Photos from the Garfield Park Conservatory

Today I visited the Garfield Park Conservatory on the Westside of Chicago. It’s one of the city’s gems, this free green space. Local workers take lunch breaks there, and others come from around the city to explore the beauty of the cacti, ferns, flowers, and gardens.

The sounds of water streaming physically relaxed and grounded me, while the warm sun and cool breeze outside caused me smile and enjoy the present. A number of critters meandered in and out of the building from the gardens out back. I noticed a rabbit outside, saw a squirrel inside, and marveled at the way the grasshoppers blended in so perfectly with the ground. The fern room, with all its moss and foliage, made me feel at home, though I’d originally come to see the 38′ 1″ agave americana extending through the ceiling panes.

It’s free to enter, though the Conservatory suggests a $10 donation per adult for the upkeep of this beautiful, refreshing place that has been around since 1908.

Several things struck me today: the incredible views, the intricate and endlessly variegated patterns and textures of the foliage, and the way the colors popped. God is truly a magnificent Creator, and I pray you will be blessed by his work through these photos.

Here is a sample of the sweeping views:

Behold God’s creativity with patterns:

…And with texture, even among ferns alone:

Compare all the different shapes and textures just in this one shot:

The texture of this next flower was almost nonexistent. It looked super soft and fuzzy, but I could barely feel it. I thought sensation had left my hand!

(Note: I don’t know if you’re allowed to touch the plants. I did touch some leaves, one unexpectedly papery and another textured like pigskin, but I don’t recommend such behavior. Just read and obey the signs, especially by certain cacti.)

The pops of color were also marvelous. Greens primarily filled the Conservatory, but red and pink veins created contrast within plants, and violet, fuscia, and yellow flowers added pizzazz to the greenery. My favorite plant from the entire Conservatory was the purple “dragon” flowers below. (I renamed them that because they resemble dragon scales to me.)

All photos belong to me. For more information on the Conservatory, including its special programs, visit https://garfieldconservatory.org. Be blessed!

What will it take to bring peace?

Yesterday I attended a peace gathering, intended to be the the last for the summer after a July full of them. They were times of prayer and marching in solidarity and love around the neighborhood, particularly by the locations of recent shootings, which are all too common in that neighborhood.

The peace gathering began at 6:30 p.m.

Just a half hour before it began, a couple blocks away from empty lot where we met, a 20 year old named Devon was shot and killed. He had just gotten off work.

We gather for people like Devon.

A couple of his relatives attended the gathering: a teenager who appeared calm and quiet in the moment and an older woman who couldn’t believe what happened, not to Devon!

Under clear skies and cool summer air, we spent time praying for the relatives in the empty lot where we’d collected and walked past the site where Devon’s life was stolen as we marched.

The pastor who organized the event called out, “I love you!” to neighbors relaxing on their front steps.

We invited some young men to join us as we walked, and one responded, “No, I don’t wanna get shot.” Despite our numbers and police entourage, our nonviolent walk through the neighborhood held the potential for harm to certain people, and we respected that. The gathering was ultimately for them, after all, so that their neighborhood could someday be safe and free from gun violence.

The weekly gatherings were also a time of music and food, collaborated and put on by an energetic local church and the local police force. On July 31, the Original Warrior Gladiators, the church’s young dance troupe, performed for everyone and ushered Holy Spirit into the gathering (see cover photo).

The Peace Warriors, a group of young men and women, taught us some claps and went over principles of peace including nonviolence and ones targeting the spiritual root instead of the person enacting injustice.

We hurt for young men like Devon.

It was an evening of mixed emotions. There was hype as the Peace Warriors jazzed up the crowd and educated us (see video here). There were smiles as friends conversed and ate hot dogs and Fruit by the Foot.

But there was also solemnity as we prayed for Devon’s relatives. After all, deaths like his are why these gatherings took place. There was passion as we prayed for the neighborhood.

Overall, it was inspiring to witness the community meet together in this capacity, to be led by youth, and to see the police, whom I’d distrusted, participate in and help facilitate this nonviolent peace event.

What’s the main takeaway, then? Maybe it’s that although the neighborhood is friendly, it’s caught in seemingly endless cycle of violence and trauma. Efforts like these summer peace gatherings and the ongoing work of local churches and groups like the Peace Warriors make a difference in changing that.

Maybe it’s an encouragement to connect with your local peace activists to create change, show solidarity, provide resources, and add value to your community. Whether you are feeling broken and need the support of others in this kind of space or you’re coming with education in conflict-diffusion, counseling resources, or as a prayer minister, you are needed and wanted.

Maybe there is no one point, but sharing about the gathering was also a way to process Devon’s death.

However you’re feeling right now, feel free to comment below and reach out if you need resources. Comment if you have any to offer, as well. Peace.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.
-Psalm 29: 10, 11 (NIV)
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PC: https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/intreeducing-the-beech

Letter from a Holey Tree

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
    says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
    and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
    for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2, NLT)

I will bring comfort to your children. They frolic on the land about me and rest in my cavern. I will hold them tenderly as they nap out of reach from the summer sun, now forgiven by your mercy.

A voice said, “Shout!”
    I asked, “What should I shout?”

“Shout that people are like the grass.
    Their beauty fades as quickly
    as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
    beneath the breath of the Lord.
    And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
    but the word of our God stands forever.” (6-8)

I witness the grass fading at my feet, and I know this personally as well, for I am a beech tree with a hole. I am fading, even as I witness some elderly members no longer able enter the white walls across the meadow. Even still, the Word of the Lord continues to be spoken within the building, in the yard, and in the neighborhood all around me. It will stand forever.

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (10-11)

I will hold the lambs in my cavern as we wait for you, O Great Shepherd. I am not a pastor, but I can nurture and hold these children close to my heart, speaking your love over them as we wait for your reward. I can feed them with my leaves and cradle them in my hollowed cave. 

To whom can you compare God?
    What image can you find to resemble him?
Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold,
    overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains?
Or if people are too poor for that,
    they might at least choose wood that won’t decay
and a skilled craftsman
    to carve an image that won’t fall down! (18-20)

As the Psalmist declares, none can compare to you, O God. As one made of wood, I know that even this material decays. It is no creator to be worshipped but merely a vessel to share your glory with the rest of creation.

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. (26-31)

I see your stars every night, glorious and reliable, prophetic and majestic. They are merely my fellow vessels in your service, yet they are dear and known by you. If you know them, the many I can see and the countless I can’t, surely you know your people too. You made them in your own Image!

I am fond of them, so when your people are weak, I will become a sanctuary like the building next door. Use me to restore them in body and spirit.

A truly tiny "little white church" -- not mine, but a sanctuary for a small congregation across the country. PC: https://visitrainier.com/elbe-little-white-church/

A truly tiny “little white church” — not mine, but a sanctuary for a small congregation across the country. PC: https://visitrainier.com/elbe-little-white-church/

Cover photo from https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/intreeducing-the-beech.

The Cherry Blossom

The cherry blossom tree sat behind my K-12 school. For two weeks in May, she would bloom light pink and then shed her pretty petals on the sidewalk by the back door.

As a girl, I thought I wanted to get married under rows of cherry blossoms. I then realized that their blooming time is so brief that if I misjudged it, I’d be walking under a flowerless tree, atop the molding remains of its beauty. Thus, I decided that getting married under them might not be the best idea, but I still found them lovely.

The cherry blossom tree behind my school had a soft beauty. She was a pillar of the kindergarten playground, always growing in the corner and greeting parents as they went to pick up their children. She delighted students like me when her buds finally matured just before the school year let out.

Her siblings around the U.S. continue to bring pleasure to the humans that pass by them. They bring moments of inner calm and reflection as their viewers take pause to notice the trees’ beauty. Every spring, I waited for her to reveal her flowery gown.

Though cherry blossoms appear dead before they bud and look average as they blend in after their peak, they show the importance of patience. Though most of the year they go unnoticed, their petals are worth the seasons of waiting.

She was the first cherry blossom to bless me with the delight of her petals, and in this way, she opened my eyes to the beauty around me, helped me revel in the present, and learn the value of patience.

 

Cover photo from http://www.ctvisit.com/articles/bloom-finder.

Fred and I Photo belongs to KSB

Nairobi Moments

Some moments are nearly perfect. Resting with my housemates on our rooftop, seven stories high in Waithaka, watching the orange sun set and taking way too many silhouette selfies with Kamau, is one of them. Being in Nairobi as a whole is incredible.

The sun sets to the right of Ngong Hills, behind some trees and above a collage of sun-faded blue and reddish roofs. Birds fly in and out of sight while Sia plays from the speaker. I blink dust from my eyes as I hop around the roof and settle in a corner next to my friend Leon.

Some moments are so full of freedom. Dancing with fellow musicians on a Sunday evening in Westie while my favorite artist, Tetu Shani, croons over his acoustic guitar is one of them. Being in Nairobi, the sun lighting up the sky every day and warming my skin, does my spirit good.

My housemates and I dance in the kitchen, practicing Kenyan moves. We dance in the beige living room as the pop music continues. We dance on the roof sometimes too. I decided before I came here that I would be free.

Some moments are made of happiness. Blasting “Usipime Mwanaume” by Naiboi and bumping “Earthquake” by Family Force Five while playing a competitive card game with Kairo and Kamau and spontaneously dancing is one of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve laughed more than I have in ages.

That’s true.

Some moments give a person unexpected energy. A day of pillow fighting for two hours at home before hiking off the path in Ngong Hills, eating tomato flavored crisps at the summit of the third hill, and returning in the dusk, is one of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve seen countless stars and heard precious stories from people who make life light.

I’ve grown stronger, thanks to Kamau’s physical training and encouragement. My housemate Fred and I do planks and squats, and then Kamau squats me. Rugby season is coming up, after all.

Some moments are the backdrop of memories. Hearing the frustratingly endless barking from our neighbor’s dog business, squeezing into the back of a matatu on the way to Kawangware, taking in the aroma of onions and masala from Leon and Kamau’s cooking, hanging laundry on our windy roof while Kairo squeezes water on my burning feet because I didn’t wear shoes again, squishing between housemates on the couch to watch YouTube, these are some of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve been doing a healthy amount of hugging, and I think that’s part of why I love it so much too.

In our house, it’s not surprising to find toe nail clippers everywhere and combs nowhere or to discovering a laptop above the fridge and the salt in my bedroom. But with so many of us here, we don’t have to stress.

This trip is one of those rare moments where life is almost perfect, where one could take a photo of the sunset and still feel the cooling air later because the people and times were so precious.

Just give me sunshine, hugs, good friends, some music to dance to, and a side of chips (fries), and I’ll be fine. Life doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Waithaka sunset PC: KSB

A Waithaka sunset. PC: KSB

 

https://www.amazon.com/Marcus-Miller/e/B000APXTVW

Slain by modern jazz album ‘Laid Black’

Jazz is a genre usually associated with Christmas and the first half of the 1900s, created by black Americans and loved by all – at least in the past. Though its days in the sun have waned, Marcus Miller is one contemporary artist who demonstrates the continuing power of jazz music.

On my flight from Paris to Nairobi, I plugged in the Air France earbuds to the plane’s free music collection and chose some familiar jazz tunes. Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole crooned through their albums as I soared over Europe. Though I say I love jazz, my repertoire is honestly pretty minimal, just the aforementioned classics, Sinatra, Doris Day, and such.

Wanting to change that, I tapped on Marcus Miller’s 2018 “Laid Black” album, one I had never heard, and was immediately swept away.

https://serious.org.uk/events/marcus-miller-rfh-2019

Photo from serious.org.uk

How often does a song or album make one drop everything and work to keep composure? On a monthly basis, yearly? Marcus Miller’s “Laid Black” evokes this reaction throughout the album.

Track one, “Trip Trap,” carried me to summer parks with big bands playing. I would be thrilled to hear this song on a Sunday evening at City Park in Denver.

If the initial track transported me, the next one slayed me. Selah Sue features in Miller’s unique rendition of “Que Sera Sera” that caused my mouth to form a shocked and grateful sort of smile while my eyes opened in amazement and teared at the edges.

It is the kind of song I would want to replay with my eyes closed a few times and then dance to once I had picked myself up off the floor. In fact, I did replay the song and the entire album. Oh. Le. Le. What a piece of beauty.

Track three, “7-Ts,” begins with a Miller’s skilled bass line before artist Trombone Shorty enters. “Sublimity ‘Bunny’s Dream’,” the next on the album, continues with Marcus Miller’s brassy melodies in a mellow tune with light drum brushes.

Next up, “Untamed” starts with keys like that of a trap song, running do-mi-re-so-mi-fa, adds a bass melody, and continues to a steady beat with some filler brass. It takes the album from the big band era into 2018 and ends with piano.

A person can jive to the next track, “No Limit,” in which Miller continues to favor his bass. His use of brass harks back to West African music’s influence on African Americans and the music they have created over the centuries, and particularly in jazz.

 

On track seven he uses a guitar melody to tap into a melancholy chord. You will want to slow dance with your lover to “Somebody to Love” as Miller’s soft vocals come in over the piano. The song stirred a beautiful sort of sadness within me as I flew over Greece a world away from my own “someone.”

Miller’s album continues with the more upbeat “Keep ‘Em Running,” which mixes jazz with some old school rap and a hint of scatting. The man is astounding.

As a preacher’s kid, I was interested in the ninth and final track by this name. The song, running 7 minutes and 43 seconds, is the longest on the album. It begins with a capella “ooos” before building in instruments. Saxophones cross over each other, wailing for the spotlight in the sixth minute before voices hum to a close on this primarily instrumental album.

 

I’m shook. Tracks two and seven captured me in particular, and the big band sounds crossing with other genres throughout the album remind the listener that jazz is still a part of contemporary black history and thus contemporary American history. Miller’s integration of styles over jazz eras is simply incredible, and the entire album leaves me amazed and wanting more.

Thank you, Marcus Miller, for creating such a beautiful and powerful work of art, one with the ability to bring together both couples and communities. Thank you for your excellence and for adding beauty to our lives.

 

 

~~~

Cover image from https://www.amazon.com/Marcus-Miller/e/B000APXTVW