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.

The unreality of watching an ultra

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.

—Ecclesiastes 4:9–10

Three weekends ago, my husband and I were back in North Carolina as volunteers for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. The phrase “It takes a village” comes to mind when I think of this race, and though I’m not sure, I suspect there are at least as many, if not more, volunteers as runners who come out for this race. One of my “jobs” for the race was to take photographs of the runners, something I enjoy very much—much more than I would actually running 100 miles.

It was a hard day to sit, though, or even stand in one place to take pictures. It was bitterly cold, even after the sun came out. We knew it would be cold and brought winter gear that had gone unused here in California; so I triple-layered my clothes that morning and slid into a sleeping bag before sitting down. The cold seeped in, despite my efforts to fight it. I suppose I could blame California for already wiping out my cold tolerance, but I suspect I would have been cold anyway. I fretted for the runners’ struggle during the run, sweating and warm from running but then getting chilled from the unwelcome wind.

I cheered as they rounded the corner toward me, mostly to lift their spirits but also to draw out smiles when I could. Many of them smiled and cheered right back, grateful for someone sitting out there to capture their big day. A few were concerned about my warmth and safety, but I assured them I would be okay.

One said to me as he passed by a second or third time (it’s a 12.5 mile loop course the runners run eight times), “Oh, good. They’ve gotten you a blanket.” I guess he was just noticing the sleeping bag. I wondered who “they” were and whether “they” would bring me something hot to drink. He seemed genuinely relieved to see that I might not freeze to death with the camera in my hand.

Not everyone smiled, some too caught up in the act of running or the desire to compete well, but I began to pick out favorites whose own enthusiasm and energy kept me going throughout the day.

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The woman in the cat hat has gold wings on her feet! When the race is long, wearing something fun and running together can make the miles pass more easily.

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Bundled up but smiling

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Zen running?

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The happiest set

When this trio rounded the corner, the man in orange gloves called out to me and said, “On the count of three, we’re all going to jump. Are you ready?” He did a slow count to make sure I was ready, and I snapped this shot. Then he ran around behind me and had me check to make sure I had captured the moment. I laughed when the woman told them, “I didn’t jump.” They were less energetic the next time through but still had their senses of humor intact.

A dear friend of mine came and rescued me at lunchtime. We headed off to Panera for soup and hot tea. That’s when it hit me, the feeling I get anytime I leave an ultra and head back into the “real” world temporarily. I begin to wonder at the number of people out doing their typical Saturday afternoon thing while something amazing is happening not far from them. You’re missing the amazing thing! I want to tell them all. There are runners out in the woods accomplishing this awe-inspiring run, and you’re missing it! Why are any of you here at Panera when this unreal thing is happening in the woods just minutes away?

I don’t even really know how to explain this feeling I get, but it happens every single time my husband runs an ultra that I go watch or every ultra where we volunteer. The fact that Panera or the shopping centers are even open, much less full, messes with my equilibrium somehow.

When I got back and resumed taking pictures, the realness of the runners’ efforts settled back in. I know Panera and the park and the lives in both places are equally real, but what was happening on the trail that day felt simultaneously surreal, unreal and realer than any other thing going on that day.

It’s as though my mind whirs at a different speed during an ultra, my hyper-focused self shuts out the rest of the world to bask in the race and to cheer on the runners.

The emotions can get pretty real and raw out here at the race, too. One woman said, “I don’t think I’ll be able to smile the next time around.” I told her she wouldn’t have to for me, because I was getting ready to leave.

These two runners stopped to embrace several times before the aid station. Only they know what running together had meant to the two of them and what the thought of running separately after this point might mean.

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For some, there would be tears and disappointments, injuries too painful to ignore, motivations blown away in the bitter wind.

But for plenty of runners, there would still be moments of levity, laughter and joy.

In the last couple of hours before sunset, I began seeing runners come through with their pacers (something they can do after 6 p.m. or after they hit the 50-mile mark, whichever comes first). A pacer can make all the difference between a runner finishing or dropping out because the pacer brings fresh legs, a clear mind, energy, and conversation to accompany and encourage the runner.

The photo below speaks to the invaluable presence of a pacer (and also reminded me of Ecclesiastes 4:9): Two are better than one. And sometimes, a third person with a camera helps, too.

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Boston strong

I’m fighting a really nasty cold—the kind that keeps you up most of the night and turns one whole side of your body into a big painful knot after coughing yourself awake too many times to count. I want to take a sick day here at The Flourishing Tree, but I also didn’t want the news of the day to go by without comment.

So if you want some words today about what a guilty verdict on all 30 counts means to this runner girl, take a look back at the words I wrote the day after the bombings two years ago. Or revisit my prayer for Boston 2014, which I’ll pray all over again in less than two weeks—because some wounds take longer to heal, and some prayers need praying again.

My Twitter feed is full of Boston and #BostonStrong today, and my favorite set of tweets comes from @OnlyInBOS (thanks to my sweet husband for bringing these to my attention):

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“Evil may disrupt the race but can never win it.”

@OnlyinBOS goes on to ask for help focusing on those murdered instead of the man declared guilty today, to get the names of the dead to trend worldwide on Twitter. I’ll do my part in remembrance of them today so that we can all lift up the family and friends who still mourn the senseless loss of these four young lives:

Martin Richard

Krystle Campbell

Lu Lingzi

Sean Collier

And once I’m feeling stronger myself, I’ll be back with a story of some awe-inspiring runners. We runners are a resilient bunch. We may not all be fast enough to qualify to run Boston, but our hearts beat #BostonStrong.

Easter gardens

Easter has long been one of my favorite holidays. The weekend leading to Easter was always a whirlwind of fun when I was growing up. My aunt, uncle and cousins drove down from Maryland, and we spent Saturday afternoon painting Easter eggs. I can still smell the boiled eggs and feel my burning fingertips as I raced to dapple on the egg dye before the egg cooled too much to hold the paint.

Sunday promised homemade bread for breakfast; a spectacular, joyful service; and a race home, where the aroma of lamb and herbs roasting in the oven greeted us before we even got inside. Dad hid Easter eggs, and after the egg hunt, my mom and aunt hid Easter baskets.

Eggs and garden flowers are inextricably linked in my memory, especially the pink azaleas that often bloomed right in time to conceal an equally pink egg. I was a terrible egg and basket hunter, while my brother was always the champion, but I always knew to check the pink azaleas for the pink egg. Somehow, Easter doesn’t feel quite the same without a hunt of some sort.

The joys of Easter Sunday always wiped away the somber Maundy Thursday service with its black draped cross, the haunting solo of Where you there when they crucified my Lord?, and the darkened sanctuary.

At this point in Holy Week, we have the somber moments yet to remember and ponder before we celebrate the joyous Easter. And as I look around at my own garden blooming, I am reminded of the two Easter gardens: one of darkness and betrayal, the other of light and joy.

Tomorrow will mark the point in Holy Week when we revisit the darker garden, the garden full of grief and trembling and betrayal, the Garden of Gethsemane.

When Jesus spoke had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples.
– John 18:1

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.
– Matthew 26:36

To read the full events of that night in the garden, read Matthew 26:36–56. The upshot is this: Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake while he went a little ways off to pray. He begged God to change what was about to happen, but Jesus also submitted to God’s will. He scolded the disciples for falling asleep in the face of his distress. He prayed again; they slept again. Judas and the soldiers arrived to arrest Jesus, and the disciples fled.

The second garden is joy-filled. It’s the garden where an empty tomb awaited visitors Sunday morning:

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.

And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

When she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
– John 20:11–16

I love John’s account of Mary mistaking for Jesus for the gardener. Her eyes and brain and heart weren’t ready yet to see the risen Jesus standing in front of her, alive, in the garden. Are your eyes and brain and heart ready?

I’ll leave you today with a tour of my Easter garden. Most of these flowers I can identify, but I need your help with one of them. I hope you enjoy them. May these blooms remind you of the joy of Easter.

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A few blooms still remain on the tulip magnolia, but some days, it looks as though the tree sneezed and shed many of its blossoms.

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I was delighted to see that some gardener before me had planted pink azaleas here. Yay!

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An iris blooms amid a mass of leaves. The clump of bushes is taller than other irises I’ve seen, and so I was surprised to discover this bloom. I’m enjoying the almost daily surprises in my new Easter garden.

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The Jerusalem Sage I planted recently is now blooming. You can see the second whorl starting to bloom, too.

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We still have a few oranges left to eat, but the trees are already beginning to flower.

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Any idea what these are? I’m enjoying their red/yellow and pink/white color combinations.

Happy Easter, my friends! I’d love to know what’s abloom in your Easter garden and how you celebrate the joyous day.

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?