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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Morning by Morning…

When I awakened this morning, I felt overwhelmed by my external and internal to-do lists and deflated by life in general.  I pushed through my desire to hide from the world today and climbed out of bed only two minutes later than planned.

Shortly after breakfast, I heard my little one, who typically opens his blinds first thing in the morning, exclaim from his bedroom, “Wow, look at the sky!”  I raced to his window and beheld this gorgeous pre-sunrise sky.

Morning Sky

“Morning by morning…”

You know what happened next. I threw on a couple of jackets, grabbed my camera, and raced outdoors because an early morning sky can transform from dramatic to ordinary in the blink of an eye.

New Mercies

“New mercies…”

I didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors, but the few moments alone with my camera and the sky reset my mood.  While gazing at the sky, I began to sing a line from “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” one of my favorite hymns–“Morning by morning new mercies I see.”

All I have needed...

“I see…”

The sky led to the song and the song led to the biblical text which inspired the hymn:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

I’m walking with gratitude for the awesome promise of “new mercies” each morning, and I am a bit “lighter” knowing that God’s “great love” will rescue me, even from myself.

The Day After: God Is Still in Heaven

god-is-faithful

My hubby woke me up at about 1:00 a.m. with “the news,” and  I fell into a brief but desperate shock about the election results. To survive that moment, I turned away from news media and social media and inward and upward toward God.

Seconds later, one of my students messaged that “they,” the students, needed something encouraging from me.  I told her my mind and spirit were too hurt for wisdom and offered the only thing in my head at the time: The chorus to the song “Because He Lives,” written by Bill Gaither, has been playing over and over and over and over in my head since I heard the news.

Because He lives

I can face tomorrow

Because He lives

All fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

And life is the worth living

Just because He lives.

She responded enthusiastically, “Yes! That’s just what we need!”

I embrace the truth of those lyrics. God is Sovereign and that is why I was able to get up, get moving, and face today.  This moment is simply this moment.   It will pass.  We’ll work for change.  We’ll get beyond it. And eventually, we’ll be okay.

Everywhere I turned today, people asked questions, seeking answers that would satisfy their disbelief at the outcome.  In a pre-election interview with Christianity Today, Max Lucado responded to a question regarding his thoughts on the 2016 race.  For those of faith, his response is key:

There is still a God in heaven. Even when the person on the throne or in the White House or leading the country is far from God, God is not far from the nation. Books like the Book of Daniel give us hope during seasons when we don’t see any good options…We’re [the Church] people who lead forth in prayer. If we fail at that, then I don’t think we have much hope.

I am certain of this–God is still in heaven. [So] I will continue to make my life a prayer to Him.  My hope rests in Him, not in presidents.  This is what I told my son this morning. This is what I told my students.  This is what I will continue to repeat until the day comes when I will not have to repeat it.

Marching on…

 

Nature Photo Challenge: From Everlasting to Everlasting

Today’s nature photo is brought to you by a far too brief vacation in Maui 10+ years ago.

"Thou Art God," Maui, Hawaii, July 2005

“Thou Art God,” Maui, Hawaii, July 2005

This one’s from an all-day exploration of the island.  It was difficult choosing from the hundreds of photos I shot.  The ocean. The mountains. The sunsets. The flora and fauna.  All breathtaking.  I added the scripture to this one some time ago, so decided to go with it.  I breathe Psalm 90:2 during almost every experience with nature.

I have three distinct happy memories (from) immediately BK (Before Hurricane Katrina): My one month in New York working on my research and hanging out with amazing scholar-friends, the week my hubby and I spent in Hawaii, and my oldest nephew’s wedding in Dallas.  All are wonderful reminders that there was indeed life and joy before that fateful moment.

During our time in Hawaii, my hubby and I seriously considered moving there.  We still think about it every now and then. Who knows? Maybe, next year this time, I’ll be blogging from Hawaii. 😉

Nature Photo Challenge: A New Song

Last week, my brother, Dennis, a talented photographer and graphic artist/designer, nominated me to do the “Nature Challenge.” The challenge calls for posting a photo, on Facebook, I assume, every day for seven days and nominating someone different every day to join the challenge.

When I first read the post, I embraced it. I was tickled pink that my brother thinks enough of my photos to include me and was also excited to share nature photos–my favorite! But…I’m not much of a “facebooker.” I visit sporadically, and even then, for only a few minutes at most. I posted the first day and then forgot about it. Completely.

I don’t want to disappoint my brother or feel like a complete failure (a little dramatic, yes), so I am going to share here and allow WordPress to do the “dirty work” of Facebook posting.

I’m starting over. Today is my new Day 1.

"A New Song," Original

“A New Song,” Original

I shot this photo Labor Day weekend in North Carolina. It took quite a bit of work since the front of the flower was positioned away from view and in the middle of dense foliage.

"A New Song," Millers Creek, North Carolina, September 2015

“A New Song,” Millers Creek, North Carolina, September 2015

I was inspired to work with the photo when Takiyah, a former student, mentee, and sister-in-Christ shared with me her performance of a new song entitled “A New Song.”  Take a listen…

I’m already singing my new song…

Wishing you a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2016.

Note: For a look at Dennis’ work:

“I know how the flowers felt…”

“After the Pushing and the Pelting” (Tulip with Texture)

Today has been one of those days. April has been one of those months.  “April is the cruelest month…” Yada, yada, Eliot…

The Robert Frost poem above so adequately speaks my mood these days.  April for me is usually a one-thing-after-another, stressful, demanding kind of month, relentless in its pushing and pelting.  It is sometimes easier to “lay lodged–though not dead” than it is to keep things in perspective and remember that this is just one “moment” that will eventually pass.

Though it is tempting to just “lay lodged” in this state of mind, I choose to rise and meet the challenges while focusing my gaze elsewhere.

I’d captured the red tulip and several others after the poor flowers had been pushed by the wind and “pelted,” no constantly pummeled, by rain for several days.  I was happy to see them still standing, though a bit bowed.  When I shot this photo, the message was powerful, empowering, and affirming.  It wasn’t just a thing of beauty, but a symbol of perseverance and will, its beauty magnified in its reflection of the Divine.

In fact, I used it a few days later to share a bit of inspiration with family, friends, and colleagues, because such (im)perfect beauty only intensified my longing for Perfection.

“The Beauty of Holiness” (Tulip Original)

It is a little curious that this one flower–one image–captures both feelings so effectively.

“Peace on Earth! Good Will Toward Men”

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Christmas Bells

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

❧❧❧
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”—(Luke 2:14).

May you and yours experience God’s peace and His good will (towards you) not only for the holiday season but always…

Merry Christmas!

Farewell…For Now

Dr. Bernard W. Benn, photo from family files, pilfered from B. Benn's Facebook page.

Dr. Bernard W. Benn, photo from B. Benn’s (his son’s) Facebook page.

When I was an undergraduate I had the privilege of studying under the tutelage of Dr. Bernard W. Benn, an anointed person who influenced the lives of many, many others in amazing ways. It is through the many classes that I took under his instruction that I learned to love (forever) Shakespeare and the Romantic and Victorian poets.  His faith in me fueled my pursuit of a doctorate in English and many other endeavors. His protégés have gone on to honor his excellence, and through each of us, his work continues.

This wonderful person—my advisor, mentor, and friend of my mind—passed away last week. The news literally knocked the wind out of me because I did not know he was ill and, quite frankly, I expected him to be around much, much longer. I had the bittersweet pleasure of attending his funeral and seeing his family, with whom I’ve been acquainted almost as long as I’ve known him—Mrs. Dr. Benn, his beautiful wife, who took such good care of me when I was a student, and his three children who are themselves doing great things for humanity. Although I entered the funeral weighted with grief, I left much lighter, with hope, and with a drive to ensure that I continue to practice the compassion and wisdom he so ably taught through his example. Something in that funeral reminded me to “lift up my countenance” and celebrate the blessing of living a life touched by Dr. Benn.

Moran Hall on the campus of Oakwood University. The building, constructed by Oakwood students in 1938, was named after the first Black president of the University.

I have a million and one memories of Dr. Benn. In separate conversations this past week, my friend and colleague Cy and I had a few good laughs about our experiences with Dr. Benn. We reminisced about the beautiful spring afternoon he finally and reluctantly gave in to our English Literature class’s pleas to go outside and discuss Chaucer. We convinced him, but he took us not too far from the building. Instead of to the Bell Tower near the building or under one of the stately oaks, he led us out the side door of Moran Hall, which housed the English Department and our classes, into the grassy area between Green and Moran Halls, but closest to Moran, of course. Cy and I talked about his habit of teaching, eyes closed, head leaned back, but alert, intently listening, demanding excellence in writing and in thinking, without making students feel insignificant or small.   We chuckled about his giving her grammar books for her birthdays as a way of chiding her to improve. Ever in his humble and gentle way.

Dr. Benn mentored me pretty much all the way to completion of my doctorate and my early years of teaching, so I have enough to say about him to fill a book or two. But my keenest memories are of the mornings when I’d arrive in the department at 8:00 a.m. sharp and already find him on his knees in prayer.  That is the one image that consistently comes to mind whenever I think of Dr. Benn.  It was for me defining. It spoke of the character of this “giant” of a person–a master teacher, grammarian, and scholar, a department chair, a former university president–who so unapologetically demonstrated his need for the Sovereign God and who made his very life a prayer to God.

I will always remember him fondly. I have drawn from the wisdom he shared with me almost every day since I graduated from college.

He was an amazing teacher who took a motley bunch of us who “liked to read” and transformed us into lovers of great literature.  He took our immature arrogance and finessed us to mature individuals, walking in godly confidence. He called our Christianity to task through every text we studied and by his sincere example. He showed us the way to infusing Christ into our lives—our studies, our interactions with each other, our future students, our professionalism.

"Weeping Willow," iPhone Photo

“Weeping Willow,” iPhone Photo

I took a mental health day earlier this week because I needed to take some time to process yet another loss. In my all-day period of meditation, I read some favored poems, thanks to Dr. Benn.  One such was “Morte d’Arthur” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I imagined the last conversation between Sir Bedivere and Arthur as my parting conversation with Dr. Benn (pardon the liberties that I’ve taken in changing some of phrasing of the text):

 

Then loudly cried the bold Lady Chandra:

“Ah! my Lord Dr. Benn, whither shall I go?

Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?

For now I see the true old times are dead,

When every morning brought a noble chance,

And every chance brought out a noble knight.

Such times have been not since the light that led

The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.

But now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved

Which was an image of the mighty world;

And I, the last, go forth companionless,

And the days darken round me, and the years,

Among new people, strange faces, other minds.”

 

And slowly answer’d Dr. Benn from the barge:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfils Himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?

I have lived my life, and that which I have done

May He within Himself make pure! but thou,

Thou shouldst see my face again,

Pray for all souls. More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for mankind night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

But for now farewell. I am going to take my rest,

But for a little while.

We shall meet again

At the trumpet call to the great reunion

In the sky…

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From the poem, “The Tide,” iPhone Photo

I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Merry Christmas!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”–Luke 2:13, 14

"Karlette's Angel," 2012--altered in Photoshop

“Karlette’s Angel,” 2012–altered in Photoshop

May your Christmas be filled with joy, peace and love; may it ring with the highest praises for our Saviour and King.

Merry Christmas!