Watching for the Light of Advent

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I’d like to make you a promise.  If you watch for the Light of Advent, it will come to you in unexpected and beautiful ways.

It’s a practice I started three years ago at the prompting of the rather fabulous Winn Collier, a pastor whose writings fill my heart throughout the year. He wrote this:

Oh, yes.

 

I’m sharing my journey via Instagram (@thedailygrace), Facebook (TheDailyGraceBlog) and Twitter (@thedailygrace). I hope you’ll join me. Just tag your images #lightofadventDG so we can find each other.

Blessings to you as we walk through this holy season together.

XXOO,
Cathy

 

Day 10: Keeping Watch

You’ve probably heard me speak of this before, the change that came over me once I “met” Winn Collier via Rick Stillwell via Twitter three years ago. In one of his many fabulous posts, Winn suggested we watch for the light during the dark days of Advent.

For me it has become a spiritual practice, one that both calms and opens my heart during this joyful, hectic, (sometimes) overwhelming time of year.

The promise is there. Let’s keep watch.

on Bickley's Pond
on Bickley’s Pond

 

I invite you to join me as we make our way through these last 10 days of Advent. If you are so inclined, join the gathering on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #WatchingforLightTDG.

 

30 Days of Joy

 

 

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12.1 Looking for the Light of Advent

Rick Stilwell was a kind, good and generous soul who touched countless lives—including mine—through his vast digital networks. He died unexpectedly last January, and his passing left an un-fillable space in the social media landscape populated by so many of us in the communications industry.

Two years ago I happened to click onto Twitter just after @rickcaffeinated posted this.

Rather randomly, I clicked on the link, which brought me (for the first time) to Winn Collier’s (life-changing) blog and his suggestion to look for the light of Advent, documenting it through daily photo posts on Instagram and Twitter. It was an exercise that totally changed the Advent season for me, opening my heart to the miraculous as the light revealed itself in beautiful and unexpected ways.

I plan to mark this Advent season by once again looking for the light and, this time, sharing my discoveries here each day. I invite you to join me on this most beautiful and soulful of journeys. If you are so inclined, use the hashtag on Instagram and/or Twitter so we can find each other. I’d love to share some of your photos here in the days to come.

#lookingforlightTDG

Keep watch.

12.1 #lookingforlightTDG

The light is coming.

I can already feel it in my heart. The light is coming.

the forest and the trees

We’ve been doing a good bit of stomping around in the woods lately, Tim and I. Perhaps it is because I come from mountain stock that I find my soul nourished there. Or maybe it is the thrill of the surprise. In the forest, there is always something beautiful to discover.

Take this last weekend, for instance. We were back in the mountains of Western North Carolina—following Clemson on Thursday night, then Greenville for a little Tupelo Honey brunch on Friday, then Charlotte for the bucket list Eagles concert with our oh-so-fun friends the Rojeks and the Ormes.

As if that were not enough(!), we got up early on Saturday and headed back to Bearwallow Mountain. This is what our trek looked like from the outside:

Not bad.
Not bad at all.

 

We went on in. I love the sound of those leaves crunching beneath my feet, the smell of November in the air. I looked up. I looked around. I looked down. That’s when I saw this:

 

 

It was just lying there, a dead branch among all those fallen leaves. But when I bent over for a closer look, I was astounded by the colors and textures and miracle of it all.

 

 

I mean, can you really believe this is not piece of sculpture or an art installation or a feature at a gallery opening? It’s just an old dead branch, lying there on a carpet of dead leaves in the middle of this forest.

 

I mean, really.

As one of my favorite writers, Winn Collier, reminded me this morning:

There is wonder everywhere.

 

the in-between time

WE HAD A CONVERSATION at church last week, one I am quite certain was not unique to this little study group. It centered on the reason Good Friday is called Good Friday. We came to a conclusion that satisfied us as we sat together in the sanctuary of our Presbyterian Church. But as I awoke on this Holy Saturday morning, the day between Good Friday and Easter, the question arose again.

The world is shrouded, liturgically speaking, in an incomprehensible darkness. Still my heart rejoices as I awaken. Spring is bursting forth! I want to jump out of this bed and run into this gorgeous day!

I don’t know how to reconcile the two. It’s as if the weight of the crucifixion is so heavy, the darkness so deep, the best my heart could manage was to give it a brief nod and move on. To go there—to truly go all the way there to the horror of those final hours, the savagery and the lost hope and the brokenness of the world—is simply too difficult. Too terrifying.

To go there and linger?

And so we fast forward from crucifixion to Easter. And instead of darkness, God gives us the prettiest Saturday of the year, right in the in-between.

 

AND THEN GOD sent me this message by Winn Collier, pastor at All Souls in Charlottesville, a theologian and writer who so often puts right into perspective the very question with which I am wrestling. In Broken on Good Friday, Winn writes about the need in this world for people who are willing to go to the dark places:

If we are to walk backwards in our world and if we are to reckon with the true horrors, then we need broken music. We need brave people who are not afraid to linger in the falling-apart places. I do not mean folks who by their disposition only see the bleak, for bleak is thank goodness not at all the whole of it. I do not mean artists who use the grotesque as their shtick or politicians who use our fear of calamity to bolster their power. I mean people who know the Beauty of the world but who also know there is a wasteland in the human soul. People who know Love but who also, deep in their marrow, know how many of our nights and days are overwhelmed by sadness.

Perhaps my question: 
Why is it so easy to skip over the darkness of this day?
is not the right one.

Perhaps God’s more important question for us is:
Are you willing to go there, even when I do not thrust you into it? 
Do you have the faith I will bring you back?

 

 

XXOO

 

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Word.

It made its way into my life last January—arriving rather late, I’d say, all things considered.

And then there’s the fact it sauntered in, this concept, in no big rush. Just an idea, a comment, really, passing through.

And still.

Hello, I said, I like you.

And so the idea hung around, waiting, patiently waiting while I got used to it, this notion of a Word for the Year. And I committed, beginning the hunt for just the right one. I tried on one, two, three. But something didn’t feel quite right, this hard work of searching out just the right word. And so I stepped back, like the idea itself, watching and waiting.

Sure enough (just as Miska had said*), in time, my Word arrived.

~~~~~~~~~

I am a believer, have I told you that? Twelve months later, I know for sure that having a Word for the Year—a centering force for my life—changed everything.

~~~~~~~~~

What now? What about 2013? I’ve been watching and waiting, trying not to grow impatient as the year’s first month clicks by. Words have come, I must tell you, very fine words that just weren’t mine, words for a different time.

And then it happened. My word, hidden there amid eloquence, peeking from behind grand ceremony, a mere commoner.

~~~~~~~~

One Today, said the poet.

We are made for this moment, said the President.

For such a time as this, said Mordecai.

~~~~~~~~

My Word.

2013

 

From Winn Collier’s blog, Dirtying Paper, Scratching for Beauty:

For a while, Miska’s had these annual encounters where a word arrives, vivid and undeniable. And continuing: This year, I love Miska’s word. A future year, I could imagine it being mine. But it’s not – and that’s the crucial revelation. You can’t snag another person’s word. You can’t even snag another person’s conviction that you need to have a word …You have to find your own —find your own way, find your own self.

 

 

 

 

30 Days of Joy

Let’s kick it off again, shall we?

What better way to launch this Season of Happy than with one of my great joys: Winn Collier’s #adventpicaday. Last year we looked for the light, and this search brought unexpected grace to every corner of my life. This year’s theme is the search for hope. Details here. (Give yourself the gift of Winn Collier’s blog. Smart. Lovely. Rich, in a most beautiful way.)

Do join in, won’t you? Even if you haven’t tried your hand at the photo app Instragram yet, this is the perfect way to wade in. You are so gonna love.

Day I: #adventpicaday #hope

Day 1 #hope #adventpicaday

Grace and peace to you this season of Advent.

 

5) Word for the Year

It’s not so surprising, actually, the fact that I’ve decided to have a Word for the Year. It’s just the kind of thing that appeals to me—a focus for my life, a magnetic field, a centering force when I start to drift (and inevitably I will) toward those sparkly edges. I suffer greatly from the Anything Is Possible So Let’s Not Decide Just Yet Syndrome, which means to accomplish anything, I require some serious structure.

This is such a significant truth in my life that I find myself creating rules for the tiniest of tasks. You can listen to this song on your iPod, but only while running on this treadmill. Keep the little bottles of hotel bathroom lotion if you want, but they need to fit in this ziplock bag. Buy that expensive yarn! Just don’t start another project—not even a sample row or two just to see how it knits up—until you finish the socks you were so excited about three months ago. Yes, some life parameters are a very good thing for me.

So the idea of a Word for the Year spoke to my heart the moment I read about it on Winn Collier’s blog a few days ago. He wrote:

For a while, Miska’s had these annual encounters where a word arrives, vivid and undeniable. And continuing: This year, I love Miska’s word. A future year, I could imagine it being mine. But it’s not – and that’s the crucial revelation. You can’t snag another person’s word. You can’t even snag another person’s conviction that you need to have a word …You have to find your own —find your own way, find your own self.

How I love that thought. And having designated January as a month for Do-overs, Rethinks, and What-ifs, if ever a word were going to find me and take root, surely, the time was now. And so I decided to keep watch.

My word arrived unexpectedly, announcing itself to me as I sat in church last Sunday. Some other candidates had already come and gone—flirtatious, appealing, pausing long enough to be considered, but then casually drifting past.

Not this word. It announced itself boldly, pulling up a chair and having a seat right there, undeniably taking up residence.

We stood to sing the Psalm, and my word hung on. Second reading. Prayer. Anthem. (“I’m still he-re!”) And then Dr. Bragan walked to the pulpit and began to preach one of those sermons that seems preached right at you, this one doubly alarming in its gentleness.

Silence, he said.

Find time for quiet.

I sat with my word, unflinching. Face to face, eye to eye.

A still small voice, he said. Make room.

Okay. Chills.

And then he said, and I swear it:

He has a word for you.

Just listen.

And so I smiled, accepting my word. Welcoming it, really, into my busy life. And then I set about thinking of SPACE—physical, emotional, spiritual—and why that need has planted itself so firmly in my soul.

I don’t know the answer yet. I just know it is here to stay.

I'd like you to meet my word.

 

 

 

 

Has a word found you? If so, I’d love to hear your story. Just leave a comment below or send me an email. Perhaps we’ll start a support group for people and their words.

Day 14: In Which I Beg Your Forgiveness

Let me warn you right up front this is yet another post that centers around an #adventpicaday photo. But before you click away to find something more unexpected—say, a talking dog video on youtube—do let me explain I haven’t posted for two days, just seeing if I could make the urge to tell this story go away. I couldn’t.

 

All these years later, it has become quite clear to me why God brought her to my life. The antithesis of my mother—who was her dearest and most judgmental friend—Helen was honest, transparent, brash. Her view of life was street level; her commentary delightfully unfiltered.

I’ll never forget the time Helen traveled with our family on a cruise to the Bahamas. She, Mom and I were lying by the pool when talk turned dangerously toward sex. (Let me say, about this subject my mother and I never talked. Distasteful, you know.) So even as a recent college graduate—age 23—this conversation made me very nervous. And then Helen pronounces:

I was a virgin when I married at 29, and it’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.

I held my breath, stealing a quick under-the-sunglasses look to see just how horrified my mother was that her dear friend had made such a statement in front of her impressionable daughter. But Mom just laughed and laughed.

Helen had that effect on people.

I cried uncontrollably at her funeral in 2004, just two years after she sat with my family at my sweet, backyard wedding. I often think about the fact that the cancer was hiding there at that joyful moment, vengeful, biding its time. I still miss her terribly, most deeply at Christmastime. I can see Helen now, sitting in the green wingback chair in the Barn Room, smoking a cigarette and wearing her signature THE FAT MAN COMETH sweatshirt, those long pretty pearls around her neck.

I wrote something similar in a Christmas card to her children (who are my dear friends) as I sat in front of the fire feeling nostalgic Friday night. And I was still thinking of Helen the next morning when I walked back into the bedroom after delivering a load of dirty clothes to the laundry room. The late morning light was streaming in through the window, and I grabbed my phone with thoughts of capturing something interesting for #adventpicaday.

This is what I saw when the photo rendered:

The three angels Helen gave me as a wedding present, bathed in the light of Advent.

30 Days of Joy

Day 12: And God Said: Watch This.

Through the tiny slits that were my eyes when I first awoke this morning, I saw a marvelous orange forming in the sky just outside our bedroom window. I jumped from the bed, threw on the first pair of shoes I could find, and ran to the back yard—too excited to even stop to brush my teeth.

This is what I saw when I reached the water’s edge.

December 9, 2011 7:05 am (approximately)

Awestruck, thrilled and cold, I walked back toward the house, intending to capture a quick shot of our pretty Christmas tree lights through the porch window before heading inside. I looked through the viewfinder at the reflection in the glass. What on earth, I thought, and turned back toward the water.

This is what I saw then.

December 9, 2011 7:14 am (approximately)

I have not altered or enhanced either photo. There’s no filter—no Hipstamatic, no Instagram. Not even a crop. This is exactly what God brought to me, literally in my own back yard, this morning.

Thank you, Winn Collier, for your #adventpicaday challenge. It is proof positive that if you simply look, the light will come to you. And it will be glorious.

30 Days of Joy