dinner and lounged and “liked” on IG until sleep overcame me again. My body is insisting on the sleep “they” say we can never catch up on.

Anyway, as promised (but several hours late), here’s another stunning piece of artwork by my Love Notes 26 partner, Lynda F. The final prompt was “No one ever told me…”

No one ever told me I’d be a caregiver and how challenging that is. But I’m strong–and have risen to the challenge.

Lynda’s husband suffered a stroke in 2017, and of course, life changed for them in an instant. As I struggled with which “no one ever told me” to share, Lynda’s response gave me pause. Late last year two of my uncles had strokes–my mom’s brother in New Orleans and my dad’s brother-in-love, who lives here in Northern Alabama.

Because I live here, I witnessed that moment when life changed for all our family here–and especially for my aunt. The battle between faith and fear when the doctors offered no hope. [Faith won]. The immediate shift in priorities. The action plan. The fight in all of us.

My aunt, who hadn’t driven in years, started driving again and picked up my uncle’s usual tasks. My dad’s other sisters, who also live here, adjusted their lives too.

Life changes.

And, like Lynda said, no one can ever tell us this is going to happen. There is no preparation. No training. No warning. This is life, and when we are living and walking in hope, faith, and love, we roll with it. We adjust. We rise to the challenge and accept our new normal(s).

Maybe, one day, I’ll share my uncle’s miraculous story, but for now, I wish you a happy and restful weekend and strength for this journey called life.

12 Days of Christmas Postcards | Day 8

Some things are prettier “in person.” Such is the case with the “Joyful Heart” watercolor Christmas card made by my Love Notes friend, Trang K.

Trang’s note mentioned the “joy” postcard I sent at the beginning of 2018, which encouraged family and friends to carry joy with them into the new year, “so it is fitting that I am sending you full circle at the closing of the year.” Instead of a book end, her card is a charge to continue to walk with joy.

Trang mused:

It is because of sorrow that we know joy, and so, in truth they are one and the same.

Her words reminded me of a brief journal entry I wrote almost 30 years ago (gasp!) in which I wrestled with James 1:2, 3:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. [NIV]

It’s so hard to cope with hardship–continuous suffering and tribulations that seem never ending. Yet, in Your Word, Lord, we are told to “count it all joy” when we are tested because this testing produces patience and develops and strengthens our faith. Joy, Lord? I can hardly make it through the night. […] But I want to be stronger in faith. Help me to trust You…Help me to accept this “joy” when I’m tired and tried.

Whereas I had questions those many, many moons ago, today I focus on joy as a discipline. I’m learning to practice a steadying joy no matter the circumstance. This does not mean I work on being perpetually happy; it means that when LIFE does its thing, instead of driving myself crazy with worry or lying down in defeat, I rest in God’s presence and stand firm as His strength carries me.

As you navigate 2019, may you walk with joy no matter what…

Happy New Year!


The WordPress bot just informed me that this is my 500th blog post! Another reason to celebrate!