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.

Seven Keys for a Productive and Fulfilling Life

Even though they are spoken directly to graduates, I love the motivational and inspirational graduation speeches. I certainly felt inspired Saturday night as I listened to actor and producer Darryl Bell, of A Different World fame, address the graduates at my alma mater–which is also my employer. 😀

Bell delivered a succinct, timely, and power-packed list speech that resonated with me and reminded me of some basic principles for navigating life. Here are his tips and what I remember of his commentary on each one.

  1.  Use the gifts that call you.  Choose a vocation because of your compulsion toward it, your passion, not simply because you’re competent in an area. Your being good at what you do but hating it leads to a miserable life.  Pay attention to the thing that keeps calling you, the thing you can’t help but do. “Your gifts have been calling you. Answer them.”
  2. Remember the four-year-old.  Four-year-olds are confident that they can do anything.  A few years later, kids begin to learn their strengths and their limits, and begin to doubt themselves. Be like four-year-olds and do not put limits on what is possible. Use all of your abilities and gifts, empowered by your education, to solve the world’s problems.
  3. See the world. Travel beyond your state, beyond your country. Experience other places and cultures. Those interactions will open you up to other ways of seeing and being. If you only know America, you can’t be competitive in a global economy. Travel changes your perspective on life and everything you do.
  4. Pick somebody else.  Sometimes you won’t hear extraordinary advice given because you hear the same voice so often that you automatically tune it out.  Pick someone else. Always ask another person; get another opinion. It affirms and confirms. Sometimes you have to hear [the extraordinary advice] from someone else.
  5. Ask for help.  No one accomplishes anything without the help of others. Life is worse than hard. You’ll have times when you’ll face bone-crushing, soul-crushing defeat, where you’ll feel like “it” isn’t even possible. Interestingly, when you are going through these moments, when you most need help, contrary to what is logical and instinctive, you are least likely to ask for help.  You must fight through your vulnerability and through your shame and ask for help. You’ll be surprised by the people who exceed your expectations in providing what you need to turn the situation around. Be prepared to ask for help.
  6. Be kind. Kindness goes a long way and is long remembered.
  7. Embrace the fear. You experience fear when you try to accomplish something big and you are afraid to fail. “Everything that I accomplished that was worth something scared me and I learned to run toward it, to embrace it.” Fear tells you this is something worth doing. Embrace it! Run toward it! Grab it! Now, go change the world!

Bell punctuated his list with (mostly) entertaining anecdotes from his life that kept us all riveted. He offered keys for a productive and fulfilling life. There are other keys, of course, but I think the graduates found the most important one in the school’s motto–“God first!”

But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.   –Matthew 6:33 AMP

Until next time…

[Note: Photo from Pixabay.com]

Life’s Rewards: “To Be Elated Over a Bird’s Nest…”

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life. –John Burroughs

I submitted my grades today and closed the book on Spring 2018. As I looked outside my window yesterday and today, the beautiful weather beckoned me and provided the motivation to push to completion. The sky was filled with so many cumulus clouds that I couldn’t resist taking a few minutes to photograph them. Today was just as gorgeous, so I sent grades for my final class and grabbed my camera for more photos. [I’ll share those later–maybe, tomorrow].

After today’s session, my hubby and I visited a Killdeer that was nesting at the back of the yard. Although we cautiously approached, the bird left the nest to protect its brood. This gave me a good look at the eggs and a shot I liked [above].

Just before evening, we visited again with our little one. By this time, our feathered friend was a little more comfortable and remained on the nest, wary and watching. [Click an image for a closer look].

It stirred only when I changed my vantage point for a different shot.

The bird has been nesting for quite some time. In fact, my hubby told me about it some time ago–when I was too crazy-busy to take a look. It stood its ground and protected the precious cargo through lawn mowings and thunderstorms.

I appreciate its tenacity and courage.

And I’m grateful for the time I was able to spend with it. This felt like a gift–a reward–for maintaining my sanity once again through the crazy last half of the semester.

For more information about Killdeer, see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birdwatching.

Sunflower Story: The Sacred Joy of Creating

Detail of Sunflower by Tyhara Rain

If you looked closely at the sunflower wall photo in my previous blog post, you might have noticed a sunflower sculpture adorning the space.

Tyhara Rain, a student whom I introduced on the blog a few months ago, created the sunflower for me. Isn’t she the best? Initially, she painted a sunflower, but even though I thought it was beautiful, she refused to give it to me because she was not satisfied with it.

Sunflower by Tyhara Rain

Before I give you an “up close and personal” view of the sunflower sculpture, I thought I’d share Tyhara’s words regarding her journey:

I’ve been doing art since I was 6. I dabbled in pencil/charcoal sketches, oil paints, even photography, but I felt I lacked passion and inspiration for it. I never considered myself an artist because I literally didn’t even enjoy doing art! It was something I could do because I practiced so much. This year, I begged God to help me find a medium I enjoyed. Even if I didn’t believe this was a talent, I understood that God expected me to use any abilities I had for His honor and glory. One of my favorite professors had a wall full of sunflower themed art and I really wanted my piece for her to be special. I remembered how much I enjoyed the process of trying to sculpt a tree last year–but it broke and I totally gave up–and since I had an idea in my head for a clay sculpture of a hand holding a sunflower, I decided to go for it!

Before Painting: Tyhara and the Sunflower

Tyhara shared much of the creative process via Instagram stories–very late at night. Sometimes during sleepless nights, I’d tune in and listen to her chat and watch her create for a few minutes:

When she finished the piece, Tyhara carefully walked through campus to deliver the sunflower to me before a Shakespeare class session. When she unveiled it, she learned that one of the petals had tragically fallen off during transport.

Two more petals followed. It sat in my office while waiting to be repaired:

Then, she visited one afternoon and repaired the sunflower while we chatted:

After a little artist magic…um skill…the sunflower emerged stronger than ever!

In her words–

[Creating this sunflower] was the beginning of a wonderful journey I’ve decided to embark on as an artist. (I finally feel comfortable calling myself that). I’m incredibly thankful for this talent God gave me. Not only did He help me find a medium I enjoy but He pushed me so far outside my comfort zone and far from the mediums I grew up using that I could never again deny that God blessed me with a talent to create as an artist and desired for me to find joy in creating just as He does.

Tyhara has created many, many sculptures since making the sunflower for me–each one more intricate, more detailed. Here are a couple. The vintage album piece is absolutely stunning–and I’m not just saying that because of the sunflowers. [Click an image for a closer look].

Tyhara’s inspiring “journey to the sunflower” underscores an innate desire to create that resides in all of us. Made in the image of the Divine Creator, we are drawn to the creative process and have an almost sacred urge to make our creative mark in the world–no matter how big or small. It takes different forms–art, music, a poem, a story, dance, food, a theory, a lesson plan–but the act of creation involves and allows us to share beauty, love, and light. Joy is the precious outcome.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside: The Gifts of Winter

Visitor by Irina Garmashova

Brrrr…It’s cold outside.

The postcards from a couple of my love notes pals–received a couple of weeks ago–seem to predict the weather we’ve been having in Northern Alabama lately. I’m convinced this winter’s frigid temperatures (so far) are payback for last winter’s warmth.

It’s no secret. I’m not crazy about cold weather. But there are good things about winter, so I won’t complain too loudly. Interestingly, I just read the quote included with the holiday postcard from Suzette R., another Love Notes pal, that reminds us that winter has its gifts.

May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter, so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within. May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping into the ground, so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow. May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core. May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air, so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.  –Br. David Steindl-Rast

Stillness. Silence. Hushed expectation. These are the gifts that winter offers as we await awakening in the spring.

Photo by Lisa C., Chasing the Sun 

[Notes on Postcards: From Eileen V., “The Visitor,”Artwork by Irina Garmashova-Cawton Fine Arts. From Lisa C., “Winter Bird,” Photography by Lisa Comperry].

“Random Acts” of Christmas/The Intentional Gift

I’d planned to drop by today with a quick post about goodwill and the holiday season, but then this happened:

How could I resist sharing such a gorgeous Christmas morning sky? It’s a gift–a reward really, for having to wake up so early after being up so late last night (read: early this morning).

I love the Christmas season. I enjoy the lights, the colors, the various interpretations of the Nativity, Christmas trees, Santa, reindeer, the movies, cartoons, the glitter, glitz, and traditions of the holiday. I even like the hustle and bustle–to an extent. But what I really love about the season is that it generally brings out the best in us and reveals the goodness in our hearts. We’re kinder and gentler, more giving, and more patient with each other.

A few days ago, our new neighbors did something that we haven’t experienced from neighbors in more than a decade. They dropped by with a Christmas gift–a delicious assortment of cookies and holiday goodies they’d made themselves!

Despite my love for the holiday, my Christmas spirit remained dormant for much of the season, buried beneath exhaustion and a far too long to-do list. This neighborly act began a shift in my state of mind, particularly as I thought about how these same neighbors have performed other random acts of kindness for us over the last several months.

But here’s the thing–I don’t think my neighbors’ acts are so random. I think they’re specifically for us and intentional, with a particular result or reaction in mind.

It is this thought that led me to Christ and “the reason for the season.” The gift of His birth was specific and intentional (John 3:16, 17).

Just before falling asleep [this morning], I read a few devotional thoughts from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young that underscored my thinking. Thus, my Christmas spirit was recharged. Here are the parts that resonated most with me:

As you celebrate the wonder of My birth in Bethlehem, celebrate also your rebirth into eternal life. This everlasting gift was the sole purpose of My entering your sin-stained world. Receive My gift with awe and humility. Take time to explore the vast dimensions of My Love. Allow thankfulness to flow freely from your heart in response to My glorious gift. Let My peace rule in your heart and be thankful.  –December 24.

I set aside My Glory so I could identify with mankind. I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions–a filthy stable. That was a dark night for Me, even though angels lit up the sky proclaiming “Glory!” to awestruck shepherds.  When you sit quietly with Me, the process I went through is reversed in your experience. As you identify with Me, heaven’s vistas open up before you–granting you glimpses of My glory.

I am the gift that continuously gives–bounteously with no strings attached. –December 26

May you find the true joy of the season in the Gift of Christ.

Merry Christmas!