Blackbeard! Exploring the estuaries of North Carolina


Pamlico River at Washington Park

After the beach, much of our vacation this year was spent alongside the estuaries of the Pamlico and the Neuse. Both empty into the broad Pamlico Sound that separates North Carolina from the islands of the Outer Banks.

It has been another unique look at this beautiful state we’re learning to love so much. The deep water and sheltered harbor of river estuaries appealed to the early settlers, and these places became critically important for the beginnings of the North Carolina we know today.


New Bern

New Bern became the colonial capital (see Tryon Palace: a story of entitlement), and stands today as one of the most picturesque of North Carolina’s coastal towns.

So the photographs I’m sharing today come from New Bern, from Washington, and from Bath. Bath became our state’s first official town in Colonial times, and teetered on the brink of becoming strategic, important, and prosperous. But – for a variety of reasons – history passed them by.

Blackbeard and more:

IMG_4838If, like me, you think you had never heard of Bath before, you’ll realize that you actually do know about it if you’ve heard anything about Blackbeard (Edward Teach), the infamous pirate. Black Beard made Bath his home in response to an amnesty agreement, but was eventually killed on the Outer Banks when the British realized the pirate was simply taking advantage of good North Carolina hospitality.

Today Bath is a sleepy town with the state’s oldest extant church structure, an interesting story, some period homes, a picture perfect setting, and some wonderful fried oysters at the local diner.

It’s a worthwhile day trip, but it’s one you really have to take with an appreciation for history.

DSC_2452For us, it was another good stop along the riverside, and a journey just a little deeper into what makes North Carolina grow on us more and more each passing year.

Peace and blessings, always – DEREK


parents are responsible for education – schools help…

IMG_5013We all know how much I love my grandchildren. Just click on the “Grandaddy Letters” category and you will find dozens of posts featuring David and Beks over the past few years. They’re growing by leaps and bounds and in every way; I’m so happy and so proud.

But today’s featured image – the only one – demonstrates that I also understand my grandkids have a great deal to learn about life, a fact that’s not always easy for them or for the grownups around them! See – they’re both pouting. They don’t want their grandmama to leave, and neither David nor Beks are going to smile for the camera when they’re not getting their own way!

Curiosity is Key!

But it’s Ok. Learning new stuff is at the core of what it means to be human beings who embrace this amazing gift of life. In my two decades of work in the classroom, and my lifetime as an fairly astute observer, it’s pretty clear to me that the clearest sign of intelligence in a child is curiosity. And these are two extremely curious children!

They may have a ways to go when it comes to learning that pouting will get them exactly the opposite of what they want, but their moment-by-moment orientation to life is all about discovery, and new ideas, and open spirits.

A couple of days ago David, who will turn five later this fall, said this to Naomi: “Mommy, how do you know so many words?” He’s learning a bunch of new ones himself, every day, and he’s impressed with what his mom knows! “I read a lot, David,” she said; “and I ask questions, and I listen. And when I don’t understand I always ask….”

David will be starting part-time preschool after Labor Day, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Still – and this is something everyone in North America needs to understand – the primary responsibility for my grandson’s learning resides, and will always reside, with his parents.

School can help. School can pull together resources we don’t have access to as individuals, but home is where education is born, where learning takes off, where curiosity is nurtured, and where everything must be pulled together by the parents.

It’s our responsibility as a society to do our best to help, but if the fires are not light, nurtured, and stoked at home, then we have lost our best chance at the future.

Yesterday’s post outlined, “Why I Believe in the Future.” Well today’s is pretty much about the same idea. When they can get over the pouting, that is. Or, as their favorite baby-sitter likes to say, “David has his crabby pants on this evening.”

Love, love, love those learning grandkids!


why I believe in the future…

IMG_4986So, everyone knows how much of a soft-hearted grandpa and father I am. So I guess you won’t be surprised at how awesome it was to sing with our daughter, Naomi, at church this morning in Richmond.

All parents have struggles at some point in the raising children process, and Rebekah and I were no exception. So spending Sunday morning in church together, listening to Naomi share a meaningful testimony about the music ministry, then singing “Just a closer walk” together, well, that’s just about as good as it gets for a tender-hearted, sentimental, Jesus loving, dad.

It’s so good to see the Craig and Naomi Campbell family making their home at the heart of the life of Southminster Presbyterian Church. David and Beks are the first to run to the front for the children’s moment, Craig is involved in several aspects of congregational life, and then Naomi stands in front of the worshiping community to say – without a shadow of reservation – how much she loves Jesus, and how much it means for the Campbells to be part of a church family.

IMG_4974A lot of people wonder about the future of the church, especially in the face of so much decline in so many denominations. Well it’s a simple equation. It’s about people who make the choice to follow Jesus and then fall in love with God; it’s about families making the conscious decision to  root themselves in the community of faith; it’s about years of faithful prayer, and commitment, and belief, and following through; it’s about being authentic disciples rather than just church members, and about making disciples to be disciples right along with you; it’s about – one day – listening to your own children stand up and tell the world how much they love Jesus… and watching them live the kind of vibrant, faithful, joy-filled life that becomes its own invitation to hear the Good News….

That’s all. Just another Sunday as a grateful pilgrim and thankful parent. – DEREK


breathing new life into old structures (kind of like God is with the church)


Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19


outside the Bank Bistro

Rebekah and I are finishing off the final few days of our vacation here in Richmond with Naomi, Craig, and the grandchildren. But we left Washington in style, returning to the splendidly engaging downtown for dinner Friday night at a promising looking restaurant that occupies the old 1852 financial building.

We were not disappointed. In fact, to repeat the exact words I shared with our waiter at the The Bank Bistro before we left, “This was probably the best prepared and presented food we’ve had in over a year.” The entire experience was first class – atmosphere, service, preparation, presentation.

I had The Special (no surprise as I know I’ll always enjoy whatever the chef is feeling excited about) a ten-ounce medium-rare Ahi Tuna fillet, topped with lump crab and a Hollandaise sauce, on a bed of crisp asparagus, with thyme roasted carrots, and potato.

IMG_4885Spectacular. Then, after a showstopper dessert and the best restaurant coffee I’ve had for a long time, Rebekah and I made our way down to the river walk in the sultry evening to watch the sun go down over the water.

I think what has captured me about the Washington experience is the way new life – redefined life – is being introduced into old structures. There’s respect for history, but instead of trying to recreate the past, something new is cooking in the context of good bones.

It reminds me a little of church. God is doing a new thing, and breathing new life into the structure that has been living in and for Jesus for centuries. The fact of God’s redeeming love has not changed, neither has the opportunity to know and engage that love in Jesus. However, because this love is new every morning, we are constantly challenged to understand and re-translate how the Good News interfaces with the world today.

IMG_4899It’s like the best meal, prepared to perfection, served in a classic building, remodeled with new life and new possibilities, then presented as a gift to the world.

Come and partake. It’s better than ever!

Peace and blessings – DEREK



My tribute to small town urban architecture – long may it live


It’s been an interesting week in eastern North Carolina, full with relaxation and great photo opportunities. I have a lot more to write about New Bern, about life along the estuaries, sounds, and inlets – including yesterday’s fascinating visit to Bath – but I’ll save those for later and continue with some more images from the community of Washington.

DSC_2419I was so taken with the downtown architecture here that I went back with my Nikon to take some more photographs. I don’t believe there was an architectural review board when these buildings went up, but the balance of design, style, texture, materials, scale, color (and a host of other variables) makes for a most marvelous – and essentially inimitable (I wanted to use “irreplicable” but my dictionary says it isn’t an actual word) – urban landscape.

As I noted before, there are a few unfortunate instances where architectural mayhem has been committed via thoughtless rebuilding, and tasteless remodeling of storefronts and facades; but, for the most part, the character of Washington’s downtown has been preserved. The local realtor we talked with said the empty Louise Hotel building recently sold, and will hopefully be renovated with some class and imagination, then there are a couple more structures I believe would make stunning downtown condos with restaurants or coffee shops on the ground floor.

I’ve limited this photo essay to 15 slides, so if your favorite building isn’t featured I’m sorry! Regardless, please peruse the images and enjoy. I certainly did – DEREK

Washington: another “new favorite town” in North Carolina!


The community of Washington is joining my growing list of “new favorite towns.” Here in North Carolina so far it’s Wake Forest, Black Mountain, Ashville, West Jefferson, Manteo, New Bern, and now Washington.

There’s an accessible riverfront, a well-preserved downtown, great period architecture, not too much damage from the architectural blight of the 60’s and 70’s, and a couple of great coffee locations. I especially like Rachel’s Bakery because of – duh – the bakery thing, and also the interior brick wall post-industrial warehouse vibe.

IMG_4808Having our son, Andrew, living in Italy so many years makes it hard to enjoy cappuccino that’s not at least somewhat evocative of a Florence sidewalk café, or the perfecto work of a busy train station barista. So, hat’s off to a backwater North Carolina espresso bar that makes the effort and doesn’t disappoint.

Looking at the new townhomes going up on the riverfront, just a short walk from downtown, reminds me of why I love the accessibility built in to our Wake Forest experience. Maybe retirement one day will involve a downtown loft with a container garden on the roof?

IMG_4781I understand expensive to maintain old buildings, but the character of these late 19th century early 20th century storefronts and warehouses is part of the appeal that’s key to the economic revival of places like this.

So support your local downtown! And, when you’re travelling, go out of your way to make other towns glad they stayed open and motivated to keep reinvesting. Economics, it turns out, is as much about tomorrow – and yesterday – as it is the bottom line for today.


Tryon Palace: a story of entitlement


So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. – John 10:7-10

DSC_2096Rebekah and I always enjoy incorporating some interesting history to go along with our vacation. So this week we drove down to New Bern to take an extended tour of the spectacular “Tryon Palace” site.

Long story short, the Tryon Palace is exactly the kind of 18th Century entitlement fiasco that would have made me a Patriot in short order! Nowadays we hear a lot of “politics-speak” pointing the finger at those who have nothing, accusing the poor of rampant “entitlement”… but (and the Tryon Palace is a great historical example) it seems to me that entitlement issues are far more pervasive (and damaging for our society) from those who already have far more than enough.

Tryon showed up in North Carolina having been appointed Lieutenant Governor, and he already had his architect in tow. Once governor, he demand money from the legislature for the purpose of building an extravagant estate. He raised taxes to cover the project. He believed he was entitled to live in opulence, and that it was the duty of the colonists to pay for it. It’s a rationalization game that’s still played by many people today when they justify avoiding taxes and other responsibilities.

DSC_2290The residence was completed by 1770, but succumbed to a devastating fire that destroyed the main house in 1798. Eventually a state highway ran through the property, along with more than 50 homes and businesses.

Fast forward to the mid-20th Century, when a group of five women initiated an effort to restore Tryon Palace to its former glory. If I ever become discouraged and believe a project can’t get off the ground, I’ll think about Mrs. Latham and her daughter Mrs. Kallenberger, who moved heaven and earth (or at least moved the will of the legislature, moved a state highway, and moved more than 50 buildings) to completely restore – without compromise at all – this amazing site.

Rebekah and I took all the tours, including several other other magnificent period homes now owned by the Tryon Palace foundation; then we completed the afternoon by meandering around the grounds.

My limited WordPress account won’t allow me to post all the photographs, and I’ll be writing more about the other homes and gardens later in the week, but I hope this slide show gives a good introduction. I was especially captured by the series of walled gardens, and most particularly the gateways and archways. I have always been fascinated by paths and doorways; I find them invitational – wonderful symbols representing discovery, learning, and revelation.

DSC_2298“Behold I stand at the door and knock,” Jesus said. The kingdom of God isn’t an entitlement, it’s a gift. Every time I see a beautiful entry or gate, I think of Jesus and the best invitation of all.

“Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep…”

It’s the best invitation – DEREK


Sunsets along the estuary – exploring North Carolina week two

DSC_2000This week Rebekah and I are staying somewhere without Internet access; additionally, this location is pretty much a Verizon black hole, so texting seems to be my only reliable communication tool. Consequently, blog posts will be sparse, short, and launched into the interwebs via the occasional coffee shop with available Wi-Fi.

(A quick shout-out to Rachel’s Bakery for great cappuccino and a fairly decent Internet signal).

Vacation Week Two has us in another beautiful location; close up against a broadening river estuary, in a picture-perfect 1950’s era neighborhood, just a couple of minutes from an interesting, historic, walk-able, friendly downtown.

So this week we should be exploring a little more, checking out some history, sampling new local foods, and getting to know our beloved (but still feeling shiny and new to us) state of North Carolina a little more.

DSC_2008For today, I hope you enjoy these few images alongside the river, captured around the neighborhood just before sunset, Sunday evening. This is a beautiful world; and every time I take the time to look, to really look deeply into the miracle of creation, I am filled with a peace and a sense of wonder that always tend to lead me into more gratitude.

Stay tuned. I may be in a communication twilight zone, but when I break through I promise it’s going to really count!

Peace and blessings, always – DEREK

full moon rising – you are the light of the world

 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness,righteousness and truth). – Ephesians 5:8-9


full moon over Emerald Isle

My last serious beach photo features the full moon we witnessed August 18, hanging out over the ocean, illuminating the last few hours of our wedding anniversary. Standing out on the deck, overlooking the Atlantic, watching the enormous moon rising – it was the perfect way to round out the day.

I’ve always thought the moon represents a sound theology of light. It doesn’t generate any light of its own, but – so long as it keeps its face turned to the Sun – it shines with a signal beauty.

The moon is, in a sense, a child of the light. God is generous with us, and Jesus even encourages those of us who follow him that we are, “The light of the world.” But it’s not our light, it’s God’s; we are simply vessels, reflectors, channels for the good news of the Gospel of Love.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

We simply can’t pull off something that important on our own. We need one another; we need the Body of Christ. We need the encouragement, the support, and the accountability of our sisters and brothers. That’s the community of faith; that’s what Wake Forest Presbyterian Church is to us.

We miss each and every one of you this morning. Keep shining – DEREK


WFPC sanctuary choir singing last Sunday


paddling in an ocean of possibility


 “Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus…” – John 21:4

For me, the magic of the beach isn’t so much the sand, or the water, or the fresh air, or the natural beauty, as it is the way the shore stands as an invitation to paddle in the margins of eternity, to stand on the edge of the world, to inhabit the place where the spiritual washes up against the mundane, and where the deep blue ocean of possibility beckons the imagination of the soul.

IMG_4714The most consistent thing the shore says to me – other than, “God is so vast and yet so completely accessible” – is this, “Stay on the island for a full month and write your novel, Derek!”

It’s as if I can grasp larger chunks of things out here, bigger ideas, more encompassing themes. I can follow the great arc of the sun from morning till evening, and I don’t have to look to all the other details that so effectively and insistently distract me.

It’s like the hugeness of the ocean, the depth and the breadth of it, pulls me in and joins my consciousness to the unfathomable. There’s no shortage of ideas, or inspiration, or insight – just a shortage of time. So, would the world stop if I got off for a few weeks? I really don’t think so; but it is so very hard to intentionally disengage.

Or, more accurately, it’s something that’s close to impossible to achieve in the real day-to-day world. But not so much out here. Out here the world seems to disengage all by itself.


Derek Maul

I know, this all sounds like a contradiction: disengaging with the world so that I can engage my work. But I don’t want to compromise. I don’t want to offer my readers anything less than the very best God intends to speak through me.

Regardless, the experience of being out here – balancing on the edge of the world – inspires me, it fills me up, it challenges me. I guess we’ll have to see where God takes things from here.

Curious – DEREK

(The series of photos below begin on the boardwalk, come down through the sea-oats, then spill over the beach – all while the coffee was brewing Saturday morning)