the grand promise

 

I’VE A THOUSAND RESOLUTIONS at the start of this new year, something I find thrilling. There’s nothing I love more than the chance to start again, to do it better, to make new commitments that add depth and beauty and enjoyment to life. 

One of these is morning devotional time. It is a practice that has been made more beautiful via two things: (1) New Morning Mercies, (a most thoughtful Christmas gift), and (2) Daily emails from Franciscan friar Richard Rohr. To heighten the intention, I’ve decided to record a sentence I find particularly meaningful from one of these teachings every day in my journal. It is a practice that has borne beautiful fruit; I find that I read with greater focus, and I consider more deeply the lessons shared there.

 

WHICH BRINGS TO MIND A QUESTION with which I have long struggled and one I find difficult to admit because it’s such a foundational Christian belief. (To tell you the truth, I’ve worked on this post for two weeks and am still not sure I’ve effectively articulated the point I’m trying to make. ) Still, here goes.

I believe in a God of love, an omnipotent God, the great I Am. And because of that Almighty Pure Love–so beyond our earthly comprehension–I don’t quite get why Jesus had to die on the cross. To be clear, I don’t mean I have trouble believing. What I can’t wrap my head around is the literal need for it. I struggle to reconcile God’s boundless love with a requirement that, for our sins to be forgiven, Jesus had to endure unconscionable pain and suffering.

It is a simplistic view, I am quite sure. And those who are more learned scholars–who have a much greater understanding of scripture, of the God of the Old Testament vs New, etc.–these people could no doubt offer perspective I am missing. Still Rohr’s January 4th meditation landed in my inbox and he offered an insight that made my heart flip. The crucifixion is not really a matter of substitutionary atonement, he writes, where “Jesus takes the punishment that this angry God intended for us.” Jesus died to show us, he says, that the other side of suffering is transformation.

Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.

 Whoa, as they say.

Jesus shows us that the pattern of everything is death and resurrection. Jesus is the archetypal pattern for every life, including yours and mine. There will be suffering and death along with love, joy, and resurrection. Most of us are so resistant to accepting suffering that Jesus walked through it himself and said, “Follow me.” He showed us that on the other side of suffering is transformation. 

We had to see the pain, we had feel the ache in our bones to truly know and believe the pattern, which is evident in all things around us, which is life:

Suffering. Transformation. Resurrection.

 

 

In the cosmos, in nature, in our own lives.

 

 

 

It is faith, that’s what I believe, the grand promise.

Something beautiful will come of this.

 

 

Tomorrow will be better.

 

XXOO

I’ve written of Richard Rohr’s meditation series before on The Daily Grace, and perhaps you’ve already received the passage referenced here. If not, here is a link to the January 4th devotional, titled Original Blessing

 

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Resolutions and Such

 

morning sky

 

There is the immense possibility of it all.
That is, I suppose, what makes new beginnings so wildly compelling.
So absolutely irresistible.

And then there is the attention we bring to the things, our aim narrowly focused on the act of manifesting something valuable and life affirming on our own clean slate–one barely wiped free of last year’s grime.

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

Just yesterday–the first Sunday of this new year–I opened to the first page of a beautiful new journal, one sent to me by my sister-in-law, Colette. It was many years ago; she brought the book home with her from Florence, Italy, her thoughtful note suggesting I might fill it with “lots of great stories.” Instead I tucked it away in my library for safekeeping, my saver’s heart insisting I hold out, insisting I wait–as if expecting some grand inspiration worthy of such a magnificent volume.

For years the book has rested there, patient. Empty. Silent.

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

I have found it to be true that when you noodle around with an idea, when you toss around a thought but don’t do anything to give it actual shape, or form, it will fade–even if your noodling keeps it alive (but barely breathing) for many years. But the moment you write it down it becomes something else entirely, an intention, a force in the universe. Not only that, but the universe will rearrange to accommodate it, to support you, to give mass and momentum to your little creation.

And so I spent a good part of the day Sunday sifting through the things that float around in my head, the hundreds of maybes and what-ifs and I shoulds, many of them new and shiny, others tired and thin but still hanging on. I gave each of them equal weight as I considered their place in my life today. What matters now?  I asked. It was a question that came as if I have moved beyond something, toward something, into something new as I wade deeper into my 57th year. And then for the first time ever I also considered: What good intentions can I bless and release?

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

I pulled the elegant Florence journal from the bookshelf and opened it to Page One. I began to write.  2016 Life List is what came first. Then I captured 10 thoughts into which I could put my heart.

Some of these are easy:

4. Schedule exercise.

Some require a bit more effort:

10. See the best in people.

Then just as I finished the list something came to me, divine direction that formed of its own, a whisper from God, an addendum.

Live in the space of joy, it said.

I grabbed it, wrote it down, gave it form.

#11. Live in the space of joy.

 

It is the perfect #11 for my 2016 List of Ten, don’t you think? This sweet thought that has come and wrapped itself all around, reminding me joy is a choice to be made.

It’s going to be a very good year, I believe. A very good year, indeed.

XXOO

 

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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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the moon, the stars, and the sunrise

 

IMG_4393

It’s all coming so fast: the push to college graduation, the pollen dive into Spring, the walk through this Holy Week. Today’s Maundy Thursday leads inevitably to the solemness of tomorrow’s Good Friday. But even in that darkness we rush to Easter, our sights trained squarely on the coming joy. We know how the story ends, we Christians, and it’s somehow less awful if we somehow skip straight there.

(Is there any other explanation for the misnomer Good Friday?)

There’s an extra detail to mind this time around. Saturday night we’ll also see a full moon–the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. It’s called the Paschal Moon, and it tells us Easter will fall on the next Sunday. How fabulous that this year it just happens to be the very next day.

I’m fascinated by the earth and sky, the moon and stars and how they keep us in time. I’ll be watching.

And I’ll say a little prayer of Thanksgiving for the appearance of the Paschal Moon that comes to signal this sunrise–the one that brings our joy as the light of lights shines bright over the Earth, and once again, we receive the grace of the greatest miracle of them all.

 

 

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Word for the Year (v.4)

http://instagram.com/thedailygraceIt came to me easy this time, so obvious a choice my reaction was resist. It was still December, after all, and entirely too soon for the thing to appear. Still there it was.

Listen the word said. Listen.

THAT’S JUST WHAT I WILL DO! I thought.  I’ll wait, and watch, and in due time–typically a week or two after the new year has begun; once panic has fully set in–in due time, my word will drift in and alight, knowing eventually I will take note and grab hold. It’s happened three times before, you see, the January arrival of My Word for the Year, my guiding star as I move through the next 12 months of my life.

Listen is what it said.

~~~~~

This word business is not the sort of thing you can force, that I have learned. You can’t pick it out of a hat, or select it just because you like the sound of it, or adopt someone else’s–not if you want your word to do its work in your life. You can’t choose it at all, if you wanna know the truth, because somehow, in some mysterious way–if you pay attention–your word will find you.

~~~~~~~

And so I waited as words came and words went. And then this morning I awoke with it both in my head and on my heart, unmistakable in its insistence.

Listen, it said.

Listen.






Past Words:

2014:  Word for the Year (v.3)

2013: Word for the year (v.2)

2012: Word for the Year (v.1)

*A continued thank you to Winn Collier for introducing the concept of a Word for the Year to me via his marvelous blog four years ago.

#2: On Becoming #LifeYouWantDC

you-are-builtMany, many years ago, I was standing at the movie popcorn counter (so long ago the movie was An Officer and a Gentleman) when I began to feel faint. The next thing I knew I was lying on the floor looking up into the concerned face of my boyfriend–a face that in that moment was familiar but that I couldn’t place. I remember working hard to figure out where I was, feeling as if I were making my way back into consciousness and my body. More specifically, I remember scanning and thinking Okay now, which life is this?

And that’s not the most interesting part of the experience. What’s more remarkable was the sense I had just before “waking” that I was in a space of complete calm and serenity. For a nanosecond, and in a nanosecond, every gigantic life question I had was answered, every grand mystery was solved. It was as if the universe unfolded before me, perfect and complete, and I felt no struggle or doubt at all, just a deep and divine understanding of how it all works, how it has worked since the beginning of time.

I was questionless, and therefore, at complete peace.

I felt a similar moment of divine clarity last weekend at Oprah’s The Life You Want Conference. In a magnificent red dress, Oprah opened the conference with two hours of the personal stories that ignited her passion for helping others find and manifest their own calling. If you want to live the highest expression of yourself, she said, you cannot go about it passively. You have to pay attention to your intention. Then she put it more simply.

You become what you believe, not what you wish for.

Boom.

You are living the reality of your beliefs right now.

Boom. Boom.

I heard her, and I wrote it down. And then I sat there in that dark venue surrounded by thousands and thousands of people unable to let go of the thought, unable to hear what came next. Instead I sat there thinking about how true the concept is, how layered, how profound. I thought about how much of my life is joyful, and how my beliefs have shaped that joy. And then I got honest about the time I’ve spent wrestling, how much energy I’ve devoted to the ’round and ’round dance of intention and doubt. What space will open up, I wonder, when I acknowledge and deal with my true beliefs?

What a gift it is to move on through life with the clarity that this is how it works.

You become what you believe, not what you wish for.

Oh, yes.

Thank you, Oprah. Thank you.

 

 

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Seasons.

We live our lives in seasons, moving gently from one to the next, so quiet it’s hardly worth a notice most days. And then something happens that catapults you into awareness—a job change, the death of a parent, your child going to college—and the change feels intense and immediate and shocking. It makes me think of that stunt that’s been the rage of late, the one where you get a bucket of ice water poured over your head. It’s the kind of thing that sure grabs your attention.

How lucky we are that most of our days don’t include buckets of ice water. Instead, God most often hands life out to us slowly, a little bit at a time.

~~~~

I sit here writing this on my back porch in August as the sun is setting and the world is cooling down. The cardinals have been by for dinner and most have gone on, except for the lone bird I hear chirping in the Crape Myrtle. It is quiet and peaceful and still, and I am grateful.

Still, for many of my friends, these are ice bucket days. Kindergarten for Brooke, first grade for the Barr twins, first day of high school for Julian and Macy, first day without her baby boy for my dear friend Lisa, who delivered 6’2″ Ayden to college this weekend. I know exactly how each of them feels; I have been there before. Oh, have I been there before.

 

eliza, first day of first grade
eliza, first day of first grade

 

But now I am in a different season, one in which the moments, by and large, have become my own. I fill them with things that bring my soul joy: I write (a lot). I read. I make things. I binge-watch television (Homeland). And if we’re being honest, I’ve seen way more episodes of Chopped than I care to mention.

I go to work, and I come home, and there is no carpool to coordinate, no paperwork to fill out, no cheerleading uniform to wash, no wrapping paper to sell, no homework to oversee.There’s just my own big life, ready to be filled.

~~~~

I think about God and what a grand plan it is to keep us all moving, season to season. Summer ends, yes, and we mourn. But then comes Fall, that glorious time of football and pumpkins and spiced tea and a chill in the air. And Winter, with wood fires and big pots of soup and the air alive with fresh cedar. And Spring. Oh Spring, all new buds and sunshine and garden shoots and possibility, endless and colorful.

How lovely it is to live in a world in which there is always something to look forward to.

~~~~~

My phone pings and it’s a message from my sweet Eliza, all moved in to a house and ready for her Senior year in college.

Guess what I’m making for dinner? she asks, a question that makes me smile. She’s on a quest to find things to cook that are healthy and easy, and she called me for a suggestion from the grocery store earlier today. Roasted onions, squash, zucchini and mushrooms she says.

My heart rejoices.

~~~~~

Yes, we move season to season to season according to a grand plan that makes it all work, a plan designed to keep us moving forward. It’s not always easy. (Water bucket moments.) But we adjust. We adapt. And we reinvent.

And then a miracle happens and we find so much to be grateful for in new blessings that come our way.

They always do, don’t they? Isn’t that the promise?

They always do.

 

our latest selfie, just before my baby left for Senior year
our latest selfie, just before she left for Senior year

 

 

 

 

the smell of you

It was completely unexpected since we’d spent nearly two weeks together on the tail-end of her study abroad in Spain. And yet when we got home, Eliza presented a beautiful gift bag stuffed with bright tissue paper.

It’s for you Mom, from me. To thank you for Barcelona.

I was deeply touched. And also, most excited.

Pink tissue, out. Blue tissue out. And there lay the prettiest little bag, one stitched with happy fabric and a closing zipper.

I love this! I said. So perfect for makeup or iPhone cords or a special collection of journal writing pens and pencils.

Open it she said.

And so I did. And there inside was a collection of 10-15 feathers, brown, black, downy white.

It’s all the feathers I found while I was in Spain she said. I kept them all, for you.

I thought I might cry.

And then I reached to the bottom of the bag to find a gorgeous scarf, one with feathers floating so effortlessly they seemed to be dropping from the sky. I hugged it to my chest.

I knew you would love it she said.

~~~~~~~

We faced her going away to school for the fourth time this weekend, this sweet baby girl who just yesterday sucked her thumb and twirled my hair like it was a lifeline to the divine. Rational thought cannot develop sound enough reason for it to actually be her Senior Year in College. And yet it is. We made the trek to Clemson on Saturday, her in the driver’s seat with Tim following us in our loaded down SUV. It was a journey I made with less trepidation than her Freshman year, but let me tell you, it was still very emotional.

There are differences, I must say. This time she moved into a house rather than a minuscule room in a freshman dorm. There was no Mama worry over will she fit in? will she make friends? will she be happy? Instead, there was a steady stream of besties stopping by to check it out, to offer opinions, to run errands. And still when the day ended and it was time for us to drive away, my heart emptied and felt so flattened I wondered—for the thousandth time—if it would ever feel full again.

 

she's so happy to be back with her friends
she’s so happy to be back with her friends

 

~~~~~~~

Today I spent the afternoon cleaning up and clearing out, activities that desperately needed tending to in my pile-filled life. Eventually, I made my way to the bag that still held the pretty feather scarf. I pulled it free and walked toward my bedroom, intent on properly putting it away. That’s when I caught a whiff of its scent and scrunched it to my nose.

That smells just like Eliza I thought.

I wrapped the scarf around my neck and continued with my chores.

~~~~~~~

I have never been a perfume wearer. I can’t even say why, but I can tell you my daughter is, just as my mother was. It was something I never understood, something over-the-top, something that, to me, seemed frivolous.

I feel that way no longer. One tiny whiff and my daughter has moved through this kitchen, a teenager out the door and on her way to cheerleading or a sleepover or something extra exciting. One tiny whiff and I am a little girl, back in my mother’s bedroom as she dresses for a party. I remember it exactly, the site of her, the smell of her as I followed her down the hall and into the kitchen, me believing she would always be there, and so would I, in our house on that hill above the Courthouse in Wise.

~~~~~~

I think I shall join the leagues of the perfume-wearers. I do. And maybe down the line somebody somewhere will catch a tiny whif and think I remember.

It’s a lovely way to be called to mind, don’t you think?

Yes, I shall become a perfume-wearer.

Yes.

The Best Marriage Advice Ever

It was a simple little sentence in the midst of a gorgeous homily, one most certainly penned in thoughtful regard for the bride and groom. It was a holy moment after all—the beautiful young couple before us on the alter, her positively radiant in joy, he so taken he could not stop glancing her way. In a matter of minutes they would turn back toward us, a congregation of their family and friends, and they would quite literally take their first steps into a brave new future, one shared as husband and wife.

What a journey is before them I thought, sitting there with my own husband at my side. How much there is to say about marriage in a moment like this.

That was about the time the minister slipped this line into his message. He spoke slowly and gently, emphasizing each word.

Love always gives he said.

It landed on my heart.

Love always gives.

~~~~~~~

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two weeks thinking about this little sentence, thinking about how profoundly those three little words could change your life if you accept the truth of them, if you seek to live them everyday. Thinking about how pure and lovely and unencumbered a soul would feel in knowing even before a dilemma appears:

 

The Best Marriage Advice from thedailygrace.com

 

Good advice for marriage. Good advice for life.

 

 

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