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 disappointed 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 them 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. 😉

Taking a Break, Recovering My Life

I need a break from all the things, but since I can’t take a break from all the things, I’m taking a break from some of the things–the things over which I actually have some control.  My blog is one of those things.

As much as I look forward to sharing a little beauty, writing posts, and interacting with other bloggers, and as much as I need blogging to balance out some of the weekly madness, I realize just how much even this thing I enjoy has not been “as enjoyable” because my words are trapped in grief and [mental] exhaustion. [And] I’m fighting to find the time and energy when I  need to “sit still” and “just be” whenever I can for the next few days.

My hiatus will be brief, so please bear with me. I’ll be back with beauty and light in a week or two.

If you’d like to read a blog post with useful content, check out my Brittany’s post, “Decluttering Your Schedule, Overcoming Overwhelmed.”

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out […]? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

Are You Happy with Your Story?*

“Story Girl” by Connie S.

I received the most adorable tag this weekend! It came from my penfriend Connie S. I sort of coveted the tag when I saw it in a Facebook photo among several tags she crafted a few weeks ago for a “Little Wings and Tim Holtz” challenge on swap-bot. This one was an extra, so she sent it as a gift as I “get back into teaching mode.” Happy dance!

Connie wrote a note on pretty floral stationery and ended with the question–“Are you happy with your story?”

On this rainy, bluesy Monday when the headaches are unrelenting, it’s difficult to answer when my mood and pain are trying to do the typing.

Interestingly, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about “my story”–the narrative of my life that shapes who I am, my path, and who I am becoming. Particularly, I’ve noticed  just how often other people insist on writing my story or are set on what they think I should do and be; I’ve also taken note of just how often what they think I should do, think, and be benefits them in some way.

Though sometimes [most times, maybe?] individuals are actually advocating for us, I realize if we’re just going along and not paying attention, we can make it easy for someone else to write or rewrite our story. Therefore, we must be intentional about guarding our own developing script.

My life isn’t perfect–it’s certainly “been no crystal stair,” but those ups and downs and all arounds have developed in me a deep sense of empathy and compassion. The questions yet unanswered have taught me to love the questions and either seek the answers with an open heart and mind or patiently wait through the process. I’m learning still that sometimes the answers will come on “the other side of glory.” In my weakest moments, through Christ I’ve found strength–grace sufficient–to overcome the seemingly insurmountable.

I have an amazing family, the best friends, and good energy in my most important spaces. When I count my blessings, they far outnumber my setbacks and disappointments. Even in my most dejected state or my hour of most profound need, my gratitude deepens and widens over the blessed life God has given me and over His indescribable, incomparable love for me.

Am I happy with my story? Yes indeed. I’m not sure I’d know how to behave with a different story.

Are you happy with your story?


*My apologies to those of you who received a draft of this post via email or in your reader. Somehow the WordPress bot decided to publish before I hit the publish button. 

Sylvia Barnes and Toni Morrison | Teaching, Preaching, and Doing the Work

Dr. Sylvia Barnes, October 2014.

Last week was not a good week for my heart.

Before I could digest the news that the literary goddess herself, Toni Morrison, had passed, I learned that Dr. Sylvia Barnes, one of my undergraduate mentors, had passed. With the news of both deaths, I felt as if every bit of oxygen was squeezed from my body.

As I sat through a brief meeting holding in the knowledge of their passings, I realized with everything in me that I am sick and tired of loss.

I’m tired of trying to find the words to express the deep sense of emptiness I feel when someone significant to me dies. There are no words for the love I can’t give, the unexpressed admiration and near deification of those who have profoundly impacted my life and who have had a strong hand in shaping who I am as a person, a writer, a scholar.

Sisters. Aunts. Uncles. Friends. Mentors. Professors. Literary goddesses. I’m tired of processing loss.

It is interesting that both women died the same day, August 5, 2019. I held both in high esteem for their unapologetic focus on black lives, for their commitment to excellence, for their wisdom, for their very humanity.

Dr. Barnes was the Toni Morrison of my undergraduate world. We were in awe of her—her standard of excellence, her fiery passion, her unflinching dedication to the deep study of literature, language, and light. Her dignified presence filled any room she entered. She taught eager undergraduates so many things, not just about literature but about life and love and how to navigate the madness of the world. I distinctly remember some of the wisdom she shared about the importance of reading in gaining and creating knowledge, about relationships and love and attraction.

In her raspy voice, with polished Jamaican accent, she urged us to “Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on. Read!” She wasn’t just an English professor. Like Baby Suggs Holy of Toni Morrison’s Beloved–preaching in the clearing–she was a divinely inspired preacher offering keys for life; every single class with Dr. Barnes felt like a sermon of love for our beautiful Black selves.

When I struggled with racism in graduate school, I reached out to her for counsel, and she candidly shared stories of her own similar experiences while in pursuit of the doctoral degree. Somehow, just knowing she overcame them intensified my determination to push through.

Toni Morrison speaking at “A Tribute to Chinua Achebe–50 Years Anniversary of Things Fall Apart.” December, 2008. Photo by Angela Radulescu

I spend a great deal of time studying, teaching, and writing about Toni Morrison’s novels. My first real encounter with her came when I was in college through my own not-for-a-course reading. The Bluest Eye left me in utter despair. I had read other black writers. I was drawn to them because of the way they spoke to an American experience with which I could identify. But it was Toni Morrison who awakened the scholar in me, who made me ask questions and drove me to write about books; it was her body of work which led me to theorize through literature the unique experiences of Black girls and women.

It was Sylvia Barnes who showed me I could, who encouraged me to use my singular voice to speak about Black girls’ and Black women’s experiences.

It has only been a week, so I’m still processing these losses and what they mean to me. These women—goddesses, really—have filled me for more than half my life and have prepared me for their parting. Though they toiled tirelessly, there is yet much work to be done. The mantle has been passed on, and we—those of us who write about, think about, theorize about Black experiences—must get down to business and with urgency do the work.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge–even wisdom. Like art.  Toni Morrison, The Nation, 2015

Photo from Pixabay

Our Hearts Unhinged…

“Non-violence.” Photo by Louise Mamet, Caen WWII Memorial.

A few years ago, following the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, President Obama said “our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” His argument was that we must back up our prayers with action–legislation that makes it difficult for individuals to purchase the type of weapons that can enact a massacre in seconds.

“Thoughts and prayers,” was again the trite refrain following two mass shootings in the United States this weekend. But neither thoughts and prayers nor legislation are enough. Sadly, no gun legislation will prevent hate and misdirected anger; determined people will always find a way to accomplish their nefarious goals.

As a nation we must do soul work. “Faith without works is dead,” so God to Whom we direct our prayers expects us to do the work. We must wrestle with the ugly truths that are part of who we are, that make such actions possible.

We must unearth the thing in people’s hearts that breeds thoughts that result in wanton disregard for life. We must work to transform individuals and the soul of our nation from the inside out.

We’re weary, yes, but from the weariness we must find a different path.

This year, we’ve done laps around despair;
and we’ve grown tired of running in circles
so we stepped off the track and began to walk.
As the earth shifted beneath our feet,
we moved forward together. Our hearts
unhinged, guide us toward a [nation]
remade by love, into a future
that our past could never have imagined,
beginning today.

Excerpt from “Reimagining History,” by Marcus Amaker and Marjory Wentworth for the 2016 Charleston Mayoral Inauguration.


About the image: Today’s image was shot by my photographer friend Louise Mamet at the Caen WWII Memorial in Normandy. Thank you for the use of your image, Louise!

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A Fortunate Find: A PhotoArt Journal

“A Fortunate Find.” PhotoArt by Diane W.

One of the most gorgeous mail packages I received this year came from my photog friend and art journaler, Diane W, aka midteacher on swap-bot. If you’ve been following along for a while, you might remember that she enjoys working her photographs into mixed media works of art using paint, fabric, paper, washi tape, and other materials.

“Mail Call.” PhotoArt by Diane W.

Over the years, I’ve watched her skills develop and evolve and her projects become more and more complex and beautiful. Sometimes the beauty is difficult to convey through photos.

“There Is Beauty in Simplicity.” PhotoArt by Diane W.

Such is the case with a photo journal she sent early this year for a “Favorite Photos of 2018” swap. The swap invited photographers to look through the photos they shot the past year and select those that brought them the most pleasure.

“Went Off Bravely.” PhotoArt by Diane W.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to share this project on my blog for months! Beyond the visual, there’s the heart that goes into her work, and that can’t be captured.

Diane is attentive to every detail–from cover to cover.

Photojournal Cover by Diane W.

On the binding, she “dangled” charms that feature my interests and personality–an owl, (sun)glasses, leaves (trees!), and of course, a camera and a sunflower!

“Charmed Binding” by Diane W.

I know Diane chose her favorite photos, but her selection aligns with my loves–sunsets, vintage/unique mailboxes, [places of] solitude, leaves, rusty old things, autumn, and sunflowers.

“There Is a Strange Fascination.” PhotoArt by Diane W.

I l-o-v-e the way she arranged the elements on pages. I also love, love, love how she affixed to each page a phrase perfectly matched for the featured photo. How did she do that?

“Just at the Moment.” PhotoArt by Diane W.

I’ve placed [photos of the] pages throughout the post, but I’m not convinced this is the best way to share.

After the fact, I realized I could have created an “unpacking video,” so you could experience my glee and the heart and soul that went into the journal. Unfortunately, I don’t pause long enough to think of a video when I receive mail– especially when beautiful envelopes like this are pulled from the box:

My original plan was to write individual posts for each page of the journal, but after reviewing my backlog of “to be blogged” materials, I decided to choose a few. Soooo…I look forward to giving the four below their hour in the sun. [Click an image fo a closer look].

And guess what! I have another art project from Diane that’s been on “blog hold” even longer, so we have that to look forward to also.

Diane has been encouraging me for a couple of years now to venture out of my digital comfort zone and start “making a mess” with my photographs. I have far too many creative irons in the fire, but I’m beginning to see how this can work with my writing.

I’ll get there, Diane. Eventually. I will.

You can find Diane blogging about photography, her art journals, and “a focused journey” on her blog and on Instagram. I’m sure she’d love for you to follow and play along.

Have a fantastic week!