It 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.
Many, 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.
You are living the reality of your beliefs right now.
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.
Thank you, Oprah. Thank you.
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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.
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?
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.
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?
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:
I looked out the big studio window today and guess who was hanging about?
About that time a little Carolina Wren came flying from the wood stack there beside the brick column—the one that holds the new bluebird house. And the Papa Bluebird got ALL KINDA UPSET. So in spite of his fretting, I took a little peeksie in the little round hole.
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.
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?
When the ball dropped and the champagne flutes clinked and the lovers kissed and the calendar clicked over to 2014—signaling that greatest of “do-over” opportunities, a brand new year—I missed it all. I was in bed with the covers over my head, so sick with the flu the best I could do was try to make it through the next five minutes.
It. Was. Awful.
And that is how I find myself here, now, without a single New Year’s resolution.
It’s the thought that was on my mind when I woke up Saturday morning, looked out at the lazy, rainy morning and wondered what I might have on the Okay, it’s January agenda. Without a “get serious about exercise” or a “drink more water, for real this time” or an “okay, now about those carbs” in sight, I decided to create a new kind of resolution list, one designed purely to up my happy quotient. Here goes.
Cook more in Mom’s cast iron skillet.
Hang out with friends.
Buy presents, just because.
Burn the candles.
Laugh. Out loud.
I think it’s a good list, don’t you? A happy list. A list of resolutions that, for the first time in my life, I might actually keep.
To which I must say: Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! And happy 2014 to you!
(So you can see why this Word business is very serious to me.)
Late last month, my radar up, a potential 2014 word appeared in my life. It stood tall and strong, a word so insistent it hardly required considering. It was just suddenly there, unmoving, a deal done. But then the strangest thing happened. Another word floated in, lighter than air, and landed right on its shoulder. This new word sparkled a bit (catching my eye), then lifted off with such ease and nonchalance I found my heart lighter, my spirits lifted.
The next day, there it was again, this word, floating around the edges of my consciousness. It hung there a while, happy and complete, so unself-conscious in itself I found myself a bit mesmerized. It winked, then I watched as the big bold already-in-residence word dissolved before my very eyes, replaced by light and joy and the magnificence of my I Now Declare It word for 2014:
This is what I love most about tennis: The game starts over with every serve.
It has to do with the way the game is structured, from the unusual score-keeping Deuce (clean slate) to a new set (clean slate) to the tie-break (clean slate). Every point offers a shot at redemption.
How blessed we are that life is like a game of tennis is the conclusion I came to this morning as I lay in bed looking toward the french doors, the ones that offer such pretty views of Bickley’s Pond. It is Thanksgiving, and I was thinking about my life, all its colors and textures, all I have to be grateful for. That’s when the question came to me, the one I pondered a good long time.
But what am I most thankful for?
I watched through the doors as the flat gray sky burst into the brilliant orange that marks a November sunrise.
I am thankful every day offers the chance to begin again.
To make good on promises, to get things done, to go in a different direction. To learn something new, to plan for tomorrow, to live in the moment. To be a better friend, sister, mother, daughter, wife. To forgive more freely. To love more fully. To look beyond, to look within, to go deep. To laugh out loud. To be still. To pray with conviction. To believe. To hold close. To let go. To give away. To receive, wide open and with joy. To be whole-hearted. To be contented. To stretch. To remember. To celebrate.
To give it another try.
To be thankful. To be truly, humbly thankful.
I wish you rich blessings, my friend, this Thanksgiving day, and always.
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