Step by Step

I experienced a “letdown” a couple of days ago. It wasn’t exactly unexpected, but it crushed me. In trying to sort things out and figure out the reason for the deep ache, I arrived at grief. It becomes entangled with everything: the loss of my sisters mingles with other [unrelated] losses; the wound reopens, the healing process begins again, and I have to remind myself to breathe.

When we were little girls, my three younger sisters and I loved singing together. One of my sister Karlette’s favorite songs was “Step by Step,” a traditional gospel song. My sister Angie and I sang it to her in the hospital two days before her passing, and again at her funeral. I don’t think I’ve sung the song since, but today a poem my friend Chella shared put the song in my head. Both the song and the poem are what I need right now–when I feel immobilized by disappointment and loss.

We are all experiencing loss right now, trying to find our way and a new rhythm. Maybe, you need these words too.

Midwives of the Soul
Elena Mikhalkova

My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Remove the dust.
Write a letter.
Make a soup.
You see?
You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Rest a little.
Praise yourself.
Take another step.
Then another.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.

About the image: The lovely purple and yellow flowers were created and sent to me by Love Noter Rae L. She sent the postcard for International Women’s Day 2020.

Real Love | Daring You to the Dangerous

Real love dares you to the really dangerous: die in the diminutive. Be broken and given in the small, the moments so small no one may applaud at all. Pour out your life in laundry room and over toilets and tubs, and pour out life on the back streets, in the back of the room, back behind the big lights. Pour out your life in the small moments–because its only these moments that add up to the monumental. The only way to live a truly remarkable life is not to get everyone to notice you, but to leave noticeable marks everywhere you go. The best love could be a broken, boring love–letting your heart be bore into by another heart, one small act of love at a time. –Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Self-Kindness and the (Un)Written Plan

Interior of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, DC. Digitally altered, of course.

The publicly announced commitments to change and other goals [seem to] have increased significantly for 2020, perhaps, because most perceive the new year as the beginning rather than the end of a decade.

This morning, I had a brief discussion with Paula, an inspirational writer friend, following her (re)posting of a devotional thought she wrote at the beginning of 2018. She commented in our discussion that not much had changed in two years.

That gave me pause for two reasons: (1) From my point of view Paula has made serious strides in recent years. And (2) when I considered what I’d hoped to accomplish the past several years, I confronted the reality that I missed the mark many times, in many ways.

But before I allowed myself to sit in a stew of self-pity and regret, I decided to make a list of all the things I have accomplished over the decade. Sufficiently sated, I stopped at the end of the first long page–with plans to “complete” the list and refer to it whenever feelings of failure and defeat surface.

While writing the list, I focused on the things others can see, things I can list on my curriculum vitae or include in a professional biography. However, there are so many victories, so many successes that would not be included on a CV or in a bio.

By the grace of God, I’ve done some hard things, faced and overcome difficult obstacles. Things that took time. Energy. And left scars. Things no one else will see. Things most will never know. Things for which I will never be publicly honored, recognized, or applauded. Things that firmed up my soul and impacted the lives of others in ways I may never know.

I learned long ago my value does not come from a list of successes (or failures), a title, a bank account, or even the people around me. I also learned what I achieve through and for the Most High is far more critical than anything I do for myself.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to make plans and act on them, but I invite you to do so with a little more perspective and self-kindness. Even if you don’t check everything off [the probably overly ambitious] list within the time frame expected, take into consideration the ways in which you slay and conquer that aren’t written into the plan.

Happy 2020!

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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Only Kindness: “It Is I You Have Been Looking For”

“Sister Sunflowers,” Card made by Debra D.

I had a hurtful unkindness earlier this week, a cruel one if I look at it closely. Emotionally exhausted and just plain weary of all the unkindnesses of life,  I was on the verge of giving in to the hurt and letting it win. But the God who heals me reminded me of all the beautiful people who shower me with love and kindness every.single.day.

My kindness jar truly overflows.

It’s strange, I guess, but I should be grateful for the unkindness. Such seemingly unnecessary hurts are indeed necessary because they reinforce the importance of compassion and deepen the experience with kindness. 

One of my favorite “kindness” poems, written by Naomi Shihab Nye, underscores the work that must be done before we “know what kindness really is.”  Though the initial landscape is bleak, eventually, we’ll learn to recognize in kindness the friend or shadow who accompanies us everywhere.

 

Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
.
Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.
.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.
.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Note about the image: One of my Love Notes friends, Debra D, kindly sent the card above to me as a “just because.” She filled the card with sheets of bright sunflower stickers. Through the card she honors my love for sunflowers and my relationship with my sister Lori. Isn’t there a purple sunflower somewhere? Debra makes the sweetest cards with markers, stickers, stamps, and various types of paper. You can find more of her “creative doings” on her blog, Meticulosity.

You can read about Nye’s experience which led to the poem in an interview here: The Incomparable Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. | Self-love and Soul Work

One of the most amazing experiences I had last year was traveling to Montgomery, Alabama [with a colleague and several Huntsville area K-12 teachers] and walking the path where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his activism. We often discuss King’s leading the fight for Civil Rights in this country with emphasis on his practice of non-violent/passive resistance. But, while he worked to build bridges between blacks and whites during one of the most turbulent eras of United States racial history, King also addressed the need for African Americans to resist the stigmatization of blackness. He urged us to love ourselves in spite of our country’s ingrained propensity to chip away at any inclination we possess toward authentic self-love and acceptance.

King would have been 90 today, and since his birthday falls during Pics and Posts’ “Self-love Week,” I am sharing an excerpt from a speech that encourages self-love.

I come here tonight to plead with you. Believe in yourself and believe that you are somebody. I said to a group last night: Nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. No Lincolnian emancipation proclamation can do this for us. No Johnsonian Civil Rights bill can do this for us.

If the Negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.

Don’t let anybody take your manhood. Be proud of our heritage…we don’t have anything to be ashamed of.

Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything “black” ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word “white,” it’s always something pure, high and clean. Well, I want to get the language right tonight.

I want to get the language so right that everyone here will cry out: ‘Yes, I’m Black, I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful!”

And because MLK’s speeches are best experienced aurally:

King spoke specifically to African Americans in this speech, but there’s something in his speech for everyone. Dig deep and do the work. Love the skin you’re in. Find within you that which is good and strong and beautiful.

Perhaps, if everyone took the time to love themselves the world wouldn’t be such a mess! We wouldn’t have to feast on fear and hatred or make ourselves sick building superficial lives in search of acceptance by others.

People who love themselves love people. People who love themselves are beautiful. People who love themselves use their energy and resources to build up others, not tear down and destroy.

Self-love is work, but one of the best ways we express self-love is through the soul work of loving others.