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!

Still. Covered.

“Be Still,” mixed media art by Lisa Larson

Thanksgiving Break ends today. The break I looked forward to since September. Time to be still and allow at least some healing to take place. A little time to just be and allow my grief to spill out without having to hold back or rein it in, without the persistent demands of first-year students or the expectations of colleagues.

But.

That didn’t happen. I’ll spare you the details of the “instead,” but tonight, I was noting how things sometimes come in a torrent. Without warning. The storm beats on us relentlessly and we can hardly catch our breath between lightning strikes. We want to do something, but the only thing we can do is take cover.

And that’s what I did.

I took cover from doctors who spoke doom and gloom. I took cover from the constant barrage of questions and requests from students (yes, during the break). I took cover from fear of all the “what ifs.” I took cover from the emotions that surged to the surface when my bestie told me she lost yet another person in her life to cancer. I took cover when my other bestie got a “not good” prognosis for her mother’s condition. I took cover when yet another bolt of lightning struck just yesterday. I took cover when the little frustrations of life were sure to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I took cover in the Word of God, in the knowledge and experience of who He is, and I rested in His embrace.  I found shelter there because when faced with the impossible, there’s nowhere else to be.

Some time last week, I received the card above from one of my dearest and most constant friends. It felt like a warm and much-needed hug, the hug that says, “I know…and this is the way through.”

I’ve been on a journey with stillness for years now. Some days, I’ve mastered stillness. Others…I stand in place, fretting and fidgeting. The card arrived when I was feeling the full brunt of all of the impossibilities that life has become, when all the disappointments were dancing before me and taunting, tempting me to fall apart. It was my call to do nothing. Be still. Relax against the onslaught and simply hold on to the God who will not, cannot let me go.

And that’s where I am tonight as I face the grueling last days of the semester with all the stuff that was there before and all the stuff that came up since…

Still. Covered.

See You “in the Morning,” Sister-Girl

Lori Ann by Tapman Media

My guys and I traveled to New Orleans the weekend before last–to lay eyes on and touch my sister Lori, to love on her and pray over her. Even though she could not verbally communicate with us, she was responsive. She even opened her eyes briefly. In our prayers for a mighty miracle, we also submitted to Divine Wisdom. There was so much light in her, still so much fight that we walked away, hopeful that we’d see her again the following weekend.

That was not to be.

My sister, Lori, took her last breath a few days after our return, Wednesday night, September 12, just before midnight. And now, I feel like I’m holding my own breath…again.

I am angry. Disappointed. Hurt. Grieving miserably. I wish I could sit this one out and not go through it at all. I draw parallels between Grendel, the monster of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, and cancer, a horrible night-crawler that catches us unaware and snuffs out lives. Jealous over our happiness, our relationships. Our very humanity. And that horrible beast took Lori from us, like it took Karlette five and a half years ago.

One of my nieces texted me yesterday expressing her utter disappointment and anger about Lori’s passing. We were all praying that her desperate situation could become an incredible story of Divine intervention. I assured her that I share her feelings, and encouraged her to give full vent of her anger to God. He can handle it. Furthermore, He’s well acquainted with our grief and He’s just as hurt and angry as we are that we are going through this…AGAIN.

I read and reread the following quote almost daily for several weeks and finally shared it with my mom and sister:

God didn’t set this journey in motion. He’s just as angry as you are that you have to walk this road. But He promises you this: He will walk this road with you. And He will be there for you when you reach the end of it. God loves you.  –from the television series Touched by an Angel

God is a compassionate, loving Father, cradling us and weeping with us. His amazing grace, the blessed hope of Christ’s return to take us Home, preparation for the biggest family reunion ever, and a heavenly future without the suffering and pain of illness and death rescue me from the darkest depths of despair.

I already miss Lori like crazy. She was a good person, who welcomed all into her life and loved them deeply. She loved giving gifts, finding just the right thing. Like Karlette, she loved beautifying her spaces. She spent so much time babysitting many of the nieces and nephews that we can claim she “half raised” them. Her guys and two little girls (her granddaughters) were her heart, but there was so much room for many more.

Though I grieve over the loss of her, I do so with an unshakeable hope, rooted in Christ:

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

“Lavender Tulips for Lori,” by Tapman Media

I Breathe. Hope.

Hope is a midwife, helping us breathe. Out with the pain. In with the Spirit. Repeat as often as necessary. And again and again. There’s no shortage of oxygen. No shortage of God.  —Jennifer Dukes Lee

I wrote the quote above in my Bible Study journal nearly three years ago. I can’t remember the specific reason why it spoke to me then, but at this moment, I am breathing hope.

We learned that my sister’s cancer metastasized to her brain two weeks ago. Radiation was stopped after a week because it was not preventing the spread of the disease and was only making her weaker. Two days ago, the doctor told her husband, my parents, and my baby sister, “There is no hope for recovery.” Plain and simple. To the point. Not what we want to hear, but the candor we need to activate hope and faith.

The late, great evangelist E.E. Cleveland, in expounding on Hebrews 11:1, told our class of wide-eyed college students many years ago that “faith is belief in the absence of evidence and in the face of contrary evidence.” I’ve never forgotten those words. They are ingrained in my spirit.

So now the faithwork intensifies. Now, we pool our faith and hope and pray and fast and plead for the miracle we know God can perform, if it is His will to do so. Because we cannot just lie down and accept that this is our story…again. We cannot simply accept that this is sweet Lori’s story. Lori with the heart of gold. Lori who has been unflappable. Lori who has found a way to praise God through mind-numbing, excruciating pain. Lori whose faith has been rock-solid, unwavering throughout this entire ordeal.

The doctor did his job. Now, we wait in hope for God to do His.

How can I have such audacious faith that GOD CAN HEAL even metastatic cancer after I’ve already lost one sister to cancer? I believe in miracles and divine interventions. I serve the Most High God who still performs divine acts in the face of human impossibilities.

So I lay all of it on the altar and praise God for what He will do, and if He allows another outcome, He is still God.

I breathe hope.