June 17, 2013
For one week a year I exchange the mountains of Virginia for the shores of North Carolina. That’s where I’m sitting right now—sheltered beneath the cover of the back deck, with a family of deer, four sand dunes, and the Atlantic all in front of me. This little island has become more than a vacation spot for my family these past years. It’s been made into a place for us all to take a deep breath from our lives. We set our trifles aside here and concentrate on the big things.
We’re not the only ones, either.
We’ve been here three days now, long enough to meet and greet the neighbors. The couple who each morning stake the plot of sand fifty yards to our right are here to celebrate their fifty-seventh wedding anniversary. Nice folks, both of them. They arrive early, just after the sun has risen, him carrying two chairs and a small umbrella while she tarries behind with a cooler full of sweet tea. There they’ll sit long into the day, staring out over the water. Few words pass between them. At some point, his right hand will stretch out and touch her left. He told me they’ve been coming here for decades, ever since their son and daughter were small. Those were the years before the troubles, he said—back before they lost their son to a motorcycle accident and before the falling out with their daughter. She’s in Oregon now, married twice and divorced once, with grandchildren neither of them have ever seen. It’s just them now, sitting on the beach with the wide ocean in front of them, holding hands.
The family to our left is an active lot. Mother, father, and three young kids. They do everything—swim and boogie board and hunt for shells. Yesterday, they managed to construct a world class sandcastle. The vast majority of these activities are the father and childrens’ to do alone. Mom spends most of her time sitting in the chair beneath a blue and yellow umbrella. She wears a scarf to cover her bald head. The doctors say her cancer is gone now, just as they said it was gone five years ago. They’ve all reached the silent conclusion the disease will be a specter that follows her for the rest of her life. She smiles and laughs often despite of that. Or, perhaps, because of it.
I could go on, tell you about the twenty-something young man in the home nearby, hiding not from a person but from a future he isn’t ready for. He spends his days kite surfing and his evenings sitting in the sand, watching the tides go out. Or I could talk about the widow who brings her husband’s German shepherd out to play in the surf every morning, or the grandpa who hikes up his jeans so he can wade into the water in search of a mystical starfish. There are a thousand stories here because there are a thousand people, and we are all different in who we are and what we do but we are also all the same. For this one week, we are all just a bit closer to our better selves. Not whole, because we’re still broken. Not at peace, because such a thing cannot truly be found this side of heaven.
But close? Yes. Close enough.
And sometimes, that’ll do. That’ll do just fine.
June 12, 2013
Yesterday morning I left the comfort and security of my home town and drove to the bustling metropolis of Richmond, Virginia. The purpose of my visit was an interview on WTVR Channel 6′s Virginia This Morning. I was a nervous wreck, but the folks couldn’t have been nicer.
June 11, 2013
Today marks the publication for my newest novel, When Mockingbirds Sing.
“Pub. Day” is always a pretty big deal in a writer’s life. It’s the culmination of a lot of work, a lot of time, and—in my case—a lot of prayer. Now it’s time to release it to the world. Treat yourself to a copy, won’t you?
You can find it at your local bookstore in the Christian Fiction section, or with a few clicks one of these fine online retailers will send it to your home or your e-reader:
and Walmart (or as it’s known in Mattingly, the SuperMart)
There are also some giveaways around the interwebs this week. Katdish is giving away a copy that I’ll sign for you personally, and I’ll try my best to post all the links on my Facebook Author Page.
June 6, 2013
My daughter graduated today.
Walked across the very raised stage that innumerable others have crossed over the years. Strolling fast and hard, as though with a holy purpose. Her smile wide and bright as she ended one part of her life to embrace the next.
It was tough, no doubt about it. The first time I’ve had to go through something like that with one of my kids. You think you’re going to be okay, but you’re not. I imagine it’s much like walking over a bed of hot coals—you can steel yourself all you want, but nothing can keep you from that initial shock of pain, that sense of being in a situation that just may be bigger than yourself.
I pulled it off well enough, though. I smiled and waved and cheered, and during those few times when I could help myself, I lowered my head and clenched my eyes tight. No one saw this. I at least have that. In my mind, that still makes me Daddy in my daughter’s eyes. I’m still her rock, even if today showed all those cracks I try to hide. So no, I wouldn’t say it was all a total success on my part.
If there is any comfort to be had, it’s that I’ll have plenty of other opportunities to get things right. There will be more next-time’s. This was, after all, only her fifth grade ceremony. Call it a practice run for greater things down the road.
In three years comes her junior high graduation. Four years after that, she’ll leave high school.
College will follow. Then graduate school, if she has her way.
There will be her wedding one day. Her first child. All the children after.
These are all tiny moments really, at least with regards to time. Nothing more than a few hours in the long years of my daughter’s life. But big moments, too. The kind that define the people we grow to become.
Funny thing about life—we trick ourselves into believing there is one birth at the beginning, one death at the end, and in the middle only a long line of rises and falls. I don’t think that’s true. I think we have a great many births and deaths in life. We all are aware of those instances when something inside of us passes on so something greater can be born.
These moments like today with my daughter? They become signposts. Their light burns long after we’ve moved on. They serve as a witness to how far we’ve truly come in our lives, something we can look back upon in those tedious times that come to us all.
I plan to be there with my daughter as she meets her own signposts. I want to stroll beside her as she takes her first steps upon the long road of her life. Because that road gets lonely sometimes, and dark. There are shadows and thickets. Sometimes, there are monsters. I know this is true. I think we all do. Maybe that’s why I lowered my head and clenched my eyes. Because I know what’s out there, and because I know it doesn’t matter how big my daughter grows or how old she gets, she’ll always be my little girl. And I pray that when her way grows weary and her walk long, the hand she will always reach for will be my own.
June 3, 2013
I ask Larry if he’s still watching over the poor folk every time I see him, and every time he says yes. He says yes and then offers me one of those nods that are accompanied by pursed lips. You know, the kind of expression that means it’s tough to look but you have to anyway. Someone’s got to watch over them, Larry says, and it might as well be him. Especially since he was poor once.
He’ll tell me he still watches over them from the same place, right across the river from the big building where they like to gather. Not a pretty sight—Larry will tell me that too, and always—but one worth watching nonetheless, if only for the education the sight provides. “There but for the grace of God,” he’ll say, and then he’ll nod and purse his lips again.
He says there have been times in the past when he’s taken the bridge across the river and gone to see them. Or tried. The poor folk will sometimes entertain Larry’s presence for a while. He was after all one of them once, and the poor folk are mannerly on the outside even if they are lost inward. They’ll say hello and how-you-doing and come-on-in. Larry will hello them back and say he’s fine, just fine. But he never goes in the big building. He’s been in there too many times in his life, he’ll tell me, and he’s seen all there is to be seen. I guess that’s true enough, but sometimes I think Larry’s afraid he’ll catch the poor again, like it’s some sort of communicable disease spread by contact.
Better than driving across the bridge to say hello is to stay on the other side of the river and watch. That’s what he tells me. It’s sort of a warning, though it’s one I don’t need. To be honest, I don’t have much of a desire to be around the poor folk. I like it where I am, right here with Larry and the rich people. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll catch poor, too. Maybe deep down I think they’ll sneeze on me.
Larry says he has God to thank for being rich now, and when he says this he won’t nod and purse his lips. He’s much more apt to pat the rust spot on his old truck—a ’95 Ford from down at the local car lot, which was a steal at $5,000—or take off his greasy cap as a sign of respect for invoking the Almighty. Yesir, Larry will say, God stripped away all of his poor and made him rich. I guess that’s nothing new in a time when a lot of people think God’s sole purpose in the universe is to shower down hundred dollar bills on everyone who’s washed in the blood of the Lamb.
Sometimes I’ll ask him if the people who gather at the big building across the river are all poor. Surely there are a few rich ones mixed in. He’ll tell me yes, there are a few rich ones, but they’re rare. Once he said I’d just as soon go in the big building looking for a unicorn as I would a rich person. I laughed at that. I think it was the way he’d said it—“Yooney-corn.”
Still, curiosity kicked in. I had to find out for myself.
I drove up to the big building one town over, careful to park across the river as Larry suggested. Lines of cars filled the parking lot—from my vantage point, I saw seven Mercedes, half a dozen BMWs, and three Jaguars. I watched patrons adorned in fancy dresses and pressed suits go in for dinner, watched the golf and tennis players come out.
Larry’s poor folk.
He was once one of them (it was the Mercedes and the golf for Larry, the fancy dress for his wife, and the tennis for his kids). They were at the country club five days a week and sometimes six, depending on how busy they all were. He’ll say he swore he was rich. But then came the recession followed by the job loss, and suddenly the Mercedes was gone (replaced by the truck, a steal at five grand) and so was the country club.
That’s when God showed Larry that what he thought was riches was really poverty. That’s when Larry found that wealth is better measured in love and family and simple things.
Larry says he never knew how poor he was because all that money got in the way. Now he says he’s the richest man in the county.
I think he might be right.
If you haven’t signed up to receive blog posts via email, there’s still time to receive a coupon for 30% When Mockingbirds Sing which comes out June 11. (next week!)