One swan a swimming and other cherished sights

I’ve had the Twelve Days of Christmas going through my head this past week. Well, truth be told, it’s Jimmy Buffett’s new version (where “a purple parrot in a palm tree” replaces the partridge).

I love Christmas music—both holy and secular. It fills me with joy, delight, peace, faith, or even a longing for home and family and slowing down to enjoy cherished moments. This year’s Christmas for my husband and me will be here in California, and that means no trip to North Carolina. But we recently snuck in one last trip of the year to the western part of North Carolina, and today’s photos come from a most cherished place.

This swan is one of two that has taken up residence in a lake I love to visit. I’m not sure where its mate is, but seeing it reminded me of the seven swans a swimming.

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A watchful swan at dusk

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Tree signs: Love never fails

Welcome to week three in the tree sign series. If you missed the first two, don’t worry. You may read them in any order.

This week’s sign comes straight from the Bible—minus the exclamation points:

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Love never fails. –1 Corinthians 13:8a

You may be familiar with the Bible’s “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. It’s hard to go to a wedding without hearing verses from it. For our wedding, my husband and I wanted to avoid the cliché: “Love is patient, love is kind …”

We intentionally chose different verses for friends to read at our wedding, but we forgot to tell our minister why we were leaving out 1 Corinthians 13. Darn if he didn’t mention it in his wedding sermon. Oh, well.

Don’t get me wrong. These are powerful words, and we should read them with more care than we do. They’re just not my favorite ones in the Bible. I don’t know if I shy away from the passage because of its trite readings at weddings. Or maybe it was the teasings I took anytime a teacher covered it in my childhood Sunday School classes (hope‘s two appearances in this passage never failed to reduce the boys in the class to snickers and stares).

Whatever the reason for my wanting to avoid 1 Corinthians 13, this week’s tree sign sent me digging deeper, all the way back into the Old Testament.

Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt
in the silence of death.
When I said “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
— Psalm 94:16-19 (NIV)

“My foot is slipping.”
Earlier today, I read a heartbreaking story from my hometown of a homeless, eight-year-old boy. He was hiding in a recycling bin to escape his abusive step-father, and when a stranger found him, his plea for help must have sounded a lot like, “My foot is slipping.”

God’s unfailing love protected that little boy, and now he and his infant brother are living with an aunt. She is rising up for him. The community is pouring out its own love, and there are ways we can all help them (see the end of the article).

A friend of the aunt said it best, “The fact that he survived, the fact that he is where he is and is able to articulate his story, and be brave—that speaks a lot about him and the plan that God has for his life.” Not just God’s plan, but also God’s unfailing love.

How many ways can we cry out to God, “My foot is slipping”? And how many more ways can God show unfailing love?

Sometimes it’s easier to see the ways humans fail one another than to see the ways we love and support one another. It’s even easier to become blind to God’s unending, unstoppable love for us.

That’s why this tree sign is so special. Love never fails!!! Yes, with the emphasis of three exclamation points. Love never fails!!!


Have you ever felt God’s support in response to your cry, “My foot is slipping.”? Do you have a story of unfailing love you’d like to share below? I would love to hear your stories of how “love never fails!!!” is true for you.

Snapshots from home

Plenty of folks may say you can’t go home again, and I understand what they mean. But I went home to North Carolina for a bit of rest a few weeks ago anyway. Here are some snapshots and brief thoughts of my visit home.

It’s hard to balance the need to rest with the desire to catch up with dear friends and family, and so I ended up not doing as much of either as I had hoped. I am slowly realizing that it may always be this way on the visits home, the pull of the heart to spend time with those I love and the pull of the body to rest and soak up the nature of this beautiful place.

The cows came up to the near pasture on my hike through this most favorite of places:

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I always love this view but especially when the field is full of cows.

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Fields of gold

I almost missed my chance at taking this hike, so busy hiking and running and walking in other loved places, but if I hadn’t gone, I would have missed the lilies blooming: Continue reading

Ready for Halloween?

Whoooo's ready for Halloween?

Whoooo’s ready for Halloween? This wise pumpkin concoction was part of the scarecrow exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. (That’s a doll climbing the tree, not a real person.)

My husband has accused me of being a Halloween scrooge, but I think it’s only because we have an overwhelming number of children in our neighborhood, and not all of them are polite about the Halloween candy we give out. Some grab as much candy as they can from our bowls, some of the older ones show up in no costume and still expect candy, and others show up before the sun has even thought about setting. Isn’t there some rule against trick-or-treating before dark?

So yes, I can get a bit grumpy this time of year. But I also love seeing the costumes and the gleeful looks on the kids’ faces as they come up to our porch. I especially look forward to seeing the children I know best and see day-to-day, because they’re usually so sweet and a little shy in their costumes. It’s nice to see the parents out strolling around with their children, and Halloween gives my husband and me a chance to at least wave to neighbors we don’t see all that often or know all that well. Plus, Halloween is one of those occasions when Facebook is more fun than usual for me, because I get to see costumes of far-flung friends and their children.

I was talking with a friend earlier today about Halloween. She’s a mom of four, and when they all lived at home, the family would decide on a theme each year and figure out how each one would dress to match the theme. They enjoy witches’ brew each Halloween (aka beef stew), and that’s a tradition that hasn’t gone away even though they’re mostly too old for trick-or-treating. She made Halloween creative and fun for the whole family, and even though they’re growing up, they still think of Halloween as time for family fun.

I loved Halloween when I was little. One neighbor rigged up lights and noises to pretend there was a scary troll living under the bridge to his house. Our immediate neighbors made homemade goodies and pretended that they didn’t recognize me, though I was the only red-headed kid anywhere nearby. Another invited the neighborhood kids over for apple bobbing and other Halloween fun. There was usually a carnival at school with a costume contest. My dad would carve a jack-o-lantern for us. My very creative mom made costumes for my brother and me.

I remember the best one she ever made. I had fallen in love with Greek Mythology and wanted to dress up as Athena. I wore draped white and purple cloth for my robe, and I’m sure I had a spear of some sort. But the pièce de résistance was the helmet my mom made for me. She made the most magnificent Greek war helmet out of cardboard and aluminum foil, and used red, shiny wrapping paper over foam rubber for the crest. It was the one year I won a costume prize at the school carnival. Continue reading

Lessons from my first Bar Mitzvah

My husband and I attended our first Bar Mitzvah this weekend, for the son of dear friends. This was only my second time stepping foot in a temple, and I was nervous about feeling out of place or not understanding what was happening. I left the temple with a much greater appreciation for and understanding of the beautiful tradition of Bar Mitzvah. And I found myself wishing that Christian churches had a similar ceremony to accompany confirmation or other membership rites.

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A detail of “Israel and the Law,” a study John Singer Sargent created for a mural in the Boston Public Library. In this image, Jehovah is instructing the boy Israel in reading the Torah.

The first time I was in a temple, I was probably in eighth or ninth grade. My church youth group took a field trip to visit a nearby temple, and the place seemed dark and foreboding to me. I don’t remember much from that trip, although I was pleased – and a bit surprised – to be allowed in. Maybe this is how non-Christians feel when they enter a Christian church?

The temple where the Bar Mitzvah was held this past weekend was bright and lovely and filled with gentle sunlight filtering in from the hot day outside. As we entered to take our seats, I noticed a mezuzah attached to one of the doors. Because I knew exactly what this was and exactly what it was for, I took a deep breath of relief: something I recognized. Something that made me feel less out of place.

The cantor for the ceremony (akin to a liturgist in the Christian church) made us feel welcome, too, inviting us to sing a wordless song along with her. Her beautiful voice and encouraging demeanor made it impossible not to try, and she ushered us into the start of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

One of my favorite parts happened next, when the rabbi welcomed us to the temple and said it was a time to celebrate and worship without cell phones and all the distracting techonologies that vie for attention in the outside world. I thought it was a lovely way to remind people, “Turn off your cell phones!” But he really meant it. Later on, he kindly asked that those who were taking photographs stop and put down the cameras and the phones. He truly wanted us to savor this ceremony in its moment.  Continue reading