About hopesquires

I've left behind the daily grind to write full time and to figure out what my own flourishing tree looks like. I'd love to help you flourish and grow along the way, so that you, too, can cultivate a life that pleases God.

Going home

I’m heading home soon for a visit and am so excited I can hardly stand it. As the trip draws nearer, I have caught myself wishing, “Couldn’t we just leave right now?”

My last December Sunday in Raleigh, the early winter weather was kind enough to let me walk around with my camera. I wanted to capture the essence of this place—its beautiful, silly, even mundane details.

My dear, sweet friend Anna and I played tourist in our own hometown, an activity I highly recommend, no matter where you live.

We met at Dorothea Dix, the 306-acre property near the center of town that will one day become an urban park. We walked in places neither of us would have dared to go when we were young Raleigh girls, the future park once home to the state’s largest psychiatric hospital.

Dorothea Dix is situated on a number of hills that offer some of the best views of downtown, including its popular shimmer wall.

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Downtown Raleigh from one of Dorothea Dix’s hills

From there, we headed downtown for more detailed pictures.

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The shimmer wall closer up

Raleigh is known as the City of Oaks and has embraced the moniker in many details of its public spaces.

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These leaves and acorns cap a sidewalk light.

Sir Walter Raleigh enjoys lots of attention, getting adorned for a variety of reasons and seasons throughout the year. Here he stands dressed in his Christmas best.

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Raleigh’s namesake tolerates a lot from visitors and residents alike.

Anna and I took turns watching for cars so we could capture the long stretch of Fayetteville Street looking toward the Capitol, before heading down to the train tracks to watch a few trains come and go.

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Kids: Don’t try this shot at home, but we had fun taking turns getting pictures of this view.

After watching the trains, we needed to warm up and so headed to Videri Chocolate Factory, a recent, welcome addition to Raleigh’s booming local business scene. Best hot chocolate ever, by the way.

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Seriously good chocolate

After Anna and I said our goodbyes, I stopped at Bojangles to pick up dinner. For those of you who don’t live near a Bojangles, I don’t expect you to understand. But, oh, how I miss the chicken, the buttermilk biscuits, the spicy fries, the Bo Rounds. Oh, the Bo Rounds. (Those are hash brown rounds, in case you were wondering). They are irreplaceable.

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I imagine there could be some weight gain on my upcoming trip. I’ll just have to run extra fast or extra long to counter the biscuits and Bo Rounds.

I hadn’t looked at these pictures since uploading them in December, and seeing them again as I prepared this post struck me with a wave of homesickness I had not anticipated, a feeling more intense than I’ve had at any other point in these past months. Perhaps, it’s a darkest-before-dawn feeling?

Settling into a new life here with new routines and new friends and new writing spaces has kept me busy and distracted—in a good way. But, oh, how I’m ready to see home again.

If you could play tourist in your own hometown, where would you go? What would you do? What pictures would you take to remind you of places and things you love?

Seeking the right church fit

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of moving has been the search for a new church to call home. After visiting several churches, my husband and I recently went to a service that felt more right, not a perfect fit, just a better fit than the ones we’ve visited already.

It wasn’t because of the Christian pop rock concert that blared on stage as we took our seats. I’ve been to my share of loud concerts (probably more than my share, as my brother played in a rock band when I was in high school, and I went to as many of his shows as I could, and I still love to go hear live music). But this was too loud for my increasingly tender ears, a sad reminder I’m not as young as I used to be. The band tucked in a traditional hymn, though, and my spirit lifted a nudge.

The preacher was warm and inviting, delivering a strong sermon with a deprecating sense of humor. We took communion, the first communion my husband and I have had since arriving here in December. Too long to fast from such an important sacrament.

We decided we’d go back again.

My husband was away this past weekend, but we talked shortly before the service time, and he encouraged me to go, even though I’d be going by myself. I went but arrived late, not a surprise for those of you who know me. But this lateness was intentional—I was hoping to miss some of the loud music at the beginning.

Shortly after I arrived, a young guy with an old beard stood up and welcomed us, offered up a prayer, ushered us in to a time of worship. And then it happened. He picked up a banjo and sat down with the rest of the band.

A banjo. The part of my heart that so loves bluegrass sat up and payed attention, hopeful about what was to come. Romans 5:5 promises, “and hope does not disappoint.” The band launched into one of my favorite bluegrass gospel songs, I’ll Fly Away. I sang as loud as anyone around me, maybe louder.

The sermon, part of an ongoing series about the names of God, focused on the story of Abraham, Isaac and the provision of a ram in the bushes following God’s test of Abraham’s faith. In that story, Abraham named God as Jehovah-Jireh, the God Who Provides.

God provided me with what I needed to feel more at home at this church, beginning with a few chords from a banjo and a familiar, well-loved song.

God showed off a little more, then. The old-beard young guy invited us to take a gift at the end of the service, to remind us that we are meant to find ways to be a blessing to others. The gift? Balm (and an arrow loosed toward the heart) for this gardening girl:

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Did the church know how much this tiny clay pot with seeds and soil would mean to me?

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I’m excited to see what these seeds become, but the gift has already been a blessing.

Are you struggling to find a church where you feel you belong? Let me encourage you to keep trying. You may have to try many different churches, and you may have to try a lot of services at the same church before you find a home.

If you want to understand better the “why” of belonging as much as the “how” of belonging to a church community, I encourage you to read Lessons in Belonging by Erin Lane. I read this right after moving, and it helped remind me that I was going to have to do more than just sit in strange pew after strange pew but that the journey was so worth the effort.

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She approaches the whole topic of belonging to church in an honest, funny, sometimes breathtaking way. She quotes Emily Dickinson in the book, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.” I could have highlighted truths told slant on every page of her book. Read it, and you may just find it’s the kick in the pants you need to start visiting churches. And who knows what ways Jehovah-Jireh will show up and show off by providing precisely what you need to get your heart to open up to the new possibilities of church?

A favorite Irish blessing

Just a quick post to say happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends! I wanted to share my favorite Irish blessing with you today:

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For many years, the choir at my church in Raleigh sang this blessing at the end of each service, and I can’t read the blessing without hearing their beautiful voices in my mind.

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May the Lord hold you in the palm of his hand.

See you back here tomorrow with a new post.

On poetry and place, and an Irish blessing for writers

My thoughts have been on Ireland of late, probably because St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching. I missed last year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in Raleigh, one of the largest parades the city hosts each year. After the parade, an all-day street festival breaks out, and I’m always torn between hanging out at the festival or going home to watch the ACC tournament. It’s an easier decision if my team is already out of the tournament.

This year, I’ll miss the parade, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to find tournament coverage out here. If it weren’t for Duke (Coach K’s wins) and Syracuse (sanctions), I’m not sure the ACC would have made it into the papers here at all this season. But I digress.

Along with a daily devotion, I’ve also been spending time in the mornings reading through The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, a tome I brought home from Ireland several years ago. I could have easily bought it at home, but I wanted it to come with me from Yeats’ own country.

County Sligo—the setting of many of Yeats’ poems and the place where Yeats spent much of his youth—has embraced Yeats as its greatest poet, and you’ll find a Yeats literary trail throughout the county. County Sligo is one of my favorite places on this earth, mostly for its rugged beauty and friendly people, and seeing a place so embrace its native poet only endeared it to me even more.

I read a poem of his yesterday that instantly transported me to a churchyard in Drumcliffe in County Sligo.

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This sculpture beautifully interprets Yeats’ poem He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The final line resonates with me. Artists share our dreams with the world in many forms, and we hope the world will embrace what we offer.

Several friends of mine have released new books this year, and one of the most prominent (if superficial) ways the world treads on these books is by inviting reviews on websites such as Amazon and Goodreads. Some reviewers tread softly, offering warm words and a four- or five-star review. Others stomp and crush with cruel reviews. If I were to offer an Irish blessing to my writing friends this year, it would look something like this:

May your light always burn bright.
May your pen’s ink freely flow.
May Amazon’s reviews bring only delight,
And silence the one-star review.

How about you? What dreams of yours do you hope the world will treat with kindness? What Irish blessings would you like to share with your friends to uplift them?

Will you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by going to a parade or seeing Irish dancers or listening to some fiddle tunes? Maybe you’ll read a Yeats poem or two? If you do, I hope you’ll let me know your favorite lines. However you choose to celebrate, have a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Stacking the river rocks

Yesterday was a beautiful morning, cool and quiet with the sun streaming down. I walked down to the river, part of my usual morning routine now, and began looking for cairns. For a few weeks now, I have noticed little stacks of stone popping up along various trails. A particular collection of cairns captured my interest the day before.

I brought my phone with me, not wanting the weight and bulk of my better camera, but when I got to the place where the cairns had been, a pile of scattered rocks greeted me. I decided to search for others. Even if I found none, the morning’s walk would be worthwhile simply because of the beauty of the day.

I didn’t have to walk far, though, before I came across something more sculpture than cairn.

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I was delighted to find this sculpture on a side trail I seldom take.

I’m glad I took a picture of it yesterday. This morning, it was already a mere heap.

I’m curious about who builds the cairns and sculptures. And I’m equally curious about who knocks them down. Is it the same person? Are several people playing a game of hide and seek with one another, one person building up a cairn and another saying, “I found you” by tearing it back down? Or maybe the cycle of creation and destruction is more random?

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Two small cairns are all that remain from a group of five or six I noticed last week.

The area around the river was mined for gold through the 1950s, and huge rock piles called tailings serve as a reminder of those days. There is a project underway to build up gravel beds in the river for spawning salmon and other fish, but I can’t see how all that extra rock could possibly fit into the river. The remaining rocks give cairn makers and sculpture artists endless ways to play and meditate and shape their surroundings.

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Mining near the river has displaced ample rock to inspire cairn builders and rock sculptors.

While I was out running this morning, I took another trail I’d never noticed and found what appears to be the primary gravel excavation area for moving rock into the river. At the base of the deep pit sat cairns and the obligatory rocks in the shape of an arrow-struck heart with someone’s initials in it.

I smiled and kept on running, leaving the heart and the cairns to stay until someone else comes along to reshape them.

Why do we stack rocks? Why do we build cairns? Early stories in the Old Testament speak of altars, monuments and rock piles as way-finding markers. I especially love the story in Joshua of the men building a stone memorial on the banks of the Jordan to help generations of Israelites remember the crossing there:

Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. Let this be a sign among you so that when your children ask later, saying ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”

Thus the sons of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan … and they are there to this day.

– Joshua 4:5-8, 9

This story reminds me of sitting with a beloved former minister of my church, as we talked about my book and his upcoming sermon. I can hear his booming voice and see the twinkle in his eye as he talks about the children asking, “Grandaddy, Grandaddy, what do these stones mean to you?”

The stones and cairns I pass by each morning may not have much meaning to me,  because they have not had time to become part of my history. But they still manage to conjure up stories and memories from home.

Planting roots in the rocky soil
Speaking of rocks, I dug into the earth this past weekend, a first planting in our new garden: a Jerusalem Sage. I was delighted to find this drought-tolerant gem of a plant at a nearby nursery—a place where I could spend way too much time and money.

The soil was full of little rocks as I dug. I was glad I hadn’t bothered bringing any of the rocky soil amendment so important to the clay soil of my North Carolina home. It is unnecessary here.

I promise an update when the blooms open.