Vales & Valleys (a poem by Virginia : )

On this late Advent weekday, here’s another go at a poem Virginia shared here six years ago. As our valleys descend into the deepest night, the Light of Christ is bright with love to guide us on our way.


Oh heart, my Heart,
why are you so downcast within me?

Why so much despair?
Not caring, or sharing, the will
to walk the way ahead…

Into the valley of Shadows,
must I go?

Veiled, the vales lie deep before me
Sight hindered, darkness lingers
below the heights

Be still, my quaking heart
open up


Oh heart, my Heart,
Why are you so downcast within me?

Hear my cries, Oh Lord

Shine bright

This night

Show me Your Light
in this valley of shadows.

Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me…”
(Psalm 23:4)

grace, peace & valleys

      Virginia :  )

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Beauty, awe, wonder, art, and (lots of) lights are a few things my brother and I experienced at the Lewis Ginter GardenFest of Lights. After such delight walking about the magical lights, today Virginia is sharing highlights so you can experience a bit of it, too.

The Lewis Ginter GardenFest @ night

We enjoyed our spring visit to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond (as blogged here previously.) After hearing about their holiday festival of lights, on Monday evening we zoomed an hour from Williamsburg to see what the hubbub was all about.

Night view of the Conservatory

GardenFest exceeded my imagined expectations. A million lights spread all over the extensive grounds fashioned into exhibits inspired by famous artists and flowers:

“Bringing Art to Light.”

A young artist by the Japanese Garden pond

We arrived at 4:00PM to avoid a bit of traffic, get a parking place, and check out a few exhibits in the daylight.

GardenFest features works of art throughout the garden

We managed to catch a brilliant sunset..

Sunset @ GardenFest

In the approaching dusk, lights twinkled…

A tribute to Monet’s bridge

Once it got dark, however, those same lights blazed with luminescence.

Monet’s bridge @ night

‘Twas so cool seeing exhibits inspired by artists, like this Georges Seurat one by the Japanese Garden pond.

Lights of art creatively reflected

Inside the Conservatory we saw this Christmas tree made of flowers inspired by a lamp designed by visionary dancer Loie Fuller that’s part of the VMFA (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) collection.

Gigantic (22-foot) tree made of flowers

There were trains spinning around railroad tracks, lots of activities for children (Santa sightings inclusive), doll houses of every kind, hot chocolate, treats at the Cafe, and everywhere you looked: INSPIRATIONAL LIGHTS.

Japanese Garden ‘enlightened’

On the way home Dwight & I both agreed we felt like we’ve already celebrated New Years. For many years our town had a big First Night event every New Years, but alas, ‘tis no more. Now we must Make Plans.

An inviting GardenFest entryway patio

Methinks we’ve already celebrated.

On our last circuit around the sights, my brother captured this cool pic of the lights in the children’s section reflected in the lake.

photo credit: Dwight Woodward

Since Light is such an important part of Advent, hope you enjoyed this short tour of GardenFest’s wonders.

grace, peace & inspirational light(s)

Virginia : )

“Treasures lie hidden in darkness. Only those who walk in the night can see the stars.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen (the Venerable)

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…holiday blankety blues…

Christmas is just one short week from today. (aaack!) There are some of us who might want to pull blankets over our heads and hide under them to get through the holidays.

Maybe we’ve lost loved ones, our livelihood (or both), or miss friends who’ve moved away. Perhaps as the end of the year approaches disappointment looms large and we’re not looking forward to the New Year (more of the same?)

We crawl deeper under our blankets, avoiding reflection and detection.

“Behold I make all things new.” (Revelations 21:5)

That includes me (& you.)

That’s the thing about the upending Christmas holiday. Christmas is not about parties (although they can be fun) but about a Person.

Jesus Christ.

That’s why we celebrate the birth of the Person Who makes all things new, including us (especially the inside-our-hearts part of us.)

Doesn’t mean our challenges go away or suddenly our yucky year somersaults into ‘living the dream.’

No, it means the provision of quiet grace to deal with each next moment in LOVE.

Because, if there’s any point to Christmas, that’s it: LOVE.

LOVE from Above Who came down to dwell with us – and in us.

Incandescent Love incarnated into our realities (however hard they may be.)

As Christmas approaches, pause and reflect: it’s not about being ‘jolly’ but being genuine. As we hide under the blankets of fears, tears and disappointments – Jesus is here with us, in us, around us, above us.

The cold realities of life may beckon, but His blanket over me is Love.

There to keep me warm and help me hope (& cope) each and every today.

grace, peace & holiday (blues-busting) blankets of love

Virginia : )

“Jesus no longer belongs to the past but lives in the present and is projected toward the future; Jesus is the everlasting ‘today’ of God.”  Pope Francis

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Tidings of Comfort

On this Advent Monday, here are tidings of comfort for our hearts and minds.

“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans:38-39)

“Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth,

Speak peace to my anxious soul,

And help me to feel that all my ways

Are under Thy wise control;

That He who cares for the lily,

And heeds the sparrows’ fall,

Shall tenderly lead His loving child;

For He made and loveth all.”


grace, peace & tidings of comfort

Virginia : )

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Gaudete Sunday: JOY! jOY! JOY! jOY!

On this special ‘Gaudete Sunday’ of Advent we are called to ‘Rejoice!’ as we continue waiting for Christmas to come.

All during the holidays we sing about joy, we look for joy, we try to be joyful. Sometimes we confuse joy with merrymaking and all-smiles happiness.

But, joy is so much more.

“Joy is the noblest human act.” St. Thomas Aquinas

Joy is not some bubbled-head happiness that depends on what happens. Joy comes from within the heart, sometimes deep within when the horribles squash and pummel our internal deal-with-it muscles to near-oblivion.

Joy chooses to have faith in God’s love, mercy and grace to carry us through whatever tough stuff faces us and sustain our hurting hearts (however deep our hurts may be.)

Joy does not mean pain-free living, but does not let pain drive us to darkness. Joy chooses to follow the Light, even when it’s hard at times to see the dimmest flicker.

Joy finds value in the rubble of decimated lives, because those lives are valuable. Joy comes from a well of Love transported on wings of compassion that lifts up the brokenhearted.

Joy finds and grows roses in the rubble of our lives (and rubble that surrounds us), watering them with extra helpings of faith, hope and love.

At the end (or beginning) of the day, joy is a choice.

“Joy is not simply a matter of temperament. It is hard to be joyful – all the more reason why we should make it grow in our hearts. Joy is prayer; joy is strength; joy is love; joy is a net of love by which we catch others.” Mother Teresa (Saint Teresa of Calcutta)


Whether it’s sharing a cup of tea with a friend, soaking in a sunrise or sunset, taking a walk in nature, fellowshipping with family, spending time in quiet prayer: uncomplicated joy boils down to choices and an attentive attitude on the lookout opportunities to find (and be) joy.

Joy comes in all shapes and sizes.

Often when we least expect it, joy surprises.

… & Joy is what this season of Advent is all about.

Light coming into the darkness. Light incarnated.

Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Joy is possible, because Jesus Christ is.

grace, peace & JOY

Virginia : )

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

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On this Advent Saturday blogger Virginia wants to share a little Christmas cheer she encountered yesterday whilst reading a collection of holiday stories. Over the years (for obvious reasons) she has treasured this particular editorial written by veteran editor Francis Pharcellus Church that was printed in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun.

Methinks the message therein is apropos today…


“We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”  Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon
115 West Ninety Fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”  (The New York Sun, 21 September 1897)


Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…

(really! He’s under my Christmas tree!)

grace, peace & Christmas love

Virginia : )

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Advent: (14 December) Saint John of the Cross

“The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.” Saint John of the Cross

Today we remember this great 16th century Spanish saint (1541-1591) well known for documenting his ‘Dark Night of the Soul.”  Misunderstood, mistreated, and maligned – Saint John of the Cross came to know the dark intimately while imprisoned for his progressive faith. Yet through the depths of that ‘cross’ he came to a deeper understanding of the incredible heights of God’s love. May we learn from his example to seek God even when we feel abandoned and don’t understand: God’s love for us is with us even in the darkest corners of the deepest night.

“In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God.” Saint John of the Cross

grace, peace & bright rivers (of Light)

Virginia : )

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