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

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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.

-DEREK

Tryon Palace: a story of entitlement

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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

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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

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WFPC sanctuary choir singing last Sunday

 

paddling in an ocean of possibility

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 “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.

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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)

 

 

so this happened… Emerald Isle, the food edition

IMG_4684One of the best things about staying in a house rather than a hotel is having a kitchen. This week we limited ourselves to one lunch and one dinner “out,” then I’ve been Rebekah’s personal chef for everything else.

We found a fresh seafood market near the Crab Shack, scored some tenderloin steaks while we were at it, and have feasted on grouper, tuna steak, crab-cakes, and shrimp.

Friday morning Rebekah read a two-page article in Our State magazine touting the culinary merits of the famous shrimpburger at a place called the Big Oak Drive-In. Turns out it’s only six minutes from our location, and a favorite for many of our friends at church; I’m here to say Big Oak didn’t disappoint. The banana pudding is definitely worth a shout out too.

IMG_4743I’ve already written about our anniversary dinner at the Crab Shack. What I didn’t mention was the, “That’s a first!” experience we had perusing the menu. Right under the main courses we read the heading “Senior Menu.” That’s right, the cut-off age was 60 and everything we wanted was included!

I seriously didn’t intend to spend a week at the beach and leave the island officially a “senior.” But twenty bucks off and no “early bird” seating hour limit did the trick. But don’t worry, I’m still the youngest 60-year-old you’ll ever meet, and I intend to enhance that status going forward.

My next post will be mostly beach. But enjoy the food – we certainly have!

– DEREK

 

the outer banks, hole-in-the-wall crab shacks, and all that is good…

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“And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” – Genesis 1:31

IMG_4660I’m not sure that wedding anniversaries can find a better venue than a beach house on the Emerald Isle. Add to that dinner at a classic hole-in-the-wall Crab Shack restaurant, and we’re playing all the best notes of our favorite tune.

It’s the sort of place where asking for craft beer brings out a Corona or a Heineken, and where they offer seven versions of potato but one choice of vegetable.

But the shrimp and the crabs were delicious. And Rebekah and I couldn’t help but think of our early dates at New Smyrna Beach, where you could go into our favorite seafood place in wet bathing suits – because the floors were concrete, the atmosphere was “camp,” and all that mattered was the shrimp, the cheese-grits, the key-lime pie, the iced-tea, and the two of us.

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anniversary portrait

That was all more than thirty-seven years ago now. Today we have children, children-in-law, grandchildren, careers that engage our passion and our imagination, and an amazing church family. A lot more matters than just the two of us. But, for these few days of vacation, this opportunity for rest and reinvention, everything else is on the back burner and it’s Rebekah and Derek at the beach again, grabbing some seafood at the Crab Shack, feasting on soul food from these thirty-seven (and one day) good years together.

And it is good. It is so good.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

(photos from a stormy afternoon at the beach)

above all, clothe yourselves with love #37andCounting

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Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:14-15

IMG_4574Well, it’s a/another gloriously beautiful morning here at the beach, absolutely perfect for celebrating our wedding anniversary number thirty-seven. I can’t think of a better setting, free from the distractions of our usual day-to-day responsibilities. We’re here, together, with good books, good coffee, good food, a spectacular view of the water, and all the time in the world to enjoy the good decision we made more than a lifetime ago.

Every time I come to the shore I am surprised – again – at how much the view changes from hour to hour, and moment to moment. It reminds me how alive everything is, that I could take the pulse of this Earth just as easily as a person, that there is no such thing as tedium or sameness if we are alive to the Spirit, and open to the delicious variations and rich permutations of the daily privilege of living.

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Night stroll: not a painting, but grainy from the low light

Even the late evening views – with the help of last night’s full moon – have been spectacular, and we walked out on the long boardwalk to witness not only an ocean bathed in moonlight but a couple of shooting stars for good measure.

IMG_4513So this week I’ve been writing about not just resting, but “resting in” (see the series on the preacher retreat we helped lead); well today – and all vacation long – Rebekah and I are resting in the blessing of this life together.

I’ll wrap this short entry with my Facebook post from first thing this morning (it went with the sunrise photo):

“The sun rises on our anniversary: looks like it’s going to be another beautiful day… year… 37 years… Full with love, blessing, peace, and promise.”

– In every way – DEREK

the “rest” of the story:

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“Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain…” – Exodus 34:2

IMG_4513Looking back over the past few days, leading the pastors’ retreat together (see “Times of Refreshing,” and “Rest, Reconciliation, and Restoration on Emerald Isle“) turned out to be the perfect way to start our summer vacation. It was a transition point, where we continued in the “working, leading, teaching, preaching” vein… but also overlapping with vacation by doing all those work things on a barrier island, far away from the routine.

The retreat effectively launched our vacation in an intentionally spiritual context. The first days were about encouraging others in their journey as followers of Jesus, and so we arrived here on the ocean side of Emerald Isle (just four miles from the retreat center), already “resting” in exactly the way I talked about it in Session One.

“We’re not talking about rest in terms of resting from our work, our responsibilities, our troubles, or our exertions,” I said; “but in terms of resting in our relationship with God.”

In that context, I shared one of my favorite illustrations, about the morning I made the trek up Mount Sinai to see the sun rise from the summit (the full story is in the introduction to Pilgrim in Progress). The scripture still makes me smile: God said to Moses, “So be ready in the morning and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself to me there on top of the mountain” (Exodus 34:2).

IMG_4524So for Rebekah and for me, this vacation has started in the context of presenting ourselves to God on top of the mountain. Now, with that approach – that trajectory – established, we really are going to rest, to rest in the best way imaginable.
Today we’ll be resting in God at the beach; we’ll be watching the waves crash onto the shore, understanding that the Holy can crash into our lives in the same way, aware that eternity laps up against time, knowing that what is unseen is just as real as what we can see, and resting in the knowledge that we are spiritual beings in this material world….

– DEREK

 

 

“Times of Refreshing” with the 3-R’s

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“The 3-R’s” were our topic: Rest, Reconciliation, and Restoration.

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Rebekah spoke powerfully

The Presbyterian pastors’ retreat wrapped up beautifully this morning. First I taught a one-hour session on “Restoration,” and Rebekah brought the message for our closing communion service.

It’s a remarkable experience to be at a retreat populated entirely by preachers, and to listen to one preacher share a message prepared explicitly for a room full of other preachers. It also touched my heart in a powerful and moving way to witness the clergy humbly serving one another the bread and the wine.

It is also remarkable that these ministers, professional clerics and learned teachers, who deliver profound messages to hundreds of people on a weekly basis, could imagine that I had something worth listening to, and even taking notes on, when I stood up to share.

WP_20160815_09_38_53_ProBut they gave their attention most graciously, and were generous in their receptivity. I felt like the retreat served to encourage Rebekah and me too – and we certainly enjoyed the opportunity to share from our hearts and from our experience.

Some readers have already asked me to share more in the way of content from the retreat. For today I’ll simply share this nugget from my discussion of ideas that support and amplify the concept of restoration. First, the scripture:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” – Acts 3:19

Turn around, so that everything that comes between you and God is removed, and you’re going to enjoy a wonderfully refreshing experience! I love the phrase, “Times of Refreshing.” Restoration, especially in the sense we discussed in yesterday’s post, includes a profound element of life-nourishing refreshment.

Refresh our spirits, Lord, this day and at all times. Amen.

– DEREK

(Images from Trinity Center and the retreat)