The Right Words To Say

Still one of my faves 18. Open #fms_open #fmsphotoaday #latergram

 

IT’S THE KIND OF POST that gets me to click right away–the promise of just the right words to say, or how to comfort a friend who is hurting or three things we all need to hear. There’s something I’m drawn to in the possibility of a neat little word package I can tuck away, then call on anytime my mortal old self just can’t seem find the right combination.

What a gift that would be in a world with so much woe.

It’s certainly not what I expected when I clicked on the link to an essay by Hannah Brencher via her Monday email #94 titled, quite simply: Abide.

She gets me, Hannah does, young as she is, and so wide open and unfiltered. (In all honesty, I know it probably takes the girl hours to achieve the level of spontaneity her posts suggest.) Still there’s a real beauty to her unsettled spirit, a twenty-something young woman out there preaching her own gospel of a life filled with longing, searching out the things that matter most. It’s a quest she’ll continue for years to come–that’s what I want to tell her–the answers changing color and intensity and texture as she moves from one life season to the next. It’s a quest she’ll find as terrifying and rewarding in her 56th year as in her 26th.

But oh what she gains by being brave enough to ask the questions.

 

SHE ANSWERED TWO OF MINE in her ABIDE essay is the point I want to make. Touching a soul spot in her lament over the need for greeting cards with genuine, honest sentiments, she writes:

The world needs more cards that touch the hard stuff, the crappy situations, and the days when you wish you could escape out of your own skin and be someone else. I know I have those days. I know a lot of other people who have those days too and they’d probably appreciate some sort of card showing up in their mailbox that says, “You’re not really feeling it right now. I get it. I’m with you. It won’t be like this forever.” 

It won’t be like this forever. How powerful is that simple sentence? How many times in my life have I needed to hear it? How many times could I have brought comfort just by saying it?

 

HANNAH OFFERS ANOTHER wished-for card saying in the post, one that touched me so immediately it tucked itself up and has hung close ever since. It’s a phrase that came to her as part of an answered prayer, a God-wink that appeared when she asked for a sign. I’ve thought of it a thousand times as I’ve moved through my own week planning, wondering, worrying.

Be where your feet are.

That’s the message God brought her, she wrote in her Monday Morning email, a message that packed its own powerful punch when it landed with me. I, too, battle to stay present and to live in the moment and to accept what is rather than pressing the forward or rewind button of my life. But this little sentence so direct and true makes it easier, somehow, less overwhelming and theoretical, and more real life, here, now. Be where your feet are.

Hannah goes on to write:

He didn’t say, “pack your suitcase and go.” I would have liked that. Instead, it was this gentle reminder: stay with me. Don’t run wild in your head looking for answers and solutions and trying to solve problems that aren’t yours to solve. Just calm down and stick close.

It’s God’s reminder not to run from that which is refining you, she says.

How I love that thought. How I needed to hear it.

Thank you, Hannah Brencher. Thank you for your light in this world.

 

Note: You can follow Hannah Brencher’s blog here.

 

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The Question To Ask When You Don’t Know What To Do

 

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO I mentioned my lenten walk across the internet–a bit of a dichotomy, I recognize, and one that still seems silly to acknowledge. And yet it is a journey that continues to bear fruit. My reading list now includes a handful of writers/bloggers who open my heart in ways beautiful and lasting.

Case in point a recent post from Kelly Chripczuk of A Field of Wildflowers. It’s worthy of a read for the title alone: “What I Wanted and What Love Offered.” Oh, and the subtitle: Grace and the Salt and Pepper Hang-over.

(Right?)

Kelly writes beautifully about the stifling disappointment of morning-after, not-enough-sleep, {we’ve-all-been-there} regret.

I had ruined that which I was looking forward to, my morning of writing and stretching, the feeling of forward momentum and accomplishment as I checked off my list of goals.  But it was what it was and I worked hard to not attach to the thoughts of judgment and condemnation that flew around my brain like a flock of scattered birds.

Instead, I asked myself what Love would do, what I would tell my kids if, when, they find themselves in the same predicament.

Love offered a nap.

Love said, “It is what it is.”

Oh, yeah.

 

IT IS THE QUESTION that’s come to mind a thousand times in the week since I came upon Kelly’s post, the answer to a hundred dilemmas as they’ve come in and out of focus. There is a lot going on, after all, considerable change as life moves from one season to another, as I navigate waters that churn and chop like a boat making a decisive turn. It’s the thought that comes as my own hopes and fears come into direct contact with those of the people around me, people I love, as well as people with whom I have no particular relationship but a passing one–the overloaded dressing room attendant, the distracted young waitress at a new restaurant, an acquaintance with an email request I don’t have time for. Since reading Kelly’s post, what has come to mind with each interaction and decision, each response or action I’ve needed to take is this:

What would Love do?

 

heart-cloud

 

THERE IS ONE OTHER THING worth mentioning, another thought resurrected by Kelly’s post and brought back to my soul’s center from which it had slipped but where it most surely belongs. It is the great truth also espoused by the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle in his powerful work, A New Earth:

Love What Is.

Oh dear friends. We can go a thousand miles on that one.

XXOO

 

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the lenten desert

IT HAS BEEN my desert during this lenten season, my place of wandering. This is something I didn’t realize until this moment as I write this post, and it’s something that feels strange and awkward to admit, even to myself. But the truth is in these past few weeks I’ve spent a great deal of time online discovering an unfolding world of seekers who make keen observations about our profound need for grace and love and kindness in a crazy hustle world.

My journey began when, in rather typical and wildly random internet fashion, I came upon this sentence in a blog post last February. Since then it has stuck to me like brittle autumn leaves on a wool coat:

We come not because we must but because we may.

It was a story about an intimate Communion shared by Carolyn Watts and her spiritual director, a sharing of the bread and the cup that so affected the writer she wrote about it on her blog Hearing the Heartbeat. She went on to say:

I’m pondering, these days, the various habits in my life that have arisen out of a must.

Carolyn makes a beautiful point about her God-call to stillness, something that has become more than a practice for her, now a life center.

 

THE COMMUNION PHRASE HAS CLUNG TO ME, TOO, insisting I take it another place in my own world. The thought arises every time the “I must” sentiment enters my head or leaves my mouth: I have to finish this work task; I have to fold that laundry; I have to get that workout in. Ugh.  My day–every single day–is weighted down by a long list of I must tasks that define my attitude and my existence.

But here is my truth. How fortunate I am God has given me the ability to do these things. How blessed I am to be able to walk on the treadmill and participate in a Pilates class, that I have clothes to wash and a machine in which to dry them and a closet in which to hang them. I have a car that drives me to the grocery store where the shelves are stocked, where I simply need put things in my cart and bring them home to peel and chop and roast and eat, foods that nourish my body.

Oh, yes, what a privilege it is in this life that I may, rather than I must.

 

IT IS STILL COMMUNION, this being open to God’s presence in the ten thousand tiny tasks that make up my day, my week, my life. He is there and ready to meet me, this I know–not just on the altar, but at the kitchen sink, in my weed-filled garden, as I fill the car with gas.

Blogger Emily P. Freeman (through whom I found the Carolyn Watts post) encourages “small moment living” through a practice she calls Simply Tuesday. She writes,

Real life happens in the small moments we find on the most ordinary day of the week. Tuesday holds secrets we can’t see in a hurry–secrets not just for our schedules but for our souls.

It’s a practice I want to emulate, and so I will join with Emily’s followers in posting “an ordinary moment” each Tuesday on Instagram and tagging it #itssimplytuesday. The point, of course, is neither the photograph nor the Instagram sharing. Instead it is the mindful attention required to notice and celebrate that which is so ordinary in a greatly blessed “I must” day.

 

bubbles
my nieces, in an ordinary moment I love

 

THERE ARE A MILLION other flavorful nuggets I’ve found as I’ve walked through this digital desert, a wonderful community of folks out there looking for grace in the everyday. What a gift it is to find them via the internet where it requires merely a click to connect person to person, heart to heart, soul to soul.

And that in itself is rather miraculous. Wouldn’t you say?

Not because we must but because we may.

Yes.

 

XXOO

 

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I am always here

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 86–a fact that astounds me. I had this vivid dream and wrote this post a few weeks after she died, in early 2013, and to this day it brings me comfort and joy. Thanks for allowing me to remember it all by sharing it with you here, again.

 

my favorite photo of Mom, Dad and my Eliza, circa 1993
my favorite photo of Mom, Dad and my Eliza, circa 1993

 

For months, I dreamed about my mother every night. Except that’s not exactly true. The dreams were never about my mother, but she was always part of them—an extra in a film that was about something else entirely. She moved along the periphery of the storyline, watchful (perhaps), unobtrusive certainly. Night to night to night she was the many Moms of my life, her age changing regularly, and very often scene to scene—something that seemed entirely reasonable in context.

At the time of the dreams, I neither questioned nor analyzed them. I simply accepted them for the comfort they brought. Her health was failing and I wanted to be with her. I knew I was doing the best I could, living and working 300 miles away. Still, my heart was heavy.

Surrounded by her family, she died in the middle of the night on February 2nd. I was holding her hand. Her Little Bit was there, too, the precious dog that had come to live with us when Mom moved into the nursing center two years ago. She breathed her last breath with that little creature lying up against her leg, Little Bit’s sweet dog head stretched out across her stomach.

That was the night my Mom dreams ended. Until last Sunday, that is, when she came to me so vividly it’s hard to remember it wasn’t real life.

I can’t believe you are here I said to her in the dream, knowing it couldn’t be true, knowing she was gone. But there she was, the Mom I most remember, the Mom of my teenage years. Mom emphatic. Mom looking me dead in the eye with that look she got when she wanted to make a point she full well knew I would challenge.

I’m always here, she said.

There were no harps or angel choruses, there was no delicate afterlife haze. Just Mom, my Mom, right there before me.

There’s so much I want to tell you, I said. So much has happened. And I launched into every story I’ve wanted to tell her, every detail of the past six weeks as if I were sitting there with her in the little den, home for a weekend from college.

She listened intently, laughed appropriately, and then said this: I’m getting tired, it’s time for me to go, and she stretched out her legs to lie down.

No, I said. Please. I’ve got this letter that came after your funeral, it’s this funny story about you I’d never heard. I’m so glad he wrote to tell me about it, I’m so happy you’re here so we can laugh about it together.

          Put it in my pocket, she said.

But I don’t want you to go, I said. Tell me you’ll come back.

        It’s too exhausting, she said. It takes too much energy. But you needed to know I am here.

I don’t know what that means. Mom, tell me what that means.

      I am where I have always been, she said, where I’ll always be. I am always here.

That’s when I woke up.

I lay there in the dark running over it in my mind, wondering if I should wake my husband to tell him, terrified I’d lose the dream’s details if I didn’t speak them. After a moment, I realized the radio was playing from the other side of my nightstand. The clock had turned over to 6:15 am and clicked it on.

It took me a minute to register the words to the song.

how do you talk to an angel
how do you hold her close to where you are
how do you talk to an angel
it’s like trying to catch a falling star

 

Thanksgiving in the Country

How grateful I am to have a family tree that is complex and beautiful, with open arms and plenty of love to go around.

It has been one of the great lessons of my life and one that was deepened Thursday when our little clan made a long, pretty drive along South Carolina’s back roads to join the Ellis side of the family for a grand Thanksgiving celebration. It was one worthy of Garden and Gun (but with exactly zero pretense) at a centuries-old farmhouse surrounded by acres and acres of beautiful South Carolina countryside. Our hostess, Jean, whom I love like mad, filled the house and lawn with family, friends and so much good food all our bodies and our souls were nourished. It was a collection of people connected in so many diverse ways it reminded me of a constellation, bright little lights that came together to form something special.

 

house
Jean and Buck’s

 

We gave thanks, honored the grand patriarch of the family Ed Ellis, then at tables spread hither and yon through the house we caught up with loved ones from far and near and made new friends from the collection of folks gathered there.

 

dining

 

Then it was out to the fields with Jean’s husband, Buck (the most interesting man I know*) for some skeet shooting. I was thrilled with the possibility and strapped Emma’s rifle to my back even if I didn’t actually get to pull the trigger (dang shoulder surgery).

 

cathygetshergun
photo credit: Emma Ellis

 

It’s just as well. Emma out shown and outshot us all.

 

IMG_2363

 

We were walking back to the house when Jean pulled on a quiet branch above our heads and nuts rained down. They were pecans, and as I’ve never gathered or shelled the things, I ran to the house for a bag. (I hear from many that I will now spend the month of December trying to coax them from their shells.)

 

pecan

 

It was a gorgeous November day, golden in every way, my heart filled to overflowing. How blessed I am to have collected three big families in my life: my own Rigg kin; my husband’s big Italian Monetti branch; and the one that came with my first marriage, the Ellis/Suber clan that refused to let go but instead broadened its loving circle when I remarried 12 years ago.

How they’ve colored my life. How they’ve shown me–each and every member of that beautiful, extended family–what it means to love, deep and pure and with genuine hearts.

 

thankful
my sister/cousin Jean’s car tag

 

*For instance. Buck is restoring a wooden boat that once belonged to Malcomb Forbes. Swear.

 

See?
See?

Friends for Life.

thegirls
Sarah, Hanna, Eliza, Jillian, Michelle

 

It’s not easy to make a major life transition, and this is doubly true when that move is from college to adulthood. It’s what my favorite Clemson girls have faced this fall as they’ve moved from Senior Year to Real Life navigating grown-up jobs, graduate school, and solo apartments in new cities with few friends.

They are also spread across the Southeast, something that challenges them, in Atlanta, Charleston, Greenville, Charlotte, Raleigh.

So you can imagine the joy I felt in hosting their first big reunion at our house this weekend. They walked in my door, wrapped their arms around each other and commenced to talk and talk and talk, their subjects nowhere near exhausted by the time of their Sunday afternoon departure. There was coffee and chatting on the porch, afternoon conversation down by the lake, evening laughter as they draped across the sofas (and each other) in the Keeping Room. My heart was so full as I watched them hold close to each other.

It made me think about my own college friends–the women I lean on for reassurance, guidance and so much more. It has been 33 years since we were the Clemson girls facing the world for the first time. And I have to say it surprises me now to realize I count on them today every bit as much as I did all those years ago. They have been here all along the journey, my buoy in dark times, my co-rejoicers in the glorious. A thousand times have I faced a dilemma, reached out to one of them and said: Tell me. What do you think?

A thousand times there has been a thoughtful, loving answer.

 

part of our group: Teri, Leslie, Cathy, Lisa, Ann, Sarah, Teresa
part of our group: Teri, Leslie, Cathy, Lisa, Ann, Sarah, Teresa

 

I remember last May standing at the Clemson graduation party for my own daughter and her besties as we toasted their launch into the big lives waiting for them out here. I raised my glass and said, “You will always have each other, that is a promise I can make. Even when you are miles apart, life has a way of making sure you reach for each other and hold on.”

How true it is.

And so I watched them together all weekend, these girls who have become women before my very eyes. I thought how grateful I am they have each other. And I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the friends along my own path, the women who have made my life richer, sturdier, more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. It seems only yesterday we were the ones hugging goodbye on the campus of Clemson University. And yet here we are now, our own children grown, our bond unwavering.

I am grateful. For so many reasons, I am deeply grateful.

November Notes

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November is textured and brilliant, a van Gogh painting with brush strokes of genius and soulful undertones. It’s an antique brooch pinned on a jean jacket, the rare book collection in a hallowed library and the words of Henri Nouwen tucked into a leather bag for reading on the train. It’s twigs and pinecones and birds nests, harvest moon and owl call, squirrels spiraling up the trunk of an oak tree on a frosty morning. November is autumn swan song and hello holidays, pecans to gather and sky-high pie piled with whipped cream. There’ll be spicy chai tea, steam rising like perfume, and a few lines by Rumi that stay in your heart all day. November is for seeing life through a lens of gratitude, transforming the days into a precious present. Blessings upon blessings for those who pause to count them. And those who seek to be one.

 

This post first appeared on the lovely blog Very Truly Julie. A huge thanks to my dear friend (and one of my favorite writers), Julie Degni Marr, for letting me share it with you here.

October Rolls In

 

photo copy 18

October rolls in like pumpkins unloaded from the farmer’s truck, a riot of shapes and sizes welcomed with wide open arms. It’s time to get your Charlie Brown on and put an autumn vignette on the doorstep. Time for carrot soup with pumpernickel croutons, hard cider, tart apples swirled in caramel. Days are shorter, brighter. Color palette of sky blue, Hermes orange, glittery gold. Grab a sweater and see the neighborhood in a new light. Don’t let a single tawny leaf float to the ground without paying homage. Fill the candy bowl! Soon Dracula and Dorothy will come bobbing up the sidewalk, with dozens more to follow. A big white owl watches from high in the oak, the sasanqua tree blossoms, tea olives perfume the air. Everything’s alive, astir. Magical October.

 

This post first appeared on the lovely blog Very Truly Julie. A huge thanks to my dear friend (and one of my favorite writers), Julie Degni Marr, for letting me share it with you here.

 

 

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Day 17: Sweet, Slow Summertime

 

will and cat FB
William and me, circa 1965

 

It may seem an impossible thing to name your favorite photograph of all time. But not so for me. This shot is hands down the one I choose, a single Polaroid moment that represents so many days I spent with my little brother, William, when our family lived in a simple little house in Gay Dawn Acres, plastic on the lampshades and Country Squire in the driveway. Glass bottles of milk were left at the front door by the milkman, and if Mom wanted a loaf fresh white bread, we simply needed flag the Bunny Bread truck as it passed down our quiet street. On special occasion afternoons we’d walk to Spradlin’s store for penny candy–a distance of, it seemed, a thousand miles. And we road bikes. For hours and hours and hours, we rode our bikes.

They are memories of summer slow and sweet, nothing but time on our hands and the invention of fun our greatest obligation.

~~~~

Just last night my dear friend, Teresa, came over for an emergency viewing of the movie that happens to be her all-time favorite, To Kill A Mockingbird. The previous night she’d discovered I’ve never seen it (at least not since the 1960s) and she rightfully insisted we correct that wrong swiftly and decisively. I’m sure I don’t even have to mention how much I loved the film, I mean, Gregory Peck. But of all that moved me in this gorgeous Harper Lee story, there was a line that laid out right over my heart and has reclined there since, hanging on like the smell of oleander in the summertime:

A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.

 

Watching Scout swing from a tree in the big round tire and Jen lounge like a lazy lizard on the fence railing and Dill pass the time making up superlatives to add height to his small stature–all of these reminded me of the long ago summer days my brother and I did little more than hang around, making fun from nothing, sporting our bathing suits as if any minute we planned to head to the back yard for a swim in a cool, wet pool that never, ever existed.

It was such a happy childhood.

How lucky we were.

 

30 Days Of Fun III

Did you have some summer fun today? Leave details in the comments below, or better yet, send a photo to cathy@thedailygrace.com. You can also post to instagram with hashtag #30DaysOfFunTDG or to my TheDailyGraceBlog Facebook page. I’d love to share it here!

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Day 16: Eyes Wide Open

I regularly run into people who comment about something they’ve read on The Daily Grace, and it surprises me every time. It’s silly, of course–this is a published blog and the analytics show me just how many people are reading and what posts strike their fancy. But numbers are not my motivation, and so it’s something I rarely think about when I write. Instead, I get a thought in my head–something that lands there and hangs a while, rather than passing through–and when it doesn’t let go, I sit down to write about it, to discover what it’s here to teach me, how I feel about the thing.

This is not a novel concept. Joan Didion said:

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.

Yes.  Exactly.

Nevertheless, a kind mention about something you’ve read here means a great deal to me. And you folks are so generous.

~~~~~~

A couple of weeks ago a friend from college left this sweetness for me:

Cathy…I was thinking of your 30 days of fun yesterday when I spied this beautiful orange and pink zinnia by our pool. It has orange petals that turn hot pink before they end in the yellow center. As I leisurely swam my laps I reminded myself of some of your blogs and to start looking for things that make me smile.  Low and behold, a spirited hummingbird stopped by the same flower! I left the pool light-hearted and grinning.

Thank you!
Betsy M.
I asked Betsy if she’d allow me to share her photo with you here, and I’m so happy she agreed.

 

zinnia2
Magnificat

 

I think Betsy’s zinnia is the perfect reminder God has filled the world with beauty–sometimes small, sometimes grand–and always worthy of notice. All He asks is that we take a tiny moment to acknowledge its glory and the awe of it will move through your body tips to toes, sweet and slow, like a cold sip of lemonade on a hot summer day.

It also served as the perfect reminder for me (thank you, Betsy) that we are all here together sharing this journey, lifting each other up, cheering each other on, from time to time reminding one another to smile and sing and laugh and play and just enjoy the ride.

 

 

30 Days Of Fun III

Did you have some summer fun today? Leave details in the comments below, or better yet, send a photo to cathy@thedailygrace.com. You can also post to instagram with hashtag #30DaysOfFunTDG or to my TheDailyGraceBlog Facebook page. I’d love to share it here!

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