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

 

 

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.

 

 

27. I’ll call you.

I’VE BEEN THINKING LATELY ABOUT LIFE’S SEASONS, something that happens to me every Fall when nature shifts to a different gear. For so many people the changes come with an exclamation point, while for others this passage is quiet, less dramatic. But there are always transitions, I suspect.

This year, for me, the move has been marked by two gatherings that reminded me how important it is to lasso the here and now while it is here and now.

 

FIRST THERE WAS THE BABY SHOWER. Eliza made the long journey home to celebrate with her long-ago friend, Kati. It was a biggie for us, my sweet Eliza and me, this realization that her Little Girl buddies are all grown up, living lives of their own, beautiful and celebratory. She and Kati met in first grade when we became across-the-street neighbors and they became do-everything-together besties. Years later Kati’s precious family moved to another city, and high school brought them both new friends and other focuses. Then college sent them yet again in other directions.

How poignant it was that the girls reunited at the joyful occasion of a baby shower. What heartstrings it pulled as we, their Moms (and good friends ourselves) watched them hug and laugh together.

They were six only yesterday, we both were thinking, riding bikes, going to girl scouts, braiding each other’s hair.

Oh life does have a way of moving on.

 

AND THEN I RAN INTO CHARLIE and made a promise so rarely kept.

We need to catch up. Let’s get together soon. I’ll call you! 

It’s the kind of thing that seems to happen after life brings into your orbit an acquaintance who then becomes a friend, and then a good friend. Eventually the connection that brought you together is over–you change jobs, or baseball season ends, or your kids graduate–and without this gravitational pull, drift begins.

It’s a funny thing, isn’t it, how we genuinely treasure people life brings our way, and yet it can be so difficult to maintain those relationships.

I’ll call you soon!

This time, I actually did it.

 

Ringers
Charlie, Cathy, Eliza, Vicki and Tim–missing Sally, but having a blast on the patio at Moonshiners

 

What fun it was to be together. We talked and laughed as the years melted away and we shared story after story of all that’s happened since our girls’ high school days. It took no effort at all to just let go and be joyfully pulled into the sweet gravitational orbit of each other’s lives once again.

 

LORDY IT WAS FUN. So much fun, in fact, I’m thinking of making this a seasonal practice in my life. A celebration, if you will. With each change from Fall to Winter to Spring to Summer, I’m going to reach out to a distant friend and plan a Let’s catch up event. Happy hour, lunch, dinner or just an it’s been too long what are you up to these days phone call. The last weekend of August reminded me life passes too quickly–and friendships are too important–to let them simply slip away.

A Changing of the Seasons Celebration.

This is a good idea.

 

XXOO

 

30 Days of Fun

 

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The Champion of the World

The following came to me from my dear friend, David LaFuria. Any email from David is reason to rejoice. I love his take on things. I value his opinion. And I always learn something important.

 

Subject line:  Billy Crystal Eulogizes Muhammad Ali

Cath:
Sometimes when I sit and think, I think of you.

The funeral ceremony was much too long, but really, all you need to see is Billy Crystal. His vision, that Muhammad Ali was a bolt of lightning, illuminating everything around it, is fantastic. When was the last time one could say that an athlete is the most recognizable person on the planet?  When will it happen again?

He points out something important – you had to live through the time to appreciate him.  His fights were world events – everything stopped for that hour of boxing – everyone had an opinion. Outside the ring, he was bigger than the president, several of them. Looking back now, those of us who lived it were really lucky. Not to be critical of any one athlete, but let’s pick one. Michael Jordan raised the bar for measuring athletic greatness, but off the court he changed …. what?

Ali affected how all of us think about race. How we Americans think about free expression. And religious freedom. It is a big thing to say he changed how members of other races think about blacks (important terminology here – not just African Americans – but blacks worldwide). More important, he changed how blacks think about themselves. But perhaps his biggest triumph – he changed how whites think about themselves. Again, not just in the US, but around the world.

How many people can you name that have really affected how an entire society thinks about anything important? After Dr. King’s death, who carried his core messages to more people? A king? A president? A business leader? A philanthropist? No….an athlete.

He is the most consequential athlete of the 20th Century, and his athletic accomplishments stand only as a platform for him to be consequential. That he was so beautiful in the ring was the icing.

 

Image: http://muhammadali.com
Image: http://muhammadali.com

 

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when small is big

IMG_5815

 

I’d just turned into the rainy parking lot when I saw several of my co-workers returning from lunch. Notable among them was my friend, Kevin, tucked–exactly as you would expect if you know Kevin–beneath a perfectly tasteful black umbrella. We waved at each other as I pulled into my spot and began gathering my things for an afternoon of meetings.

I happened to glance into my rearview mirror when I saw him coming back across the pavement. Clearly he’d reached the front door and had done an about-face, splashing toward me in a pretty good downpour, his mission to get me tucked in for a safe, dry journey across the parking lot.

It was a kindness that touched me. I’d brought my own umbrella–quite uncharacteristically–which made Kevin’s generous, thoughtful gesture all the more sweet.

Thank you, dear friend.

 

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Perfect Moments

 

trio-plus-one
the tea party

 

IT IS MOST CERTAINLY not a stock photo, although it is just the perfect kind of moment such a photographer would hope to create. It is, instead, real life: four pals sharing a birthday tea in the pretty light of early November; four friends donning their Halloween best–which just happens to be a delightful lineup of jewel-toned princess gowns and a denim prince, slightly rolled cuffs, high-tops and all. There is the one bare foot (adorable), and did you notice? Every cupcake has a giant candle.

I’ve thought of this scene a thousand times since it first caught my eye, rolling along, as it did, amid countless others on my Facebook wall. I was captivated, and so I messaged its share-er, my sweet friend, Elizabeth, for details. The tea was a celebration of all their birthdays, she explained, the four friends having been born within weeks of each other. Their mothers met in lamaze class and formed a tight circle that continues today.

What a beautiful story, I thought. How happy I am to have come upon the photograph, to have asked.

 

IT’S GREAT TO LIVE in a time when such connection is possible, don’t you think? It’s remarkable to have such a view. Elizabeth is someone I treasure, a friend I rarely see because of the geography that separates us. But through Facebook I feel a part of her world. I get peeks at her life and loves including a beautiful daughter, Catherine, and a pretty-in-pink granddaughter, Arya.

Just yesterday we had a message exchange that brought me so much joy I thought I might burst.

Is all well with you, my friend? I wrote.

Yes, Elizabeth responded. My life is just about right–my get up & go falls right in step with my desire & destination.

My life is just about right.

That, my dear ones, is perfection.

 

XXOO

 

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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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