Day 25: Surprise, surprise.
(Surprise, surprise, surprise!)

I’ll be the first to admit it’s a little obsessive, my love for the birds that share our little corner of the world. I spend an inordinate amount of time standing at the big kitchen window watching them come and go. I find them remarkably beautiful, those creatures, their activity fascinating. The other day, for instance, I happened to be standing there when one of our two Kingfishers dropped straight down from the sky to catch a fish in Bickley’s Pond. And those Goldfinches! The pack has grown to 10 or 12 birds that arrive around 9 am and fuss and holler over the prime spots on the bird feeder like it’s a kindergarten playground. And heaven help me when I see a winged creature unfamiliar to me. I run for the zoom lens faster than…well, let’s just say the sighting of a new bird is quite an event in our household.

And so you can understand the magnitude of a realization I made just last month when talking with my friend, Katy. It seems she and her sweet girls, Eva and Helen, have been feeding mealworms to the bluebirds to encourage them to nest in their yard.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a successful nest, much less a bluebird nest I said to Katy that morning, a little astounded at this new realization. There was that dove’s nest on our front porch two Springs ago. We kept our eyes on those parents, who attended to those eggs faithfully. But we left for vacation and when we got home, there were no babies. In fact, there was no nest at all.

I thought about that nest all day long. Then on my drive home, I stopped and bought my very first birdhouse.


We decided the birdhouse was meant to hang in a tree, based on its design. But try as we might, we simply couldn’t find a secure enough spot in our yard to attract any type of bird for long. We finally came to the conclusion that what I had bought was a decoration rather than a functional birdhouse. And so (rather sadly) I removed it from the tree and placed it on a porch table just outside my studio’s big window.


There it sat looking pretty for about three days. And then I noticed this.


A great deal of fretting commenced as I moved about in my studio, unusual bird fretting that piqued my interest. And so I went out for a closer look. That’s when I discovered this.


Right there in my decorative bird house, a nest and five—count ’em, five—blue eggs.

Every dream I have came true in that moment. A bluebird nest, with eggs, right there at my studio window. Just where I can watch every move.


I made a promise to that Mama right then and there that I’d help her keep an eye on those eggs, do my best to keep the snakes and sparrows and wrens and squirrels away. I feel it’s rather vulnerable in that spot, that nest, and I feel responsible. And yet I don’t dare move it.

And so we will wait. And watch. And we will hope against hope that in no time at all there will be five more little bluebirds making their home right here on Bickley’s Pond.

30 Days of Grace III

Day 17: the fathomless mystery of life

IMG_2550 - Version 3

This magnificent quote from Frederick Buechner (How have I not known about him?) came to me today via Arianna Huffington’s new book, Thrive, the Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom and Wonder.

Buechner says:

If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this:

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.


–Frederick Buechner


30 Days of Grace III

Day 16: Dusk. Rain. Eagle!

You probably know the sight of either of the Eagles is cause for great celebration in our house, now that the pair has made a regular home back in the woods, out of our view. For so long their nest was right here, across the tiny cove from our back yard, where I could watch (and document) every move. We raised five eaglets in that nest, those Eagles and I.

Late yesterday I stepped to the sink to wash up some dishes, there in front of the big kitchen window. Looking through the rainy dusk I spotted this.


(Not great photos due to the darkness, rain and distance–but you get the idea.)

It was thrilling to see that big bird there, for obvious reasons. But even more fun is the fact we’ve never seen either of the Eagles perched there, on the tip-top of the tallest tree on Bickley’s Pond.

What a grand view of the world I thought. How glorious it must be to see things from that height, to have that broad perspective.


It was a beautiful reminder of advice I received years ago that has served me well in this life:

When you are wrestling with a problem you can’t seem to solve, pull out, broaden your perspective. Then broaden again. And again, if need be. The answer is there for you—you just can’t see it when you are down in the weeds.

I hadn’t thought about that counsel in a long time, but I get the feeling it has come to me now for a very good reason.


30 Days of Grace III

Day 14: Going Home Again

She’s tracing her roots is how my husband describes it when he tells people about the trip we took last weekend, back to my beloved Southwest Virginia. And while I wasn’t thinking of it that way, exactly, I suppose it is a rather accurate description.


It was a journey long-planned, you see, one with a specific purpose. I want to stomp around in the mountains I told them to see all the places I never appreciated when growing up there. It was all too ordinary back then, this living amidst the rugged Appalachians, a mere backdrop for after-school band practice and Friday night football games. And my brother and sister-in-law thankfully said yes when I asked them to serve as our guides, Randy and Lisa Rigg, two people who know this territory well.

We’ll stay at Natural Tunnel bubbled Lisa. And we’ll start Saturday Night at the Carter Fold, in Hiltons.

My heart skipped a beat, I must tell you. I knew we were in very good hands.


Stomp, we did, for the next 36 hours. I spent much of the time in a blissful state of awe—to say those mountains wrapped and rocked me like a baby is the understatement of the 520 posts on this blog. We mapped and drove and hiked and wandered; we traced family lines and hunted down homesteads; we followed railroad tracks and trailed along great rivers and crossed tiny streams, all in search of … what? Realization? Affirmation? That the Earth is mighty. That we are all connected to it—to its mountains and valleys and rivers and plains, connected in significant and inextricable ways—just as we are connected to each other, now, and for generations spreading in every direction.

That it has been this way since the beginning of time.

It was a gigantic blessing, this knowing, a sweeping grace that settled over me then and sits with me still as I write this from my current home in the flat midlands of South Carolina. Here, now, miles and decades and generations away.

We are connected, I know, to the Earth, to each other. And I am a part of it all, a link in the great chain.

US 23 historic markers
US 23 historic markers
sitting in Johnny Cash's rocker
Mighty pleased to be at the Carter Fold, just chilling in Johnny Cash’s rocker


Anderson Blockhouse view
Anderson Blockhouse view
Carter Cabin, built in 1784
Carter Cabin, built in 1784
window to the past
Stock Creek
Stock Creek


on the road to Fort Blackmore
the road to Fort Blackmore
Carter Cemetery
Carter Cemetery in Hunters Valley
Randy, Lisa, Tim and me: a cold morning at Natural Tunnel
on our expedition: Randy, Lisa, Tim and me



30 Days of Grace III

Day 12: Cold and Rainy

ghost tree
cold and rainy St. Augustine, March 2014

We took a walk, my Eliza and I, on this cold, rainy Spring Break day in Florida. We’d made the trek South together to give her a little prime beach time with her cousin, Claire, while I visit with my sweet Daddy. But alas, the weather has simply not cooperated. In fact, Three Days of Rain = Total Spring Break Washout for the girls.

That’s a tough break for these college juniors—girls who run toward the sun the moment Spring arrives.

But for me? Eliza + Claire + housebound = Spring Break BINGO.


30 Days of Grace III

Day 11: Shouts and Whispers


I was listening to the radio on the long drive to Florida, a marathon of goodness via Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday series. There was so much to love in every single conversation. But then Iyanla said this, and it cut right through and took up residence in that I Know It’s True place in my heart.

God whispers to us in our pleasure,

speaks in our conscience,

but shouts in our pain. 

Of course, C.S. Lewis, you are right. When I don’t hear the whispers, the voice gets louder and louder until—well, as you say, it becomes impossible to ignore. I am grateful for this powerful reminder why.


30 Days of Grace III

Day 9: Shoe Therapy

I was having a retail moment—in passing through TJ Maxx on the way to something I actually need, I spotted an incredible pair of shoes that I stopped to try on—when I overheard a conversation that caught my attention. It was an exchange between two ladies who obviously hadn’t seen each other in a while. I couldn’t see either of them, separated as we were by a tall rack of shoes.

Hey girl said the first voice.

Hey there said the second, with an inflection that let you know this was a pleasant surprise. Good to see you. You doin’ alright?

Oh, said the first (and here there was a definite pause).

I guess I got no complaints. (another pause) I don’t reckon it would do any good anyway. Ain’t nobody wantin’ to listen to a bunch of complaining.

You’re right about that, said two. And they both laughed.

I laughed, too.


How true, I thought. Ain’t nobody wantin’ to listen to a bunch of complaining. And yet that’s just where we tend to go when talking about our lives, isn’t it?  Even in brief exchanges or surface conversations, what we feel most compelled to share is the bad, the ugly, the difficult.

Why do we do that? Why, when we all already know:

Life is hard.
Each of us carries a heavy burden.
No one of us is immune.

And yet when we connect to one another, we tend to weigh down rather than lift up. How significant would it be if that moment—How you doin’?—opened the door to a little sliver of light and grace?

Is that even possible?

(A little soul searching is in order for this rather guilty party.)

I’d love to know what you think.

30 Days of Grace III

my favorite reminder