Sunflowers and Poetry | Who We Are Now

WHM-2 2022

I ran across a poem today that I didn’t know I needed till I read it. Isn’t that how poetry works?

We are two years into the pandemic that some think is over, and I find myself still trying to process all the lessons and losses. This poem–which is really a prayer–profoundly articulates the complexity of the moment–the conflicting emotions, the questions, the changes in us. It was written by Nadia Bolz Weber, a pastor who describes herself as “foul-mouthed for a preacher, grammatically challenged for a bestselling author, surprisingly hopeful for a cynic.” 

The poem was written after year one of the pandemic, but it is still relevant after year two.

Who We Are Now
By Nadia Bolz Weber

Dear God who made us all,
A year ago we did not know that we were about to learn:
what we could lose and somehow live anyway
where we would find comfort and where it would elude us
whose lives matter to whom
why we have kitchens in our homes.
In mid-March 2020 all I knew for sure is that
hoarding toilet paper doesn’t make you safe – it just makes you selfish.
But God, it feels like the world is about to open back up.
And I’m both thrilled and kind of scared about that.
Because I’m not who I was a year ago.
I want so badly
to hug my friends again
and laugh like hell again
and have amazing conversations again

and yet I am not sure how long I could do any of this before crying or just getting really quiet. My emotional protective gear has worn so thin, and grief just leaks out everywhere now.

I am so afraid that I will never be who I once was. And I am also afraid that I will be.

(Not to mention, I’m not entirely clear what size jeans I wear as the me I am now)

And yet, when I quiet my anxious thoughts, I start to suspect that I am now closer to the me you have always known and always loved. So help me trust that, Lord.

As things change, help us be gentle with ourselves and with each other. We are all wearing newborn skin right now.

Amen.


About the Image: I had plans to share a sunflower postcard from one of my pen friends today, but this is the image the poem required. It is an edit of a photo I shot last fall. I was trying to emulate van Gogh’s wilted sunflowers–with a camera instead of a paintbrush. See Allotment with Sunflowers in the post.

The Beauty of Small

Snapseed 74

“Small” seems to be the theme of the last couple of years. The pandemic invites us to scale down our lives and learn to journey through the small. These strange and unsure times urge us to take small steps, celebrate small things, and live in small moments.

I’ve been reading various articles that claim we are post-pandemic. As I skim reports of numbers rising in certain areas, I am not convinced. I am concerned that such headlines cause us to move too swiftly and risk being in the same situation we were in during the early months of the pandemic.

Though not explicitly about our Corona times, Susan Frybort’s poem, “the beauty of small,” serves as a primer for us as we move through our collective trauma and slowly make our way to living fully.

the beauty of small
susan frybort

let me paint for you the beauty of small…small words.
small observations, small greetings, short calls.

these are the bravest steps for someone shy,
someone hurt, someone trying to connect,
and someone healing from trauma.
small steps. coming out of hiding and
finally feeling safe enough to make the first move.
small steps. relaxed and ready to practice healthy ways
to bridge and bond for the very first time.
small steps, like a beautiful sunrise–
glimmering at first, before shining boldly.


About the Image: The zentangle sunflower art in today’s post was crafted by my newest Love Notes friend and Certified Zentangle Teacher, Kat van Rooyen. In a small moment she and I chatted (via Messenger) about our mutual love for sunflowers. Afterwards, she “tangled” this abstract sunflower just for me! A retired psychotherapist, Kat now teaches zentangling and uses it as a form of therapy. I chose this piece for the post because the tiny art (3.5 in x 3.5 in) represents the powerful potential of the small–for building, healing, and restoring.

If you are looking for something new as you figure out how to navigate the uncertainty, see Kat’s post for the benefits of tangling. Maybe, you’d like to give it a try!

November Chaos | “Too Many Funerals”

Studio Light Sunflower-1
“Too many funerals.” That’s how one of my friends ended her reply to my “thinking of you” text message this morning. Moments later, I read a post by another friend in which she mentioned that she was gathering photos for the double funeral of her aunt and her cousin.

I’ve lost count of the number of “death” calls, text messages, emails, and conversations I’ve had over the last few months. Our unfortunate reality is that we have all suffered too much loss since March 2020, and we are in a constant state of grief and coping. On top of our collective sorrow, the losses are personal. Therefore, it is crucial that we not use the reasoning that “everyone is going through something” to downplay individual pain.

We must also be careful to not allow the steady repetition of this “news” to desensitize us to the significance of every single loss. Rather, we should tune in and allow ourselves the space and time to give into the sadness and accompanying feelings.

We ended my British Literature class yesterday with 16th/17th century poet John Donne’s “Sonnet X,” perhaps better known as “Death, Be Not Proud.” This is one of my favorites because Donne, in spite of his discomfort with and fear of death, pulled out of himself a direct address to death. He called it out for the powerless perpetrator it is and reminded it that–because of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection– paradoxically, death’s own end is imminent.

I’m looking forward with hope to that moment when we will grieve no more.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
–John Donne, “Holy Sonnet X” or “Death, Be Not Proud”

November Chaos | A Moment with the Willow

Anxiety to Joy

We are halfway through November, and I’m finally making my first post of the month! Gasp!

I had this month’s posts planned since September, but after I realized how chaotic this month would be, I “aborted” the mission–to daily share a piece of art I created in September for Sheila’s Creative Gathering. I will share those pieces as the “Spirit moves” and let November be what it will be. [Many prayers, hugs, and hearts for Sheila who is seriously ill and in the hospital].

Today, I am moved to share one of the 10 “abstract” photo art pieces I created for the Gathering. It captures my time with one of the weeping willows at the Unity Pond on campus. However, it is the Bible verse I paired with the photo that compels me to share–a verse of scripture I meditate on frequently and one I often repeat to others as they grapple with anxiety and stress these days.

When anxiety was great within me,
Your consolation brought me joy. —Psalm 94:19

We have been dealing with a bit “too much” over the last 19-20 months. In the early months, we realized and appreciated our need for the slowing down the pandemic required. Now, instead of seeing this time as an opportunity to do things differently and better, we are trying to force an old norm that no longer serves us. I’m convinced that besides the loss and trauma of this moment, much of our sense of overwhelm and anxiety comes from our rush to normal—exacerbated by our not taking time to sit with and process our grief.

It seems everyone I encounter these days is overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious. I have this horrible sense that if we don’t pause or slow down, we’re headed for an even bigger crisis.

Perhaps, you’re feeling all those things too.

I hope a moment with the willow and these words remind you there is relief. Thankfully, in God’s presence we can find comfort, peace, and joy, even when life makes it difficult to pause or slow down.

May you carry that with you.

The Masters | John Bratby’s Sunflowers

John Bratby, Sunflowers I, Oil on Canvas

For our final week of Sunflower Month we will survey a few sunflower masterpieces–works of the sunflower masters that leave us in awe. We cannot possibly feature all the masters, so we will focus on [some of] those who are featured in my personal “sunflower collection.”

The sunflower art above is featured on the cover of Book of the Heart, so it is perfect for our first post of the week. The oil painting was one of many sunflower paintings by English artist John Bratby (1928-1992), best known for his central role in the Kitchen Sink School of Art, a style of realism active in London between 1952 and 1957.

We have reached the point in the pandemic at which we are all overwhelmed, anxious, and restless, so I will be sharing with this week’s sunnies selections from Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for a Restless Soul. In this collection Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows “attempt to [re]voice” the mystic’s thoughts. I hope the posts brighten your days (sunflowers) and stills your soul (Eckhart).

“Sometimes You Have to Break Things”
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

It’s true:
Sometimes you have
to break things
if you want
to grasp God in them.
In the breaking,
we allow what is holy
to take form
in us.  

Be sure to click the links to learn more about Bratby and his art and be sure to join us for more, more, more brilliant masterpieces!

Sunflowers & Snippets | I Choose Pencil…

Kim B Sunflower in Vintage Vase 2021

For this week’s sunflower posts, I will be sharing sunflower photographs with snippets of my writing from “Write Together” sessions coordinated by Jennifer Belthoff of Love Notes fame. I don’t always have the time to participate in the weekly sessions, but every time I do, I leave refreshed and primed to work on my “actual” writing.

In the one-hour sessions, Jennifer facilitates three rounds of writing. She offers three prompts for each round, gives 8-10 minutes to respond to one prompt (or more) and then allows participants to share their material.

I enjoy the sessions because they provide a timeout for me, and though I do not attend as often as I wish, I am always amazed by how much writing I am able to do in those small moments.

Today’s snippet was written in response to the prompt: “I am choosing pencil.”

I am choosing pencil because few things are permanent, and so much changes from day to day as we navigate the terrain of a pandemic. I am choosing pencil because life is already hard, and there have been far too many deaths, far too many things we cannot reverse. I am choosing pencil so I can erase the parts that don’t fit, the nonsense and pettiness of the day to day, the meannesses that spill out at the end of a long, exhausting day or after another sleepless night. We need compassion and patience and forgiveness and so much love. Pencils are good for helping us revise or escape reality. I am choosing pencil because maybe, we can alter the pain and loss and write a different story. –Chandra Lynn, “Write Together,” 01.04.21

Ironically, typing this in a blog post makes it a bit less temporary, but I hope you get the point.

2021-10-18_130026


About the Images: Today’s images come from my Love Notes friend, Kim B. The top photo features sunflowers in a vintage vase that travelled from her Nana’s house full of flowers to her house and back to her Nana’s for a refill. The bottom photo features an “amazing accident in photography” as she captured the bee in flight when her intention was to capture one of her homegrown sunflowers. The other happy accident happened when I scanned the photo. My “phone scanner” gave the photo a vintage feel. The sunflower itself is a little overexposed, so I’d planned to fix that for Kim in PhotoShop. However, I like the accidental effect offered by the scan, so I decided to leave it alone.

Oh Deer! [Knowing When to Take a Break]

Deer Art

I had the perfect blog theme for the week, but ugh, after work and people and pandemic issues all day long, my energy was too low for even the things I enjoy. I whined (sometimes inwardly) all week about needing time to just cut paper and glue something. I dreamed of quiet evenings for just that, but after hardly seeing people for 17-18 months, my being around people and talking all day long was draining in all caps. My evenings were spent resting (read: sleeping) and completing very few of the daily tasks of home life.

Of course, I took “micro-breaks” when absolutely necessary: I cut pretty artwork out of a book wrapper on its way to the trash bin while speaking with a colleague. I captured trees and flowers with my phone camera while I walked to meetings or lunch. I doodled sunflowers during in-person meetings, phone calls, and work sessions. I worked on photo edits during Zoom meetings.

The micro-breaks were [are] lifesaving, but the reality is my body and soul need more. So, when my friend and colleague Lisa asked me yesterday “What are you doing to take care of yourself?,” I immediately felt the guilt of not practicing what I preach regarding self-care during these Corona times.  

I had convinced myself that “if I can just get through this week,” I’ll be able to get to a place where I can take a “time out” daily. I’ve been saying that for three or four weeks now. I haven’t taken a photo or nature walk in a good while. Even worse, I haven’t picked up my actual camera to take a shot since the end of last month! That’s almost three weeks! Let’s not talk about the unwritten poetry, prose, letters, and postcard designs dancing in my head, or the great books waiting to be read and the movement my body needs!

I mindlessly opened Instagram early this morning and Beth Moore’s words grabbed my attention. The post drove the point of Lisa’s question home for me. 

Know when to take a break, y’all. This world’s a heartbreaking, baffling, demoralizing ball of fire right now. We’re not God. We can pray and give and speak and act. But we can’t carry all of this 24/7. It’s too heavy for us. It’s not going to give us a time out. We have to take it!

This world is “a lot,” and all that negative energy mingling with all the good stuff can create a chaotic stew inside our minds and bodies. Those breaks Moore encourages help shift and purge the energy. So my silly photo edit with the deer poking its tongue at me? That’s me—knowing when to take a break and poking my tongue at all the things that will have to wait. 

Have a safe and happy weekend…

Lessons from the Pandemic

Yellow Flowers in Vase by Sheila D of Sheila’s Corner Studio

I confess. I sometimes feel like a slacker. Sure, I am always doing something, but as I said in an earlier post, I’ve been getting nowhere.

Everywhere I turn, it seems someone has completed a book, started a new venture, traveled the seven seas, or even managed to purge and organize their home during the pandemic. I’ve done zip! I’m usually adept at side-stepping the comparison trap, but lately I have wondered if I’m just plain lazy!

Over the last year we’ve been given many tips on how to thrive, how to stay motivated, and how to do this, that, or the other during the pandemic. It was refreshing to join Pastor Lola Johnston’s Bloom in the Pandemic webinar a few weeks ago and hear her offer, instead of tips for thriving during the pandemic, two reassuring pieces of advice—to simply believe God is who He says He is and practice the principle of Matthew 6:33. She encouraged participants to refrain from practicing belief in our outcome and instead practice belief in the God of the outcome.

Whew!

It was nice to be let off the hook, to release the feelings of failure or guilt for not being completely awesome during the last 15+ months.

Of course, I wasn’t a slacker. I did not reach some of the goals I set for myself, but as I revisit those goals, some of them were way too big and way too much for our present circumstances. But during an actual, maddening pandemic, I held down a full time job, ably managed a leadership position that I was suddenly thrust into, taught overloads each semester, and operated fully in my family without losing my mind. And I actually managed to accomplish a few other things.

It helps to pivot our perspective. Doesn’t it?

If we focus on the gains instead of the unchecked items on our goals list, we’ll find ourselves in a healthier mental space. I realized this while writing a list of lessons learned in response to the final prompt of Love Notes 35. Even though I didn’t achieve some of my biggies, I’ve gained in ways that expanded my soul tremendously and I’ve learned so much.

I’ve learned to listen for the silence.
I’ve learned to find the path to stillness no matter where I am.
I’ve learned to adjust.
I’ve learned to keep moving.
I’ve learned to find time to write and “just be” in small moments because there will never be enough time, otherwise.
I’ve learned to appreciate the questions.
I’ve learned the answers do not always come.
I’ve learned [again] to accept sorrow and grief as necessary parts of life.
I’ve learned to let the deep, aching pain of loss do its work.
I’ve learned that my being vulnerable frees others to drop their masks.
I’ve learned that everyone is indeed fighting a battle.
I’ve learned that there’s very little I can control, but what I can control makes all the difference in my attitude and outlook.
I’ve learned that those who need our compassion most are those for whom compassion is a difficult exercise
I’ve learned to walk in the truth that everyone is made in the image of God.

Even though I sometimes feel like I should be doing so much more, I am learning that continuing to breathe and walk with joy during the pandemic are extraordinary accomplishments.

What have you learned in the last year or so?


About the Image: The bright yellow flowers were sent to me by my blogging pen friend, talented artist, and Love Noter, Sheila D. I actually wrote this blog post more than a week ago, but refused to post it because I wanted this particular piece of art to lead the post. I misplaced my “to be blogged” art file and it took me a whole week to find it! Why this postcard? In the face of difficult challenges over the last year+, Sheila has maintained a beautiful outlook on life. I find that inspiring.

Are You Languishing Too?

2021-06-09_151738The school year ended for my son last Wednesday. We have been looking forward to “the end” almost since the beginning. This pandemic year has been hard for everyone, and even though I’m still very much engaged in the daily grind, a tremendous weight has been lifted because at least my son can breathe a little easier and hopefully recuperate “enough” before August.

Some weeks ago, as I listened to Dr. Anita Phillips’ podcast, In the Light, she “hit a nerve.” As she introduced the episode “Beautiful Things,” I heard the word languishing and listened a little more closely:

It is a stealthy emotion […]. It sneaks up on you little by little […]. It is really easy to miss. The feeling of languishing is one of stagnation and emptiness […].

Phillips, a trauma therapist, also referenced a New York Times article, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing:”

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

I backtracked and listened to that part over and over.

Languishing.

Is this why I have little interest in doing things I usually enjoy? Is this why it seems I’m working all.the.time but have little to show for it by the end of the day? Why I don’t feel like cooking or cleaning? Why sometimes my brain seems completely devoid of thought?

I know I am not depressed, but I feel out of sorts and disconnected from my usual rhythms.

Languishing.

The word perfectly describes the state I’m in and the state of others with whom I’ve spoken recently about their mental and emotional state during this phase of the pandemic.

We once flourished; now we’re doing our best if we can climb out of bed in the morning. Of course, there are ways to combat this state of being, but for me, it really comes down to the very thing expressed in a Washington Post title on the same subject.

“We all need a break.”

We need time to take care of our mental health and process what we’ve just gone through and what we’ve come through. We need time to grieve the losses and celebrate the gains. We also need time to look ahead and dream of the possibilities once we are truly post-pandemic.

Is that doable right now when we’re barely doing life?

The whole thing is “a lot,” as some say, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the “too much” of it. But we must pay attention and we must deal with our languishing because as the NYT article points out, languishing, in some ways, may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness. Furthermore, as Dr. Phillips emphasized in her podcast, “the mental health impact [of this moment] will far outlast our return to physical safety,” so we must take the time now to “honestly identify and name how [we] are feeling.”

I have many coping strategies [journalingcreatingshutting down technologylisting, sleeping, spending time with trees, and praying], but I am taking Dr. Phillips’ advice of identifying and naming, expressing my feelings, and spending time with those I love. Additionally, because confronting the mental and emotional chaos can be all-consuming, I am processing in small moments. The few minutes while doing the dishes. The walk from building to building while running errands on campus. The half hour or so spent grocery shopping. Whenever I can find even just a moment of quiet, I take the time to process, to exhale, and to heal.

I pray you’re doing the same.


Note: I am not a psychologist or therapist, so I encourage you to read the articles and listen to the podcast linked in this post for more information, tips, and tools for dealing with this mental health challenge–and of course, seek professional counsel should you feel your issues are much larger than you can handle without help.

About the Image: The image above features the artwork of illustrator and designer Eunji Jung. It was this bit of gorgeousness that “introduced” me to my new Love Notes pal, Kathi G. I admired the postcard after another Love Noter posted it in the group, and Kathi kindly sent one my way. Thanks, Kathi!

Student Post 1: No [Wo]Man is a Paradise Island

Rhododendron-2

No man is an island entirely of itself. –John Donne

I had many posts planned for this month, and like the many posts planned for the first quarter of the year, they’ve been placed on the back burner until I have time to actually enjoy putting the posts together. For now–this week, at least–I will share posts written by my student bloggers. I planned to share links to their blogs in one post; instead, I decided to highlight specific posts by the students and hopefully boost their readership.

The first post was written by Wanéa, the “small girl with big thoughts.” In “No Man is a Paradise Island” she talks about being an introvert during the pandemic.

Click the link and show Wanéa some blogiverse love. Be sure to follow Unbecoming:

“No Man is a Paradise Island.”


Notes: I’ll be sharing random shots from my brief escapes from the computer screen with the student links. That way I’ll contribute something. Right? Also, I know I can hit the “reblog” button at the bottom the student posts, but is that effective? I wonder how many people actually click the link to continue reading…