Darkness, and Light, and Advent

 

It is a practice that brings depth to the season and calm to my soul; a daily watching for the promise that when darkness surrounds, light is to come.

This is Advent, to me.

It’s what we all want, is it not? What we need? To hang on? When life is hard, when the world is overwhelming, when its demands, its sorrows, its hardship are too much for a person to bear: We are loved all the more. We are seen, treasured. Cared for.

 

 

Light is to come, that’s the promise.

Watch for it, hang on for the glimpses, in Advent.

XXOO

 

I’m looking for light each day, and sharing it via Instagram. I’d love for you to join me. Share, if you want, with the hashtag #lookingforlightTDG. I would love to find each other and share, with your blessings, some of those images on The Daily Grace. 

 

One. Two. Three.

 

I was in my studio one morning recently when I looked out to see this.

 

 

Three bluebirds fussing it out

 

 

over claim to one nest. (Nobody giving an inch.)

 

 

I think I’ll just cheer everyone on!*

 

XXOO

*I would like to amend my POV. I totally agree with my friend, Rosie, who commented below. I do hope the kindest bird wins.

 

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Thanksgiving and Tradition (Redux)

This post first appeared on The Daily Grace on Thanksgiving Eve 2011. So much has changed in the time since. All of the grandparents have passed on. Eliza is 26 (and living in another state). The memories are still warm, however, and so I repost it every year in honor of my mother–my tradition, I guess you would have to say.

I pray your Thanksgiving is filled with all the things that bring you joy and comfort.  XXOO, Cathy

 

THE PAST THREE NIGHTS I have had dreams of my mother. In each, I was the age I am now, living my current life. But her age changed—early 40s, then 80s, then some age in-between.

I know these dreams came to me because it is Thanksgiving and I will not see her. She and Dad live in a retirement community in another state, and for health reasons, no longer travel. We are staying here because it is my daughter’s first holiday from college. She needs some “home” time, and she will spend Thanksgiving day with her Dad and his family. Those grandparents, who face debilitating health challenges of their own, will be filled with joy to have her there.

It is the right decision.

Nevertheless, my mother is heavy on my mind. My dreams mark that small, tight space in which I live, wedged between aging parents and maturing children. I want more time with both, and still the demands of our lives—mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s—pull us in three radically different directions.

Here is what the dreams were about. In some pretty obvious ways, and some veiled, the situations represented traditions my mother established when we were a family of six: Mom, Dad, my three brothers and me. While “tradition” infused all aspects of our family’s life, from sports superstitions to station wagon vacations, the most vivid to me are still the holidays.

Thanksgiving at our house in Virginia was exactly the same every year. My grandmother lived next door, and my brothers rolled her wheelchair down the tiny hill that connected our yards to bring her to dinner. La-La wore fur in the cold mountain air and brought with her a green cut glass bowl of homemade cranberry sauce. She also made pineapple fritters, a treat reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom roasted the turkey, always in a brown-n-bag (70s) which meant it could not be stuffed—a choice over which my father expressed disdain year after year after year. Still, he was the carver, and I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday “testing” bite after juicy bite in our formica-countered kitchen while my mother instructed my oldest brother, Sutton, on the finer points of making giblet gravy.  (“Stir like hell!”) When we were seated, and Mom complained once again about not making the dining room big enough when they built the house in 1965, my brother Randy would ask of the table:

I wonder if next year we’ll remember asking, I wonder if we will remember next year?

 

IN MY FAMILY TODAY—the one in which I am the mother—we have no such traditions. Instead, Thanksgiving is a surprise every year. In the early days I made my way back to my mother’s house, first as a single girl, then married, then divorced with a small child in tow. Then the small child learned to dance and Thanksgiving week was filled with an endless schedule of Nutcracker performances that kept us bridled to South Carolina.

 

Eliza, in blue, Party Girl in The Nutcracker

 

I married again, bringing another branch to our beautiful, complicated family tree, and our celebrations diversified once more. I especially loved the years Tim’s mother, Dorothy, joined us for Thanksgiving. I can still see her in the kitchen, making the Monetti family’s traditional creamed onions—a novelty to me. One year, just after a break with the ballet company, we found ourselves with no Thanksgiving plans at all. Along with our dear friends, the Coles, we hopped a plane for New York City and the Macy’s parade. I ate pumpkin ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner; it was divine.

 

at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade

 

AND SO, you see, my daughter has grown up rather traditionless. Instead, her life has been filled with a cornucopia (forgive me) of holiday celebrations. And I ask myself why it is that I now regret this? Why has this thought invaded my dreams? I think it is that space that we find ourselves in, we Mothers Squeezed Between The Generations. Guilt lurks on either end. I regret that I haven’t established the traditions of my childhood in my own home, for my daughter; I feel guilty not abandoning all for the mere opportunity to be with my parents—a remarkable blessing in itself.

As it is tomorrow will come, and Eliza will head out the door toward her Ellis family. I’ll pull the big turkey from the fridge, overstuff it with dressing, and load it on my Williams Sonoma roasting pan. Then while I watch my husband carve the big bird, sneaking bites every chance he gets—I will smile and stir the giblet gravy.

I will remember, Mom, to stir like hell.

 

 

all the leaves are brown

WE’VE COME TO THE MOUNTAINS for a long, slow holiday week. My sweet Eliza is here, a glorious treat, along with Ellie, the dog; Little Bit, the dog; and Tim, husband extraordinaire. We’d hardly gotten the groceries put away (this took a minute–there was a car load) when Eliza announced she was headed for a walk with Ellie and any takers were welcome. Of course I grabbed my boots and coat and off we set, we three.

We didn’t talk about anything in particular. There has been time for that lately, my adult child making the difficult decision, recently, to move on to a new job in a new city. There are new priorities. How grateful I am for the honor of helping her work through that process; what a gift that is to a Mom.

 

 

Ellie ran. And ran and ran, in the cold crisp air. We marveled at her strength, her excitement and spirit.

 

two sweet girls

 

 

OF COURSE WINTER has come to this high ridge. The trees are bare, the colors are browns and greens and grays. We were making our way back toward home when I happened to glance right, down the old Ogle Meadows Trail. It’s a view I’ve seen a million times, a trail I’ve walked a hundred. But in this moment things seemed different, somehow, the offering something new.

 

 

It called to mind a blessing I hadn’t considered in a while.

How lucky we are that seasons change.

That leaves fall and light shifts and a new view opens before our very eyes.

 

yes, how lucky we are

 

It’s something I want to remember as we move through these last days of November. As we approach the reverence of Advent, and December with its sparkle and expectation. I want to notice as the world offers itself anew in a thousand different ways, large and small, grand and ordinary.

I will keep watch.

 

XXOO

 

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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

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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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