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.

Celebrate the Gift!

Sunflower Mug

For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it. –Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

I mentioned in the Four Promises and a Gift post that my friend Kelli’s gift was the impetus for the blog theme of the week (now two weeks). She dropped off a sunflower-themed care basket filled with sunflower goodies— a sunflower notebook, a sunflower mug with an Amanda Gorman’s quote [above], chamomile tea, raw local honey, and of course, chocolate. I was touched by her thoughtfulness, but what moved me to tears was the beautiful note she included which expressed admiration and appreciation for the gifts of beauty and hope I share with the world despite the “many storms of loss” I have weathered.

The gift of Kelli’s words reminded me that what I do matters to others. I’m out here tossing beauty about because it’s what I need to do for own my sanity and healing, not paying [much] attention to its impact. Kelli’s words—written and verbal—beckoned me to appreciate and celebrate my gifts and more importantly the gift of who I am in spite of—and maybe because of—what I’ve been through.

Those losses Kelli referred to in her note concretized the reality that life is fragile, and there are no guarantees. I don’t have to be in this world at all, let alone be here sharing love and light and beauty. So, it’s not that I don’t see the value of my gifts. It’s that I am clear about Who gave me these gifts. I thank God for life and for using me to light up life for others. I thank God for the gift of me.

We all have gifts. We all have that little something in us–a spark–that propels us to do small things, big things, in-between things that lighten, gladden, and stir the hearts of others. It is part of what makes life colorful, beautiful, and meaningful.

I hope you know you are a gift, a treasure. You bless, inspire, and move others just by being who you are. Celebrate that and the gifts your presence bring to the world.

Celebrate the gift of you!

Kelli gift

Gift to Myself

“Creative Process — 1376 Images”

When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life. –Jean Shinoda Bolen

Sheila D’s 30-Day Creative Gathering ends tomorrow. Although time is not always on my side when it comes to creative endeavors, I committed to participating as a gift to myself.

I created at least one thing every day this month. It was nice to ignore the everyday demands and tune in and engage in a way that wasn’t required or expected.

Besides the moment to focus keenly on the act of creation, this was a gift to myself in other ways. I needed time out from the unspoken questions, the fears dancing just beneath the surface of awareness, the conflicting ideals that are always hovering and holding thoughts captive.

I gave myself over for a few minutes to walk, see, feel, doodle, meditate, and from those moments create something beautiful and inspiring.

It was liberating, if nothing else.

And this was a gift…

Four Promises and a Gift

Tyhara Rain

“Tranquility” by Tyhara Rain

Yesterday, a friend dropped by to bring me a gift. Her gift and note became the impetus for the theme of this week’s blog posts—the gift. I will share some details of her gift later this week, but today, I’m sharing most of a blog post I wrote four years ago. I realized as I was thinking about today’s post that I wrote the post before…pretty much.

Instead of “reblogging” the post, I’m giving you the salient points and a little artsy goodness.

In order to see God’s vision for your life and become part of God’s story, there are four promises you must claim:

  1. You have a gift only you can give.

  2. Someone has a need only you can meet, only you can heal—no matter how inadequate you feel.

  3. Joy is the journey where the gift and the need collide. God’s path for your life is a collision course. The intersection where your gift crashes into the world’s need is where you will truly begin to live.

  4. Your journey to give your gift will break you…but it will also make you.  –[from Better Than You Can Imagine: God’s Calling, Your Adventure by Patrick Quinn, emphasis mine]

The excerpt from Better Than You Can Imagine unveils a principle I embrace. If we are to create change in the world then we have to find the gift someone needs—the world needs—that only we can give. We don’t just wake up one morning and decide what we’re going to give. We decide to accept and share the gift, but discovering this gift is a journey—not a decision.

Imagine how much collective change we can create if all individuals would take the journey to find that one thing and exercise it. We would literally change the world! As we partner with God on finding this “great need,” our lives are transformed from the inside out and we experience the “symbiotic” nature of change: the world opens up and reveals to us what it needs and we open up and provide.

Far too often we get caught up in the idea of making a name for ourselves or doing something grand when what seems smallest can make a huge impact on someone’s life and ultimately in the world.

Tyhara Rain

“Turbulence” by Tyhara Rain

A long time ago, I read “A Grammarian’s Funeral,” a poem by Robert Browning, which celebrates the grammarian’s lifelong dedication to Greek language study and his discovery of the articles. While he lived, his colleagues criticized his “wasting his life” and his brilliant mind on such trifles. For them his work was menial, but, though they seem a small contribution, the articles—a, an, and the—are so essential to our languages.

Like the grammarian, we must be keenly focused on finding our part and then doing it. In doing our “small” part, we change the whole.

I encourage you, if you have not already done so, take the journey to find your unique gift. In affecting even one person’s life, you’re doing your part to change the entire world.


About the Image: The artwork above is the work of one my students, Tyhara Rain. They are two of three companion pieces she gave to me as a parting gift when COVID-19 forced campus to shut down during her final semester of college and abruptly ended our long chats about art, literature, and life. :-/ We are still in touch, and I am glad she left so many precious gifts from the heart.  [Note: the scans do very little justice to these paintings].

Gallery in the French Quarter | New Orleans

“One of the many typical gallery scenes in the Vieux Carre section where balconies over hang the narrow and picturesque streets.” –Description from postcard back

Doesn’t this look like a lovely place to be, “to escape thoughts of the Corona Virus?” as one of my friends commented when I shared a photo of this postcard with her this morning.

The “French Quarter Gallery” is one of many, many vintage New Orleans postcards I received from a blog reader I encountered just a few weeks ago via email. After visiting my blog–perhaps after reading my “About Me” page–April C contacted me and told me she had some antique New Orleans postcards that she would like to send to me. Of course, I said, “Yes!”

I expected 10–no more than 20–postcards to add to my “Vintage NOLA” collection, but I was shocked when my hubby returned from the Post Office last week and placed a package filled with postcards in my hands. 120 postcards, to be exact!

About 10-15 of the postcards are from a road trip April’s grandfather took in the 1950’s. The rest are from her Aunt Dixie who collects things “labeled Dixie” because of her name. I haven’t combed through the postcards carefully yet, but it seems the earliest postcard is dated 1930. Some have notes and postmarks and others are blank. I’m looking forward to diving in a bit deeper over the next few weeks.

According to my preliminary research the “Genuine Curteich-Chicago C.T. Art-Colortone Post card” above was printed in 1937. It is attributed to A. Hirschwitz of New Orleans, Louisiana.

I’ll be “showcasing” more of the postcards here on Pics and Posts–little by little–over the next few [or several] months, so be sure to tune in.

Until then, enjoy a few older posts featuring vintage postcards:

A million thanks to you, April, for this phenomenal gift!

Many Kinds of Blessings

Instruction ended today. Of course, I can’t celebrate too enthusiastically because after the last day of classes the most difficult work begins.

At this moment, university professors everywhere are clenching their teeth and focusing all their energy on overcoming the major hurdle of final grading and the accompanying drama of begging, pleading, and “shopping” for grades. We keep reminding ourselves that the end is in sight and a sweet summer of rest is on the way. [For many of us rest means working just as hard–but in our own space and on our own time].

At the end of the semester we must constantly remind ourselves of the general good in our students and the good we do for our students. My [former] student Raven made that effort a bit easier for me this week. When I finally made it to our P.O. Box a few days ago, I found among the cheerful greetings and cards from Love Notes pals a sweet and encouraging card from Raven. [Yes, Raven, I checked my mail days ago.]

The card reminded me that though we experience moments when we doubt our work, we actually do some good in the world; our students appreciate our pouring into them; and eventually, they get it.  Thankfully, some, like Raven, “get it” immediately.

Here’s part of her message:

You have been on my mind lately and I wanted to show you just how great you are and how thankful I am for your having been in my life as more than a professor and advisor. You share so much of yourself with your students and we are better for it. Thank you for being you. Your words of love and wisdom, the postcards you send, the blogs you post, the pictures you take…they all illustrate the beauty and intelligence that you are…

I am humbled by such messages. I do not take the influence or the gifts mentioned in Raven’s note lightly. I am blessed through my interactions with students and thankful–even if not always immediately–for the ways they help me stretch and grow.

I chose the [English] professoriate because through literature and language study, students and I open up and enter countless worlds together. It is my hope that through such study they ultimately become change agents in the hands of God.

A Perfect Gift

Today began with grace. For the first time in six years, I woke up without the significance of the date weighing heavily on my heart. Though, this time last year, I could not imagine that I’d be mourning the the loss of another sister, I also did not imagine that we would welcome my sister Karlette’s first grandchild into the world.

Our Little Angel

And it is her beautiful presence that brightens today and gives a bit more of Karlette back to us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. –James 1:17a

Written on My Heart | #WordlessWednesday

Losing a loved one does not just make us
painfully aware of their mortality, but our own,
which comes with a great sense of responsibility–

to carry on living our lives a little more
mindfully, purposefully, and wholeheartedly,
now that they cannot

(I miss you and I will always love you) –-Emina Gaspar-Vrana

Today my sister Lori would have celebrated her 56th birthday. In the photo above are the last Christmas gifts she gave me–a brooch representing [us] six sisters joined by hip and heart and a beautiful sister-heart. She gave them to me last January–weeks after her diagnosis–when we made a special trip to New Orleans so she and I could have a sister heart to heart that I didn’t want to have by phone. While I struggle with the cruel reality of two sisters gone, I walk in the knowledge that not even death can remove the imprint of my sisters from my heart.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart) –e.e. cummings

#ThursdayTreeLove | Giving Thanks with Trees

I’m thanking you, GOD, from a full heart, I’m writing the book on your wonders. I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy; I’m singing your song, High God.
Psalm‬ ‭9:1-2‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Trees are beautiful gifts from God, so it’s fitting that #ThursdayTreeLove falls on Thanksgiving. The Bible verses above perfectly speak my feelings when I’m in the presence of trees. They fill my heart, leaving me light and joyful, singing songs for the Most High.

For today’s tree love I’m sharing photos of the other campus tree I stalk during autumn. I captured these images on a rainy day two weeks ago and could hardly wait to share them. The tree gets much brighter than this, but unfortunately, the cold rainy days kept me away from shooting more. By now, I’m sure, the tree is bare–and that’s another kind of beauty I look forward to sharing.

Enjoy the few images below. [Click an image for a closer look]

 

Last Friday’s post, “Wait and Hope,” featured a preview of the tree. I learned from Sharon of Ink Flarewho commented about her love for gingko leaves, that this is a gingko tree. Thanks, Sharon!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Pardon the one-post interruption of “Sunflower Week,” but #ThursdayTreeLove comes only twice a month, and I cannot resist sharing the trees. No worries. I’ll be back with sunflowers tomorrow and the next day.

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.

Also, linking up with Dawn of The Day After in the Festival of Leaves photo challenge.