An unmooring.

IT’S BEEN A LONG WHILE, friends, since I’ve visited you here, deep summer filled with such highs and lows it’s difficult to get my bearings. I’ve found it hard to write, impossible to imagine how I’d ever find the words. There has been so much sadness. And joy, overwhelming joy, and kindness and grace and gratitude, coming along in grand sweeps and sways.

A roller coaster, proverbial as that is.

There is no need for a detailed accounting. It is enough to say my dear Daddy, who spent his last years in a fiercely determined fight not to let demon Alzheimer’s get the better of him, finally succumbed. The last weeks were awful. Wretched. A NOBODY-SHOULD-EVER-HAVE-TO-GO-THROUGH-THIS kind of time. But also, an open state which gave us some of the funniest, most tender, most beautiful moments we ever spent.

 

one of our last visits

 

And there were the sweet days following, remembering, with my brothers.

And the outpouring from Dad’s broad and beloved circle.

 

THERE HAVE BEEN a thousand other worthy-of-mention occurrences over the same period. I spent a few glorious days at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop–the highest of highs–where the focus on craft (and particularly that of the talented and generous Michael Parker) impacted my writing and clarified the tough requirements of the dreaded novel edit. (I regret I was called away before Nikky Finney‘s keynote. It would have been a great honor to meet her.) During this same time many, many dear friends faced mountains of sorrow and stress. There has been an unusual frenzy of sickness and loss and change. Still others are dealing right now with the wonderful/horrible transition of a child leaving home. I will never, ever discount the deep emotions that result from this college drive-away; it has been seven years for me and I swear, it still hurts.

And yet.

And yet the fog lifts, time and again.

 

with my Daddy … July 15, 2018

 

THIS, THEN, is what became of my summer.

The rises and falls, the scramble for footing.

The full surround of grace.

And still the loss. The deep, deep loss of my Dad.

 

XXOO

 

 

When You See The Light

 

We’re at the height of our powers, he said,

and we laughed,

 

 

we friends who’ve known each other for years,

friends who mostly know the truths.

 

Think about it, he said.

 

 

Our kids are grown. Our careers are built. We have money enough.

(He was being quite earnest.)

We’re healthy, functioning physically. We have our wits.

 

 

We can pretty much do what we want, and enjoy it.

 

Then this, which came at me like a ton of carefully fired bricks.

 

It’s not gonna always be like this, he said.

 

 

Now is the golden time. 

 

(Height of our powers.)

 

 

Let’s be grateful.

 

 

XXOO

 

 

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The Lenten Desert (redux)

I wrote this post two years ago but it all seemed new when the link randomly popped up on my Twitter feed a few days ago. The lesson is one of the most important of my life, and the fact I’d already forgotten is reason enough to share it with you again, here. On this day between the darkness and the light I pray the promise of Easter–and its sunrise fulfillment–will fill your heart and spirit.     ~ cathy

 

IT HAS BEEN my desert during this lenten season, my place of wandering. This is something I didn’t realize until this moment as I write this post, and it’s something that feels strange and awkward to admit, even to myself. But the truth is in these past few weeks I’ve spent a great deal of time online discovering an unfolding world of seekers who make keen observations about our profound need for grace and love and kindness in a crazy hustle world.

My journey began when, in rather typical and wildly random internet fashion, I came upon this sentence in a blog post last February. Since then it has stuck to me like brittle autumn leaves on a wool coat:

We come not because we must but because we may.

It was a story about an intimate Communion shared by Carolyn Watts and her spiritual director, a sharing of the bread and the cup that so affected the writer she wrote about it on her blog Hearing the Heartbeat. She went on to say:

I’m pondering, these days, the various habits in my life that have arisen out of a must.

Carolyn makes a beautiful point about her God-call to stillness, something that has become more than a practice for her, now a life center.

 

THE COMMUNION PHRASE HAS CLUNG TO ME, TOO, insisting I take it another place in my own world. The thought arises every time the “I must” sentiment enters my head or leaves my mouth: I have to finish this work task; I have to fold that laundry; I have to get that workout in. Ugh.  My day–every single day–is weighted down by a long list of I must tasks that define my attitude and my existence.

But here is my truth. How fortunate I am God has given me the ability to do these things. How blessed I am to be able to walk on the treadmill and participate in a Pilates class, that I have clothes to wash and a machine in which to dry them and a closet in which to hang them. I have a car that drives me to the grocery store where the shelves are stocked, where I simply need put things in my cart and bring them home to peel and chop and roast and eat, foods that nourish my body.

Oh, yes, what a privilege it is in this life that I may, rather than I must.

 

IT IS STILL COMMUNION, this being open to God’s presence in the ten thousand tiny tasks that make up my day, my week, my life. He is there and ready to meet me, this I know–not just on the altar, but at the kitchen sink, in my weed-filled garden, as I fill the car with gas.

Blogger Emily P. Freeman (through whom I found the Carolyn Watts post) encourages “small moment living” through a practice she calls Simply Tuesday. She writes,

Real life happens in the small moments we find on the most ordinary day of the week. Tuesday holds secrets we can’t see in a hurry–secrets not just for our schedules but for our souls.

It’s a practice I want to emulate, and so I will join with Emily’s followers in posting “an ordinary moment” each Tuesday on Instagram and tagging it #itssimplytuesday. The point, of course, is neither the photograph nor the Instagram sharing. Instead it is the mindful attention required to notice and celebrate that which is so ordinary in a greatly blessed “I must” day.

 

bubbles
my nieces, in an ordinary moment I love

 

THERE ARE A MILLION other flavorful nuggets I’ve found as I’ve walked through this digital desert, a wonderful community of folks out there looking for grace in the everyday. What a gift it is to find them via the internet where it requires merely a click to connect person to person, heart to heart, soul to soul.

And that in itself is rather miraculous. Wouldn’t you say?

Not because we must but because we may.

Yes.

 

XXOO

 

ps: I adore Emily P. Freeman who, since I wrote this, has launched a sweet, quiet podcast that I promise will rebalance your soul. Find it here:

The Next Right Thing

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THIS ONE’S FOR THE GIRLS.

I was at an event last week during which I had a conversation with a sweet friend who is in the full-on throes of life. She mentioned her intention via The Daily Grace to do a better job taking note of the small things, of noticing the quiet, gentle moments in each day.

 

 

Oh honey, is what I thought.

“Give yourself some grace,” is what I said.

It’s just not possible, is what I know.

 

 

Oh lord, you girls in your 30s and 40s. You are doing so much. You are responsible for so much! You are raising children. Organizing carpool and bringing snacks. Bedazzling costumes. Teaching Sunday School and coaching soccer. Manhandling homework. Cheering on, in game after game (after endless game). Maintaining a home and order and a cross-referenced calendar. Volunteering, for heaven’s sake. And you’re doing it all, so many of you, in the midst of the most demanding, most challenging and most exhausting phase of your work-that-matters careers.

There is so much of everything in the season you’re in. There is too much of everything, except for this:

Time, my sweet friend.

Time itself.

 

 

It’s something I actually prayed for in my own busy days, enough time to get it all done. I look back at the girl I was then with wonder and love and admiration, remembering the stress, feeling the exhaustion, seeing the younger me as if I were one of those street performers keeping all the plates spinning, moving one to the next, whirling, balancing, whirling, whirling, not letting a single one drop.

Oh, how I remember.

It will come around, may I just tell you that? Time will pass and your children will grow and your career will stabilize and you will make your way back, all the way back, to you.

 

 

You will read a book in its entirety. You will cook a full meal from scratch. You will get up in morning dark not to pack lunch but to grind coffee and watch the sun rise (over a mountain or an ocean, I hope).

And there will be time.

You will notice the small moments. And you will savor them with a heart filled to overflowing not in spite of but because of all that came before.

The crazy.

The overwhelming.

The work of life itself.

 

 

XXOO

 

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Life, shared.

When I look over the many grace-filled moments of life, I count these among the most holy: the time spent lingering around a dining room table after a lovely dinner. Candles are burning low, a last splash of wine has been poured. Conversation flows easily, joyfully, the topics having moved to things that matter, treasured memories, dreams for the future, deeper questions of life. Inevitably there is a moment in which someone leans back and looks around in the soft light, and with no words at all acknowledges the glory of this communion.

How grateful I am for dear friends. How grateful I am for life, shared.

XXOO

for Mamas and Daddies taking a child to college

I feel it new every August, the heart-sinking dread of Mamas and Daddies facing a college freshman year. Oh, there’s a bit of excitement in the preparation, from college acceptance joy to the realization (during a push-the-boundaries summer) that good lord it is time for this child to move on.

And yet the moment comes.

The dorm room is fixed. The bed is made, and the clothes are put away. You hug hard. You take her face in your hands and say, one more time, I am so excited for you. And you get in the car, and smile and wave, and you drive away leaving your baby standing on a college campus, alone.

Ten miles later the tears begin to fall. And no matter how much you tell yourself to stop, this is silly, you are grateful she has this wonderful opportunity, you still can’t make them stop.

You put your phone in your purse. In the back seat. In the very very back so you cannot reach it to text her. And you begin to practice the one thing you know you must do for the next four years, for the next 10 years, for the rest of your life:

You let her work it out herself.

 

(I wrote about this at the time, and about the great blessings that came to balance my angst. God was insistent in this even when I had trouble believing.)

And so I want to say to you, now, whether you know it or not, whether you can believe it or not, this time of change is as much about you as it is about your deeply beloved child.

We send you love and strength and perseverance, those of us who have been there. And we hope this time of growth–for both of you–ultimately makes your world bigger, more colorful, and more filled with all the things that bring you joy.

Godspeed.

 

XXOO

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the good, good, good fight

My sweet Daddy is 86 years old, and these days his mind is often jumbled due to some functional changing of the brain. With the help of caregivers in the assisted living facility where he lives, he still dresses every day, joins friends for lunch in the upstairs dining room, and sits in his big easy chair by the window waiting for visitors or family–most often Will and Kathy, my super-hero brother and sister-in-law–to stop by or to take him on an outing.

He is not going willingly into this darkness. Dad’s frustration shows. Yet his indomitable spirit pushes on in spite of the great challenges he faces, each day bringing something new. It is a remarkable thing to see the ways he adapts, the adjustments he somehow knows how to make so each tiny moment is the absolute best it can be. Spend 10 minutes with Dad and you’ll see despite the gradual fading of his memory, he is a man who simply refuses to let the thing get the best of him.

***

Just this week he got the chance to meet his great-grandson for the very first time.

 

One look at the interaction between these two and you know Dad and Irby are both right there, great-granddaddy and great-grandson fully experiencing a precious, once-in-a-lifetime, holy exchange.

How thankful we all are for this time. How joyous!

And how fervently I pray the goodness of this golden moment will rest with Dad a while. May it nourish his soul. May it remind him day after day the fight is worth it, every frustrating, exhausting, damnable bit.

 

XXOO

A big thanks to Catherine Stewart, Irby’s mom and my precious niece, for the use of her how-did-she-capture-that-moment photo.

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 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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