A Healing Summer

Fred’s General Store 2019 ©JRobin Whitley

As I enjoy the cool summer morning, I smile at the healing that occurred for me this summer. I am also reminded that it is late summer. Though the heat may be upon us again, the worst is over. We are now in late summer. Fall is sending us love leaves to remind us of the colors we love in fall.

This was my second summer living full-time on Beech Mountain. One of the things that surprises me is that summer is my busy time. This summer I’ve been blessed to sing at various churches and preach at two different churches. The Rev. Tamara Franks has given me wonderful opportunities to be a part of High-Country United Church of Christ (UCC). Mary Silver gave me the chance to preach for Resort Area Ministry (R.A.M) in Linville. Being a part of R.A.M’s ministries reminds me of the joy I had as a college student being a singer for the ministry teams.

Resort Area Ministry’s ROVER Team. Melanie Stone and Robin Whitley 1981.


Resort Area Ministry has moved from the music teams to be teams of people from churches willing to pick up a hammer or paintbrush and make a difference to the elderly, poor, or disabled who live year-round in the areas surrounding the resorts. I will tell you more about them in a later blog.


This is more of a summarizing of the wonders of my summer. In the past, summer was my least favorite season. I liked school and though I may have been ready for a summer break, summer was too long and too hot. The summers here on Beech Mountain have been blissful and for the first time in my life, I’m going to be sad to see summer go. It’s mostly because I and the dogster won’t be able to sit on the porch and enjoy the outdoors. Whenever it’s not raining and I’m not at a gig, teaching, or preaching, I and Birdie are on the porch. This dog loves a sunbeam. She also likes to steal my chair. Oh well.

My dog, Birdie.

This summer was extra special to me because there have been miracles galore happening in my life. Some of it is simply because grief is losing its grip on me. Also, I’m more familiar with the area so that it feels more like home. On the way home from church the other day, my heart was so full also then, somehow I knew that I belong here. My home church is Holy Cross Episcopal in Valle Crucis. We have two wonderful priests, a fantastic choir director, and beautiful people who are welcoming and caring. These people have been an integral part of the healing of the grief I’ve dealt with the past two years from the loss of my marriage and my home in Sylva, NC.


The Rev. Tamara Franks has been part of the healing of my minister’s heart. From day one, she has treated me as a colleague in ministry. The work I’ve talked about with her and then been able to participate in with her has further healed the wound from when I lost my ministry because I came out to my bishop. My priests at Holy Cross have listened and aided in that healing as well. By Mary’s invitation to participate in the ministry of R.A.M., that healing has reached even further back into my life. Through these wonderful human angels of G-d, there is a thread of healing coursing through my life; my heart, mind, and soul. Words don’t do it justice, but I’m trying.


The tee shirt my team gave me.

R.A.M. also has summer projects. I applied for one because of how my asthma disables me. This winter I was so sick I became convinced it had to be the carpet putting me in danger. It was old, musty carpet and most likely had mold. As a disabled person, I applied for one of the projects asking for the carpet to be removed OR for my walls to be painted. Some folks from Media Presbyterian Church from Philadelphia area come down to do this kind of work every summer. I am still in awe of these angels with hammers. The thing is, because of the work they did, I feel like I have a set of new lungs. My lungs haven’t felt this good in more years than I can count.


Because of this gift, I was also able to sing at a private party on Beech Mountain in AUGUST! August has always been the worst month for me as an asthmatic. Instead, I got to use my music to sing and be happy. This was part of the healing process mentioned above, but it also introduced me to more neighbors. It healed me because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to sing ever again like that – for two hours. My asthma had gotten so bad, it was all that I could do to sing at church on Sunday. G-d is so good. I feel blessed. This has been the best summer of my life. Hope yours was filled with blessings too!

Used with Permission.

“The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need to do is set our sails.”  ~Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa


Coming Soon! 2 new book releases.

Due out 10/19/2019 is the second edition of my poetry book.

New Cover for 2019 release.

Due out 11/5/2019 is my first prayer collection.

Due out soon.
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Ornery Muses and Love, Sweet Love

Photo by They Might Be Fierce – Jordan Venditelli

As I finish a music project for a local church and print off a book draft, I have to laugh at how ornery my muses are. At first, I typed that they were uncooperative and realized that wasn’t exactly correct. I’m not having a creative block. If anything, they are hounding me about so many things I can’t get it all done fast enough. My body just doesn’t do fast anymore even if my mind does.


You might ask why I am calling the muses ornery or uncooperative if my creative life is thriving. I state this because about a year ago I wrote to let everyone know that I’m working on a new book about dogs. At the time, I was bold and said I hoped to have it out in 2019. It is now June and the draft of the book I’m working on is about prayer, not dogs. How in the heck did that happen? For years I’ve wanted to create a prayer book but couldn’t quite find the right format. Why, when I wanted to focus on a book about dogs, did it suddenly show itself now?


Who knows really? The creative process is what it is. One thing that comes to mind this morning is something I realize that I must also admit. The easy thing to admit is that I’ve always loved dogs best and always say I’m a dog person. The harder thing to admit is that this doesn’t mean I’ve always done the best thing for my dogs. It wasn’t because of desire to do right, but I had a lot to learn as a young dog owner. My current dog, Birdie, would say I still have a lot to learn, but she’s a bossy little thing. She is fifteen pounds of love, but also fifteen pounds of bossy!


Also, writing the book about the dogs has been harder than I thought it would be. Not only because I will be required to confess to the error of my ways but also because of how dogs are always connected with places and other loved ones. Memories of dogs open up memories of life with others and when those others have been lost and the dog has been lost too, well, sometimes I get tired of writing about loss.


The music project I planned on doing this year (a CD of hymns) has morphed so many times into other recording projects that I’ve lost count. The good thing is that it’s empowered me to encourage others. The difficult thing is that I need to practice my guitar more often…even when Birdie wants to play dragon-pull.


This day I will be facilitating discussion on a book at church. Writing books means one must also read books. Reading books takes away the time for writing books. Also, some books I’ve read lately have been extremely well-written or exquisitely poetic and my tyrant brain says why bother?


When I get discouraged the beauty in life is how the muses or the universe, or G-d, send messages to let one know to keep on going. Creativity has been my life’s work. In that creativity there has been a theme of love. As long as I’m creating words of love, songs of love, paintings of love or the result of love, the world is a better place. Here is a short video of what I’m trying to say.

The corrections are that I was not 7 or 8, but junior high age and the version of the song playing was sung by Dionne Warwick most likely.


Please visit Abigail Rose Clark also has a wonderful post about love and the importance of loving yourself and working for your own well being called “Beyond All Binaries” where she asks these good questions:


Where do we think we need to be good to be loved?

Where do we think we need to be right to be worthy?

Where do we still buy into the belief of right/wrong, good/bad, worthy/unworthy?

And how do those beliefs influence our relationships?



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Begin Again


Each day is a new day to begin again. The morning light grows brighter and energizes me. As I sweep the porch, I think my love of G+d, the Holy of Holies. Thinking on the task before me as another year passes, questions arise. What does it mean to be an artist who is untrained, but called by G+d to be a …an artist? A sound of glass tinkles on the floor and I see a disk of mirror lost from its strand of chimes.

The glass reminds me of the story of a woman creating a stained-glass window. Each time she wrought the thing to perfection, something broke it and the word of G+d told her to begin again. The first fifty times I read that story it made no sense. Then one day, after I had been broken enough myself, I finished the story and said “Ahhh.” I understood and in that understanding, did not want to begin again.


When one has been broken so many times, a tiredness and a dread seep in along with the question, “Why am I still here?” The only answer? “Begin again.” So, I have and now I do yet again. One day at a time, one breath at a time, I begin again…and again. One step in front of the other to a place without a name.



Flower Festival by Diego Rivera

I take leave of the painting in the bathroom. It is a mural I am working on to cover up the previous owner’s scribbling in brown. Though pleased with what has come out so far, I don’t know where the painting is going? Meant to be “whimsical” I find that I crave the realism of botanists or the expressionism of Diego Rivera.  When it veers into the surrealism of Dali, I quickly paint over the nightmare of errors.


Gathering up newspapers that protect the floor, I think of how the painting process is similar to the process of life. Trial and error. Learn by doing. There are times one must simply tidy up and wait for inspiration or direction to show the next step. As I put the broom into the closet, I am aware of a painting started on the death of my marriage. The painting is staring at me from the easel. I am damn tired of painting that one. There’s no way to express the pain of being cut out of someone’s life. At least not until more distance occurs between the subject and the object. I need a different perspective and don’t have it now. Maybe I need to put it in the closet with the broom although I swore never to return to a closet again.


Several times have thought of destroying the painting. Yet, what good would that do really? An expression of violence doesn’t heal or repair the wound of the heart, mind, and soul. As a result, I’ve continued to struggle with the painting just as I’ve struggled with grief. None are immune to grief, loss, pain. Though not alone in humanity’s struggle with grief, each person’s experience is unique and that sometimes isolates us.


It doesn’t have to be that way…or does it? My cousin grieves over the loss of her husband. Sudden death is traumatic to any who are confronted with it. Writing that she doesn’t have to bear it alone it’s also clear that I am unsure how to shoulder any of her pain. The same goes for the grief carried by my own sister who grieves a grandchild who lived for only an hour. How do we help each other bear the weight of grief?

In my own experience, I can only say that the cards, the notes helped. Though the weight of grief could not truly be shouldered by another, words are a comfort to me. Touch was too personal. A promise of presence required too much of my trust. But words, words reminded me of who I was and the strength I have inside. Songs reminded me that the power of singing heals. Worship always reminds me of something greater than myself or humanity.

Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Valle Crucis, NC


The sunlight shifts in the forest to brighter light. Yet, the shifting of the light also casts shadows in different places. Sometimes I want to burn with the fire of the holy in my life. Other times, it is good to rest in the shade and listen to the birds. I have no songs today, but the birds sing for me. There is movement sounding from the road below me; a reminder that humanity moves on down the road. I know I can too. Then, I laugh at the universe as it sends me a message via email.


“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

~Lao Tzu


Morning light in the Southern Appalachians.
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This Life I Have Been Given

There’s a song that has been coming back to me from long ago. It’s one my mom played on the piano and then my sister and I would take turns singing the verses. The title of the song is, “This Life” and it’s by Evie Tournquist. She was a contemporary gospel singer popular in the 70s when we were in high school.


A couple of weeks ago I asked mom to send me a copy of the music she has. I’ve looked for the Evie songbooks for years just to have copies of the songs I sang with my mom and sister. The music still speaks to me all these years later.


“This life I have been given is but a moment’s time. This life I have received it as a gift from [God’s] hand.”


Written in first person as one singing a song to God it is quiet, respectful, and full of heart. A lot of Evie’s songs were that way. As a trio of short women, we did also love the fun song she did called “I’m Only 4 foot eleven but I’m going to heaven and it makes me feel ten feet tall….” My theology has changed a lot since then so there are some of the contemporary gospel hymns I wouldn’t sing today because my understanding of God is more magnanimous.

Beech Mountain, NC 2018
©2017 JRobin Whitley

The song moves gently into my mind again today as I look through old pictures taken through the past thirteen years. Since my divorce, I’ve tried moving those thousand pictures of life with my wife to a safe keeping place. It’s been healing in many ways and of course, when I see pictures of our happiness and love it has been hard.

The pictures I am moving to the Flickr account today though, are ones I took on walks in forests. The walks were mostly in various places of the Nantahala Forest because it is so large, and Sylva is dead center of it. That place in the forest is one of the million reasons I loved living in Sylva.


Forests have always been exciting places for me. Exciting for the potential to see wildlife, but also to discover wildflowers, birds, nests, paths, and all the ways that nature changes in the forest. When I was in high school, we took one of those tests that gave you ideas about vocation in life. I always got Forest Ranger. As I look through my photos of today and get excited about new walks on Beech Mountain, I wonder if I missed my calling.


Seeing photo after photo of the wonder of the forest, I can see why I am so happy here. When my ex and I would vacation, we would only go an hour from the house staying in the mountains. The rivers and the trees were too peaceful to leave for the city or a harried trip on the interstate. Even now, when I want to go somewhere, it’s usually to explore this area. This month is dollar days at Grandfather Mountain. I’ve not been there in over twenty years. I can’t wait to see Birdie up on the top of those rocks looking down to the mountains below.


Linville Gorge is nearby and so are the caverns. I’ve truthfully no desire to see the caverns again. The last time I was there I realized being underground freaked me out a bit. Yet, I don’t have any photos of the

It felt like I was being watched. I looked up and saw this girl hoping Birdie wouldn’t see her. After we walked on, I also saw she had a fawn hidden behind a tree behind her.

trip I took in the 80s. Film cameras were too expensive, and I was one of the musicians singing in the mountains with Resort Area Ministry (R.A.M.) out of Boone. We all had just enough money to buy a ticket into the cavern. With my new digital cameras, would it take my mind off of the damp underground? The freaky bats that I don’t like (even though I know they are beneficial)? The water that could hold the Loch Ness Monster; even if it doesn’t have a water monster? Evidently, my sci-fi imagination goes a bit haywire in underground caverns.


A lot of the photos I uploaded today were photos I took of the forest floor. It is amazing at the life and

growth that occurs on the floor of the forest. First, the mosses begin to green up. Then there are sprigs of other plants. My friends already post pictures of trillium and trout lilies sprouting in Southern Appalachia. We have only a few greens here on Beech. Yet, I can’t wait to discover what they are and where they are.


Each day in a forest is an adventure because things are blooming. The frogs started singing last night. The night before the owls were hooting it up that it’s spring. Birds sing in the morning and the new red squirrel is already trying to tease Birdie. One of my new writer friends in the area posts regularly about the wonders she finds on her hikes. Lisa Creech Bledsoe is a great poet too and she sometimes posts her poetry as well. Check out her site at Appalachian Ground. Wonders await you in your own back yard or back forest. Take the time to look around at the ground around you. You’ll be glad you did.






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Spring and coming alive from winter.

2019©Photo by Alicia Randolph. Used with permission.

It’s that time of the year that brings joy to our hearts. Though we joke about the schizophrenic weather, we are really happy to see sprigs of green coming up through the muck and mire of winter. After the gray, wet, snowy blandness of winter colors, I especially want color. I want sunshine and flowers. Though patient with the process, I am also eager and excited.


Growing things has always been something that excites me. New friendships and old need growth. Gardens are a great place to be in touch with the growing and dying cycles of life inherent in nature. Since moving to Beech Mountain, I no longer have a garden. Though they are hard work, the work is rewarding and I miss it. Luckily for me, my friend Steven is writing about his garden and his greenhouse. This allows me to participate in the excitement of planning the garden as well. If we lived closer I would be over at his house asking to see its process.

The first garden I planted that was my very own (not mom or dad’s or my grandparents’), I was so excited I went out every morning to see if anything sprouted. That didn’t make things grow any faster of course.  I decided the same rule applies to gardens that applies with a watched pot waiting to boil. My excitement about seeing the first sprouts of beans or flowers or squash never lessened. It’s just that I found a way to pace my watching. Then one day I would walk up and it was as though the beans had sprouted up overnight.


Our lives are full of cycles. There are times we forget how cyclical everything is in life. Being able to get outside helps. Any growing activity helps. Maybe even mowing grass helps, but I’m not a fan of grass or mowing. Yes, it’s pretty but I won’t get on my soapbox about how our desire to create weed free green grass (that has little helpful purpose) has harmed our beneficial insect population. I am also biased because I’ve always been allergic to grass and with the allergies moving from just being itchy to causing asthma attacks, well, I am not fond of it. Though, as I look at articles, I am reminded of its benefits too when it comes to run-off areas. Maybe if we learn to step away from the chemicals and move towards a healthy permaculture.


Somewhere I said that I wouldn’t get on my soapbox about the environment. Believe it or not, I haven’t

Caterpillar from a long-ago garden.

yet. There’s still a part of me that turns to soil and thinking about our birds returning; our beneficial insects that will be returning. How can we prepare a place that’s welcoming so that we can share the bountiful treasure of food which their hard work produces? We cannot do it without them. Our lives depend upon a symbiotic relationship with plant, animal, soil, water, air.

In the Lutheran Church (ELCA), we talked about how this type of living is good stewardship of the land. In our Episcopal congregation the other day, I was pleased to hear of that similar way of looking at the land and our place as caretakers of a big garden rather than being a master of the house who can take anything wanted at any time. That is exploitation.

So maybe I am a little on my soapbox as well as just wishing I could plant something. Planting takes planning and my neighbors have already told me what to avoid unless my sole wish is to feed the deer. We have deer here that are almost tame. It is their land before it was ours, so it doesn’t bother me. There are no predators up here, so nature is off-balance in that way. I can’t say I wish for predators though. Each time I find a deer standing at me and looking through me with her soulful eyes (it’s usually a doe), it feels as those Psalm 42 has come alive into my presence or I have walked into a Psalm.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

Psalm 42:1 (NRSV

Until I know what to plant, I also cannot plant. The sun is shy on this north facing porch. Even with morning light, there’s not a lot. There’s foxglove that’s beautiful, but I’ve not found seeds yet in the area. Fred’s General Store has hanging boxes that have my attention. I keep asking, learning, planning, and in my own way growing into the spring out of winter in this year. Until I know for sure, I will keep waiting, watching, and learning.

2018 JRobin Whitley, Mother and fawn walking through the neighborhood.
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