Dogwood Trees

dogwood3As we walk the woods, the dogwood trees are emerging cautiously with their subtle blooms. I am reminded once again of the story my Granny B shared each spring, usually around Easter:

There is a legend, that at the time of the Crucifixion, the dogwood had been the size of the oak and other forest trees. So firm and strong was the tree that it was chosen as the timber for the cross. To be used for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the tree, and Jesus, nailed upon it, sensed this.  In His gentle pity for all sorrow and suffering, he said to it: “Because of your regret and pity for My suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. It shall be slender and bent and twisted, and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross…two long and two short petals. On the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see it will remember…”

This story had a huge impact on her throughout her lifetime as evidenced in her writings. The following poem, penned by her in 1934, was her version of the story:

In Jesus’ time a dogwood grew to a stately size and a lovely hue; 

Strong and firm its branches interwoven and for the cross of Christ, its timber was chosen. 

Seeing the distress at this use of wood, Jesus made His promise still holding good: 

“Never again shall the dogwood grow, so large enough to be used just so…

Slim and twisted it shall be, with blossoms like the cross for all to see;

As blood stains the petals marked in brown, and the blossom’s center with the thorny crown. 

All who see it will remember Me, crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree. 

Cherished and protected this tree shall be; a reminder to all of My agony.”

When Granny moved from her beloved Tennessee to Texas in 1955, she brought a clipping of a beautiful dogwood tree for replanting in her new yard as a powerful reminder each spring of the legend, and of His grace in our lives.  Happy Easter, friends…be blessed and be a blessing to others. 🙂

Dear Mrs. Cleary,

It goes without saying, but I will, how much your body of work affected my literary world and eventually my life’s work since that first day I picked up Henry Huggins to read with daddy. He took my sis and me to the public library one Saturday morning while momma was rehearsing a cantata and asked the librarian where he might find a quiet place to introduce us to his favorite childhood friend, Henry. She led our little trio to the treasured area where all of your books in print at that time (1968) were shelved and displayed in all their glory next to your picture. My eyes grew large looking at this collection of treasures. REAL “chapter” books (I was five, so this was BIG)! Daddy sat at the little table and read Chapter One softly to whet our appetite…this daddy of mine who traveled for a living but spent Saturdays with his two girls reading in a library and drawing a little crowd in the process. I was allowed to check out two books that morning, a first for me and my library card. Henry, Beezus, Ribsy, and Ramona became my new literary friends, taking me on adventures, talking like I did with my own friends, and so much more. Ralph S. Mouse from The Mouse and the Motorcycle helped me through my own illness a couple of years later, and instead of momma giving me medicine, I imagined Ralph delivering the pills on his motorcycle while I slept. Ramona The Pest (a minor character before then) finally stepped into the spotlight that year on her own as a curious, enthusiastic, disruptive and unruly heroine of children’s literature on level with Jo March, Harriet the Spy, and other untidy gals who balked at the status quo. I may…or may not…have received a consequence for squeezing and decorating my own bathroom sink with an entire new tube of toothpaste (all in the context of experimentation, mind you), but then my sister decided she would paint the walls with it. Oh the stories, the drama, and the fun of your true life-like children in real-world situations and play… You, and your books, were and will always remain a remarkable influence in my literary world…and we even made an “A” on a college research paper or two together.

In my classroom, your books were often read-aloud choices where we paused a few moments each day to gather as a group and simply enjoy the gift of storytelling. Your books allowed many of my students to experience more simple joys, pleasures, challenges, and triumphs of childhood, no matter the time or place. Most of the students I had the honor of teaching for several years came from backgrounds very different than the neighborhood children and stories you shared, yet they identified and relished in the real childhood elements of life. Your stories demonstrated hope while giving a voice to the hearts of my students. Your soft, genuine, and respectful way with language and childhood conversations, even on the toughest adult issues like money, divorce, and loss, presented an opportunity for us to talk about ways to grow into our greatness with respect, compassion, and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. You took the ordinary and added that little something “extra” for the ultimate experience or remarkable adventure. You challenged our critical thinking by showing us how problem solving (and I’m not talking calculus here) is really our life’s work. Most gratefully though, you helped me demonstrate to my learners how reading is pleasurable and “not just something that teachers make you do in school.”

I will miss your voice, your wisdom, and your words in the writing world. As Leigh Botts observes in Dear Mr. Henshaw,I feel sad and whole lot better at the same time…” knowing your library of characters, problems, solutions, conversations, and words of love and hope in 42 books with over 85 million copies printed in 29 languages leaves us a legacy of stories to savor for generations to come. As you yourself once observed: “I think children like to find themselves in my books because the emotions of children I write are universal.” Dearest Mrs. Cleary…yes, and thank you.

Dose of Hope

She spoke the required phrases, asked the critical questions, and verified the risks and consequences of what I was about to do.  She looked directly into the eyes of my masked face and smiled while clarifying one more time, “Are you ready to do this? It’s finally your turn now!” I’ve been through childbirth, surgeries, countless medical procedures, chemotherapy, and too many pokes and prods to count, but this was somehow different. This was working to save not only my life, but those around me. This was barely out of a research lab with rapid trial studies. This was being injected into my body with the intention of starting an immune response war. This was my first physical dose of hope.

An emotional release from the past year rippled through my entire body as she prepped my arm for the injection. I thought about my grandmother who lost her mom during the 1918 pandemic and carried a homemade cloth covering for her mouth and nose in her pocketbook until the day she died. I flashed-back to the time I lined up with my first grade class in the school gym for my first polio cube (something us “boomers” understand and never take for granted).  I remembered my friends and family infected and forever affected by the virus and the outcomes in this past year.  I pondered the vast interruptions of daily lives and how everything was stirred-up the world-over. I reflected on the millions of lives lost around the world to something few saw coming and the families still grieving. I considered my overwhelming gratitude for the remarkable amount of collaboration, communication, creativity, and problem solving in the past year being injected into my muscle, and the tears flowed in relief and hope. As my nurse attached the bandage, she wept with me.

This past year of pandemic mayhem with quarantine, anxiety, fear, sadness, loneliness, loss, and so much more, is about to turn a corner, at least for some. While this first shot will not cure everything, it gives a new dose of hope moving forward for my family. I realize how fortunate I am to receive it. I realize everyone cannot or may not choose to take a vaccine. All I control are my personal attitude and effort, and both were celebrating in silent tears of relief through a dose of hope.

Washington Irving said it like this: “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love…” 

May these unexpected tears of overwhelming relief from this first dose of hope power me onward. May the emotional release and the strength of this first dose begin shifting all the unfamiliar of this collective experience into a new familiar filled in love.  May we all find little ways to help one another move forward, assisting and sharing our burdens and blessings, as we begin to emerge and rebuild on the other side. And for today, may I breathe easier as I nurse this sore arm, be kind to my fighting body and exhausted mind, and thank the angels sent my way to see me through the pandemic wilderness. And may you find and thank your angels too; may you be blessed and be a blessing of love to others, my friends. 🙂

Reflection for the new year…

In a few hours, we set our sights on new beginnings for the new year.  WHEW; truly remarkable in light of our collective experiences during 2020.  There is little to say as we continue to synthesize it all while looking forward.  After all, the history of each of us has always been in our stories, and 2020 definitely gave us unique ways of crafting and sharing our stories.  Missing traditional celebrations or beautiful moments with family and friends, not being able to hug and comfort each other in person in times of grief or triumph…these created relentless emotions and something I trust none of us will take for granted ever again.  Personally, I’m a hugger and my inability to physically connect with others through a hug is devastating; ZOOM and FaceTime just don’t do it, y’all (and y’all better get ready for us huggers when it’s safe)!  As my momma would remind me, “no gift, especially a hug, is too small or simple to give or receive when wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied in love.”

The Scottish phrase “auld lang syne” literally means “old long since” or for “old time’s sake.”  After MUCH reflection during 2020, this new year in particular offers sacred opportunities to take the wisdom and experiences of this past year “for old time’s sake” forward as we build on its foundational lessons for a stronger future. The changes, growth, triumphs, missteps, JOYs, and sorrows of our experiences bring a fresh and clearer perspective to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, and to love more.

So…I offer this hopeful challenge to us all in 2021 to:  BE in the moment, breathe deep and fortifying breaths, encourage one another, forgive with grace, keep promises, forgo grudges, apologize, share softer answers, work to understanding, walk more, seek adventure, smile at strangers through your mask with your shining eyes, examine personal demands (this is me preaching to me), think first of others, be gentle and kind, laugh more, help carry burdens, cherish inner dreams, learn a new skill, be bendable but not breakable, observe the beauty and wonder of the world, ask questions, explore options, express thanks, welcome others, and speak your love over and over and over and over again and again and again and again!  The spiritual gift of actively living this challenge with grace and gratitude fills my soul with hope as time marches onward; and hope, my friends, constantly and gratefully prevails in all our daily humanness.

Challenging paths and trails often lead to the most beautiful of places, so may the new year bring to you and yours bountiful blessings filled to overflowing with hope, peace, JOY, and love. And as always, may you be blessed and be a blessing, friends.  Happy New Year! 🙂

Solstice Blessing…

The longest night; the shortest day…Winter Solstice.

Yes; winter is coming.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we verbalized our collective concerns about caring 24/7 for an aging parent during a pandemic.  After we spoke, she sent an extraordinary poem reflective of the poignant connection between the darkness and the light.  Even as we live through the longest nights of the Winter Solstice ahead, may we trust the blessing of light will always be near us:

Blessing for the Longest Night (by Jan Richardson)

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

On the Winter Solstice tomorrow, December 21, 2020, as with so much this year, we have another “unprecedented opportunity” to see a rare celestial event observable anywhere on Earth where the skies are clear.  Jupiter and Saturn will align in a “great conjunction,” appearing to collide into one super-bright point of light, similar to the rare “Christmas Star.”  Take the opportunity early tomorrow evening to check the sky in the southwest from about sunset to an hour after in your area to be amazed. As always, may you be blessed by this light and be a blessing in return.  Wishing you hope, peace, JOY, and love, with clear skies and wide eyes too, my friends. 🙂

JOY

Fun fact:  Did you know the word JOY has the point value of 13 on the Scrabble board?

On this third Sunday in Advent, on the 13th day of a long month in what feels like the longest year ever so far, it is time to light the third candle of JOY.  Even in the depths of a hurting and troubled heart, I cling to the message of the Angel’s rejoicing:  “I bring you tidings of great JOY that will be for all people…” Yet, JOY, in all its revelry and with its powerful message of hope, is in seemingly short supply these days.  How do we find and sow JOY?

Keeping JOY is good, but sharing it with others is even better.  It may be as simple as greeting someone through your mask, leaving a gift card in the mailbox for your postal worker, dropping a casserole on a neighbor’s doorstep, or creating a full-blown “pay it forward” opportunity.  Nothing extravagant; just sowing JOY to spark more JOY.

The message of Advent and Christmas is never-ending, yet it does not deny sorrow, hurt, grief, and sadness its place in this world.  Instead, Christmas illustrates how JOY is greater than despair or sadness, PEACE outlasts the turmoil and trauma, HOPE prevails in the darkest places, and LOVE, well LOVE ultimately wins.  Norman Vincent Peale issued this challenge:  “I truly believe if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can and will bring JOY and happiness and peace to this world…”  So, help me here… How do we sow JOY in order to experience JOY?  How do we keep telling the story, singing the songs, and living the spirit of JOY every day?

A JOY shared is a JOY doubled.  Perhaps accepting JOY with thanks and giving helps us find ways to sow it deeper for others.  May we always remain grateful for the JOY we spread and the JOY coming our way.  After all, JOY, in all its glory, is really the simplest form of gratitude in daily living, a small yet profound way to interact with others.  It doesn’t hurt either when it earns 13-points on the Scrabble board for the win. 🙂  Be blessed and be a blessing, my friends. #SpreadJOY

What sweeter music can we bring?

The chords are so grand they send shivers down the spine.  The sound of familiar melodies fill the air with emotion so sweet the heart and soul feel warmly wrapped in the glorious blessing of music…

We’ve all known this feeling when the JOY of a Christmas carol or holiday song swells deep within our souls and rises through our senses.  It brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eyes.  Each year we bring out the musical favorites to dust off and tune up, and like a fine antique, they become more priceless with the passing of time.

Many of my most powerful Christmas memories and blessings are firmly stored within the refrains of beloved carols.  Such was the conversation with Pop recently as we listened to various Christmas carol renditions.  While not a musician (he was the BEST audience member ever), his long-term memories surrounding music focus strongly on mom and her solo work in our church for over 50 years.  He reminded me how she sang the inaugural service dedicating the beautiful Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ on Christmas Eve 1966 in the sanctuary at Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.  I actually remember sitting between both grandmothers sucking on Lifesavers with my eyes closed while listening to momma sing a beautiful story about the birth of a King.  The organ in all its new majesty along with her powerful soprano voice in all its glory…what I wouldn’t give for a recording of this event to savor once more.

As the mystery of the season rings and sings all around, think of a beloved carol, song, or hymn you absolutely must hear each year when the season rolls around.  What does this blessing of music mean and bring to you?

“I think music in itself is healing.  It’s an explosive expression of humanity.  It’s something we are all touched by and no matter what culture, everyone loves music.”  ~ Billy Joel ~

May the blessing of music restore hope, bring peace and comfort, heal, and shower JOY into your days during this season, my friends.  Be blessed and be a blessings to others…  🙂

The GOODE space in all of us…

As the Reading Goddesses (RGs – or – book club) gathered via Meet yesterday, hearts were heavy thinking about the mutual loss of our extraordinary friend, Alice Goode, this past week.  Each of us took a moment to share, laugh, and lament.

Two of us first met her as a neighbor to one of the RGs; another RG studied music at the college where Alice sang and taught for years.  All of us have a plethora of stories, jokes, connections, and absolutely delightful memories tied to Alice.  Gifted with an glorious singing voice, she radiated pure JOY through her contagious laughter, witty commentary, and vibrant personality.  A literal tour-de-force well into her 80s, she never met a stranger and everyone was her instant friend. I am grateful beyond words for the many years of celebrations, shopping excursions, singing parties, and more I shared with Alice Goode.

Yet, two powerful remembrances got me to pondering…

While consoling me after the death of my own mom, Alice offered her unique view of how this life ceases and the next one begins. She summed it up like this:  “Your brilliant, singing mom hasn’t taken her final bow in your heart or soul, it was just her place in the performance to exit stage left until the next show…she’s just leading a new soprano section now.”  🙂

One of the RGs relayed this powerful story about Alice (I’m paraphrasing): “Alice attended my piano recital and congratulated me afterwards in person. While pleased with my performance, I mentioned to her an item for improvement. Alice pulled out a piece of paper with a dot on it and asked me what I saw; I noted the dot. Alice asked, ‘Why don’t you see all the clear around the dot…all the good from your musical work?'” 

Whew!  What powerfully GOODE analogies for daily living!  Each of us has all this GOODE space within and around us if only we would tap into it.  Why must we focus on those dots first and never on all the clear and wonderful space?

So in this season of hope, peace, JOY, and love, here’s hoping we all find more ways to focus on the GOODE space in ourselves and in others.  And if I know Alice, she will continue finding ways from stage left to gently remind us. Be a blessing, friends, and be blessed…

Giving THANKS

Shakespeare observed:  “I can no other answer make but thanks, thanks, and ever thanks…”  In the spirit of my gratefulness for your participation this past month, please allow me a little poetic license to offer two simple words:  THANK YOU.

A THANK YOU has the power to transform our health, happiness, performance, personal excellence, and ultimate success.  Researchers note how grateful people are happier and more likely to maintain strong friendships.  An attitude of gratitude is shown to improve the heart’s rhythmic functioning, which helps us to reduce stress, think more clearly under pressure, and heal faster physically.  My own cardiologist tells me it is actually physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time!  When you are grateful you flood your body and brain with positive reactions (and those important endorphins) to uplift and energize you body, mind, spirit, and soul.

Gratefulness is similar to a muscle in the body—the more we use it, the stronger it gets.  There are three simple (but not always easy) suggestions I use daily in order to assist in strengthening my grateful “muscles:”

  1. Keep a gratefulness journal:  Take a walk/talk/squawk opportunity to write down, say out loud, pray, or meditate on what you are grateful for that day; it’s a mindset for choosing to focus on gratefulness in a purposeful way.
  2. Take a grateful tour:  Randomly write and send a note, card, or a text expressing your gratitude to others as often as you can.
  3. Say “THANK YOU” to someone every single day: When we take time to authentically express our appreciation to someone, we help ourselves in the process.

While these work for me, choose your own way, but use those muscles gratefully!

On this day of thanks and giving:  What one thing will you commit to do in developing your own personal plan to actively practice gratefulness each day?

THANK YOU for walking this gratefulness journey with me, especially during 2020 when little seems as it should.  THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts, reflecting with me and each other, while sharing JOY in simply being grateful together!  May we continue to encourage and uplift one another while keeping the importance of daily gratitude, gratefulness, and grace alive and well each day.  Happy Thanksgiving, my friends…so grateful for you!  🙂

Have enough?

“Gratitude can turn common days into Thanksgivings…”  ~William Arthur Ward

Days like today, as I’m cooking and baking, fill me to the brim with bittersweet memories, sacred moments, and the humorous recollections of those going before me.  When I turn a page in the family recipe book, pull out a special pie pan, wear Granny’s apron, or squish my hands into the cornbread dressing, I’m humbly reminded how choosing to live in a mindset of gratefulness each day allows me to see there is always enough…

  • happiness to keep us sweet,
  • trials to keep us strong,
  • sorrows to keep us human,
  • hope to keep us JOY”full,”
  • failure to keep us humble,
  • success to make us eager,
  • family and friends to give us comfort,
  • wealth to meet our needs,
  • enthusiasm to look for tomorrow,
  • faith to banish worry, and
  • determination to make each day better than the previous one. 

(These specific words were written in Granny B’s penmanship on the back of a Thanksgiving card from 1939; no indication if she wrote them or someone else should have this intellectual credit.)

It’s a struggle some days to feel we have enough; we are human after all.  Focusing on the blessings while placing the challenges aside is simple, just not always easy.  Saying thank you is simple, just not always easy.  Living in gratefulness and gratitude challenges us to ponder the reality we really do have enough.  Again I say, gratefulness is a mindful place–perhaps THE place–we find our truest and best selves.

So on Day #29 of our gratefulness journey:  If you created your own “have enough” list to share with those gathered around your table, what would you gratefully include on it?

Regardless of who, if any, are gathered to feast at your table tomorrow, may we all be keenly aware of the gifts we pass and receive to and from one another with profound gratefulness.  Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, my friends; you matter and I’m so grateful for you! 🙂