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.

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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

Stock photo of the Charter Oak

The White Oak

Hello dear readers, thanks for taking the time to relax to a story of a particularly great tree. Today we’ll be hearing from a white oak, the official tree of Connecticut. Before he shares his family’s story, I just wanted to thank you for caring enough about the trees to come here.

If you’ve been following American news, you’ve likely heard of the destruction of Joshua Trees at Joshua Tree National Park. The US government has been partially shut down for weeks now as Trump demands funding for the border wall and the Dems continue to resist for economic and humanitarian reasons.

Because 800,000 people are out of work due to the shutdown, the parks are open free (yay for free access to these preserved lands) but also un- or understaffed and thus open to destruction (boo for people abusing them). Trees that take scores of years to mature and centuries to develop, trees that were historic and protected by the nation itself, have been cut, and for what?

So thank you for taking the time to honor trees here.

Today I stumbled across this ad for a BBC show on actress Judi Dench, who apparently has a passion for trees as well. It’s beautiful, her acres of cultivated and forested land and her love and interest in the trees’ stories. In the preview, she mentions an oak in particular.

Oaks are some of my favorite trees because of their sturdiness and because I grew up around so many; you can’t find them in every part of the US! The white oak we’ll hear from today is an especially dignified fellow with a legacy that he stakes his pride in. He also has an appreciation for the diversity of forest around him.

I hope his words will encourage you today! Enjoy!

White Oaks are common all across the eastern US, and http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/whiteoak, where this photo is from, describes them well.

White Oaks are common all across the eastern US, and http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/whiteoak, where this photo is from, describes them well.

 

Greetings, young one. I heard you call me stubborn as you walked by earlier, noticing my brown leaves still sticking although it is March.

While I prefer to be called regal as a descendant of the historic white oak that saved this state when it was still a colony, I will let it slide this time. It was our persistence, devotion to the cause, and willingness to sacrifice that made my family line historic, after all, and I suppose stubborn is simply a more callous way of phrasing those attributes.

If you are not too absorbed in your daily activities, please sit down for a bit. Do you enjoy history? We white oaks, or quercus albas as some might say, are proud of our legacy. Take some tea while I share.

Back in the 1600s, we had tension between a lot of groups, but my family was associated with the English Americans, and the actual English folk had some issues with them being here. The settlers, or colonists really, had managed to be granted a charter. They were happy, like you. Yes, I see your smile, the interest in your eyes. But they were not in the clear.

A new king rose to power in the east – technically England, but didn’t I sound like Tolkien for a moment? And England is east of here. Well, moving on.

King James II did not want us to have the power granted in the charter. There was a meeting between the two groups in Connecticut, and during it, the governing document went missing. You can read about it on the state’s website. That night, one of my ancestors had the honor of keeping the great charter. That grandmother, known as the Charter Oak, lived over 200 years but passed away before my birth.

I myself have been rooted in this North Haven soil for over a century. These stories were passed on to me from my ancestors. But I have seen my own good share of American history.

For example, after the travesty of slavery ended, I lived through an eerily similar Jim Crow era. I was here on this Northern ground for all of it and have observed what I can from this limited standpoint on Sackett Point Road.

The real demographic change in this area occurred during my younger years – the influx of Italian immigrants to this region, yes. I’m glad you know a bit about that social change for our state! It was a blessing to be sure. I witnessed that history being built before my eyes.

My beech and red oak neighbors, the evergreens yonder, they have been good friends to me throughout the years. They cannot claim the same heritage as I, but I appreciate their company nonetheless. Their families have their own unique stories. Mine is embedded, written, preserved in Connecticut history, as we white oaks are the state tree, and I take great pride in that.

Yet I assume you can see by my speaking with you short, loose-limbed creatures that I am not so haughty to think we white oaks are the greatest of all. No, we simply played our part in making this nation a better place.

I do not see much of it with you loose-limbed little ones in this area, but we trees celebrate our diversity and integration here in the Northeast. What do you think of this, young one?

Stock photo of Avon, CT featuring numerous types of trees in harmony

Stock photo of Avon, CT featuring numerous types of trees together

 

Are you off already? Thanks for sharing tea and listening to this rough but royal old fellow. I appreciate your company. Perhaps you will still call me stubborn, but I will hold myself tall till my dying day because I know who I am and where I have come from. I pray your family may know the same lasting honor as mine. Go in peace.

 

Remembering Rodney Sisco

I believe too much in invincibility, but death comes anyway. Sometimes it is inescapable. Sometimes it is unexpected. Always it hurts.

His name was Rodney.

It hurts to see a man so full of love taken away. A man who had impacted my alma mater for three and a half decades, resolving conflict, bringing people together, listening to everyone who came into his office, establishing a space for us students in the Office of Multicultural Development (OMD), caring for students and especially those of color.

He was only in his fifties, but cancer doesn’t care.

Rodney Sisco.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought my future children might know and be blessed by him, this man who so profoundly shaped my life through the OMD. The classes and generations to come, what will they do without him to guide and support and influence and stand up for them?

Rodney Sisco, husband, father, mentor.

He was a gentle man, well over six and a half feet with a huge heart to match. He gave great hugs, and despite his busy schedule, he worked to create times to meet with me in his office when I asked. He had an open jar of candy on his center table and photos of his two sons and his wife covering his desk along with a few geeky trinkets. He was warm and welcoming. He was someone we could trust.

He was a gentle man.

Rodney Sisco, Director of the Office of Multicultural Development.

His skill set was expansive. He was one of a handful of people on campus certified in conflict resolution. He directed the OMD from a small corner office to the central space it is now and worked for the benefit of students, showing what a black man can achieve even at a PWI. He was intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, engaging, patient, gracious, and visionary. We needed him.

Dear Rodney.

He mediated for the whole campus, interacted with most students of color who attended Wheaton College (IL), and spoke life into all the individuals he met. Over the years, he must have impacted many thousands of people. I know I would not be the woman I am today without his influence.

In the few days since Rodney has passed on to be with The Lord (he died on 30 December 2018), I have seen testimony upon testimony about his life and the positive impacts he left. We will remember him well. I pray his legacy will encourage thousands more to come.

~~~

To those of you who would like to be taught by him even in his passing and learn more about his life, here are three of the chapels at which he spoke:

Peace.