two thousand three hundred eighty-one miles

I DIDN’T GO WITH HER to the airport this time, an action easily justified with the cruel and early departure time. I did wake up, however, before the clock clicked over to our agreed-upon 4 am rise and shine. She wanted to shower; I wanted to be upstairs to check–for the  ten thousandth time–that she had everything she needed for the long journey ahead.

It’s what we do as parents, right? Worry, and plan, and counsel, and cajole. 

You’ll want some room in this suitcase to bring new things back.
Let’s get a strategy for what to do when you feel lonely.
Here’s my friend’s number. You can call her anytime, no matter what you need.

We’re so proud of their courage, but so worried for their safety. And happiness.  And their comfort, for heaven’s sake.

That portable charger. Carry it in your purse. Is it in your purse?

“Yes, Mom,” she said. Over and over and over again. “Yes.”

And then we hugged, and waved goodbye, and just like that,

she was gone.

 

a sweet travel journal from her friends

 

 

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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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a letter to my daughter graduating from college

(first posted April 29, 2015)

My sweet girl,

Today you take the final exam of your college career–your final finals as we have been calling them. While that in itself is reason to rejoice (!), I know there are a thousand other emotions moving inside you, like ocean swells that become waves that crash into each other in an approaching storm. It’s a funny thing to be the Mom of a daughter facing these confusing and conflicting feelings. I have been in the same place, on the same campus, facing the same things. I know your heart like I know my own: half sad and hopeless, half ready to move on. Fearful, yes, but nevertheless feeling that tug toward what’s next.

It’s just life, this tug of what’s next. It’s how God keeps us moving along our journey. That’s something you know but somehow it is of little comfort when emotions run so wild. Right?

Let me put your mind at ease on the two thoughts that I expect most weigh you down.

1. You are ready.

There is no experience like college (particularly at Clemson, which is ideal in this way) and for many of us, it will always be a pinnacle time in life. This is a good thing! It happens because it’s the perfect match up of want and need. College is an immersion in a life buffet–you only need fill your plate with the things that interest you and that move you along on your big life journey. Classes, clubs, relationships, parties, travel, lectures, sports, activities–a little of this, a little of that–and each one plays a part in getting you ready for the big world waiting for you out here. It’s all rather remarkable, I think.

But then years pass and you begin to get your fill. The food still looks good, but somehow you’re not so hungry anymore.

It’s God’s way of telling you it’s time to make a move. He knows because He’s provided everything you need to be ready for the next chapter. You are more mature, more grounded, more confident. You’re better at making your own decisions. You have a better sense of who you are. (Okay, so maybe not completely, but you definitely have a better sense of who you are not and that is just as important.) You know how to navigate, how to get from here to there, how to read the proverbial map and ask the right questions and work through problems that arise along the way. You know how to make the difficult calls, have the tough conversations, face the inevitable consequences. You’re finding out what drains you, and also, what brings you powerful energy and great, giddy joy.

You’ve had four years of practice on a demanding college campus. But the walls are closing in. You’re ready for a bigger stage.

2. You get to take the people that matter to you with you when you go.

It’s so true.

You’ve developed relationships with some remarkable people who’ve been an important part of your growth in college. These connections won’t just sever and die when you leave campus.  Those who matter to you will be an important part of your future, as well.

Chief among these, of course, are your friends. Guys and girls with whom you’ve spent time, who’ve influenced the person you’ve become. And most particularly the deep dear friendships of your tightest circle. How lucky you are to be surrounded by such strong, intelligent, beautiful women. How lucky they are to have you! As you hug goodbye to begin new chapters in different cities, rest assured in the knowledge these friendships will only deepen as you all move on. Life has a funny way of making sure this happens–it will challenge you in ways that demand you reach out and hold on to each other for support. I know from my own beautiful experiences–you will be there for each other in ways you can’t even imagine. They are your circle for life, these women, and you will lean on each other as things change over the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years and more. How you will need each other for strength, for guidance, for honesty. For keeping it all in check. And for laughter and fun. For the rest of your lives, when you girls are together the laughter will come as easily as it does today. With no work, with no effort, the laughter will always come.

There’s so much grace in that, I think.

Anyway, my sweet girl. There you are on that threshold. In front of you is a big, beautiful world filled with so much. I can’t wait to see you gobble it all up.

You are ready. It’s time.

Love, love, love,

Mama

girls
my girls

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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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Bending Time

It was a book I loved, a good read that tugged tugged tugged at me until it pulled me all the way under. I was so caught up in the story, in fact, I abandoned my own writer’s habit of highlighting the superb passages, accepting for once they’d still be there the next time I felt the compulsive need to diagram a well written sentence.

That is to say this little line came at me like an arrow shot straight at my wide open reader’s heart.

She was grateful life could be long.

It pierced, this line, and lodged there.

She was grateful life could be long.

____________________________

There are so many lives inside of us, I believe, different lives to be lived.

Perhaps it is middle age that has me focused so squarely on this notion. We move from one to the next without even noticing, teenager to college student to professional to spouse to parent to—well, you know, because you’ve been there. Not noticing because somehow, in the midst of it, you need every bit of attention to simply make it from morning alarm to bedtime collapse, cramming as much studying and working and feeding and cleaning and carpooling as you can, in between.

____________________________

Pace yourself I tell her, this sweet daughter of mine, this college sophomore. The year is long. But at 20 she gobbles it up, living completely in the moment, never caring that tomorrow is another day. Who can blame her? This life is new, new to all these young people experiencing the surprising colors and textures of an expanding existence. They don’t yet know the virtue of patience—a gift they haven’t yet received—a gift given later in life to enable us to navigate a landscape that changes so dramatically over time.

____________________________

What will you do I asked my friend Debbie, a bright light in this world who was three days into retirement. What life will you live now?

____________________________

I wrote my mother’s obituary, a fact that still surprises me. I look back at those first hours after her death and see our emotions pooling in waves, moving son to son, daughter-in-law to grandchild, grandchild to aunt. We were raw and splintered, all of us were, desperately needing a little time to process, to think through, to absorb the grief at least enough to regain some footing. But there were decisions to make, proper decisions, decisions that needed to be made well.

And so they asked me to do it, my brothers, to write this accounting of her life from an insider’s view. But I struggled mightily, let me tell you, eventually accepting the reality that I couldn’t compose a single decent sentence unless I moved further out, looked at her life from a distance.

And there I saw them all, forming in front of me like acts in a play, an epic novel unfolding chapter by chapter. She had lived not one long life, but a thousand, changing day to day, decade to decade.

______________________

Patience is the greatest of gifts, I believe. Patience makes time malleable. It lengthens days and rewards us with seasons. It allows for love, real and rooted and slow-growing. It accommodates change. It tolerates mistakes. And it makes room for forgiveness, vast and deep, forgiveness that brings healing and calm and peace. Forgiveness that lets us move forward into our next moment, our next day, our next life, filled with excitement and possibility.

She was grateful life could be long, novelist Laura Moriarity writes of Cora Carlisle, an unlikely Jazz Age heroine in The Chaperone.

Oh yes, I say, in thanksgiving. Yes.

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

Bending Time first appeared on The Daily Grace in April 10, 2013. Thanks for indulging me as I repost it today. I will be back with original posts in January. That’s a promise!

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.

the best day ever

As days go, this has to be one of the best ever.

First, the Confederate Flag no longer flies on the grounds of our South Carolina Statehouse. In tribute I humbly offer Columbia poet Nikky Finney reading a poem she wrote in the early morning hours yesterday, just after our lawmakers and Governor Haley put ink to the decision to Take It Down. Its publication comprised the entirety of the front page of this morning’s newspaper. Bravo to The State, and thank you, Ms. Finney, for articulating what so many of us feel. How poignant is your question: Who are we now?

 

Second, the baby bluebirds have fledged! It is an understatement to call this a miracle, since the last four nests of this devoted bluebird couple have not been successful. You will remember the last sad tale of the morning I woke up to find the five-day-old babies missing–devoured by a snake, we later determined. Our hearts were broken: Mama’s, Papa’s and mine. And so we moved the nest box out into the yard, took preventive snake measures, then fretted as temperatures topped 98 degrees seven days in a row.

I took drastic measures, constructing heat shields and (ultimately) bunji-cording a large golf umbrella above the birdhouse to provide some shade for the eggs and the Mama in that box, baking in the heat.

 

i am the crazy bird lady

 

The eggs hatched, and with all the rigging I’d done to that birdhouse my glimpses into the nest were few and far between. I did keep a close eye on the parents, however, rejoicing each time they flew to the box, dinner-in-beak.

 

mama

 

Last night I got home from work and took my (hot) perch on the back porch, waiting and watching for activity. There was none in sight. With each passing minute my panic rose. Where were they? Why weren’t they feeding? What had happened this time???

Two hours and lots of fretting later I began to wonder if there was a chance the babies had fledged. Surely not, I thought, there hasn’t been time. They’re too small. I mean, the last time I got a photo, they hardly looked feathered!

 

July 5, 2015
July 5, 2015

 

When were they born? How many days had it been?

I tracked it back to the first sighting of Papa with a tiny crawly in his mouth. Seventeen days. Seventeen days! That’s fledge time!

And still I was not brave enough to look. I decided to wait until morning, when my sweet husband, Tim, would be home to assist.

Just today, this is what we found.

 

Brave Tim.
Brave Tim.

 

An empty nest!
An empty nest!

 

home sweet successful home!
home sweet successful home

 

I am overjoyed! I believe the three babies are in the woods just there to the side of the Cope’s yard, out of the sun’s direct heat, learning to fly and jump and play. Their parents will continue to feed for the next month, keeping them under cover, safe and sound (we hope) and out of Hawk range. I am going to believe that is the case, anyway.

As for me, now, I have breathed a great sigh of relief and am so happy this dear couple is having this joy. Life is good.

The third thing that makes this one of the greatest days ever? It is the day before I get to go see my own sweet baby, all grown up and spending the summer working at Camp Twin Lakes, a life-changing camp for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges. How proud I am of Eliza for not just wanting to make a difference in this world but for actually doing it in such a special and meaningful way.

 

Camp Twin Lakes
Camp Twin Lakes

 

My heart is full, my spirit soars. I send you all good wishes, my friend, for a July weekend filled with everything that makes you happy!

 

 

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For Eliza, On the Day of Her Final Finals

My sweet girl,

Today you take the final exam of your college career–your final finals as we have been calling them. While that in itself is reason to rejoice (!), I know there are a thousand other emotions moving inside you, like ocean swells that become waves that crash into each other in an approaching storm. It’s a funny thing to be the Mom of a daughter facing these confusing and conflicting feelings. I have been in the same place, on the same campus, facing the same things. I know your heart like I know my own: half sad and hopeless, half ready to move on. Fearful, yes, but nevertheless feeling that tug toward what’s next.

It’s just life, this tug of what’s next. It’s how God keeps us moving along our journey. That’s something you know but somehow it is of little comfort when emotions run so wild. Right?

Let me put your mind at ease on the two thoughts that I expect most weigh you down.

1. You are ready.

There is no experience like college (particularly at Clemson, which is ideal in this way) and for many of us, it will always be a pinnacle time in life. This is a good thing! It happens because it’s the perfect match up of want and need. College is an immersion in a life buffet–you only need fill your plate with the things that interest you and that move you along on your big life journey. Classes, clubs, relationships, parties, travel, lectures, sports, activities–a little of this, a little of that–and each one plays a part in getting you ready for the big world waiting for you out here. It’s all rather remarkable, I think.

But then years pass and you begin to get your fill. The food still looks good, but somehow you’re not so hungry anymore.

It’s God’s way of telling you it’s time to make a move. He knows because He’s provided everything you need to be ready for the next chapter. You are more mature, more grounded, more confident. You’re better at making your own decisions. You have a better sense of who you are. (Okay, so maybe not completely, but you definitely have a better sense of who you are not and that is just as important.) You know how to navigate, how to get from here to there, how to read the proverbial map and ask the right questions and work through problems that arise along the way. You know how to make the difficult calls, have the tough conversations, face the inevitable consequences. You’re finding out what drains you, and also, what brings you powerful energy and great, giddy joy.

You’ve had four years of practice on a demanding college campus. But the walls are closing in. You’re ready for a bigger stage.

2. You get to take the people that matter to you with you when you go.

It’s so true.

You’ve developed relationships with some remarkable people who’ve been an important part of your growth in college. These connections won’t just sever and die when you leave campus.  Those who matter to you will be an important part of your future, as well.

Chief among these, of course, are your friends. Guys and girls with whom you’ve spent time, who’ve influenced the person you’ve become. And most particularly the deep dear friendships of your tightest circle. How lucky you are to be surrounded by such strong, intelligent, beautiful women. How lucky they are to have you! As you hug goodbye to begin new chapters in different cities, rest assured in the knowledge these friendships will only deepen as you all move on. Life has a funny way of making sure this happens–it will challenge you in ways that demand you reach out and hold on to each other for support. I know from my own beautiful experiences–you will be there for each other in ways you can’t even imagine. They are your circle for life, these women, and you will lean on each other as things change over the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years and more. How you will need each other for strength, for guidance, for honesty. For keeping it all in check. And for laughter and fun. For the rest of your lives, when you girls are together the laughter will come as easily as it does today. With no work, with no effort, the laughter will always come.

There’s so much grace in that, I think.

Anyway, my sweet girl. There you are on that threshold. In front of you is a big, beautiful world filled with so much. I can’t wait to see you gobble it all up.

You are ready. It’s time.

Love, love, love,

Mama

 

girls
the girls

 

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Life is hard.

It’s the sentiment that came to me this morning, the thought that woke me and insisted I turn toward the clock to see “4:42.” It was ridiculously early, and for the next 25 minutes I lay there in the quiet dark turning the sentiment over in my mind, watching it tumble amid the troubles sitting on my conscience, tumble like towels in a clothes dryer, a dryer moving in slow motion.

Life is hard.

A friend is staying with us for a while, working a new job that allows her to be closer to her sweet Muzy, a beautiful soul slipping slowly beneath the heavy cloak of dementia. There is great love and tenderness between these two women, mother and daughter, and as I went to bed last night my dear friend kissed her Mom in Atlanta and began the journey back here. It was late–as I said, I was already in bed–and in that difficult late-night dark with snow and freezing rain all around, she began the four-hour drive back. It is too much to bear, I thought. Too much to bear.

Life is hard.

Everywhere I turn, it seems, there is worry great and small: the threat of ISIS, and the beheading of a parade of Christians; the inability of the people of Boston to simply dig out before another great storm socks them in, this time even deeper; my sweet little aging dog, a torn ACL having rendered her back left leg unusable, her right leg then sprained.

Life is hard.

~~~~~~~~~~

I was cooking a pot of chili on Sunday, a (joyfully) mundane task amid the trouble in the world, when I hit PLAY on Oprah’s Soul Series conversation with Father Richard Rohr. His name was not familiar to me, but I was captivated within three seconds. A Franciscan Priest, yes. But a more human human I don’t believe I have ever encountered. Yes I thought as he spoke. Yes. Yes. Yes. Amid many powerful and relevant points he talked about life’s difficulty, about the reality that we live in this world not in spite of but because of the great challenges. It’s how we learn, he said. It’s how our souls expand. It’s why we are alive.

It is what you do with suffering that matters, he said. You must learn from it. You must transform it. If you don’t, you will transmit it–to your family, your friends, your country.

~~~~~~~

At 5:02 I turned on the light and got up. I shuffled to the side porch, where I looked out to see Colleen’s car parked safely in our driveway. I made coffee and got back in bed, laptop open and Life is hard still on my mind. Two hours later I met her in the kitchen. My friend was awake, dressed, ready to head out the door to work.

I’m so happy you made it home okay. That drive must have been brutal I said.

It was long she said, pouring her coffee. And then she turned and smiled at me. I want to hear all about this weekend’s wedding she said. Who was there, what did you wear, every detail. I should be home by 6. And then she was off.

Life is hard, I thought, watching her go. And so we move through it, doing the best we can. Sometimes we transform suffering and aren’t even aware because the beautiful lesson is for someone standing by–a friend or loved one or stranger touched in a profound way by our example, a lesson in grace and generosity that makes someone else’s soul expand.

It’s what happened to me this morning. I thank you, dear friend.

Morning comes.
Morning comes.

*Above is a link to a portion of the show. It is well worth a watch.

 

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Saying Goodbye

I wasn’t ready for it, I can tell you that up front.

Yes, it was a discussion we’d had many times, and yes, I understood all the reasons it was a good idea. And still the morning my husband said We should go today and I shook my head in agreement my heart wasn’t in it. We’re just looking he said.

And so I got my coat and handed him the keys and said You drive (as if this would make it easier.)

We made our way across town. Then there it was, the first one on our list, Dealer A. Before you could say Technology Package with Bluetooth I was test-driving a brand new SUV, this one smaller, tighter, shinier than the old gal we’d left parked at the front door of the dealership.

It was seductive, with all those features: the back-up camera with warning beepers; the way the side mirrors lit up when a car was approaching; the iPhone possibilities. And then there was the new car smell. (What is it about a new car smell????) Still I wasn’t sold.

I just wasn’t ready.

One more stop he said. While we’re on this side of town.

And just like that the heavenlies delivered to us the one thing we weren’t looking for: a pre-owned black SUV, scant 2000 miles on the odometer, full New Car warranty and the joyful backstory that the previous owner was a Service Woman who, rather than deploy again, retired from the military, moved back to the United States with her husband and two children, and gave up the car.

How could I not say yes?

A week (and several financial negotiations) later we returned to the dealership to take possession of the new car. In our garage before we left I had a great talk with my sweet silver girl, the one I was leaving behind, the one who’d taken good care of me for eight years and more than 140,000 miles. I told her how grateful I was, how she’d get the love and attention of a mechanic who would get her running good as new, the joy she would bring to a new family–a family that would be thrilled to own a car with so much heart, so much soul.

I didn’t think it would happen this fast I said. But the universe seems to think it’s the right thing for both of us.

She seemed to agree, if a bit reluctantly. And so we made our last ride across town together, parked, and then we said goodbye.

 

cathyscar
my heart broke just a little as we said goodbye

She has been a good friend, my silver buddy. How I wish her well.

 

 

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