the sweetest reminder

Friends are coming for the long holiday weekend and so we ran down the mountain to get the necessary supplies. On my list before groceries was a stop for new yarn and needles.

I need to teach these girls to knit, you see.

Not because they asked, exactly. But because, well, I might have–sort of–insisted.

It was my first time in this sweet yarn shop and the selecting of fiber/color/yardage took a bit of time. When I was at last ready to check out the precious owner, who’d shared a bit of the winding road that had led her to this place, offered two sets of free needles. She understood I would be teaching and therefore setting loose into the world two new knitters.

It was a most gracious offer.

Still I refused, suggesting she needed to make a living.

No I don’t, she said. Then she smiled.

I am making a life.

 

XXOO

 

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in the column of love

He said so many things that landed on my heart, little comments here and there that wrapped us in love and goodness and mercy. Boundless mercy. Mercy divine.

It left me changed, I’ll tell you that.

And it came as a surprise. He was, after all, a man who’d come to whip the adult choir into shape.

Tom Trenney did so much more.

 

then sings my soul

 

There’s so much music, and so little time for rehearsing at Montreat Music and Worship. Each moment is precious. We gathered twice a day and the reminder we were a bunch of strangers singing unfamiliar compositions with a concert Friday was never far from our minds. Then Tuesday as time ticked by we were mid-learn (and really concentrating) on a difficult section of a new piece when a fire truck passed our open windows. Its sirens filled Anderson Auditorium.

I bristled thinking of the interruption of this harsh, unexpected sound, of the inconvenience.

Tom Trenney, on the other hand, stopped his conducting, dropped his arms in the most gentle way, and clasping his hands in front said softly,

Let’s have a moment of prayer for the people suffering this emergency.

Three hundred of us bowed our heads together.

 

beautiful Anderson Auditorium

 

I think now of that silence, that prayer, that moment, and I am overwhelmed.

Jesus taught by example.

Tom Trenney reminded me nothing is more powerful than that.

 

XXOO

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The Bear Who Came To Dinner

It was a pretty grand anniversary dinner, I won’t lie about that.

But then there was a great deal to celebrate. Thirty-two years for them, fifteen for us, and our wedding days butting right up next to each other. That’s what brought us for this long weekend together high in the  Appalachians where we knew time would move slow and the air would be sweet.

We were right.

rhododendron and flame azalea in bloom

And so we made a feast. All four of us contributed to the prepping and the roasting and the grilling. Amos Lee played loud above our laughter. And because there was steak and salmon and garlic scape butter potatoes, and yummy smells floating out from the porch, we kept a keen eye for bears.

Sure enough one came to join our party.

He was a little guy, interested but timid, and he stopped short in the driveway the minute he noticed us gathering for a look. Then he turned and walked away, no doubt concerned he’d brought the wrong vintage or worn the wrong sweats to fit in with this rather distinguished group. 

We felt sad for him, Leslie and I. But Tim and Scott even more. And so without so much as a word they set out after him.

That bear was nowhere in sight. 

And so the boys returned, and we dished up the feast, and we toasted to love, and marriage, and life. And to friendship, the very best kind: ancient, and easy, and deep.

XXOO

 

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Introverts Unite.

I guess the proper place to begin is with the admission she was not even on my radar. Oh, I’d heard of the book. I’d been drawn to it for years, the title alone tugging my heart until it pulled itself all the way to the top of my To Be Read list. But I don’t watch Grey’s, or Scandal, or How to Get Away With Murder, and so Shonda Rhimes, who created and runs those blockbuster shows, was a not a familiar name to me.

All that has changed. I just finished Year of Yes and can proudly say Shonda Rhimes rocked my world in the most powerful, gorgeous, healthy way possible.

The book is her telling of the life explosion she experienced when her sister offered, in a casual comment: You never say yes to anything. It pierced her, this thought, and it became the driving force behind a commitment to spending one year saying yes to anything that came along that scared her.  

(This is a woman who hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances, just saying.)

This book is good, y’all. So good. And not in the way I expected. Shonda gets real, going deep enough into her hesitancies to actually identify what it is that scares her. Then she works hard at addressing that particular thing, which changes her perspective, which opens up her life.

My favorite part of the story is the commencement speech she delivered at her alma mater, Dartmouth College, in 2014. The audiobook (read by Shonda, which is so powerful) features that speech. I want every young person everywhere to hear it. I wish I’d heard it at 21. 

Heck, the truth is I want every young woman I know to read this book.

So thank you, Shonda, for lessons and inspiration and a grand nudge to walk more boldly toward.  For the reminder that as women, and as human beings on this earth–it is our honor and our glory to step out of the shadows and fully, confidently, into the light.

 

this morning’s light

 

XXOO

 

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love at the beach

 

 

It  was kind of miraculous, I guess you could say, the way we had this spit of beach with so few people running about on it.

It was a holiday, after all.

And not just that, but Memorial Day weekend. Prime time for those who like to kick off summer in a most dedicated way.

And not just that, but a resort. A lovely resort positioned right on Amelia Island where the canopies of the Live Oaks create a world so private you feel protected, sheltered, hidden away.

 

 

We made the most of it, I’ll tell you that, the fifteen of us gathered there. We’d come from all over, a family spread north, south, west, our ranks growing up and moving out, moving on in different directions, inevitable, really, as this is what life demands.

We stay committed though. Even as distance and new responsibilities make it feel more impossible. This family reunion mattered so to Dottie, you see, the mother and grandmother who those many years ago started it all, the matriarch who asked us to promise the summer gatherings of the family would continue.

We did.

We do.

For now it is us, our generation who guides. We feel her presence with every conversation, every giggle, every hug. Every story retold for the hundred-thousandth time. We feel her pleasure as the siblings reconnect and the cousins bond and the daughters- and sons- and grandsons-in-law meld into a family that is every bit theirs.

As we hold each other close.

As we toast the miracles.

As we share the joy that is another year together.

We are grateful.

 

little cousins, big cousins

 

lingering dinners

 

crazy kids, crazy filters

 

magic moments

 

XXOO

 

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No Rest For The Weary

I spend a lot of time obsessing over the bluebirds that nest in a box in our back yard, something you know a bit about if you are a regular here at The Daily Grace. But this Spring I haven’t been around to keep as close an eye on this precious couple (and their offspring) as I’d like. 

We knew there were eggs, and we hoped there were healthy babies, and we believed some had fledged but we just didn’t know for sure.

Then a couple of weeks ago I spotted this cuteness at the new feeder I’ve placed just outside my studio window. It holds a magical cone of seed and dried worms all of birddom now fusses over.

 

hello baby blue!

 

This sweet little munchkin, who I figure is four‚Ķmaybe five weeks old, is sitting an inch from a full-on mealworm feast. But he refuses to reach his little beak through the bars to grab one. Instead he sits and squawks and demands to be fed.

Mama’s having none of it.

 

You’ve got to be kidding me.

 

She flies in, eats in front of the youngster, then flies away.

(Which results in an even louder ruckus from the little one.)

Then in comes Papa who does his best to ignore but finally can’t take anymore and pops worm after worm in the mouth of the babe.

 

okay

 

OKAY!

 

It captivated me, this bluebird drama, as I stood back and considered how much the scene resembles my own years-ago baby mothering and that of so many friends in the throes of such today. Parenting is hard. There are so many ways to get it wrong. And there are so few to get it right.

 

 

Love well, I’d think, and then I’d pace and worry. Love well, I still think now, and that will be enough.

Oh yes.

And yet the question remains. 

 

 

Does love fly off?

Or feed?

 

XXOO

 

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The Case of the Missing Bluebird Egg

MY SOUTH CAROLINA LIFE is centered around the sweet pond on which our house and back yard sit. Through the big kitchen window I have a bird’s eye view of all the goings-on, and to get close to the action I merely need step out the side door or take a quick stair step run down to my studio, which is positioned (thrillingly) in the midst of the action.

All this perfect geography gives me the chance to spend the hours of spring All Up In the activity of the co-inhabitants of the little neighborhood. I could not be happier about this; I never get tired of watching the plants and animals as they quite literally come to life during this birth/rebirth season.

This year has been especially sweet.The pond is full again following a couple of long, sad years during which floods, improper sediment runoff management and Mother Nature’s insistence on returning things to their natural state combined to create rather a mess behind our house. But the cove has been restored and the whole of the animal kingdom–snakes, frogs, turtles, beavers, birds, fish, and ducks among them–the whole of the Bickley’s Pond animal kingdom and I are rejoicing.

 

 

MY BELOVED BLUEBIRDS are among them and together we’ve had a rather tumultuous time of it. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I’VE had quite a time–to this day I can’t give you an accurate accounting of their first brood of the season. First there was the precious nest, then that one perfect blue egg, then the egg disappeared! And so the internet told me to build a Sparrow Spooker, which I did, fashioning my own emergency version. I watched and watched and watched until the second egg–which would now be Egg One–was laid. BAM I was out the door attaching said Sparrow Spooker to the box (this was per the internet’s very specific directions). By golly it worked! Or else it wasn’t needed in the first place, but either way that couple and I ended up with four gorgeous eggs the second time around. Mama kept them warm while Papa and I hung close and in no time at all we’d hatched two baby bluebirds with two left to go. It was time for a trip to the mountains, alas, so I left the raising of those two, maybe three, maybe four babies to their devoted and quite capable parents.

Dang it.

 

Mama and the spooky Sparrow Spooker

 

And then there were babies!

 

We were away just long enough that when we returned an opening of the nest box would have created a great risk of too-early fledging. I was also busy with work and other things and couldn’t keep as close an eye on the family as I’d have liked. Which resulted in some big worries, I have to say. I never saw the parents feed the babies, not even once, in the first three or four days we were home. I’d watch for a while, then go out and stand next to the box hoping at least to hear sweet bluebird baby chirps. I never did. But every time, without fail, those parents would come swooping down out of nowhere, very unhappy with me and my proximity to their nest, which made me very happy as I figured surely they were protecting their offspring. 

Still there didn’t appear to be any feeding.

No feeding at all.

 

pretty Mama

 

THEN I HEADED north again, this time on my own for a writer’s retreat in Kentucky. I left Tim in charge. He’s great about these things since he’s in the yard so much, humors me so much, and cares as much about such happenings as a normal person does. But let’s face it. I never can get him to hover quite as close as I’d like.

Still I’d hardly gotten my suitcase out of the car when I got this text from my thoughtful husband:

 

 

Soon as I got home we opened the box to sure enough find it empty but for one unhatched egg. That meant there were three little bluebird fledglings flying somewhere around Bickley’s Pond. Maybe? Tim had seen two, and we hoped for a third but we just didn’t know.

(SEE THIS IS WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO KEEP A CLOSE EYE.)

 

WE WAITED FOUR or five days, then set about cleaning the box. This time when Tim opened it that last egg was also gone. (For the life of me I don’t understand how small birds accomplish that.) He removed the old nest, tidied up a bit in the box and left a clean house for Round Two, should these sweet parents decide it was a go.

A week later we found this.

 

Then this! 

 

There’s no Sparrow Spooker on top as the wind finally brought it to the ground and I’ve hardly had time to construct another. For one thing there is the other bird nest I must monitor. And the baby eagle. And the courting woodpeckers, and the goose families X2. And a big happy surprise right in my raised bed garden!

There is so much more to come on all these wonderful Bickley’s Pond developments.

For now I just go ’round skipping and thinking: Spring, I do adore you!

XXOO

 

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A-Ramp-Hunting We Will Go

MY SWEET ELIZA is home from her California adventure, and we whisked her away for some well-deserved R&R following two years of working a job that asked so much. A few days in the mountains–where rest and relax are the exact formula–seemed just right. 

We’d hardly unpacked our soft-cothes-only wardrobes when I got this joyful text from our mountain neighbor, Jessie.

Ramps, you say???

Oh, yes.

 

I’VE KNOWN OF RAMPS all my life, them being regular mountain food in the part of the world where I grew up, where many folks lived from the land and made the most of whatever was available. In my mind it was akin to Poke Sallet, made from pokeweed, although I must say to my knowledge neither of these ever graced my mother’s dinner table. (Rather than anything fresh or leafy green we were much more likely to be eating Kraft Spaghetti–the box kind. Or frozen pot pies.)  So although I have long had an awareness of ramps, I am certainly not fluent. 

And heaven knows, I’ve never gone in search of.

But today these plants are a different thing entirely. Now the lowly ramp–which is sometimes called a wild leek, or spring onion–is a delicacy made so by swell young chefs of the foodie movement who’ve refined their preparation and feature them on specialty menus during their super-short growing season. Part of the appeal, no doubt, is due to this limited window during which ramps can be harvested and eaten. Look for the trillium to bloom, I have heard, and you’ll know: Ramp Season is on.

 

AND SO OUR neighbors planned an outing, and because they’re thoughtful they invited us to come along. They’d gotten permission from the landowner–a very important detail as many experts agree the elevation of the ramp’s status has resulted in a great decline in its population. So up that mountain we went.

My little heart beat fast at the sight of them, I’m not gonna lie.

 

 

We got on our hands and knees and dug.  

 

Gus, the pro

 

Gingerly, we dug.

 

Eliza, going strong

 

Then as the pretty white ramp bulbs emerged, Gus took a close look and made the call they were too small. Our friends needed a little more time to grow.

 

what a happy ramp

 

We did not despair but walked all around, looking at the early spring beauty right where we were, the miracles happening all around us right there in the woods.

 

 

 

Then we loaded up and headed for home, making one more impromptu investigative stop at the pond.

There are salamanders that live in that pond, you see, but only for a short time during early spring.

Might as well give it a look.

 

XXOO

 

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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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