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.

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.

Little Free Libraries and building community

When my husband and I came to California to house hunt, we had two days to look at 16 houses. One of the moments that stands out in my mind is passing by a Little Free Library on a street near one of the houses for sale. I got really excited, and I’m pretty sure my enthusiasm surprised both my husband and our agent. Any neighborhood that had a Little Free Library was more than all right with me.

Not familiar with the Little Free Library movement? Its basic premise is to share books within a community. People build a box to hold books, put it in their yard, and then their neighbors start sharing books. I love this!

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Exchanging books: The point of a Little Free Library

On Friday my husband reminded me of that Little Free Library by sending me an article about some small-minded folks who are hassling the owner of a Little Free Library. I read the article and immediately wanted to start building a Little Free Library of my own to stake in the front yard. Of course, I’d have to check with the homeowners’ association first (I recognize the irony). And, more to the point, I have no wood-working skills. So there went that idea.

My temper cooled when I skimmed the article’s comments, something I don’t normally do because, well … trolls. As I scrolled down, I saw a long comment from the director of marketing for Little Free Libraries. She asserted that most of these little neighborhood gems are not in trouble and pointed out the complexities of the specific (unofficial) library in question.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention in our own communities about how Little Free Libraries flourish, or stir up trouble, or bring neighbors together or bring out the trolls. We should know, and we should celebrate Little Free Libraries’ successes. If you read the first paragraph or two of the CityLab article, you’ll see why Little Free Libraries deserve positive attention and why they deserve our protection. They play a small part in creating community.

Little Free Libraries play a small part in creating community.

So to celebrate Little Free Libraries and get to know my way around my new community a little better, I drove around in search of Little Free Libraries near me. There’s a handy map of them all over the world, and I used the map and its more complete appendix to plan the places I would visit. The tour gave me a fun reason to learn my way around roads I might not otherwise ever see.

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Someone took a lot of care on the shingles for this cute Little Free Library

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A wide collection of reading material, but I was sad there weren’t any children’s books here.

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A happy yellow Little Free Library, this one with an asphalt shingled roof

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Yay for children’s books (especially Star Wars) and for adult lit books such as Toni Morrison’s Paradise, one of my favorite reads from last year

My favorite Little Free Library of the trip was this one for its whimsical decorations:

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Someone(s) must have had a lot of fun decorating this one.

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Not just books for adults and kids, but crayons and toys, too, along with a log book and a note pleading for the return of log book #1. Not cool, log book thief, not cool.

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I love that the octopus is reading two books at a time, both “classics.”

I encourage you to look at the map for Little Free Libraries to find some near you. Don’t have one? Consider building your own. What books would you most like to share in a Little Free Library?

Speaking of free books, Saturday is the last day to enter for your chance to win a free copy of The Flourishing Tree on Goodreads. I also need to figure out what to do with some copies of the book that arrived damaged—maybe add them to Little Free Libraries? What do you think?