Happy freedom day!

My husband and I celebrated the 4th of July this morning with a free five-mile run. It was my first run beyond about three miles for several months, and I’m excited to have done as well as I did. The course meandered through flat, shady neighborhoods where families came out to cheer the runners on. I saw fun costumes—including a guy wearing a tortoise shell back and hare ears on his head. But mostly there was lots of red, white and blue. What a great way to kick off today’s celebrations.

Our garden is celebrating with some natural fireworks (aka agapanthus). Enjoy some shots of them below. They’re the safest fireworks in this drought, but I imagine there will be plenty of real ones later tonight.

I wish you and yours a happy 4th of July! How are you celebrating this day of freedom?

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The owl and the cat

I promised an update on my owl post from a couple of weeks ago. You remember the owl, right?

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We had a bit of drama the night of the post. My husband and I were cleaning up the kitchen, sorting through mail, doing the sorts of tasks we normally do at the end of the evening. Our dog, who had been asleep in the living room, all of a sudden went berserk by the window closest to the owl house.

I saw something moving on one of the window panes and flipped on an outside light to see what was happening. I realized it was the owl—clearly a juvenile out of its nest but unable to fly—clinging as if for dear life to one of the thin bars across the window. On the ground below, staring up at it, sat our next-door neighbor’s cat. Continue reading

Nine lights that used to shine

This wasn’t the post I had planned to share with you today, but sometimes, life interrupts us and won’t let us go back to “normal,” won’t let us forget what we still need to address and honor and remember. So today, I lit nine candles for nine lights that used to shine in Charleston.

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Notice how the light dances and spreads. Even with only nine flames, there are far more points of light in the picture. But blow out the candles, and the light leaves not only the candle’s wick but also the places where it had previously shared its light.

I’d like to honor each of the nine lovely men and women of Charleston who died too soon, who died because of the color of their skin, who died in a holy place, who died studying God’s word for them, who died because we are a country unwilling to curb our appetite for guns, who died because of a white man’s poisoned heart and mind, who died at the hands of one to whom they had shown kindness and hospitality, who died because sometimes hate wins a temporary battle here, who died confident they were bound for glory.

I have chosen verses for all of them based on what little I have learned about them this past week. They all lived lives worth celebrating, and I hope these verses help reflect the love they felt for God and the love God feels for them. May they rekindle some light in us all.

Susie Jackson, 87: “Her children rise up and bless her; … A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the products of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.” (Proverbs 31:28, 30–31)

The Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., 74: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)

Ethel Lance, 70: “Therefore you too have grief now, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:22)

Myra Thompson, 59: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9–11)

Cynthia Graham Hurd, 54: “The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” (Revelation 3:5, NIV)

The Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49: “I will sing of lovingkindness and justice, to You, O Lord, I will sing praises. I will give heed to the blameless way. When will you walk with me? I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.” (Psalm 101:1–2)

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7–8, NIV)

The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, … proving to be an example to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1–5)

Tywanza Sanders, 26: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14)

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John 1:5 has been a favorite verse of mine for many years. Some translations use the word overcome instead of comprehend. I love it either way, because it delivers a message of hope, of love, of power, of triumph over evil.

Do you have a verse that has helped you this past week? If so, I would love for you to share it in the comments below.


Please come again next week for an update on last week’s owl post. I won’t have forgotten the  important events in Charleston, and I hope you won’t either. But the owl’s is a story I want to share with you, too.

The houseguests

I’m a big fan of nature, but there are certain kinds of nature I don’t especially care for: ticks, mosquitoes, skunks and snakes take turns at the top of the list. When people ask my husband how we’re settling in to our new home, he typically replies along these lines: “We’re doing well, except for some close encounters with nature.” This allows us to tell the dog v. skunk story, or talk about the dead rattlesnake I saw on a walk with the dog, or describe the coyote that seemed a little too interested in the dog and me a few mornings ago.

I was sitting in the living room one evening last week, when motion in my peripheral vision caught my attention. I looked out of the window and could see something small, slender and silvery (very snakelike) dangling in the tree. I quickly realized it was a snake, possibly alive, in the bill of an owl.

The owl didn’t surprise me. For several weeks in the evening, I’d been catching sight of an owl in those trees. It has even flapped overhead when I’m out for one last trip of the night with the dog.

The snake part disconcerted me, though. I immediately Googled: Do owls eat snakes. The response wasn’t entirely reassuring.

Yes, owls eat snakes (along with rodents and other undesirable critters—yay for owls!), but screech owls may also bring a small, live snake to their nests to keep the nest clean of bugs and other critters. After that, I guess the owl probably eats the snake. I almost feel sorry for the snake.

My overactive imagination conjured up snakes dropping out of owls’ nests onto my head. And then I wondered if I could just live inside for the rest of my life. Nooooo, I like outside too much.

Besides owls are good and cool, even if they are a bit spooky with their piercing stares and talons, and even if they do invite in strange houseguests. So I was excited at the prospect of a nest and owls keeping rodents away. I went outside the next day to see if I could find a nest. It didn’t take long:

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A little owl peeks out of its house.

I’m not sure how I never noticed this house before, attached to the side of our house. But there it was, complete with a fluffy owl looking out—in the middle of the day. Aren’t owls supposed to be nocturnal? Was this one a fledgling, maybe a teenage owl trying to push the limits of its curfew? Is there a live snake in that box attached to my house?

These questions whirled around in my head. I took two more pictures.

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When I emailed these photos to my husband, he said the owl looked angry in the last picture. “That’s why there aren’t four pictures,” I responded. I’ve learned that owls intimidate me.

While I’m delighted to be hosting an owl family, I’m new at this. I have lots of questions:

  • Is the one in the photo a juvenile? If not, why is it so fuzzy?
  • Why is it awake/alert during the day?
  • Is it a Western Screech-Owl? (I’ve only seen an owl flying around at night and haven’t heard any owl songs to help me identify it.)
  • Will the mom and dad get protective of the nest in ways the dog and I may interpret as aggressive?
  • Will it eat skunks (oh, pretty please, I hope so.)?
  • Is it likely to drop live snakes from its house? Or will it eat the snake when nesting is done (oh, pretty please, I hope so.)?
  • How long is nesting season?

If you’ve had owls nest near (or on) your house before, what advice do you have? Or maybe you’re an owl expert and can help with some of these questions? I’d love to hear from you.

When rain is grace

Today is joyful for me because it has brought a gentle rain. For more than five hours now, the cloudy skies have let their rain fall on the drought-parched land.

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Even with the rain today, the grass likely won’t survive the summer. The soil is already cracking.

I wasn’t the only one celebrating the rain. I went to a favorite coffee spot and sat outside. Several others stared out at the rain instead of looking down at their phones, a good humor showing on their faces. While no one sat in the wet, uncovered chairs, few rushed to their cars. None carried umbrellas. Most wore no raincoat. We were all of us thirsty, trying to soak up the lovely, rare raindrops.

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A rare sight here: rain-covered chairs, rocks and streets

Moving from a place where summer afternoon thunderstorms are the norm, my husband and I have found this drought especially hard. Not that we’ve never experienced drought. We have. We’ve just never experienced such a deep, abiding drought in a place known for scorching summers and wildfires.

I’m nervous about July and August (and probably September, too, if I’m admitting the truth to myself). Heat and relentless sun can turn me cranky and impatient. There will be little rain—and therefore little respite—to quench that ill temper.

Today is different, though. I don’t know when it will rain again, and so I am delighting in this day. The flowers and fruit and trees in our yard are, too. The rain brings a drink that no bucket from the kitchen sink can imitate. The rain brings a cleansing, a renewal, a needed rest from the sun and the heat.

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Parts of the country have been devastated by too much rain, by roaring floods. My heart aches for their losses. But here, for this special day, rain feels exactly like grace.

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John Updike was right: Rain is grace. And I needed both today. How about you?