Favorite Moments of 2020

My blogging friend, Akilah of The Englishist, recently posted her favorite moments of 2020. I’m “stealing” her idea because I think we all need a reminder that despite the icky, crazy of this year, there is also a lot of good. Plus, as you know, I love making lists.

So here are some of my favorite moments of the year of (mostly) sheltering-in-place and almost running out of toilet paper.

Trip to New Orleans. Along with my dad’s three sisters, the guys and I visited New Orleans and returned to ‘Bama just before the Coronavirus outbreak. It was a desperately needed trip for all of us. I am so glad we were able to see my parents and some of my siblings before the pandemic forced us all to stay put. I am missing them like crazy, so I’d probably be out of my mind if we hadn’t taken that short trip.

Brooklyn Arts Library Sketchbook Project. As you read in an earlier post, I completed and submitted a tiny sketchbook to Brooklyn Arts Library. Here’s the link to my mini sketchbook of doodles and quotes if you’re interested: #facethesun: Sunflower and Her Friends.

Try not to judge me too harshly. I’m so not a sketch artist. I didn’t realize I should have only doodled on the front of the pages. I’m definitely going to participate again, with a full-size book and my photography—the art medium with which I’m most comfortable.

Book Talk. Literally two days before the University decided to transition to online learning because of the pandemic, I had the pleasure of coordinating a panel discussion on the book, When Saints Sing the Blues for Wednesday night services at the University church. It was well-attended and well-received. I enjoyed listening to the stories of each of the panelists and speaking with attendees afterwards.

Lettering with the Creator of Cuteness.  Thanks to the gift of time due to the pandemic, I joined Creative Hand Lettering and Doodling with Lindsay. For the first couple of months (or so), I watched Lindsay’s informative and humorous live videos, practiced lettering, and downloaded her free Corona coloring pages and other goodies. The photograph to the left features one of my first projects. The assignment was to use “tinker toy” lettering with a line from a song. This was the perfect creative outlet for our “Corona times.” I don’t have much time to view Lindsay live, but a friend gave me a gift of the workbook, Creative Hand Letter with Lindsay, so I practice whenever I get a chance.

Write Together. Jennifer Belthoff, who coordinates Love Notes, also hosts Write Together, Art Journaling, and other classes. I joined Write Together one evening, and it was such a healing, soul-filling experience that I rode the high for weeks. Life got in the way for a few weeks and when I found time again, I felt a little weird about joining after having missed so much. If Jennifer continues to host next year, I hope to join at least twice a month.

Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt. My son’s (middle school) teachers assigned a “pandemic-style” scavenger hunt for the students. They had to find a list of items in their own neighborhoods. We had fun running (and driving) up and down the street looking for the items, and of course, I took advantage and captured some roses.

Eighth Grade Graduation. My not-so-little one “graduated” from 8th grade! So many things were canceled for the students, but the school administrators decided to hold a scaled-down graduation program with social distancing measures in place. It was held in July–almost two months after the planned date–but we were all so happy for this moment of celebration and to see other people! 🙂 My son, as class president, delivered an excellent speech. This was a proud Mommy (and Daddy) moment.

Spectrum Publication. One of my blog posts was reprinted in Spectrum Magazine (online).

The Chair. I accepted the role of Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages. This isn’t exactly a moment, but a shift. I’d served as department chair at another university for several years. I’d also served in other administrative capacities, but even though I enjoy administrative work, I’d made a decision not to go down that road again (for many sound reasons). God had other plans and He let me know very clearly in a moment that can only be described as an epiphany. I don’t know [yet] why He called me to this task, but I promised to walk in obedience, so here I am.

Three Sundays with David Whyte. David Whyte, one of my favorite poets, hosts poetry seminars via Zoom, typically three Sundays in a month. I participated in three–The Courage in Poetry (April); Just Beyond Yourself (May); and Half a Shade Braver (September). In each session, he shared poetic wisdom, stories about his travels, anecdotes about his friend John O’Donohue, his own poetry and the poetry of others. The sessions were life-changing, and I wrote so much poetry as a result.

A Moment with Raven. One of my former students, Raven, came into town to visit family, and she took a moment out to visit me! We met just outside campus at the Farmer’s Market. It did my heart good to see her and know she is doing well! Of course, I tried to get her to leave California and come and work with me, but she makes more than we can pay her. :-/

Sunflowers in My Backyard. My guys planted sunflowers right outside my office window. I watched them grow from seedlings to 6-7 feet tall. They brought so much joy to my days. The sunflower pictured here was the first to bloom. I have many, many more to share, but it’s so difficult to choose!

Moulin Rouge. You read about my encounter with the Moulin Rouge sunflower in an earlier post. This might be one of my top ten favorite moments of the decade.

Sunflowers in My Mailbox. Sunflowers in my mailbox always create a “favorite” moment, and my friends have kept me and my mailbox happy with sunflowers. In addition to the lovely cards and postcards, I received a number of sunflower packages–a boxful of sunflower goodies from my bestie, a personalized sunflower Starbucks cup from my “niece,” Christian, sunflower stickers from Raven, a package full of sunflower postcards from Debbie T, and a beautiful sunflower teapot from Christine B, two of my Love Notes friends.

Christmas Card Lane. I shared the Christmas Card Lane experience a couple of days ago. I needed that strong dose of Christmas joy.

When the year started, we had grand plans, but before many of those plans could be executed, without much warning, everything changed. Instantly. For everyone. In the entire world. As the days rolled on, things got stranger and more complicated and more twisted, and here we are at the end of all that crazy. And I am grateful for these favorite moments and for the many, many beautiful, everyday moments of 2020–(almost) nightly movie nights with my guys, Zoom calls with family, long walks, putting up lights and balloons for birthdays, trying new vegan recipes, opening a mailbox full of happy mail, drive-by visits with relatives and friends, singing and praying with my guys, listening to them play various instruments, and church services in pajamas.

I’m not sure what next year will hold, but “I know Who holds the future.” Therefore, I am looking forward to new moments–ordinary, extraordinary, and beautiful.

Coping with the Madness of 2020: List It

I woke up this morning with thoughts of an eight-year-old boy, the nephew of one of my kindest friends. He woke up this morning for the first time without his mother’s embrace. She passed yesterday after a very lengthy battle with cancer. Though I didn’t know her or her little boy, I felt myself spiraling for my friend, for her family, and especially for the little one.

As if the out-of-the-ordinary madness of 2020 isn’t enough, unfortunately we also have to deal with dreaded realities like illness and death. The everyday concerns and these hardships  combined with the abnormalities of this year can create a perfect stew of unmanageable anxiety and grief.

So how do I cope when life feels impossible and the emotions are too big to manage?  In addition to prayer (which we’ll save for another day), I make lists.

Lists, you ask? Not a typical task list but a lists of things I can’t control alongside a list of things I can control.

I can’t bring back the little boy’s mom. I can’t stop the hurt or grief, but I can pray and offer support.

I can’t singlehandedly eradicate the coronavirus, but I can do my part to stop the spread and protect my family and myself by wearing masks and avoiding situations in which social distancing is challenged.

I can’t control how the vote goes tomorrow, but I can control how I participate in the democratic process by exercising my hard-won right and responsibility to vote.

I can’t take away the abuse a friend suffered as a child that continues to hurt and traumatize so many decades later, but I can listen, affirm, pray, and hug.

I can’t make people not be racist, but I can educate and choose to operate from a place of love regardless.

When I was a teen, I encountered the “Serenity Prayer” on the front of a church bulletin, and the first part has been a mantra ever since:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. –Reinhold Niebuhr

The lists help me confront the big scary things in black and white, and then, determine my response to them. More often than not, serenity is the welcomed outcome.


About the Images: The images in this post are the full color versions of the grainy black and white photos in the previous post. I’d mentioned in my latest #treelove post that for Creative Auto shots the camera shoots an original color photo AND processes the “creative photo” at the same time. I don’t like these as much, but this is what happens when I don’t remember where I put the images I’d planned for today’s post. :-/

The Gift of the Resurrection | “The Blessing of the Morning Light”

As usual, around this time of year, I have been thinking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ—about what it means for humanity but also what it means in other ways. Scripture says that Christ came that we might have life abundantly—not a life of material riches, but a life richly transformed by the power of Christ, one which, despite the vagaries of human life, rest in the joy and strength of His presence.

This is also a gift of the resurrection of Christ.

We have been learning over these few weeks of sheltering-in-place that, generally, we have been living shadow lives, chasing the entrapments of what others consider a good life. We’ve also been learning that we can actually live without much of the clutter and noise, that—no matter how much we want to be out and doing with the throngs—we are content with our simpler, streamlined lives.

We have time for thought. For listening. For embracing joy and sorrow outside the rush of our normal everyday existence.

We are experiencing a mass removal of “masks” that unfortunately cannot be handed over to health professionals. This presents us with an amazing opportunity to grapple with the messiness of our experiences in ways that lead to authentic connection with ourselves and others.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of listening to David Whyte read one of his poems, “The Blessing of Morning Light,” during session 1 of his workshop, The Courage in Poetry. The words coincided so intensely with my thoughts over the last couple of weeks that I almost exited the live workshop just to sit and process those few moments.

We have a genuine opportunity through this global travesty to allow Light to illuminate the dark places so that we may rise to morning light.

[The poem was written one Easter morning (2015) in memory of his friend John O’Donohue].

THE BLESSING OF THE MORNING LIGHT (Or, “Easter Blessing”)
David Whyte

The blessing of the morning light to you,
may it find you even in your invisible
appearances, may you be seen to have risen
from some other place you know and have known
in the darkness and that that carries all you need.
May you see what is hidden in you
as a place of hospitality and shadowed shelter,
may that hidden darkness be your gift to give,
may you hold that shadow to the light
and the silence of that shelter to the word of the light,
may you join all of your previous disappearances
with this new appearance, this new morning,
this being seen again, new and newly alive.

From the David Whyte, The Bell and the Blackbird (2018).

Live Your Best Life Now

Thanks to the Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-a-Day” program, I was pleased to find “The Rainbow,” a poem by Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960) in my email this morning. Even though I studied and taught early African American literature for many years, I’m pretty sure I have not read any of her poetry before today.

Smith produced three books of poetry–Songs of the Months (1904); Rhymes from the Cumberland (1909); Rosemary and Pansies (1909)–and was even published in the highly regarded Harper’s Magazine. I downloaded Rosemary and Pansies, and will be reading it over the next few days.

“The Rainbow,” from Rosemary and Pansies, is a sweet poem, and perhaps that’s the one I should share today, but “Preparation”–from the same collection–spoke to me, as I’m working on being more intentional about taking time for the things that matter most.

Preparation
Effie Waller Smith

“I have no time for those things now,” we say;
“But in the future just a little way,
No longer by this ceaseless toil oppressed,
I shall have leisure then for thought and rest.
When I the debts upon my land have paid,
Or on foundations firm my business laid,
I shall take time for discourse long and sweet
With those beloved who round my hearthstone meet;
I shall take time on mornings still and cool
To seek the freshness dim of wood and pool,
Where, calmed and hallowed by great Nature’s peace,
My life from its hot cares shall find release;
I shall take time to think on destiny,
Of what I was and am and yet shall be,
Till in the hush my soul may nearer prove
To that great Soul in whom we live and move.
All this I shall do sometime but not now—
The press of business cares will not allow.”
And thus our life glides on year after year;
The promised leisure never comes more near.
Perhaps the aim on which we placed our mind
Is high, and its attainment slow to find;
Or if we reach the mark that we have set,
We still would seek another, farther yet.
Thus all our youth, our strength, our time go past
Till death upon the threshold stands at last,
And back unto our Maker we must give
The life we spent preparing well to live.

What If? | “How Would You Live Then?”

Are you surprised that it took me five days to get to Mary Oliver and sunflowers? I held off as long as I could. 😀  The sun is shining beautifully here in the Tennessee Valley and these sunflowers reflect how bright and sunny I’m feeling as a result of basking in it all morning and early afternoon. 

I have been sort of stuck on this Oliver poem since the beginning of the year–for the message and the splendor of the images–so it was a given I’d share it here during National Poetry Month. The poem is from her 2004 collection, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays.

How Would You Live Then?
Mary Oliver

What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
flew in circles around your head? What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor? What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl? What if the brook slid downhill just
past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep? What if
the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds? What if
you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerfully sang
from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day – who knows how, but they do it – were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?


About the image:  The “Tender Thoughts” card above came from my Love Notes friend, Eileen V; it was sent for International Women’s Day 2020. Eileen enclosed a special treat inside the card that I’m looking forward to sharing later this week.

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).

Textures | #WordlessWednesday

Little moments can have a feeling and a texture that is very real.  –Ralph Fiennes

Sometimes, life gets so frenzied that I take rest and moments where and when I can. This is how I managed to capture the photos above.

While waiting for the grants officer at “my” university to finish with a client a couple of weeks ago, I took a few cleansing breaths. As I exhaled, I suddenly noticed the many colors and textures in her office suite. I wanted to touch everything. Instead, I let my eyes and phone [camera] do the work while my spirit eased into rest. [Click an image for a closer look].

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!

12 Days of Christmas Postcards | Day 7

The abstract Christmas card above came from my pen friend, Beckra. She always surprises me with her unique approach to photography, and I find this card intriguing. It carries the light of Christmas and the fireworks with which we welcome the coming year, so it is apropos for today, the seventh day of Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.

Ten days ago I read the poem “kindness” by Emina Gaspar-Vrana and I’ve been looking forward to sharing it with you as we say farewell to a year filled with frustrations and victories, love and loss, joy and sorrow. Whatever fell in your path in 2018, I hope that “life was kind to you.”

kindness by Emina Gaspar-Vrana

I hope that this year, life was kind to you;

not in the sense of not challenging you,
not making you question it, or
not causing you pain,

but that it made you discover your strength,
brought you new perspectives and
taught you that healing brings peace

that is kindness,
that is growth,
that is preparing you for greatness and
a better version of yourself–
the person you are becoming and
that you were always meant to be

I wish life is even kinder to you next year

Farewell, 2018.