the raging dark

WE STRETCHED OUR THANKSGIVING weekend in the mountains one more day, giving us time to prep for some work we’re having done in December. It’s a decision that resulted in us being there for one of the most unsettling nights I’ve ever experienced, a violent windstorm raging outside our walls and windows as we lay in the dark trying to sleep.

It’s a strange thing, this being at 5,000 feet on the top of a mountain. Every sense feels heightened. The glory is grand and majestic, of course. But the weather is unpredictable, and an emergency service–fire, EMT, etc.–is 40 minutes away, at best. It’s a place where you learn the reward of isolation might just be offered in equal measure to the risk.

They were the thoughts in my head as the storm raged around us all night. My greatest fear was of an ancient tree falling on the house (a reasonable concern when you are located in a forest). The wind shook the windows and rain pelted the glass with such force it sounded like ice, or gunshot, or both. I clung to Tim’s words as he slept fitfully beside me:  This house has stood here for 38 years. It will be fine.

(Right.)

All of this is to say I had several hours to think in the dark and not-so-quiet of that night. And in my attempt to push the worry away, I turned my mind toward Advent.

 

the-storm

 

A FEW YEARS AGO our Sunday School studied the book of Daniel with Beth Moore. I particularly remember a surprising revelation she offered about great dramas playing out above us in the heavenlies. Angels fight for us, she said, as we go about our mortal days unknowing. It’s an idea that’s stuck with me these many months since, this consideration of angels that are not gentle and ethereal but active and passionate and at work. As I listened to the wind and rain in the darkness, it’s the image that came to mind. Perhaps what I’m hearing is a great and fierce angel battle, I thought, one our tired world could surely use amid the darkness of late. 

 

THESE HAVE BEEN difficult days, particularly so for many people I love: a terrifying cancer diagnosis; heartbreaking loss for a treasured friend; the unfathomable news a precious child is in an induced coma, the doctors searching for answers that won’t seem to come. 

It goes on and on and on, the awful list, one after the other after the other.  I desperately pray for each one. My heart aches heavy and swollen, and in my plea I reach for the words of writer/minister Winn Collier and the promise of this holy season of Advent:

We watch for Light. We pay attention to rhythm and sound and cadence. Our hearts look for signals. Our hearts lean forward. Light is coming.

In that night, through that storm, in this darkness, it’s a promise I cling to more than ever.

 

 

On Thanksgiving and Tradition (Redux)

This post first appeared on The Daily Grace on Thanksgiving Eve 2011. I repost it every year in honor of my mother, who passed away in February of 2013. It has become a Thanksgiving tradition, I guess you would have to say.

I wish you every blessing of this holiday week.

 

The past three nights I have had dreams of my mother. In each, I was the age I am now, living my current life. But her age changed—early 40s, then 80s, then some age in-between.

I know these dreams came to me because it is Thanksgiving and I will not see her. She and Dad live in a retirement community in another state, and for health reasons, no longer travel. We are staying here because it is my daughter’s first holiday from college. She needs some “home” time, and she will spend Thanksgiving day with her Dad and his family. Those grandparents, who face debilitating health challenges of their own, will be filled with joy to have her there.

It is the right decision.

Nevertheless, my mother is heavy on my mind. My dreams mark that small, tight space in which I live, wedged between aging parents and maturing children. I want more time with both, and still the demands of our lives—mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s—pull us in three radically different directions.

Here is what the dreams were about. In some pretty obvious ways, and some veiled, the situations represented traditions my mother established when we were a family of six: Mom, Dad, my three brothers and me. While “tradition” infused all aspects of our family’s life, from sports superstitions to station wagon vacations, the most vivid to me are still the holidays.

Thanksgiving at our house in Virginia was exactly the same every year. My grandmother lived next door, and my brothers rolled her wheelchair down the tiny hill that connected our yards to bring her to dinner. La-La wore fur in the cold mountain air and brought with her a green cut glass bowl of homemade cranberry sauce. She also made pineapple fritters, a treat reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom roasted the turkey, always in a brown-n-bag (70s) which meant it could not be stuffed—a choice about which my father expressed disdain year after year after year. Still, he was the carver, and I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday “testing” bite after juicy bite in that formica-countered, wood stain-cabineted kitchen while my mother instructed my oldest brother, Sutton, on the finer points of making giblet gravy.  (“Stir like hell!”) When we were seated, and Mom complained once again about not making the dining room big enough when they built the house in 1965, my brother Randy would ask of the table:

I wonder if next year we’ll remember asking this year if we would remember asking this last year?

 

In my family today—the one in which I am the mother—we have no such traditions. Instead, Thanksgiving is a surprise every year. In the early days I made my way back to my mother’s house, first as a single girl, then married, then divorced with a small child in tow. Then the small child learned to dance and Thanksgiving week was filled with an endless schedule of Nutcracker performances that kept us bridled to South Carolina.

 

Eliza, in blue, a Party Girl in The Nutcracker

I married again, bringing another branch to our beautiful, complicated family tree, and our celebrations diversified once more. I especially loved the years Tim’s mother, Dorothy, joined us for Thanksgiving. I can still see her in the kitchen, making the Monetti family’s traditional creamed onions—a novelty to me. One year, just after a break with the ballet company, we found ourselves with no Thanksgiving plans at all. Along with our dear friends, the Coles, we hopped a plane for New York City and the Macy’s parade. I ate pumpkin ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner; it was divine.

 

at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade

 

And so, you see, my daughter has grown up rather traditionless. Instead, her life has been filled with a cornucopia (forgive me) of holiday celebrations. And I ask myself why it is that I now regret this? Why has this thought invaded my dreams? I think it is that space that we find ourselves in, we Mothers Squeezed Between The Generations. Guilt lurks on either end. I regret that I haven’t established the traditions of my childhood in my own home, for my daughter; I feel guilty not abandoning all for the mere opportunity to be with my parents—a remarkable blessing in itself.

And so tomorrow will come, and Eliza will head out the door toward her Ellis family. I’ll pull the big turkey from the fridge, overstuff it with dressing, and load it on my Williams Sonoma roasting pan. Then while I watch my husband carve the big bird, sneaking bites every chance he gets—I will smile and stir the giblet gravy.

I will remember, Mom, to stir like hell.

 

 

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Moving forward.

 

sunrise
October 31, 2017

 

OF LATE I’ve been considering two words I don’t think I ever use but that keep presenting themselves to me. We are wrought, each and every one of us–worked into shape by artistry or effort all through our livesSometimes something beautiful emerges through guidance of a gentle, loving hand. And sometimes we are beaten into shape by tools; hammered.

Either way this shaping occurs, molding our character and testing our values and resilience.

And sometimes we are overwrought: wrought beyond reason; worked over; weary.  It’s what keeps coming to me as I try to come to terms with my feelings in the wake of the election. I am looking for a place to land and a point of view from which to move forward, praying our good Lord has a plan in light of all this hatred and division.

 

HOPE CAME IN THE FORM of a reasonable conversation via the indomitable Krista Tippet and her remarkable podcast, On Being. Recorded on October 26th (nearly two weeks before voting), Krista talks with  former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and “interfaith visionary” Eboo Patel about how to live beyond the election and how to “reimagine and re-weave the very meaning of common life and common good.” Among other things, they talk about the need to recognize a healthy, diverse democracy is one in which people can disagree on important, fundamental issues but continue to work together on others.

It’s so, so good, this conversation.  Listen to it here.

A lifeboat, really, filled with wisdom and love and grace, a reminder that each of us–on all sides of all issues–can be part of the light.

XXOO

 

 

Gifts of a New Day

 

It’s one of those things you wonder how you made it a lifetime not knowing.

~~~~~~~~~~~

We’d come to the mountains for a long weekend just the day before, arriving late and promising that since it would be Saturday, we really were going to sleep in. But morning came and our eyes opened and before you could say October we were out on that deck, coffee in hand.

There was the tiniest thread of light just along the ridge line.

 

moonrise1

 

We inhaled, exhaled, and gave thanks for another day.

But then I looked closer. There was also a rising crescent, a sliver so slight I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks. There, just above the mountain. What is that? I said to Tim. It looks like the moon.

I think it is, he said.

But it’s morning, I said. And that’s about where we expect the sun to rise.

I got my big lens, and this happened next.

 

moonrise4

moonrise5

 

It’s difficult to tell since the zoom changes from image to image, but just as the moon began to disappear, sure enough, right behind it (and just slightly west) came the sun.

 

moonrise3

sun1

 

sun-2

sun3

 

It was the New Moon, I’ve since learned, one that all these years, from the beginning of time, has risen with the sun.

Wow. And thanks and praise!

 

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This is Us.

 

I REALLY DIDN’T HOLD OUT much hope, to tell you the truth. The commercials were on ad nauseam and the promotion seemed too much. It was like one of those films for which all the good moments are shown in the previews leaving nothing to delight in during actual viewing.

But there is so little television Tim and I watch live these days. A new show, we both agreed–one with even with the tiniest modicum of promise–seemed a worthy spend of an hour.

What a good decision that turned out to be.

 

THIS IS US is a new drama on NBC that has stolen my heart. The storyline is meant “to challenge your everyday perceptions about the people you know and love,” a fine line to walk if ever I’ve seen one. In less skillful hands this show could go so wrong so fast. But so far, so good (there are a few exceptions*), and Tuesday night’s “The Game Plan” resolved nicely in a lovely and surprising way as Kevin shared a Painting of Life with his nieces.

 

 

AS I WATCHED I couldn’t help but think what an important message this is for our world today, for our country today, for each and every one of us, on every side of every issue.

What if we’re in the painting before we’re born, what if we’re in it after we die, and these colors that we keep adding—what if they just keep getting added on top of each other until eventually, we’re not even different colors anymore. Just one thing, one painting…There’s no you, or me, or them. There’s just us. 

 

image: NBC, This is Us
image: NBC, This is Us

 

And this sloppy, wild, colorful, magical thing that has no beginning, has no end, is right here. I think it’s us.

It’s us. There’s just us. Yes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*His making of the painting, perhaps. But the looks on the faces of those girls as he shares it way more than makes up for that bit of willing suspension. Right???

On little ideas, big anniversaries and great joy

My dear friend and business partner, Teresa Coles, wrote this post in honor of our company’s 29th birthday on October 19th. So many amazing things have happened since she brought her smarts to C.C.Riggs (now Riggs Partners) a quarter of a century ago, not the least of which is CreateAthon. A joint thought brought the initiative into the world, yes. But it has been Teresa’s vision, drive and passion that has turned the little idea into a national movement that has generated $24 million in marketing services for nonprofits around the country. What a joy and honor it is to bask in the glow of her work and heart. We have just completed our 19th CreateAthon at Riggs, and in celebration, I am happy to share the love here.

 

On Riggs. CreateAthon. And more than a little grace.

by Teresa Coles

Twenty-nine years ago today Cathy Rigg said enough. Enough to mediocre thinking. Enough to creative short cuts. She left her job on a Friday, bought a Mac SE with money from her grandmother, and opened up C.C. Rigg’s on Black Monday, October 19, 1987.

 

dsc_6686_ccriggs_sign_circa_1987
what a little vision and a lot of believin’ looks like

 

There were a million reasons why this company would fail.

And yet, here we are. 

Nineteen years ago, she and I wondered if there might be something more for our company. A higher calling, if you will. So we came up with the notion of pulling an all-nighter to help nonprofits that couldn’t afford professional marketing.

There were a million reasons why this idea would fail.

And yet, here we are. 

So what matters in all of this? What have these markers in our collective history taught us about our work, our lives and each other?

Consider it all joy. 

On this birthday of Riggs and the eve of CreateAthon 19, I’m mindful of the cords of grace that have bound us over the years. The unspoken covenant that held us together when we just didn’t think we could do One More Thing. The willingness to listen generously to each other’s point of view in order to solve the unsolvable. The abiding sense of teamwork that pulled us out of chaotic seasons and returned us to a place of peace.

I’m grateful for every one of these challenges and foibles. They are testament to both our humanity and to what can be accomplished when we uphold each other in pursuit of something that’s bigger than any one of us.

Riggs Partners hasn’t been in business for 29 years because we’re smarter than anyone else in marketing. CreateAthon hasn’t delivered more than $24 million in pro bono service because we came up with the idea first.

It happened because we had faith in each other. And we knew that by standing as one, there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish – even if it wasn’t always perfect along the way.

Tomorrow morning, CreateAthoners will walk into the WECO building and breathe air that is electric, inspiring and humbling. We will bear witness to our very best selves. And we will see that as much as our CreateAthon clients may benefit from our gifts, the joy we receive will be tenfold.

That, my friends, is more than enough to say grace over.

 

 

Autumn Glory

 

It’s been an interesting thing this year to get glimpses of autumn as it has made its way to these mountains. The very first sign was a single tree–I kid you not–among the thousands that crowd the Black Mountain range as it runs east to west behind our place. That spot of magnificent gold among the deep, deep greens of late summer held our interest for several days.

 

primegold

 

Then there came other changes, but subtle. They were most visible in early evening with the sun angled just right; its perfect rays spread across those ridges like a giant hand with long fingers of light stretching wide to reach them. The leaves still shown green, the mountains blanketed in a lush, dense carpet. But now there was something else, an undercolor. It was as if this was a canvas on which the artist laid down a burnt umber ground, the whole of the mountain transitioning in a slow, quiet flow. And it was all taking place below the surface.

 

underpainting

 

Then the reds began to appear. Dotted here and there, their gorgeous color making an unmistakeable pronouncement:

 

redsofautumn

 

It is time.

 

realreds

 

changingleaves

 

 

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The Day The Bear Came To Call

 

THERE IS ANOTHER MOUNTAIN STORY I’ve yet to share, and one that deserves quite a crescendo. It happened the first day of our last trip, our climb to the top of that ridge one that is always filled with excitement as I scan the dirt road, the shadowy forest, the meadows ahead for bear. We’ve been rewarded with sightings two or three times from the safety of our car, my camera never able to get a good enough shot to share here. The best was the time the Mama and her babies crossed in front of us, then–I’m not kidding you–shimmied right up the trunk of a tree just a few yards into the woods. What a delight!

But on this arrival there were no such episodes as we made our way up the mountain and down the long drive to the house. We unloaded groceries, put our suitcases away, then poured ice cold beers into ice cold glasses and headed to the deck for our customary “we just got here” happy hour and sunset watch.

No bears that day, but a gorgeous, gorgeous view.

 

img_0448
do you see the colors of autumn just about to burst forth?

 

WE WERE EXPECTING FRIENDS for the weekend so the next morning I got up and before the day got away commenced to cooking. There were three giant packages of chicken to be dealt with–thighs and breasts, bones and not–and so it was an exercise that took me quite a bit of time. The windows were open, the skillets were smoking and sweet Tim had just come in, his morning having been filled with work on the roof rather than the meadow. He made a sandwich, stepped onto the screen porch then stuck his head back into the kitchen offering, ever-so-calmly, “Bear.”

I looked up. I was elbow-deep in chicken, so it took me a minute to wash up, grab my camera and join Tim on the deck where he pointed to the vines below and whispered, There. Eating the grapes.

 

img_3903

 

Below us on the concrete walk was his bulky shadow, the leaves of the vine rustling. After a minute he heard us and glanced up, a little surprised, perhaps, but not very interested.

 

img_9862-copy
well hello

 

After a while he got up, ambled around to the bear path, and continued–we guessed–up toward the driveway.

I darted to the front door where I knew I could stand in the mudroom to watch. He came around the corner and good heavens continued walking right toward me.

 

bear-out-front

 

There was plenty of glass between us, nevertheless I ducked inside, my heart beating fast.

The bear turned left and climbed the steps to the driveway. Tim alongside me now, we moved back to the front and I snap snap snapped with my camera.

 

bear-on-driveway

 

What did he do? Lo and behold that bear came back down the embankment and returned to the grapes, shaking them this time with some significant intention. Then he stepped out from the shadows, looked up at us and–after a moment of careful consideration–raised up on his hind legs.

 

img_3921

 

img_9871-copy
WELL HELLO!

 

It occurs to me as I write this it sounds as if the bear was getting frustrated, or being aggressive, something that really wasn’t the case. He was more curious, that’s how it felt, rising up to get a little better view. (We can hardly blame him, focused as we were on chasing him around.) Nevertheless, I grabbed the bird feeders and ran back in the house, quick as a wink.

The bear? He came on around the other side of the house, up the steps, and according to Tim–who got a quick glimpse through the bedroom door while I cowered in the den–climbed right over the railing and on to our safe, sacred, happy-hour-viewing-spot deck.

 

bear-on-deck

 

bear-deck-one

 

At this point we were inside and he was outside, I should be clear about that. Still our hearts were racing like wildfire. The bear took his time, wandering about, looking around, smelling a bit. And then he lumbered back off, again climbing over the railing and heading in the direction of Tim’s workshop at the edge of the driveway. He made his way around the building’s back side and disappeared from our view. Then after a few minutes Tim ventured out and surmised the friendly fella had headed on up the mountain toward the Landl’s place.

 

IT WAS QUITE AN EXPERIENCE, I will give you that, one filled with so much excitement and fear the thrill hung on for days. We stayed on high alert and discussed, ad nauseam, what had prompted that bear to come so close, where we should keep the air horn (it was in the garage or we would have blown it simply to dissuade him from coming onto the deck), what would have happened had Tim been out clearing the meadow when the bear came to call. It was the smell of chicken that drew him, that’s what we believe, along with a genuine curiosity about the new folks in this pretty house with the big, berry-filled meadow.

 

I SHOULD ALSO SAY THIS. We have a great respect for these creatures, Tim and I both. We understand these are their mountains first and foremost. We also know black bears are not likely to become aggressive, although they do take food–and the promising smells thereof–very, very seriously.

We shall remain ever mindful.

 

My, but they DO have a nice view.
My, but they do have a nice view.

 

XXOO

 

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28. The Old Timey Fall Festival

 

THE CALLISON’S JOINED US for the weekend in North Carolina, a good deal of Tree Felling in the boys’ futures, a good bit of porch sitting in ours. And although it is against my mountain religion to drive off this ridge (but for an emergency), we were going to be here for four full days. So I opened my heart to the possibility of a Saturday jaunt to Mount Mitchell.

A little road trip could be fun, I thought, particularly if the result was a mountain view even more spectacular than our current 5200 foot elevation.

And then I learned it was also The Old Timey Fall Festival on the town square in Burnsville. That made it a Done Deal.

 

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-56-37-am
you can see why i was so excited

 

Of course Leslie and Scott were game. So Saturday morning we loaded up the dogs, the people, and the trash* and we pointed the 4-Runner for Burnsville.

That festival did not disappoint.

 

 

AND THEN WE STARTED the climb to Mount Mitchell. It was a beautiful drive that took us along the Cane River, the South Toe River and up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. In no time at all we were unloading our crew at Mount Mitchell and making the short hike to the top.

Oh, those views.

 

img_0165-copy

 

 

Mount Mitchell is the highest spot East of the Mississippi, and its peak just happens to be in sight from the back deck of our place. We’ve spent hours sitting there looking across at it, discussing the weather, wondering whether or not a person standing there could see our house and meadow here.

With binoculars, we could. (That was pretty cool.)

 

We're there on that second ridge between the pines!
our little slice of heaven, on the middle ridge between the pines

 

Then we hopped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway and continued in the other direction, eventually taking a (planned) Forest Service Road shortcut that offered a pretty–if slightly unnerving–path down.

 

img_4128

 

It was a perfect day with dear, dear friends, a perfect way to officially move from the fun of Summer to the fun of Fall.

Yay!

 

Sweet traveling buddies
Cinder and Little Bit: Sweet traveling buddies

 

 

30 Days of Fun 

*Needless to say there’s no trash pickup on the mountains so a trip to the dump is cause for rejoicing

 

 

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The passing of another day

 

I’VE SEVERAL STORIES TO TELL YOU of our September days in the mountains, this being our first early Autumn here in the Blue Ridge. We come and go with great frequency as our primary lives are still lived in South Carolina’s midlands–work, precious friends, and a home with a demanding yard keep us rooted there.

But we do love it here. And even now, after a summer full of early mornings, we still climb out from under the covers, rise in the dark and most every day go out to greet the sun.

I mean. How could you not?

 

blueridge4

 

BEFORE I GET TO THOSE STORIES I want to mention something that’s been on my mind, a thought harbored there that brings so much else about this place into focus. I’ve been thinking about the many reasons, for me, these mountains have such a strong pull. There are my Southwestern Virginia roots, of course. Generations go back there on my mother’s side; my people are mountain people. But it feels as if there is more to it than that. There is the landscape itself, and our particular view of it here. A person can rather miraculously stand in one place, look to the left, and watch the sun rise. You need not move to see it traverse the sky–throwing spectacular and always-changing shadows across the ridges in font of you. Then at day’s end, from the same spot, simply look right for its magical sinking into the trees. The experience of this journey is different each time, the sun’s position, the clouds, the season and the weather creating a humbling show that quite literally takes your breath away.

 

blueridgesunrise1
to the east, 7:24 a.m.

 

blueridgeday
to the south, 4:21 p.m.

 

blueridgesunset
to the west, 7:59 p.m.

 

How remarkable it is to watch the sun rise, then see the sun set, and to be aware–totally and completely aware–of the passing of another day. To be alive in it, yes. But to be conscious of it. To intentionally and gratefully mark it. To see the bookends and acknowledge a day has passed.

These mountains. They sure want me to notice.

I am grateful.

 

XXOO

 

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