30 Days of Grace III

Lake Murray, February 2014
Lake Murray, February 2014

It is a busy time of year, this first quarter, months filled with all it takes to set 2014 in motion. Good stuff, important stuff, stuff that needs to be done.

And still.

In the busyness of it all, in the productiveness if you will, I find my soul needs a little nourishment. Some care and feeding. Some space.

And so I think I shall commence with my third 30 Days of Grace, an exercise during which I commit to looking for and acknowledging the sweet grace of each day. It is, for me, a chance to reset a bit, to refocus, to rejoice in the grace-filled moments currently tucked so quietly amid the chaos and noise I find myself flying right past them.

Yes. A little focus, a little acknowledgement, and a little gratitude is just what my soul needs right now. 30 Days of Grace III it is. Come on along, won’t you?

~~~~~~~~~~

previous 30 Days of Grace

30 Days of Grace (2011)

30 Days of Grace II (2012)

 

 

 

Reminders of Grace

It still surprises me, this finding of feathers everywhere all these months after that first acknowledgment of their presence in my life. You’d think I might have lost interest, or stopped noticing.

But no. And even if there were—and may I say there really hasn’t been—a disposition towards acceptance/complacency, God and His angels throw a little you who my way with rather surprising frequency.

Take this one from last week, for instance.

I was working from home when I took a short break to dish up some lunch. I stepped out onto the side porch for a little clip of basil and as I leaned down to snip snip—hanging right there, right in midair just beyond the leaves, a tiny little feather. I could hardly have missed it, placed as it was just in my line of sight as I reached toward the herb. And if that were not enough, this little white blessing floated there against the dark shadowed backdrop of the Holly in—I’m not kidding here—midair. It swayed and twirled and danced with such graceful abandon I stood there a minute and watched, my own heart lifting.

 

I reached for this magical feather, to add it to my growing collection, and discovered its secret. The little guy had become entangled in the languishing silk strand of a spider’s web, one built long ago (and now dismantled) in the shrubbery behind to the herb planter.

What a sweet moment the joyful dance of this #featherfind brought me in the middle of an ordinary day, a day filled with work and laundry and leftovers.

What a happy reminder of grace, daily and omnipotent.

 

 

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Remembering Tiger

I will always remember it, the look she had when she spotted what I had not been able to see. There he is, Mom, she said, there.

She turned to me desperate, her face stricken.

Is he dead, Mom? Is he?

We’d been looking for that old cat since the night he walked away, out the front door, down the porch steps, up the brick walk in front of our house. He paused ever so briefly to look over his shoulder at me. Then he sauntered off.

What a gift it was I didn’t realize that was our goodbye.

He eventually made his way to a shady spot just at the base of our driveway, curling up beneath the azaleas. It was an area with a small clearing; the opening was sizable enough that he could easily see out and we could see in. And still I didn’t find him, in spite of the thousand trips Colleen and I made looking for him, looking high and low, calling out his name. But then Eliza came home, and she spotted him.

I think of Tiger every time I see those shrubs, pray that his last hours spent in that spot were peaceful, hope that he knows how much we miss him. I’ve watched them with particular interest this Spring as they have leafed out, so healthy and full of buds they look as if they will—quite literally—explode.

Except for the little Tiger cave, that is, which bloomed so early, so significantly, that the heavy branches dropped to the ground and covered its opening with glorious white blossoms.

Tiger’s opening, now covered in white blossoms

How happy I am for this gift of Spring, this comforting sign, this memory.

we miss you, big tiger.

Day 5: When Joy Comes Quiet

On grace, I am no real expert. But what I do know is that it arrives unannounced, beautiful and unexpected.

True to form it surprised me last week when I made another unplanned trip South. Grace was there in the long stories from my Dad about his days in Alaska (how horrible that must have been for Mother, he said); the years spent with Uncle Jack and Aunt Marsha at Locust Hill in Lynchburg; and the Big Story—his boyhood memories of living in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Dad was playing army with his friend, John James Jackie Mook, when Grandmother Rigg called him to come home immediately!) Grace was there at night when I made my way back to the Big House, all alone but for my sweet dog, Little Bit, a most perfect companion. Grace was there in the gift of time. Time to make this slow, gentle journey through Advent, this time of preparation. And surely grace was there in this magnificent scene between the Big House and theirs, a sweeping reminder each time I passed by that the world is filled with darkness and light, sorrow and hope, struggle and peace.

And joy. As I learned in James, there is always, always, joy.

Can you see it all there, as I do?

 

Count it all joy, my brethren.

James 1:2

30 Days of Joy 

On Being Insanely Nice*

Mrs. Cibber as Cordelia (King Lear), Yale Center for British Art

I’m headed to Birmingham, he said, softly kissing my sleeping face in the darkness. Be back tonight.

I swam hard for the shore of awake that I might properly tell him goodbye, have a good meeting, be safe. But of course by then he was gone, the sound of the garage door closing behind him. And so I lay there thinking of the dream I had just been in, wondering where the story came from, what it all meant. And in a matter of moments I was fully awake, ready to get on with the day.

Coffee in hand (yes, he made coffee for me before leaving), I opened my laptop to find this email among the heap of overnight arrivals.

I clicked, and here was Number One the list of 10 Insanely Nice Things You Can Say To Anybody.

1. “Take your time. I’m not in a rush.”

This one is great for the grocery store, the takeout burrito restaurant or anywhere else that involves really tired people trying their best, even as they fumble and flail. For example, the woman in front of you pays the cashier but then has to rifle through her overstuffed wallet to put away the change, then store the receipt, then mash the whole fat leather money accordion into her purse. She will usually complete this action with frantic fingers because she knows she’s delaying the whole line; she knows everybody just wants to go home; and she knows she should not save old, mostly-used-up gift cards with 63 cents on them. Telling her to “Take your time. I’m not in rush” always sets off the same reaction: first, surprise (really? because everybody’s in a rush…) and then a flash of sweet wide-open relief. You have just given somebody a three-minute holiday, not from the stress of life, but from the stress we put on ourselves.

Yes, I thought, remembering the power of my recent grocery store exchange. Yes, such a tiny little gesture, a gift returned to me in the kind acknowledgement of a stranger, this woman who, like me, is simply doing the best she can.

I clicked to #2. And #3. And on through Leigh Newman’s list of 10 Insanely Nice Things You Can Say To Anybody.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. What important kindnesses to remember.

*As it turns out, this is a 2-part post. Part One: On Being A Not-Very-Patient Waiter

On Being A Not-Very-Patient Waiter*

Here is my process for choosing a grocery store checkout lane.

  1. Consider the length of the lines, of course.
  2. Look through the contenders to see what other complications might arise:
    1. the amount of stuff still in the cart(s)
    2. the likelihood of a dreaded price check
    3. kids, more than one
    4. a single child, but whining
    5. elderly
    6. coupons, for goodness sake

    And then this key consideration often missed by the general population:

  3. Assess the speed, aptitude and focus of the person doing the checking out AS WELL AS the person doing the bagging. (I could do a seminar on that one.)

It’s a practice I’ve honed through decades spent thinking Must Be Nice To Have All Dang Day.

~~~

Then at the beginning of this year, a rather strange thing happened to me. After a quiet Christmas holiday, I made the decision to move through my day with intention. That is to say, every time I felt in a rush, rather than going faster, I purposefully did the opposite.

It worked for a while. And then expectation and complication intervened and my grand commitment to intention nearly evaporated—with one significant exception. Now when a true obstacle is in my path (ie I’m stuck behind a logging truck), I can hear God’s voice saying Girl, Why Don’t I Help You Just  Slow. It. Down.

~~~

Just last week I ran into the grocery store, a stop I crammed into an already over-scheduled day. Not surprisingly, I was strategic in my choice of quickest exit lane. The woman just in front of me? Checkout line perfection.** Alone. Organized. Not interested in Jennifer Aniston’s ridiculously large engagement ring or award-winning crock-pot recipes. No coupon or cell phone in sight.

My cart and I pulled right in.

Things moved along perfectly, system working well as I quietly considered this woman and her grocery selections. And then with no warning, there was a minor complication in the scan-scan-scan process. And then another.

I could feel a twitch rising.

And just like that there it was, God’s voice reminding me to breathe, to relax, to simply wait. And so I did.

Eventually, the checkout process was complete. But before moving to follow her cart to the car, this thoughtful woman—with whom I had not even exchanged a glance—turned to me and said:

Thank you for being so patient. You have been a bright spot in my day.

I gave her an understanding smile, knowing it was true, knowing her life as well as I knew mine in that moment, busy, complicated, stretched. I thought about how little had been required of me; how I simply stood there conscious of the fact that she just needed a tiny bit of time, a tiny sliver of space.

And I considered the lovely gift she had given me in taking three seconds, precious as they are, to turn back and offer her thanks. What a lovely gesture, I thought. How unexpected. How nice.

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

*This is a 2-part post, as it turns out. More to come tomorrow: On Being Insanely Nice

**Checkout line perfection, actually: Male; 55 years old; slim, athletic build; shopping solo; buying imported beer, 6-pack

a new mantra for a new season

My remarkable friend Kathryn White posted this status update on her Facebook page quite a while ago.

 

I’ve thought of it a thousand times since, for a million different reasons. So much so I’ve decided to let it be my inspiration as I make my way through Fall, toward Winter, into the season of Advent. With a life packed so full, what joy will I find when I make a little room for unexpected and wondrous and new?