The Purple Tree

Every time it’s fall, and sometimes when it’s not, I think of a certain tree:

a tree that greeted me on my way out to class and in from work, 

a tree I loved because it was my favorite color,

a tree that defied the expectations of aging 

       and worked from dark to light.

It wore the mauve of fall overtaking summer’s green

then blushed bright scarlet before fading into orange.

 

Like the office assistant who brightens your weekday 

with hellos, hard candy, and care,

       though you may not know her well,

so was this tree to me.

It was my favorite for its unconventional beauty,

a constant each fall day 

on my walk by Fischer.

purple tree

The actual tree, Wheaton, IL. I took this photo in mid-October a few years back when it was starting to change colors. Can anyone identify it for me?

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!

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

 

PC: KSB

Why I shaved my head

Last August, just before the solar eclipse that crossed the entire nation, I shaved my head as a sign of mourning the sins of racial and social class inequality in the United States.  I had in mind the way poor people in this country are treated on structural levels, for example.

The way black teenagers have to fear for their lives when knocking to ask for directions to school and it’s not an isolated incident or unfounded fear; the way black and white men are given vastly different court sentences; the way the KKK was allowed to riot in Charlottesville this summer, a century after the Jim Crow Era; the way low income families are ripped out of their decades-old trailer homes to make space for expensive, new developments, because the Denver owners lusted for more money; the sin of gentrification – the list goes on.

At the time, I was reading the Biblical book of Amos, which references a solar eclipse and the shaving of heads because of the nation’s sins of injustice and inequity, similar to the ones I mentioned above. God convicted me as I read this timely passage, so as a prophetic move, I went to the hairdresser and asked her to shave curly locks, which are such a part of what I perceive to be my beauty and identity.

As much as we may often be going for style, women’s hair is not merely a part of our bodies or attire; it is symbolic. From owning your afro during the Harlem Renaissance to going natural as a black woman in the American workplace today, many women can identify with this.

Today I stumbled across this article from the New York Times. It discusses the politics of hair and references gun control activist Emma Gonzalez as well as the fierce warrior women in Black Panther, both with their buzzed heads, and it’s worth a quick read. So is the book of Amos, which remains relevant to the USA.

A few passages stand out:

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
    and detest the one who tells the truth.

You levy a straw tax on the poor
    and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.

Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.”

-Amos 5:10-15, NIV

After referencing much doom and punishment, Amos 8:3-10 (NIV) continues:

 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample the needy
    and do away with the poor of the land,

saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
    that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
    that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
    boosting the price
    and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

“Will not the land tremble for this,
    and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
    it will be stirred up and then sink
    like the river of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
    and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
    and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.”

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

God does leave space for repentance; the nation can change. Then there can be hope.

But since August, things have only gotten worse here: established immigrants expelled and new ones not accepted, violating God’s welcoming way of treating foreigners throughout the Old Testament; low and even middle income families in a bind with insurance (I currently have none and my family had to move to a co-op type of plan in order to maintain any); the continuation of the urban camping ban in Denver, which prevents many homeless people from covering themselves in the night; and so forth.

My curls are growing back, a sign of beauty and life. But will America also grow in righteousness (justice) or love?

 

PC: KSB

To my teen and tween self: I see you

Dear Katelyn,

I see you. You and the one other outcast sit alone at the lunch table. She is a caring, fun, spirited, and beautiful junior high girl, as are you, and your classmates are being jerks by not accepting you two. Keep looking up. She will help you carry on and be a close friend.

I know you are ignored in the hallways and given the silent treatment when you try to make up for whatever wrong you may have committed, though I do not believe there was any because you are so sincere and only want things to be right between you and your peers. Don’t let them silence your voice or deny your worth.

You are different, strong in personality, and unwilling to conform or deny your interests in order to fit in. This is admirable. You are also pure in heart, sweet, diligent, and passionate, and you long for friends. You try so hard, yet you are favored only by teachers in the classrooms. These adults see your diligence and maturity, but they do not see you crying as you leave the building each day. But I see you, girl in grey.

So do a few upperclassmen, who, when you are a freshman, think you are cool enough to go with on barefoot hikes at Sleeping Giant and visit your house, sing with around campfires at their houses, and invite to their graduation parties.

Once, one of them will even notice you at the lunch table and join you to see what is wrong, cleverly protecting you from a girl, one of your bullies, who tries to get the juice. These upperclassmen are awesome, and they think you are, too. They will pour their lives into yours.

They see you and believe you are worth knowing.

When you hit this year, your freshman year, when things are slowly on the incline, you also will see the younger outcasts and reach out to them; you always do. You do not want to be alone, and you know they do not deserve to be ignored because they are different than their cliquey peers.

As you skip ahead in school, you will make good friends with your new classmates. Senior year will be truly fun, loaded with memories, and your new classmates will encourage and care for you, because they are true friends and you have mutual relationships. They will push you towards Jesus and health and hold you to high standards out of their love for you. You will do the same for them.

College will be the best, so set your hopes high. It is always best to dream. From day one, your college peers will appreciate your quirks and interests. They will have their own, such as obsessing about geology, having a special ability to make alien sounds, and knowing how to say “I’m so beautiful” in nine or so languages. You will appreciate these fun things about them, too.

You will change your name at this fresh start, and you will thrive in your relationships, Skye. You will remain compassionate and empathetic, with an eye for the outsider. At the same time, you will find your place in the in betweens.

One last note, dear Skye: As an adult, you will still meet people who treat your poorly, even some who will remind you of your junior high bullies at times. Try not to reciprocate. Don’t retreat into a shell or ignore them when it is hard to keep trying and trying. Do your best to be understanding. Love them regardless of how it turns out.

Stay pure in heart, embrace your differences, and remember who you are: a beloved daughter of God.

Stay pure in heart, embrace your differences, and remember who you are: a beloved daughter of God and, of course, a Bennett. And you progress on this journey called life, don’t forget to have fun as well! You’ll make your mama proud.

I see you, girl in purple, full of worth. I see you.

Sincerely,
Your twenty-something self

PS – I stumbled across this song by Hunter Hayes last week, and it nearly brought me to tears. It was healing, as I pray this blog will be for you.

Dark purple lips to match my shirt and skirt. I was ready for the job fair! PC: KSB

My story: how fashion reflects my spirit

Purple lipstick is always a good choice. Wearing it last week, I felt confident and on top of the world, basically like Fena Gitu. I wore it to match my skirt, and it changed my outlook on the day. I love lipstick and purple and the two combined. But there’s a spiritual point to this, and it applies to people of all genders.

Thanks for sharing in my story.

Today when the cashier at Wendy’s said purple looked good on me, it reminded me of how far I’ve come. I dress how I feel, but I have a rule now that I must always wear some splash of color in my outfit to share some joy. I began this practice during an eternal Chicagoland winter several years ago when everyone around was wearing black and grey like the gloomy sky above. Even when I’m mourning, I’ll wear a bright scarf or necklace on top of the black to symbolize hope.

But this was not always the case. In junior high, life was rough. Some girls at my tiny Christian school bullied me, and I had few friends. Why they excluded me, I never knew. I was different than them and refused to conform. Did our particular differences weird them out? I honestly never found an answer. I tried to keep a pure heart and to be on good terms with these girls, but that didn’t stop my understanding of my worth from dropping as they treated me poorly and ignored me.

My attire also reflected my musical interests, one of the differences I mentioned. Skillet was my favorite band at the time; I was obsessed with the band that evolved from grunge when I was born to hard rock around the time of my obsession. A quick Google search will show how it impacted my fashion choices — in short, with lots of black. The punk, rock, and emo scenes drew me. I still enjoy those genres, but my situation and outlook on life has changed, as have my clothing tastes. I don’t wear t-shirts displaying mummies anymore, although I really loved that one in eighth grade before I lost it at a basketball practice. (Sorry I can’t find it online to show you, but here’s a photo of me around the same time.)

Me and a special friend the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

My special friend and I the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

Life was miserable at school, and so I dressed how I felt: in black, lots of grey, sometimes olive green — generally lifeless colors. At the time I thought I just liked the colors, but I see now that I wore them as a reflection of my emotions.

I had a total of two friends at school in eighth grade, and I must have had a few clothes items that weren’t black or grey, because one day one of those two girls told me my purple sweater looked good on me. This comment, however random it was, stuck with me.

Slowly, I began incorporating more color into my wardrobe, including a lot of purple. (Towards the end of high school, a girl I babysat was wearing a turtleneck she liked asked me what my style was, and I could only think to say purple.) School also grew gradually better over the years. College was the real game changer. People accepted me with all my quirks and unique interests there.

Today I adore color — particularly purple, which does go well with my complexion and green eyes, but I appreciate anything bright. Color is beautiful. It represents life, joy, and hope. Color makes others smile. This is why I love to wear it now: to bring smiles to those around me, particularly when the weather is grey and everyone’s attire matches it. I want to be a ray of sunshine.

And I’m not the only one who’s had to overcome something difficult and came out rocking colorful lips. Nyakim Gatwech faced discrimination and harmful ignorance based on her dark skin in her modeling career but decided to rock bold colors in the face of the naysayers. Her story is quite different than mine, but I encourage you to read it here. Her colorful style is symbolic, too.

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As a disclaimer, I do know some exuberant people who prefer to wear dark colors, but I personally view color as symbolic of life and have found that a bright sweater can make people smile when it stands out amidst grey coats on a rainy day. I praise God for bringing me joy in Him so that I can share it with others, even through something as simple as my wardrobe. Evidently, our outfits aren’t always just clothes, after all; as symbols, they contain meaning.

Seven years ago, I felt invisible. Now I am a new woman, a confident one who is learning her worth and beauty and calling that out in others. As Fena sings*, do your thing and be a queen. And of course, remember that you were created in the image of a loving, holy, and entirely capable God who sees you.

 

*See link in first graf. Really. It’s worth it.

 

Rocking the purple hair in South Dakota with my bestie. PC: KSB

Thick, curly hair

Thick, curly hair:

Some say it’s a mane, wild like a lion,

But our hair is beautiful, not beastly,

not something dangerous needing to be “tamed.”

Is it unruly simply because it does not lie flat?

Are “tangled” locks not close to the heart of curls,

which intertwine to form a loose and lovely lattice

around our stately domes?

If you imply we ought to control our hair,

maintain our hair for a week;

Our hair requires constant upkeep

for health.

We do control our hair, and our halos of coils and curls

are the glorious result.

I will wear my hair with pride.

Call it wild because it is purple and, yes, twirls off at all angles,

But also see that it is thick, curly and naturally beautiful.