Life in Six Snapshots…

IMG_9690This morning I’m simply sharing six snapshots (say that six times, fast!) from the past few days.

# 1: First – right – is Rebekah preparing this morning’s message for Wake Forest Presbyterian Church. She works on her sermon all week long, off and on, but typically brings everything together Saturday. I love the atmosphere of our home when we’re both writing, both engaged with the scriptures, both bringing all our creativity, imagination, and passion to bear on the task of communicating the amazing Good News about Jesus.

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Rebekah with Donna Pace

# 2: Next, our friend (and WFPC member) Donna came by to take a look at our home. She and her late husband had lived here sometime back in the 1990’s. The brick house in the trees – deep in the cul-de-sac – became a significantly important home in their story, and she hadn’t seen the place since they moved out.

We had previously told her about some of the changes we’re making to the property, and she came to visit harboring some initial trepidation. But much to our relief she fell in love with everything we have done. Fact is, the idea – and the risk – of change always evokes hesitancy; but once progress, and imagination, and creativity, and the imperative of new life begin to set the tone, we invariably realize how beneficial – and necessary – reformation can be.

once progress, and imagination, and creativity, and the imperative of new life begin to set the tone, we invariably realize how beneficial – and necessary – reformation can be.

IMG_9681# 3: We have finally turned the corner towards early summer here in Wake Forest, and the sidewalks are getting crowded out by fresh growth. The walk into downtown is getting warmer, yes, but it’s getting more beautiful too. The colors are stunning, and all creation seems intent on blooming its heart out. Scout Labradoodle is slowing down, and she doesn’t like to walk so far now; but it’s more than worth a little sweat to see what’s blooming in everyone’s gardens.

# 4: Scoutie (below) spends most of her time now flat out on the floor – but near enough to the front windows to bark enthusiastically in the direction of anyone who ventures within range. The sun late afternoon sun slants in through and between the trees, and I love the way the light bathes our home.

Light and life are deep-rooted themes here in Maul Hall, and I believe that both are not only powerful metaphors for God, but also compelling evidences.

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late afternoon light

I understand God as actually inhabiting light, and as generating life to the extent that the Creator’s imaginative and sustaining impulse is present wherever, and whenever, there is even the smallest sign.

# 5 and # 6: I’ve pasted the other images for today in the slides below. Light bathes the living room, Maul-Hall at dusk, oak-leaf hydrangea making its move in the garden…

Life is full of stop-motion moments like this. We just need to slow down, and we need to pay attention, and we need to be grateful – DEREK

portraits around Mother’s Day

portraits around Mother’s Day

The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace. – Numbers 6:24-26

For our family, Mother’s Day turns out to be one more excuse to get together and celebrate life. Of course, it helps to have a handy assortment of mothers available, and I was pleased to be able to rustle up three generations for the perfunctory photo shoot. Then, adding our granddaughter Beks to the mix, that’s four generations of girls.

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Karen “PhD” Tharrington with Rebekah

At church, the day also turned the spotlight on those celebrating their graduation. One notable exception to the “I’m heading off to college” crowd was our friend Karen, who recently completed seven years of hard work to earn her PhD.

Everyone is excited when they get to graduate, but I believe Karen likely raised the bar to a new level! Rebekah and I stopped by her “PhDone” party Saturday evening, hoping for some of the brilliance and creativity to rub off on us. Listening to Rebekah’s sermon the next morning (see tomorrow’s post), I’m certain that a lot of it did!

It is, as I have written many times, a remarkable blessing to have my parents living so close. I don’t have to send flowers by FedEx, I can just walk next door. I don’t have to leave for the weekend to cook my mum a Mother’s Day dinner, we can just invite them over.

Additionally, Naomi and the children drove down from Richmond in time for church at Wake Forest Presbyterian, so our family dinner was the quality of busy, noisy, love-charged experience that nourishes both our bodies and our souls.

Often, I have to pinch myself to check that I am still living in reality! I’m so unbelievably blessed, and I don’t take this privilege lightly.

IMG_9652Life is not always easy – I understand that, nor is it always convenient, or pain-free, or necessarily fair; but there are moments – like this weekend on Mother’s Day – where the balance tips so markedly that it’s hard to remember how often there are times of struggle too.

It’s like one of our elders said Sunday, following such a great morning of love, encouragement, affirmation, and inspiration at WFPC – a celebration of abundant life that was spilling out into the community as everyone went their separate ways: “What a great morning! I think this is exactly what our founding fathers had in mind all those years ago. This is America at its best.”

To be sure, this is a Great Adventure; and it is so good, so very good, to reflect on how exceedingly wonderful life can be, and to be grateful.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

Enjoy these few Portraits around Mother’s Day:

Bible Lands in 12 photos – the short version of a long story

Friday evening Rebekah and I had a lot of fun with a segment of our wonderful church family. The “JOY” group (Just Older Youth) are a gathering of “seniors” who meet once a month for food, fellowship, and some kind of a program.

So, after an amazing covered dish buffet dinner, I presented a lecture/slide show from our trip to the Bible Lands. The challenge was to distill what had once been a five-night travelog and Bible study into a sixty-minute talk featuring just 220 photographs.

I pulled it off in an hour and fifteen minutes, mixing a constantly moving stream of photographs with stories, scriptures, and interesting facts. The presentation – according to all accounts – went well. And – surprising to me in a crowd of forty – only two other people had even been to Egypt or Israel.

Chatting afterwards, a couple of people asked a version of this interesting question. “So, if this was a stripped down version of a five-night lecture series, then what would you show us if you only had to tell the story with just two photographs from each segment of your trip? What would you choose?”

12-photo summary….

Rebekah Maul Mars Hill
Athens from the Acropolis

Hmmmm… that’s a tough one! Athens; Cairo; Sinai; Petra; Galilee; Jerusalem. Leaving out another dozen or so important points of interest, how would I select twelve images that collectively capture the flavor of our traveling experience?

So with it fresh on my mind I’m going to give it a try. First, some words, along with one photo for each place. Then I’ll include all 12 in the slides at the end:

ATHENS:

Our twelve hour layover in Athens was not wasted. Of course we headed to the Acropolis. And there I grabbed an image of Rebekah on the Acropolis, looking out over the teeming millions who live in the city today. Paul – standing on Mars Hill in that very place – introduced the Greek-thinking world to the idea that God existed beyond their limited understanding of the cosmos. It’s an idea that drives my creativity and my mission today. We think we know so much, and with such certainty, yet God constantly challenges the parameters of our understanding, always inviting us to know more, and to trust more, and to grow in our faith.

CAIRO:

DSC_0324Cairo, for me, was such a study in contrasts. On the one hand there is the touristy wonder of the Great Pyramids – travel glam in its highest expression. Then, the other side of the metropolis, is Garbage City, where a sub-class of Egyptians eke out a living – barely – literally from garbage hauled out there day after day after day.

Garbage City is where we met the children of Mother Maggie’s Mission. One child only per family, because resources are limited and the need so great. The hope is that the light, and the education, planted in that one child will seed hope and opportunity and promise to the others in each family.

So my images for Cairo must include both the glamor and the garbage; past glory and present reality; picture postcard moments and desperate poverty.

SINAI:

but totally safe....On to Sinai, probably my signature moment of the journey. Click here – Destination God – for details of my predawn pilgrimage to the summit.

The wilderness where Moses led the Children of Israel for such a long time is an unforgiving wasteland; it’s no wonder the Promised Land looked to be flowing with milk and honey! But it was there, in the day by day struggle, that God carved out the identity of his people.

I can’t help but be inspired anew every time I think about Sinai. I can’t remember my encounter with God on the top of the mountain without considering my responsibility to bring that light back into the valley. I can’t do anything other than thank God for my blessings when I consider the long story of God’s faithful love as told through the Biblical narrative.

PETRA:

DSC_0421_2Then, crossing over into Jordan, we experienced the overwhelm of Petra. The magnificent archeological site, strewn over several square miles of rugged terrain, remains one of the most remarkable places Rebekah and I have ever witnessed. A flourishing civilization inhabited the valley until it was finally abandoned after one more crushing earthquake in the Middle Ages.

Of all the places we were exposed to on this tour, Petra surprised me the most.

  • If you want to be amazed, then you absolutely have to visit Petra.
  • If you want to see everything, be prepared to walk miles and climb hundreds of feet.
  • If you want to wait for the Middle East to be safe… then you’ll never go!
  • If you want to limit your exposure to the world to a gentle stroll around Disney’s Epcot Center, then – well – I can’t adequately express my disappointment.

GALILEE:

DSC_1145All – absolutely ALL – of Israel is worthy of a million photographs. But this post is limited to Galilee and Jerusalem. Galilee is where Jesus spent the majority of his public ministry, all within the parameters of a day’s walk. That fact alone is worth mulling over. Jesus is the single most impactful teacher in the history of the world, and – other than his years as a refugee in Egypt as an infant – Jerusalem is likely the farthest he every traveled from home.

Galilee literally resonates with the echo of Christ’s life. His words, his love, his belief, his faithfulness, his mercy, his grace. All this seems to hang in the air and inhabit the hills, and the water of the lake, and the very stones we walked on. I chose the picture of me at the Sea of Galilee, thinking about the ripples of faith over time, and then the image of our group walking the road from Nazareth to Galilee, pilgrims ourselves on a path Jesus took many times.

JERUSALEM:

@[670927216:2048:Rebekah Maul] at Pool of Bethesda
Rebekah – Pool of Bethesda
Jerusalem – the place where Jesus shared some of his most powerful words and where he gave his life because of his complete love for each one of us – cannot be reduced to two images. But I guess I have to try. I have to begin with the view of the city from the Mount of Olives. It’s a bucket-list photograph, but it holds so much of the story.

Then I’m settling on the picture I took of Rebekah at the pool of Bethesda. The story – from John 4 – is one of her perennial “top-five” scriptures (there are, by the way, upwards of 50 references in Rebekah’s top five!). It’s the simple sentiment of the question Jesus asks; “Do you want to be healed?”

I think it’s probably the most important question Jesus is still asking – asking of his followers, asking of those on the periphery, and asking of those people who don’t believe they want anything to do with faith.

The question is still on the table: do you want that kind of healing?

– DEREK

Seeing Jesus in the Morning Fog

Seeing Jesus in the Morning Fog

Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all?” – Mark 8:17-18

This morning’s walk reminded me of some of the conversations I have had recently about clarity. There were three things Jesus said repeatedly, and in various ways, during his ministry, and they go like this:

  1. “Would you people open your eyes just a little bit for crying out loud!”
  2. “Hello? Is anybody home? Have the twelve of you forgotten to put your listening ears on this morning?”
  3. “Duh!”

IMG_9522Well I’m not absolutely sure about that last one, but I am one hundred percent certain Jesus would have inserted “duh” in many places had the word – or it’s Aramaic equivalent – been invented two thousand years ago.

I enjoy the way an early morning mist hangs onto the trees, mutes the view, blankets all the sounds of the day, and keeps the temperature down. Then, when it lifts, the sunlight floods in and everything is completely different in an instant.

When the mist is still there, there’s a dimension of vision it’s easy to miss when the sun blazes and the shadows become so deep. In certain ways, I can see more when the colors are muted and the light is more evenly diffused.

That’s a lot like life in the regular, routine, day to day. It’s fun to be in church in the flood of blazing light, to feel the warmth of fellowship from my men’s group companions on the journey, to listen to inspirational messages and enjoy beautiful music… But it’s in my day by day walk with God that I often stop for more intimate conversations with Jesus, and in the challenge of peering closely into the fog to see more clearly that I often do.

The key to clarity is not just open eyes, but sometimes new eyes.

So I guess that makes one more for the list – #4 from Jesus: “Come on, people! Don’t you remember anything at all?” 

It’s a valid question – DEREK

living a great story…

living a great story…

 

Well, whatever you do, whether it’s eating or drinking or anything else, do it all so as to bring glory to God! – 1 Corinthians 10:31

Party Party Party!!!

DSC_0332I have already written about this past weekend’s deeply meaningful wedding – “What a Good Wedding can Teach about the Kingdom of God” and “More of the Good Stuff” – But the photos I shared were all from my cell-phone. Yesterday – finally – I got to take a look at what I had on my Nikon D3100, and several of the images are too good not to share.

In fact, because family members will doubtless be interested, I’ll share all the good ones in a slide show at the end of this post. I’m pretty confident that – even if you’re one of my many readers who doesn’t know the bride or the groom – the pictures are worth scrolling through all the way to the end.

What I like to do sometimes at weddings is to shoot candid photographs (unposed and unrequested) – grabbing stuff the professionals are less likely to include. So I played the role of paparazzi at the rehearsal, took a handful of pictures at the church before the wedding started (focusing on guests from WFPC), photographed the opening of the ceremony, then carried my camera around at the reception.

DSC_0478The location of the reception was beyond spectacular. The mansion – a mega-lavish American version of the classic Tuscan villa – commands a wonderful view of a large lake with open vistas to the west, the south, and the north. Expansive terraces easily accommodate more than 100 guests, and lush lawns lead down to the water.

The evening was perfect. Generous hospitality; cool weather; an amazing sunset; good food; great people; dancing; and an abundant overflow of genuine joy.

Then, as Rebekah and I left, we walked by a vintage Rolls-Royce waiting outside to whisk the newlyweds away.

DSC_0365 (1)So enjoy these photos. They tell a little of the story, and I know they will make you smile. I certainly know that Rebekah and I are smiling.

You see, it’s not only true to say that, as Jesus pointed out, “People are going to know you are my disciples by taking notice of the way that you love one another….” (John 13:35) But it’s also an important principle of living our discipleship to realize that… People the world over are going to understand something critically important about what it means to be people of faith when they observe the quality, the durability, and the depth of our joy.

At least that has been – and continues to be – my experience – DEREK

more of the good stuff!

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[The Lord of the feast] said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” – John 2:10

This morning I’ll share a slice of Rebekah’s message from Saturday’s marriage ceremony. The wedding was – as I already explained in yesterday’s post – full with positive energy and the kind of encouragement this world needs, going forward. So when the homily so nicely dovetailed with all the goodwill I wasn’t surprised in the least.

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Kaitlyn and Jacob

Rebekah told the story of Jesus blessing the wedding – it’s the first miracle recorded in the Gospel of John. If you remember, the wedding host ran out of wine and Jesus came to the rescue by turning water into the best vintage they’d ever tasted.

With Jesus, everything is always the best ever. So it’s really no surprise that’s how things go down at the wedding. Anything we’re involved with – relationships, work, art, church, mission, serving others  – no matter what, is going to be over-the-top good if we invite Jesus to be involved.

Rebekah said she likes to imagine that the couple who were married at the wedding Jesus attended and blessed took some of the wine home, and had some every year thereafter, to remind themselves not only of what a fabulous wedding they’d enjoyed, but how Jesus continues to make their life together sweeter and more precious.

IMG_9443Of course the real miracle is how Jesus brings new life, and a new flavor to our lives, each and every day. That’s not just a nice story, or a look back into history – it’s a present reality that we can continue to celebrate.

This morning our church will share the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Wide open doors, everyone welcome, grace abounds. Don’t miss this opportunity to share some of the good stuff, the Jesus quality of celebration, and get the ball rolling in terms the very best.

This is what it means to follow Jesus.

Jesus is The Way (gate, doorway, path, bridge, passageway, archway, road… open invitation)

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 Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who BELONGED TO THE WAY…” – Acts 9:1-4

If I produced a catalog of my photographs, several themes would emerge. Much like the “voice” I have developed in my writing, my eye has also evolved its own lens, or selective preference in framing the way I see the physical world.

While beauty certainly gets my attention, I am even more interested in story. But I have also found I don’t just capture the stories I see (journalism), I view the world around me through the framing of my own story (commentary). It’s not that the things I see aren’t already there… but that the way I see casts light on the things that are important – and becoming important – in my own story.

DSC_0012In consequence, my catalog includes a lot of open doors, archways, open windows, passageways, paths, roads, and bridges. At first I didn’t really think about it, they just caught my eye. Now I believe I understand why. You see I have noticed that I engage life as a journey; open windows and doorways – especially where there is light or something beautiful the other side – communicate ideas to me such as “invitation”, “hope”, “possibility”, “exploration”, “journey”, “adventure” – “come and see”.

The path forward doesn’t always have to be illuminated by searchlights, clearcut, or impossible to miss; sometimes the trail is more of a suggestion or a possibility. It’s like my friend Wendy said once, when someone wanted her to see the next step – after a tragedy – as something unavoidably obvious: “I don’t see an open window… but I can feel a breeze coming from somewhere….”

THE WAY – THE GATE – THE INVITATION:

I love the way Jesus describes himself as “the gate” in John’s Gospel. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:9-10).

IMG_9363And then, in an almost comical indictment of the legalism that dominated the teaching of so many religious leaders (and still does to this day), Jesus said this by way of contrast, pointing out that, while he is an open invitation, they slam the door in people’s faces: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23:13).

So I love paths through the woods, archways into gardens, windows letting in fresh air and light, bridges, open gates, open invitations; I love Jesus.

I can’t get enough of the open invitation, but I also can’t even begin to understand how readily and how enthusiastically so many “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.”

“Yes, I am the gate… My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life!” – Jesus

Here are a few slides from my recent walk in the woods at Camp Agape – DEREK

to teach is to learn (pastors’ retreat)

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A walk in the woods

This afternoon I returned from a refreshing two days in the woods a little south west of Raleigh, where I had the privilege of helping to lead a retreat for some Presbyterian ministers.

I plan to write a more detailed blog tomorrow, but I wanted to post this short reflection today – both as a word of gratitude to God, and a testimony of encouragement for those who don’t quite understand how deeply spiritual, thoughtful, and faithful these clergy are.

They are good men and women, serving God and God’s people with creativity and imagination while recognizing their own need for a deeper spiritual walk. You don’t get to be a Presbyterian minister without cultivating a practical, undeniable faith, investing in several years of graduate study, engaging a rigorous discernment process, jumping through a lot of hoops, talking with many people about the clarity of your calling, and demonstrating an unusual level of commitment.

Consequently the sincerity of the conversations, the depth of prayer, the clarity of insight, and the authenticity of spiritual sensitivity was inspirational to me as a leader. These pastors are rooted in God’s word and they take their faith and their ministry very seriously.

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Camp Agape

The bottom line is that teaching is an interactive experience, and if I managed to achieve anything at all during my lectures and (more importantly) the frequent and meaningful one-on-one conversations, then it’s because the participants in the retreat were 100% receptive.

Blessed and grateful – DEREK

God is up to something around here!

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They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. – Acts 16:31-33

Posting from me is going to be spotty at best for the next couple of days, as I’m deep in the North Carolina woods helping lead a retreat for Presbyterian pastors. More about that later in the week.

For now – taking some time this afternoon to prepare for my next teaching session – I’d like to reflect on what turned out to be another extremely positive Sunday. Rebekah and I are privileged to be part of a life-charged faith community, deeply alive, and it’s obvious God is up to something beautiful, powerful, and loaded with promise.

IMG_9329It doesn’t matter who is being baptized – a baby, an adult, a teen, or a child – the occasion always serves as an unforgettable witness to the incredible reach of God’s mercy, grace, and love.

This time, both children were old enough to completely understand the deep implications of the covenant we make with God – as families and as a congregation – when we bring children for baptism. It’s not a religious ritual (check-mark, baptism done…), but a covenant sign, a testimony that this family is committed to live as faithful followers of Jesus.

We don’t have private baptisms in the Presbyterian Church because this is a covenant we make together. Being disciples of Jesus necessarily means the encouragement – and accountability – of a community; and it’s exciting to see a family stand in front of the church and make that kind of commitment.

IMG_9333Then, and this was a special treat, our friends Mark and Margi Prater worshiped with us at WFPC then came home for lunch. Mark worked with Rebekah at First Pres Brandon for many years (as part of one of the best ministry teams in history!). It was wonderful to see them again and to catch up.

I often ask people in my Sunday morning class to share “God sightings” from the previous week. When they can’t come up with anything I want to say, “Come on, people! Every day, every hour; there’s always some thing God is up to that’s an amazing gift!”

Another Sunday, another series of stories to tell. Blessings abound – DEREK

this week in pictures (pray, eat, love, grieve, laugh, rain, travel…)

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Jesus – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full!” (John 10:10, NIV)

Today is going to be a wonderful day! I guess that’s always more than a possibility – especially considering what I believe about this Great Adventure that is “abundant life”; or, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases John 10:10, “Real and eternal life, more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of.”

But I’m especially looking forward to today because it’s all about thinking, and praying, and creativity, and writing, and preparation: I’ll be doing the final outline for the retreat I’m leading, and Rebekah is writing tomorrow morning’s sermon.

So for this morning’s post I’m simply going to share a series of photos that tell some of the story of this busy week.

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Mandy trying to hide behind Rebekah!

Wednesdays Together: Sadly, Wednesday night was our last church supper before the summer hiatus. My men’s Bible-study will continue, as well as many other mid-week groups and activities. I’m going to miss sitting with random friends, watching families meet up at church on their way home from work, seeing tired, tense people relax and receive nourishment – both physical and spiritual.

So our amazing director of food ministries – Mandy – was appropriately recognized and applauded, along with her wonderful staff of volunteers. She really does produce miracles in the kitchen, and her ministry helps facilitate a midweek charge of life that I’m going to miss like crazy over the next few months.

IMG_9288-001Herbs and Flavor: Out on the deck, my herb garden has responded beautifully to this week’s abundant rain, warmth, and sunshine, and I have a generous ongoing crop to enjoy with every possible variety of meal.

Having it all in pots right outside the back door makes it the perfect kitchen garden. Of course planning ahead is best, but sometimes I think about a sprig of sage, a handful of  basil leaves, or some finely chopped thyme right in the middle of food preparation, and all I have to do is walk outside.

Fresh makes a huge difference; I am richly blessed with goodness right at my fingertips!

IMG_9296-001RDU, MSP, Memorials, and Eternal Rest: Finally, Rebekah took a quick overnight trip to Minnesota, heading a couple of hours north of Minneapolis to be part of our friend Sandee’s funeral service. Graveside was around 30-degrees, she said, with a few snow flurries thrown in. Evidently this was Sandee’s last joke via her wry sense of humor: getting all her former Florida friends together one last time and then freezing their tails off.

That afternoon, at the Foley Presbyterian Church, Rebekah voiced some powerful words that I’m going to ask her to let me share in a post next week.

I always enjoy going to the airport, watching people come and go, sipping coffee in the Starbucks at “The Meeting Place”, witnessing reunions and goodbyes, the sense of exotic destinations wafting through the space like an invitation.

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tired but home

Rebekah returned home very tired but with an important sense of closure. It doesn’t matter who you are – preacher, disciple, “spiritual but not religious”, confused, agnostic – the passing of a loved one engages an instinct for the eternal that naturally wants to hone in on something more than the limitations of our understanding, our logic, our experience, even our hopes and dreams.

It’s always good to be home, and our friend Sandee is there now in a way that we can only imagine – DEREK