The Gift of Mercy from Anne Lamott

 

WHAT WILL you remember most?

It’s a question my friend, Teresa, asked as we drove along in the dark, I-77 South stretching long in front of us.

Hum I said. It was taking some time, the sifting of all the contenders, so many beautiful possibilities floating around bumping each other at the top. There were Anne’s comments on surrender.  And truth. And wonder and mercy. And then I remembered her saying this, and my soul shifting, and my heart opening.

Just say what Jesus says.  She smiles. Just say “Me, too.”

 

 

THERE ARE SO MANY reasons I love Anne Lamott. She is a generous giver, a compassionate teacher for seekers of every kind: the lost, the found, the addicted, the broken, the resurrected. We are all worthy, she preaches, each and every one chosen. And it is our responsibility (as well as our joy) to lift each other up, to pull each other along in a world that is overwhelmingly difficult and yet beautiful beyond belief.

She is also a writer’s writer, Anne Lamott, a powerful storyteller who gets down to the bone of the thing. Her truths are raw and real; her honesty unarms in a way that casts every speck of pretense aside. I’ve never had the privilege of studying with Anne and yet she is my writing spirit guide. For each and every what-on-earth-am-I-doing chapter of my manuscript’s first draft she was there on my shoulder cheering sweetlyYou can do this. One sentence at a time. Just get it down. It feels so overwhelming, the largeness of a novel, a thousand mile journey you  walk in the dark. And Anne would say:  Tell me what happened.    I’d write.   Then what happened?   I’d write.   Then what happened?

 

A COUPLE OF WEEKS ago, out of the blue, I clicked on my inbox to find this email from my sweet, soulful friend, Joanne.

Anne Lamott is coming to Charlotte. Here are tickets. 

It was a generous, thoughtful gesture from someone I adore and don’t see nearly enough. It was also a powerful God-wink. I knew He had things to say to me.

 

AND SO WE were there, Teresa and I, when Anne Lamott walked onto the stage at Ovens Auditorium. She’d had one hell of a day, delayed more than six hours at Dulles and arriving 30 minutes after the start-time of her talk in Charlotte. She came straight to the gathering with no time at all to relax or recharge or even change her shoes. Instead she took a big drink of water, exhaled, and began answering life’s toughest questions before a crowd of thousands.

This one came up in no time.

So what is mercy, anyway?

Mercy, she said, and smiled. Mercy is grace in action.

(That’s as perfect a definition as I’ve ever heard.) 

And then she offered this by way of explanation. When a friend is troubled or shamed or downtrodden or broken hearted, our nature is to try to “fix” things by offering advice, or worse yet, platitudes. 

This is not Mercy.

Mercy, she says, Mercy is sitting with someone in their pain with no judgement and absolutely no intention of changing anything. (One person changing another is not possible anyway, she points out.) Mercy, like Jesus, simply says 

I know.

Me, too.

 

Do you feel the relief I feel in realizing this?

Are you happy to lay down the burden of  “fixing” things?

Can you exhale knowing in the pain you’re allowed to just be with it?

 

It is a gentle, compassionate way to live, and it was my biggest lesson of the night.

Yet there was so much more. So much more.

 

We’re so hungry for what we’re not giving.

You are being pulled for.

When someone shares deeply, say “thank you.”

Help is the sunny side of control.

The ultimate act of mercy is to listen.

80% of anything is a miracle.

 

THANK YOU, ANNE. Thank you, Christ Church. And thank you, Joanne, for this gift of grace–and mercy–in my life.

XXOO

 

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The Gigantic Life Truth I’d Forgotten

IT’S A PITIFUL EXAMPLE for a gigantic truth that’s parked itself right alongside me like one of those huge roadside boulders in Southern California.

I was in my pilates class, and Jan–our superhero instructor– introduced a new, more difficult move that involved stretching forward to push down on a weighted bar while extending a leg behind you. It takes incredible strength and balance to create this horizontal body position, and it didn’t take long for me to determine I couldn’t do it.

I tried.

But then I decided: This is too hard.  This is too hard for me, given my weak shoulder. Considering my age. How tired I am. That rib thing. (I could go on and on.)

Then a whisper came that had already presented itself to me twice this week, insisting again:

You can do hard things.

 

MY DAUGHTER, ELIZA, has spent the last seven weeks 2000 miles from home. She’s there working with a beautiful, amazing child who spends every moment of his life doing things that are hard. Born with a tiny single genetic mutation, the simple control of his arms and legs requires enormous energy and concentration. He can’t talk or stand or walk, but spend five minutes with this seven year old and your very definition of determination will be changed. He fights for every movement, willing his body to do things it simply cannot do. He strives to understand, and to be understood, communicating in innovative ways that make the mere act a holy one. And he laughs. He laughs with such ease and with such boundlessness that joy fills all that is around him, all color and light, all pure, sacred goodness.

He stole my heart, this remarkable child, and I don’t ever want it back.

 

AND THERE IS ELIZA, who moved boldly into a new life in a new world, who gives so well in a job that asks so much of her. She is brave and strong, and I admire her willingness to step out and step up, taking it on even when it’s hard.

We can do hard things.

I will strive to remember this the next time I face down something that requires more of me than I want to offer, the next time my inclination is to quit or to turn and run toward an easier path. 

 

 

We can. We can. We can.

XXOO

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little love birds

 

 

Several sweet bird couples live with us here on Bickley’s Pond, but none are more devoted than the finches. They are demonstrative little creatures who, when courting time comes around each Spring, are not shy in stating their intentions. 

But theirs is also a full time love. 

Several times each year one or the other finds its way onto our giant screen porch where it becomes more and more panicked in its (in)ability to find a way out. We humans do our best to assist, propping open the door and attempting to shoooooo the bird in the right direction.

(This never works.)

And so the frightened little bird flits around from one column to another, clinging to this screen and that, not making a single rational decision about what might be the best course of action in making a way out.

 

Why does this always happen to me?

 

And then.

And then love wins.

The devoted mate appears.

 

I’ll save you!

 

Inevitably the devoted mate appears, and from the outside in, coaxes and calms in the sweetest bird voice until she steadies, looks around, and finally finds her way back out the door. 

 

Yes, yes. To your left. To your left.

 

Oh, courting is lovely and sweet. 

But having a mate who is there for you in the crazy times–when you are irrationally afraid, or ridiculously wound up, or simply overwhelmed by the events of an otherwise ordinary day–that, my friends, is love.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to you.

XXOO

 

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What’s Saving Me Right Now*

First, a confession*. I don’t actually need to be “saved” from the winter blues. I love this flat white season, finding that–quite the opposite–the quiet fills my soul, steadying me, somehow, for the crescendo of Spring. Still I’ve enjoyed the theme as it has been passed blogger to blogger across the internet. And so I thought I’d take a minute to consider All The Things bringing me joy right now.

 

Reading. In winter, I make the time. Of late I’ve had at least three books going at once: 1) fiction, 2) memoir or essays, 3) audiobook–and this triumvirate is allowing me to make some headway in my vast “To Be Read” list. Since the list is lengthy, I’ll give some detail in my next post. Suffice it to say I’m excited about some of the suggestions.

 

some from my “read” and some from my “to be read” pile

 

The Crown. I’ve been reading more partly because we’ve committed to less television in my house. Except, except. Except for this. An original series from Netflix, The Crown tells the story of the current Queen Elizabeth II, her marriage to Prince Phillip and her ascension to the throne. It is remarkable, gorgeous and surprising. It is also the most expensive television series ever made. It shows.

 

My Brave Daughter. She inspires me. Seriously inspires me. She up and moved to California for three months with her job, doesn’t know a soul, and doesn’t have a community of young people around her (due to the nature of her work). And so she made a commitment to set off on an “alone” adventure every day, which she has been doing. Not only that, she’s making a point of trying out new things, like the area’s most famous Ramen restaurant. (She did not care for it.) Plus all along the way she sends me Snapchats that make me laugh. Like this one.

 

Podcasts in general, and The Making Oprah Podcast in particular, and the Making Donahue episode of the Making Oprah Podcast most of all.  I am an Oprah devotee, so much so that there wasn’t much new to me in this fantastic podcast series produced by WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station. It is so well done and so worth a listen, whether you know a lot about the making of the Oprah show or not. Of particular note is the bonus episode in which they use more material from their great interview with Phil Donahue and talk with him about the making of his show. It–and he–are priceless.

 

Those Fantastic Women’s March Signs. I did not attend the Women’s March although I am in full support of those who did, and of the march’s intentions. And heavens I enjoyed their signs as they rolled along my Instagram feed. I still think about this one–posted by my friend Joe–and it still makes me smile.

 

Prep Dish. After hearing about the menu subscription plan called Prep Dish for months and months on The Happy Hour podcast, I finally took advantage of the free week. It revolutionized my cooking life then and there. Each week Allison, the chef, sends you a gluten-free (or paleo) menu, a shopping list (organized by store department–brilliant) and step by step instructions for doing the week’s prep all at once. I LOVE IT. And I am not a paid promoter–just an enthusiastic subscriber!

What are you loving this winter? Do share in the comments!

 

XXOO

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.