Sunflowers and Poetry | Let April Be April

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Since I’ve been an academic all my adult life, I have no idea what the end of April feels like for people whose lives are not planned around two 15-week segments. For me, it brings stress and anxiety over the ever-increasing unfinished business of the semester and May “cleanup” work, not to mention all the end-of-the-school-year events and deadlines for my son. When my student France Régine sent me the poem below a few days ago–a day after I’d seen the post on Morgan Harper Nichols‘ Instagram feed–I decided to use the poem to close out the month. It is a beautiful reminder that it is okay to “just be” and not feel the need to solve the problems of the world in one go.

Morgan Harper Nichols
Let April be April,
and let May be May.
And let yourself
just be
even in
the uncertainty.
You don’t have to fix everything.
You don’t have to solve everything.
And you can still find peace
and grow
in the wild
of changing things.

About the Image: The Current card above came from Jamise L–another sunflower lover–I met through Jennifer Belthoff’s Write Together and Love Notes. Her encouraging note came just when I needed it. My friends have been awesome and have kept me well-supplied with sunflower goodies, so there are many more sunflowers to share. Even though this ends our (almost) week of Sunflowers and Poetry, stay tuned to Pics and Posts for more sunflower love!

Sunflowers and Poetry | Why I Wake Early

Sunflower Goat

Good Morning! I’m dropping in a little earlier than usual because I thought you might like to share your morning tea or coffee with this sunflower-bearing (umm…eating) goat. If it is not morning where you are, you should exit this post and return to it in the morning. Kidding, of course! You can read it now and return to it tomorrow morning, if you choose, because today’s poem by Mary Oliver is about celebrating the early morning and starting our days with happiness and kindness. 

Why I Wake Early
by Mary Oliver
 
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–
 
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.
 
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

About the Image: My pen friend, Kathi G, sent the delightful postcard above. The goat’s name is Rory. Isn’t he absolutely adorable as he munches on a sunflower with a field more of them behind him? This is the work of Dorian Charles of Tabby Hall Designs. Happy eating, Rory!

					

Sunflowers and Poetry | How We Fit

“Le prince solaire” by A. Kumurdjian

Today has been filled with too much talking, too much paper-shuffling, and not enough silence. Even as I type these few words, I hear the text messages [that I will ignore until morning] coming in. So, for now, a very short poem from Meister Eckhart’s Book of Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul by Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Borrows. May we all find a bit of stillness in this moment. 

How We Fit
Meister Eckhart | Sweeney and Burrows

You made us for Yourself.
and we fit not as one part

to another but rather as
emptiness meets fullness.

as darkness seeks light,
as loneliness wants love,

as what is wounded
longs for healing.

About the Image: My Love Notes friend Sarah S sent the photo postcard above for International Women’s Day. She sent the postcards with “prayers for peace, strength, and women all over the world, especially women of the Ukraine.” The majestic sunflower was shot by A. Kumurdian. Don’t you just love the postal tattoos? 🙂

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.

Sunflowers and Poetry | Meet Me Halfway

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Since we are in the final week of National Poetry Month, I decided to share poetry and sunflowers all week long. This month–with all its busyness–tried to rob me of poetry, but I persisted. I wrote and read poetry daily and even managed to plan and host another successful [annual] poetry event.

This weekend I “rediscovered” Javan, a poet I enjoyed as a teen. I [probably] purchased the two books I own while perusing shops on Canal Street in New Orleans–Meet Me Halfway and Something to Someone. I have not read these books in decades, but thought about them a couple of days ago and luckily found them with ease in my home library.

After reading through selections, I see why I loved his works way back then. His poetry is uncomplicated and speaks to our yearnings and all the things that cause teenage angst.  

Here are two poems from Meet Me Halfway to start you work week. I plan to share another one of his poems Thursday.

By Javan

I’ve learned
That Life offers much more
Than most people take

I’ve learned
That many people live their life
Within small circles
Afraid to go out
Afraid to let others in

And I’ve also learned
That at the end of Life’s game
Most people wish
That somehow
They could have played it differently

By Javan

Many people complain
Life never gave them any chances

We are given Life
We must take the Chances


About the Image: Today’s tiny art is brought to you by none other than Sheila Delgado of Sheila’s Corner Studio. She sent this gem to me in late October and I have been looking forward to sharing it with you. It kicks off “Sunflowers and Poetry Week” perfectly! You can view a better scan of the sunflower and read about her creative process in Smooth the Way. Oh, why sunflowers with poetry? “Just because,” of course!

Expressive Pics | What Remains

beauty remains smaller text

I have been almost obsessive about photographing the sunflowers a friend gave me a few weeks ago. I’ve been capturing them as petals wilt and drop off one by one. I am struck by the beauty that remains in a sunflower even after the bright petals which initially attract us are gone.

Think […] of the beauty that still remains. –Anne Frank

As I vacillate between grief over my father’s passing and gratitude over his beautifully long life, Anne Frank’s words [above] resonate, so these are the words that came to mind as I positioned my “transforming” sunflowers for pictures.

The madness of the outer world and the turmoil of our inner world can try us in unimaginable ways, but there is always beauty–even after the things of this world have left our souls ravaged and torn. We all need a reminder every now and then to shift our focus not to what is not or no longer but to what is and what endures.

There is always beauty. Always.

Seeking Light

Sunflower BW 02-27-22

Sadly, the only cure for grief is to grieve. —Mark Lemon

This was spring break week for our university. Thankfully. I desperately needed time to “just be” and sit with my grief.

I needed to sleep as much as my body would allow. I needed to escape the usual colors and sounds of life because at the moment everything seems too bright and too loud. I needed to take one-day-at-a-time and not bear the weight of grief through meetings, planning, students, and other interactions. I needed to call my mom in the middle of the day just to hear her voice. I needed to clear my desk and shoot a million photos of the sunflowers friends delivered along with gift cards to Olive Garden because no one feels like cooking or even deciding on a menu. I needed to draw sunflowers and tweak the poem I wrote about my dad five days before he passed. I needed to move through my day without purpose. I needed to feel safe in my grief and not feel the need to excuse myself or apologize for being inattentive or not completely present. I needed to look through family pictures and savor the memories. I needed to listen to the same Daryl Coley song over and over and over and over because it is the only song that soothes my soul right now. I needed to sit in silence with God and be filled by His presence.

I needed to seek light…in my own ways.

Favorite Moments of 2021

This year showed us–no matter how much chaos is around us–life continues. The year was brutal. Countless losses, “too many funerals,” constant change, and far too much heartache. But, as I’ve pointed out on many occasions, there’s also been good. As we close out 2021, I’m reflecting as I did last year, on some of my favorite moments of the year–in no particular order.

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Clinton Row Color Walk

Street Art. Roaming with my guys anywhere is always a good moment, but when we roamed through downtown Huntsville and found the Clinton Row Art Walk, I was pleased as punch. I shared some of the photos here, but eventually, I’ll share others.

College Language Association (CLA) Annual Conference. This was the first fully virtual academic conference I’d attended. By the time it rolled around [in April], I was oh-so-tired of Zoom, but the conference provided such a rewarding, interactive experience that it didn’t feel virtual at all. I laughed, lauded, and learned.

Joe Wheeler State Park. This work retreat, thankfully, was more retreat than work. I wrote a little about it in Between Water and Trees. I rode the high of all that outdoors for quite some time.

Summer Road Trips! After sheltering-in-place for 16 months, the guys and I hit the road to visit our folks. We went to New Orleans to visit my parents and to Millers Creek, North Carolina to visit Hubby’s parents. Both trips were too short, but it was oh so good to lay eyes on our parents [and siblings] and make sure they’re okay.

English Garden. My in-laws have an amazing English-style garden. When we visited, I stole away often to spend time in the garden. The butterflies loved the garden too, and I have the photos to prove it. 😉

“A Garden Visitor.”

Thanksgiving Road Trip! By November, the benefits of the summer escapes had worn off and we were itching to get out of the bubble of Northern Alabama for just a moment. We took another short road trip to Atlanta to visit my sister and niece for Thanksgiving. Bonus! We also spent a little time with a bunch of nieces and nephews and one of my sisters-in-law! We won’t make mention of the macaroni and cheese that I was compelled to make with the “wrong kind” of pasta and cheese! :-/ [Everyone else thought it was good, but it was not my signature mac and cheese!].

Working with Lilith. I had the privilege of editing a book for one of the most pleasant individuals I’ve ever worked with. She has an incredible story. We were acquainted before, but through this endeavor, our friendship has been developing. Although we indeed completed the work, our meetings to review the edits were more like tea with a friend than work.

Dean. Among last year’s “favorite moments,” I listed that I had accepted the role of department chair. Who knew that less than a year later, I’d drop the chair to accept another role—Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences? I seriously resisted at first until I realized I had no logical explanations for not accepting the role. Of course, I am having a blast!

Tell It Slant. The Emily Dickinson Museum’s Tell It Slant Poetry Festival was everything my writing soul needed and more. I went to seminars, workshops, readings, and Q&A’s. I became acquainted with new poets, acquired new art and books, and most importantly, experimented with new writing techniques. I am certainly looking forward to next year’s event!

Tree Love for 30-Day Creative Gathering

30-Days Creative Gathering. Sheila Delgado’s Creative Challenge was the mental and creative break I needed daily throughout the month of September! This gift to myself offered so much joy!

World Watercolor Month:  Thankfully, my friend Sheila introduced me to this month-long art party. It was fun finding ways to transform my photography into “watercolor” art. If you’re interested, you can find the three #worldwatercolormonth posts by clicking the link.

Time with My Bestie. My bestie came into town to drop off her youngest daughter for college. After the very last minute, her daughter–bound for a university in California–switched course and chose our alma mater (where I now work). So in these “Corona Times” I got to see my bestie! She even bought a sparkling [non-alcoholic] beverage to toast my new role.

Write Together. Jennifer Belthoff’s “Write Together” sessions were among my favorite moments this year and last year. I don’t always get a chance to participate, but the “time out” for gathering, contemplating, and writing is always well-spent.

Birthday Fun. Despite getting horribly sick halfway through my birthday, that was actually one of the best days of the year. As part of my birthday festivities, the guys and I headed to Scott’s Orchard. Of course, anytime outdoors with my camera and my guys, surrounded by trees, is a perfect day!

A Moment with Dr. Garland. It’s always wonderful when the virtual world collides with the “real world,” so when my blogging friend K.E. Garland showed up as a presenter at the Mellon conference, I was thrilled. We run in similar academic circles, so our encounter “in real life” was just a matter of time. I invited her to present at my university, and we had a moment to connect after her awesome workshop which offered many wonderful tips for surviving the pandemic as an academician. I love her candor and her energy.

Tea Time!

Prayer Circle. Just before the academic year began, my colleague Kayla invited a very small group of women to her home for brunch and prayer over the year. After conversation and a good meal, we talked about our intentions and each prayed over the various facets of the university and the academic year. I recalled the good energy of our Prayer Circle when we hit rough spots in the semester.

Books & Tea. The Women’s Ministries Coordinators at my church organized a series of book talks on Chrystal Evans Hurst’s She’s Still There. The weekly virtual talks were soul-stirring, affirming, inspirational, and fun. The talks culminated with a three-day Women’s Empowerment Weekend and an in-person event featuring Hurst. For that event, we dressed in our best and headed to the church, the first in-person event held at our church since the pandemic began. Of course, we had to present negative COVID-19 test results, wear masks, and practice social distancing.

“Max Your Talent” Mini Women’s Retreat. This regional event, held a couple of weeks ago, was just what I needed as I headed into the Christmas holiday. It reinforced my understanding of my purpose, my humanity, and my identity in Christ.

Sunflower Encounters.  One of my friends recently marveled that “the sunflowers always seem to find [me].” I think she might be right. I typically have sunflower encounters in unexpected places and moments–like the mini sunflower field my guys found at the beginning of the school year. I shared some of the blooms in “The Gift of Sunflowers.”

Sunflowers from Hubby, Beginning to Wilt

Sneaky Sunflowers. I was in the middle of a meeting when my hubby attempted to sneak into my office with a glorious bouquet of sunflowers. He even purchased a vase and filled it with water. The blooms brought so much light and joy to the office and we won’t mention the hundreds of photos I shot as I attempted to recreate some of my favorite Van Gogh pieces with a camera.

Sunflower gifts. My family and friends enjoy surprising me with sunflower gifts, and this year was no different. You’ve seen the sunflower art and the sunflower gift basket from Kelli, but there were other gifts. My [former] student Raven sent a personalized acrylic nameplate for my desk with my new title. Of course, it was embellished with sunflower art. My son gave me a beautiful hand-designed sunflower keepsake box–my new fav! And there were so many more!

Van Gogh Immersive Experience. This! Oh, so much joy! I will talk about it in another post when I have time to manage my photo selection—and when I can avoid “spoiling” the experience for those who have not been yet. I’ll just say this: I waited and waited and waited for the Van Gogh Experience to reach my area. When it finally did, I purchased tickets right away. It did not disappoint!

There were many, many more moments of this year, and these “few” moments show that if we’re paying attention, in spite of a pandemic, we can still find so much good. I hope you this carry with you into 2022.

Happy 2022!

The Beauty of Small

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“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!