Other People’s Stories

Railroad Crossing: Shot at a Stoplight

Today, I listened to other people’s stories. Not by choice–mine or theirs. Circumstance required my presence, but I felt like a voyeur, listening in and observing private matters.

One person injured in a failed attempt to rescue someone from a kidnapper. Another the victim of domestic violence. A mom whose inability to say “no” to her son may cost her freedom.

Normal, everyday people whose lives “behind closed doors” rival the most titillating television drama. I sat wondering–not how their lives had gotten to this point, but at how easily a life can get to this point.

We’re all at risk. Not one of us is completely safe. One bad decision, one snap judgment, one wave of compassion or indignation can change the trajectory of a life.

Momentarily.

And that’s the good news. No matter what other people think or how much our lives change, that “one moment” does not define us, does not determine who we are or who we are going to be. The road back to “drama free,” to recovery, to redemption might be long and arduous, but there is a road back, a road away from, or a road forward.

Soul Work: Making Art of Loving People

“Purple” Rose, Big Spring Park, Huntsville, Alabama. [Altered Photo]

As promised, here’s the “love post” I sent to family, friends, and swappers this year.  The card features an altered rose and a Van Gogh quote.

I found the rose last December showing off in Big Spring Park in Huntsville, Alabama. It was simply gorgeous and many people were pleasantly surprised to find its unexpected beauty.

Van Gogh offers more than a “quotable quote” here.  Instead of making a pithy statement about art, he uses art to challenge our notions of love.  Moving us beyond ideas of love as feelings and romance, he calls us to love in a way that an artist creates.  And that is anything but romantic or fleeting.

When we experience a finished work of art–visual, written or spoken, performed, musical composition–we respond with admiration or distaste without ever fully considering what the artist pours into the work or how gut-wrenchingly vulnerable it makes one to place the inner life on display.

When we truly love people, we are similarly crafting and creating, unveiling our most intimate self and making ourselves vulnerable to the scrutiny, judgement, and sometimes the disdain of others.  Our love for people doesn’t always mean they will love us back and though our natural inclination is to protect ourselves, we must learn to love them regardless…

This point was driven home for me and my little one last week, as he was present when someone disrespected me in a public forum.  Though angry, my little one emphasized that he “admired [my] restraint” because he knows that many people wouldn’t have taken it so calmly.  On our drive home we talked about where that “restraint” comes from.  I was honest with him. Some base part of me could have humiliated the man and “put him in his place,” perhaps deservedly so, but that this man could behave this way suggests that he needs my prayers, not my tongue.  In an instant during the exchange, I paused long enough to hear from God, check myself, and recognize in the offender the child of God whom I am called to love.

Van Gogh is not speaking of simply loving people in our circles, those with whom we already share a heart connection, or those who are easy to love.  Nor is he simply speaking of a general, abstract love for humanity.  The artistry and mastery of love come as a result of loving through challenge and difficulty and loving people who aren’t loving, even people who can be mean and evil.  It comes as a result of seeing them as complex beings who, like a work of art, are more than what we immediately see.

Just as it takes more than a few strokes of the artist’s brush to create a masterpiece, it takes intense soul work and an intimate and constant connection with the Divine to make art of loving people.

Microblog Mondays: He Restores My Soul

My little one is sick for the fourth time this season, so when I woke up this morning, worried and stressed, I needed a simple and familiar scripture to start the day. I opened the Bible App and the “Verse of the Day” provided the first few verses of Psalm 23–just what I needed to help the little one get through the day.

“He Leads Me Beside Peaceful Streams,” Wheeler Lake, Huntsville, Alabama.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
He leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
Psalm 23:1-3a NLT

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Walk the Tinsel Trail with Me!

Happy Holidays!

When I wrote my last NaBloPoMo 2016 post, I planned to share (soon after) the photos from a post-Thanksgiving walk through the “Tinsel Trail” at Big Spring Park in Huntsville, Alabama.  The end-of-semester wrap up, holiday preparations, and sheer exhaustion hindered that effort, but I cannot let the holiday season pass without sharing the photos I captured.

“Tinsel Trail” is a display of Christmas trees in the park, located in Downtown Huntsville.  The trees are sponsored by various companies, groups, and even families.

There are a lot of trees and far too many to share in one post.  I captured more than 150 photos (not every tree), but I’m sharing only about one-third of them with you.

The trees are decorated in various ways, expressing the personalities of the groups sponsoring them.  Some are traditional with ornaments, bulbs, and ribbon.  [Click one of the collaged images for a closer look]

Some are there simply for company advertisement.

Some promote the arts.

Some education.

Some support parks and recreational areas.

Some raise awareness about mental illness.

Some are full of sugary dreams of childhood.

There are trucks.

And trains serving childhood fantasies of the North Pole.

Of course, Santa is there.

And other characters familiar to kids (and adults).

There are superheroes.

And favored villains.

There are reminders that some of us go through the holidays carrying grief.

There is a cute owl tree I can’t wait to share with a little friend who loves them.

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Some represent universities.

And (for my many Alpha Kappa Alpha friends), at least one sorority.

Some are patriotic.

And, of course, many are religious, reminding us of the “reason for the season,” with messages of love and offers of hope in the Messiah.

Sometimes, I took in as much as I could of the whole image.

Sometimes, I focused on the details.

All in all, this was a wonderful visual feast and I hope you had a pleasurable walk with me.  Most of the photos were captured during late afternoon just before sunset, but we plan to go back before the trail vanishes to enjoy it in its evening glory.

For now, have a joyous Christmas season!

“Walk to the Cross”

"Cross" @ Burritt on the Mountain

74-Foot Cross @ Burritt on the Mountain, Monte Sano, Huntsville, Alabama

I lied.  Not intentionally, of course.  When I wrote “Autumn Has Flowers Too” would be my last blog post this year featuring autumn photos, I had no idea that my family and I would walk the nature trail at Burritt on the Mountain this week.  I expected the weather to turn really cold and shake what was left of autumn off the trees, but imagine my surprise when we reached the park and found lots of color!

Our goal today, as always, was to reach the very large cross.  The 74-foot cross (with a 31-foot crossbeam) is an impressive site. It was built in 1963, “a racially integrated and ecumenical effort during complicated times, symbolizing a city balanced by a symbol of peace and faith”  (Paige Minds the Gap).

"Cross" @ Burritt on the Mountain

The Cross @ Burritt on the Mountain weighs about 38 tons.

In the past, we visited Burritt during the winter months, after the trees lost their leaves, so it was nice to experience the trail and the cross in the golden glow of autumn.

As usual, I captured many photos, but I’ll just leave a “few” for you to enjoy.  “Few” is relative, right? [Click an image for a closer look]