From the Shadows…Into the Light

I did not come to photography looking for magic. I came looking for a way to speak my pain. In the process of finding images to portray my darkness, I passed through the shadows into light. Now, I am one of photography’s many lovers, devoted to the art of seeing and revealing. […] There’s something holy about this work, something healing about this search for light. Like the pilgrim’s journey, it’s heaven all the way.

–Jan Phillips, God Is at Eye Level

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

–Mary Oliver, “The Uses of Sorrow”

Through a casual Facebook post featuring some of her favorite books, my pen friend Connie F, introduced me to Jan Phillip’s book, God Is at Eye Level [Thanks, Connie!]. With Amazon [birthday] gift card in hand [Thanks, Tee!], I ordered the book and two others on creative and contemplative photography. 

The photograph of the wilted sunflower is the result of an exercise in God Is at Eye Level that invites readers to use an entire [pretend] 24-exposure roll of film to explore one strong emotion. It is my attempt to capture the tension between the darkness that walks with me as I deal with grief and trauma and the light I feel I need to project.  

But I am learning, day by day, there is value in darkness, particularly if we are using it to move toward Light.

In the quote above, Phillips underscores the usefulness of darkness, its role in our creativity and healing. Darkness is a “gift,” a necessary part of process; therefore, it’s critical that we face the darkness, wrestle with it, deal, so that we might emerge whole, or maybe not as fractured. Running away from it—creating some inauthentic happy place—only imprisons us. The operative word is emerge. Eventually, we “pass through” darkness and into the fullness of Light.

Optimism and Joy | #WordlessWednesday

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

 “Don’t Hesitate | Swan: Poems and Prose Poems | Mary Oliver
After taking a couple of “mental health” days, I returned to work yesterday and found a huge bunch of cheerful mums from my colleagues sitting in my office. The flowers brightened my spirits and made it easier to get through the day. I did not expect to meet such “sudden and unexpected” joy, but I grasped it without hesitation.

I read somewhere that mums symbolize “optimism and joy.” I like how that phrase honors the moment I’m in while at the same time reaching toward what can be and what will be.
Note: The top photo was shot with my Canon; the bottom two shot with my phone. I had so much fun experimenting with camera settings. I captured way more than three photos, but I’m exercising restraint. 😀

The Gift of Rescue

I mentioned in my last post that my favorite uncle passed away last week.

Some time ago, one of my paternal aunts–my Uncle Joe’s wife–told me the story of when and where my bond with my uncle initiated: I was not quite two. The family had gathered and there was a heaviness in the house because of the passing of my paternal grandmother and one of my paternal aunts–my dad’s older sister–within six months of each other. With the curiosity of a toddler I was drawn to the trash receptacle, and my Uncle Joe patiently and repeatedly pulled me away. He followed me and stuck by me for the rest of our time there. Since then, she told me, we became each other’s favorite (Shhh…don’t tell the others).

My uncle served as a pastor for almost 43 years [in many parts of the United States], and I often called him my personal pastor. When I had a spiritual dilemma or crisis, I called Uncle Joe. When there was a wedding, Uncle Joe. When it was time to dedicate my child to God [christening in some denominations], Uncle Joe. When Karlette’s life was waning, Uncle Joe. When the family, again, needed ministering after hearing of the imminence of Lori’s passing, Uncle Joe. Funerals, Uncle Joe. No matter where he was in the country, Uncle Joe would come, my aunt a willing travel companion.

When my not-so-little one was baptized a few months ago by a pastor we respect and admire, if I’m being frank, our one disappointment was that Uncle Joe [because of a recent stroke] could not be in the water alongside him.

Beyond the rites and rituals of religion, Uncle Joe was my counselor, my spiritual advisor, and a friend of my heart. His compassion for others was palpable. It’s clear I’m not the only one who felt this way. Since their move to Northern Alabama a few years ago, I’ve noted the steady stream of former church members, friends, and people picked up along the way in their home.

I’m convinced he, like my mom, was a saint. He loved and adored my aunt and tolerated her strong will and the zaniness that comes with the family genes. [See the post on my dad to get a glimpse of my aunt’s personality]. He graciously tolerated my dad’s other two sisters, both divorcées, lightheartedly calling him their husband too.

My Uncle Joe had a keen spiritual wisdom that I rarely encounter. I’m not referring to religious rules or doctrine or biblical exegesis—though he was expert in each–but I’m referring to a wisdom that was steeped in a committed relationship [with God], in faith, belief, and trust; it resulted in a spiritual practicality that often unseated me.

When he preached my sister’s funeral sermon, in his urging us to take all the pain, anger, and suffering over the loss of Lori to God, he reminded us that God doesn’t cause death, that because God is Light and Life, death cannot abide in His presence. Instead, he taught, God stepped aside.

I’d never, ever thought of the relationship of God to death in that way, but there’s incredible [mind-blowing] common [and spiritual] sense in that statement.

While I don’t know all the whys and hows, I’m grateful for my uncle’s life. I’m grateful for his light and for the gifts he gave. He had a sharp wit and unique sense of humor that didn’t abate even though he experienced a brain injury.

Last November—out of the blue—he suffered a major stroke and a massive heart attack. Doctors did not think he would leave the hospital, but he survived and thrived for 10 more months. Fourteen years ago, he suffered a major heart attack—the one called “the widow-maker.” At my sister Karlette’s funeral six and a half years ago, he commented on the fact that the time of his heart attack [in 2005] and her first breast cancer diagnosis coincided. He mused that perhaps God kept him here so he could minster to us. Last year, he officiated my sister Lori’s funeral. Two months later, he suffered the stroke and heart attack. I’ve often wondered, was he kept here to minister us through two of the most difficult challenges of our lives?

When my sister Karlette passed away, another one of my dad’s sisters pointed out that by holding on till we could travel to her and say our good-byes, Karlette gave us the gift of time. As I think about my uncle’s crises last year, I’m sure that is exactly what God gave us—the gift of time. Ten additional months for the people in his world to go to him and love on him and support him and let him know how much he meant to them. Ten more months for his wife to dote on him and show him that she would be okay [eventually] if death were part them. Ten more months for his sons to express their love for him through giving their time and through the intimacy of care. Ten more months for us to witness his fight, his strength, his wit and his humor.

I’m grateful that I was given time to express to him how much he meant to me. I’m grateful that since their move here, my hubby and son were able to develop a relationship with him. I’m grateful that my aunt was given time to adjust to a different type of life and pull from stores of strength she may not have known she had.

The knife of grief is sharp and [seemingly] unrelenting, but I’m grateful for my uncle’s patience and the gift of rescue that brought us together. I’m most grateful for the power of the resurrection, the sure to come great reunion with our loved ones who fell asleep in Christ, and that final moment when “death will be swallowed up in Victory.”

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  (I Corinthians 15:51-54 KJV)


Note: No worries about the whole “favorites” thing mentioned above. It’s a game my dad’s sisters and first cousins started when they were young. I fully intend to keep it going, but we won’t let the others know there is verifiable proof that I was his favorite. 😉

#ThursdayTreeLove | Knot So Beautiful

There is good in life every day.
Take a few minutes to distract yourself
from your concerns–
long enough to draw strength from a tree…
–Pamela Owens Renfro, “Reach for the Good”

August has been a strange month so far. I have felt “out of sorts” most days and have been so swamped with “things to do” that I’ve found far too little time for the things that add color to my days. This has made me even more grateful to be back on campus with the trees. The heat makes my time outdoors brief, but a [literal] moment with the trees every now and then does much to right my spirit.

The knotty tree above caught my eye as I walked past it with one of my colleagues. Naturally, I paused to take a snapshot with my phone camera. Although my colleague was grossed out by the knots, I was intrigued. I wondered about the tree’s story.

Trees develop knots in response to “stress”—weather, insects, injury, viruses. The knots are evidence of healing and repair. They give the trees character, and if we think about it for a second, it’s pretty amazing that trees are capable of creating beauty from something that can potentially destroy them.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were more like trees? Perhaps, we are more like them.

To some degree, how we respond to tension is a matter of choice. Instead of internalizing our stress and creating destructive knots that can lead to mental and physical illness, we can respond to it in productive ways–praying, meditating, journaling, creating, crafting, singing, speaking up for ourselves, setting healthy boundaries.

If left unchecked, stress can leave us damaged and unhealthy. We transform these undesirable effects when we work through our stressors in ways that create beauty in our hearts and lives.

As for my colleague—no worries about her. If she continues to hang around me, she’ll be looking at trees in a different way very soon. 😉


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.

Snapshots from an Early Evening Walk

As I mentioned in the previous post, my guys and I took an evening walk some days ago in a nearby nature preserve to see if we could spot the recently released rabbits that were under our care. We didn’t find the bunnies, but we found nature being her wild best.

We love walking in this park. We encounter beauty with each step, whether on the open trail which frames the pond, or the covered trails where we’re more likely to encounter the creatures that make the park their home.

Though much of the brilliance of summer has faded, there’s still so much to enjoy: Unloved flowers showcasing their beauty for those who have learned to see it.

Bugs that feast on the flowers. [Look closely]

Sun-kissed clouds floating above the trees, making way for night.

Random splashes of color.

Feasts for birds…

and the smallest animals.

Remains of fallen trees that continue to give life.

A surprise gift–a moth waiting patiently to be photographed.

A brightly colored flower captured as we exited a trail.

The final gift of the evening.

I hope you take some time this weekend to sit [or walk] quietly in nature, find strength, heal your soul, connect with the Divine.

Joy Break 1 | Discipline and Practice

“Barnsley Daisy” by Kelly of Happy Shack Designs

Around this time of the year, I usually begin a weeklong series of kindness posts, but this time around, I decided to focus on joy.

Despite the trauma and drama of the past several months (see last Monday’s post), I’m okay. As I mentioned at the very beginning of the year:

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.  Pics and Posts, January 1, 2019

Many people confuse joy with happiness. Unlike happiness, joy is not tethered to our emotional state. It does not depend on external circumstances or conditions. Joy is a discipline, and when we train ourselves in joy, we walk with knowledge that “a dark moment” is not the whole life. Therefore, in our innermost being, we are not held captive by our emotions–no matter what is going on around us.

I’m learning to lean in and remain in the Presence of my Heavenly Father. I need Him day by day, hour by hour, and being in His presence helps me confront my deepest aches and longings and experience life to the fullest even as I’m working through disappointments and pain.

The assaults can be wearying, but I’m convinced when we practice joy, we won’t succumb to the madness life tosses our way.


About today’s image: The Barnsley daisy above has been sitting in my “to be blogged” bin for a year. It was a side-swap from Liberate Your Art 2018. I’d planned to include them in this year’s LYA posts, but the swap coordinator, Kat, decided to take a much needed hiatus this year. The photo was taken by Kelly of Happy Shack Designs. Check out her website to see more of her photography and handmade jewelry. You can find her blog here, Artful Happiness.

Loc’d: Second Journey

“Loc’d Defined,” Photo by Cy

I began my second locs journey a week ago.

When I first loc’d my hair 13+ years ago, I was five months pregnant, dealing with the losses of Post-Katrina New Orleans, and adjusting to a new normal. Although I had “gone natural” four years before, the time never felt right for loc’ing.

Until then.

I craved the permanency and flexibility of locs. I needed something that would connect me to my natural self and my cultural roots, and that would allow me to navigate the early years of motherhood with one less concern.

I’d planned to loc for only seven years–the spiritual number of completion. I considered cutting them off after losing Karlette, but I wasn’t ready.

“Loc’d Mommy,” Photo by My Hubby

My son, especially, wasn’t ready for a loc-less mom. Though I suspect he most enjoyed “pranking me” by tying my locs to the head rest in the car, loc’d Mommy was all he knew and he resisted the idea of my cutting them off.

My hair was a way to “mark time” as we journeyed through the first decade of his life. There was lots of growth for both of us.

In year 10, with my son’s “permission,” I convinced my bestie to cut my locs when her family came for a visit.

Good-bye Locs

That was March 2016.

Now that I’ve begun my second journey, I am asked “why?”–the same question I heard over and over when I began loc’ing the first time and when I cut my lengthy locs three years ago. The question is asked for many [complex] reasons, some of which are touched on in an earlier post.

I do not intend to go into those reasons in this post; I have only my answer to the question.

The last several months have been traumatic in some ways, and I’ve been feeling the drive to loc again. I first felt the inclination after Lori passed. I held back because I thought those feelings were a knee-jerk reaction to something I couldn’t control. However, as the months crept along, the desire grew stronger.

The losses have been significant, the pain unbearable at times. I needed to begin the process again, to mark the journey as I navigate the grief and trauma.

For me, there is incredible power in loc’ing–the patient waiting, the commitment to the process. As the hair locs and lengthens, I stretch. I strengthen. I heal.