SEVERAL YEARS AGO a writer and blogger I adore, Hannah Brencher, wrote a beautiful post about the pressure she feels in our inevitable rush to Christmas. It’s a topic that is neither shocking nor eye-opening–I’ll bet you’ve felt the pounding heart, as well, as we plan, shop, list, wrap, cook, decorate, prepare.
Still Hannah went on to say something that, all this time later, is still with me. Instead of focusing on the payoff of a perfect Christmas day–instead of looking forward with such anticipation (and such high expectation) to the big stuff to come, she suggested this:
Let’s just pretend it can’t get better than this right here.
Let’s just pretend it can’t get better than this right here.
IT’S A BEAUTIFUL way to approach the season, I think, settling your heart into the hundred thousand moments of prelude. As if these are the moments, themselves, that matter most. Because it is true, wouldn’t you agree? In so many ways? Pulling from TREE BOX NUMBER TWO the worn Rudolph ornament your childhood friend’s sweet mother gave you all those years ago. Opening the mailbox to a stack of red envelopes. Finding the very most perfect little something something for someone who means the world.
Hannah’s words have come back to me time and again in these early days of December. I feel my anxiety rising and there they are, wrapping round and round me like a quilt meant to stop a chill. They remind me to slow down, to settle down, to take note.
And to smile. To simply smile, in acknowledgement of the sweet, simple moments that are the heart of this holiday season. To remember life is good, people are good, that sometimes love and joy and peace come to you in a hundred thousand tiny ways.
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.
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.
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.
Like so many people, I’ve spent the last two days in a stupor. I cannot process the horrific events of the Las Vegas concert; I do not understand how such can happen. I cannot believe we live in a world in which individuals have a need–and heaven forbid the legal right–to own any weapons with the power to cause such destruction.
It does not make sense to me.
And I have no words of consolation.
These smart men and women do, and so I will turn to them and what they’ve offered over the past two days. May their thoughts/prayers bring you a little bit of whatever it is your soul needs. (And may they forgive my sharing of their words during this time of such heartache without official written consent, although there is a link to each.)
From Winn Collier: Lord, we woke this morning to another wave of sorrow. More of us are dead. We had to tell our children, once again, of the evil we’ve done. We have to face another grieving day, added on top of all the other grieving days. We have tears. We have anger. We are hellbent on destroying one another. You’re going to have to help us see the truth. You’re going to have to give us courage to be something different. You’re going to have to help us. Amen.
From Jen Hatmaker: I have so many things to say about the Las Vegas mass shooting. So many that my blood is boiling over and I want to run screaming into the streets. I feel like we are standing in the middle of a violent, endless nationwide crisis swirling all around us, and we keep “sending thoughts and prayers.” I want to rip my hair out. I feel so alone in my outrage, because the polite thing is “not right now.” When? When? When??
I am not going to write out of fury and despair, so for this morning, I will simply say that my heart is shattered for Las Vegas. Every single mama and daddy and brother and sister and daughter and son who lost a precious person deserves better than a normalized culture of violence and death. They deserve more than our thoughts and prayers.
We love you, Las Vegas. We love you, first responders. We love you, community members. We love you, victims and friends of victims and family members of victims. We love you. We are bearing witness; you are not alone. This is not okay, it has never been okay, and it should stop being okay. There is no polite response to this level of constant tragedy. You deserve our collective outrage. You have mine.
From Brene Brown: 1. Prayer + civic action are not mutually exclusive. Join me in both.
2. Step away from social media coverage and toward real people for support, action, conversation, and being with each other in collective pain. Keep informed, but don’t stay glued. Our secondary trauma will not make us better helpers – it shuts us down and sends us into self-protection and blame-finding.
3. Adding this for our kids: All we can do is acknowledge the pain and fear, create space to talk about what’s happening in an age-appropriate way, and own our own vulnerability and uncertainty. Also important to put down some guidelines for watching and talking about it. We want them to ask us and depend on our answers, not those of their peers. And, of course, love them as hard as we can.
From Emily P. Freeman: My hands are still shaking after merely watching a few minutes of footage from Las Vegas. I cannot imagine what so many are going through this morning. . For those who have witnessed scenes that could haunt for a lifetime, we pray for a sanctified memory and a holy imagination. Release them from the haunting, we pray. . Let grief do her sacred, invisible work. Soothe the jagged edges. Bring relief. . May Your presence fill up and overflow the gaping holes left in the wake of tragedy. . Remind us You haven’t left us alone.
From Glennon Doyle: Reminder to my beloveds today: It’s a terrible, heartbreaking day – and it is okay to feel that deeply. There is nothing wrong with you – there is just something wrong.
We will rise and we will work, but today, today it is okay to stop and rest and hold our hearts and people close. Stay soft. This world needs people who are strong enough to stay soft.
Take tender care of yourself and others today.
I love you.
holding on tighter and holding you closer than ever,
WE WERE GATHERED around the dinner table, our feast consumed, our wine glasses refilled, when Linda brought out the box. She moved casually, nonchalant, the action drawing no attention at all. Then it sat there–just sat there, that box–seeming so insignificant as to have hardly been worth the effort it took to get it to the top of this mountain.
We carried on unknowing, the eight of us, caught up as we were in some other silly story about some ridiculous situation we found ourselves in thirty, forty, even fifty years ago.
We’ve known each other that long, you see. We are women who grew up together (in every sense of that phrase) in the 60s and 70s in a tiny mountain town on the remote southwestern edge of Virginia. It was a place buffeted from the world by ancient ridges that both nestled and isolated us. We did not realize the significance of this geography at the time, our worlds extending only as far as away high school basketball games required. We had little sense of a big world beyond that, in the years since, has flung us from South Florida to Louisiana to Maine–and many, many cities, large and small, in between.
And still we come together once or twice a year to reconnect and recharge and re-establish our roots. It’s a vital practice that brings light and love and nourishment to our souls. It makes me think of that scene in ET where the sweet creature’s chest LIGHTS UP when he is in silent communion with someone he loves, a soul connection with another whounderstands. It happens when we are together. Our heart lights glow.
SO ANYWAY the thing is sitting there, the very quiet box, and by some miracle there is a tiny, tiny break in the conversation, and I think it was Julie who said, What is that, Linda? What have you got there?
Oh, this? Linda says. I was clearing out some things. Wondered if you guys want them.
This got our attention, you bet it did, and all of a sudden that little vessel became a magic box from which an endless supply of memories came flooding over and around that table.
Oh, my, the stuff that box held.
PERHAPS IT WOULD BE more accurate to say the memories had to be excavated, because lord have mercy it took every one of us working together to reconstruct what may or may not have led to and resulted from the memories that box contained. For instance Linda produced two letters I wrote to her when I was a senior in high school and she was a freshman in college. I’m not kidding I have no memory of ANY of the things I wrote her about. Suffice it to say there was a great deal of detail and Every Single Sentence revolved around one boy or another, or what some girl said about one boy or another, or how I felt about what the girl said about the boy who may or may not have had anything at all to do with me. In a million years I’d never have believed that’s what we found significant in our lives back then. Sixth grade, yes. But seriously, not at 18. (Let me state for the record Julie was a bit more profound in her letters than I.)
Good heavens did that stuff make us laugh.
(We were also quite pleased we actually wrote each other letters. By hand. On paper. That we then had to go to the post office to mail.)
IT WAS a glorious weekend together, time filled with so much love and laughter I am still trying to recover. And I’m thinking hard about that hidden-away world in which we twirled batons and hosted sleepovers and knew every word to every Eagles song ever recorded (which we sang at the top of our lungs).
How grateful I am for the blessing of a happy, happy childhood.
How grateful I am for these women.
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Total Eclipse Day, in Total Eclipse Zone: Columbia, South Carolina
August 21, 2017 arrived as a perfect day, something difficult to pull off when there’s so much expectation, so much build-up, when there’s been so much prelude.
I mean there was a countdown graphic during the news, for heaven’s sake.
No wonder Tim and I could hardly believe our good fortune. We hadn’t needed to travel at all to experience the depths of mystery, and the heights of splendor as lovely Annie Dillard wrote in her classic essay, Total Eclipse. It was sunny and gorgeous and we were on the lake and our dear, dear friends were there, three boats-full. We were swimming, and laughing, and eating pimento cheese, and buoying it all was this magical (if unavowed) sublayer of thrill rising.
Then just like that it started, the carving out of the sun. Smaller than I expected. Slower, and less dramatic. And yet it was also more wondrous, more fascinating than I had ever considered.
Look at that, Mike, I said after a while. The shape is like the regular quarter moon but not. Because the dimensions are wrong.
Even if I understood this, it actually took a minute for my brain to comprehend the fact the bright shining crescent I was seeing was the sun.
What time is it? someone hollered.
That temperature is dropping.
It’s getting darker.
Look at the light.
Two minutes to totality!
That’s when the clouds came.
No, no, no, no, no, we all said, our breath getting shallow even if our hearts were joined in unbelief. (There was no way that could happen, right?)
Please, please, please, please, please, we thought, our hands moving unconsciously to our chests.
Not in prayer, exactly.
But not not in prayer either.
We looked to the sky. We looked to each other.
We looked all around.
It was happening. The sun and the moon and the earth were in perfect alignment. There would be 2 minutes 30 seconds of the nothing-like-it, once-in-a-lifetime magic of a total solar eclipse.
And all we were seeing was the big fat cloud covering it.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of that moment, disbelief eclipsed by disappointment eclipsed by pollyanna who jumped in quick with a multitude of reasons this was not nearly as heartbreaking as it seemed.* I mean we’d seen most of it. 128 minutes worth. And I was on the lake, with friends, with a fantastic eclipse playlist. We were grilling hamburgers later. There was a red and white checkered tablecloth. Cindy made moon pies!
And then the thought came to me: God must want you to see something else, girl. Look around.
And so I did.
It was indescribable, the twilight, the colors of that lake and the horizon and the low clouds, experiencing sunset not from the west but sitting smack dab in the middle of it, 360 degrees, dusk in every direction. My friends were laughing, still having fun, each and every one looking in awe even if it was a bit more tempered.
(Plus you could look up at the sky without safety glasses. There was that.)
Then a hurray as the clouds began to part.
The eclipse slowly reappeared, this time in reverse order. But totality was totally over.
It felt sad, too bad, like missing a field goal and wishing by golly you had one more shot at it, one more chance to get that ball through the uprights. We moaned a hot minute then carried on with our fun, getting another beer, another handful of pistachios, jumping back into the water one more time.
When you get home later your precious daughter is there, telling you she saw it all, she’ll never be the same, the moment of totality left her weak-kneed and awe-stuck and changed. (I really am thrilled for her.) And you click on Instagram and see the corona and Bailey’s Beads and the diamond ring and the crescent shadows all over Columbia and the depth of your sadness begins to grow.
Seriously, God? is what you think.
It grows and grows.
It becomes a late game field goal in a tie in the Super Bowl.
It has no limits, your disappointment, now that you understand, now that you know.
It was right there, the glory and majesty and wonder of a Total Solar Eclipse.
I cannot believe we did not get to see it.
*Forgive me the indulgence of this sentence; I feel like I earned it.
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I guess the proper place to begin is with the admission she was not even on my radar. Oh, I’d heard of the book. I’d been drawn to it for years, the title alone tugging my heart until it pulled itself all the way to the top of my To Be Read list. But I don’t watch Grey’s, or Scandal, or How to Get Away With Murder, and so Shonda Rhimes, who created and runs those blockbuster shows, was a not a familiar name to me.
All that has changed. I just finished Year of Yes and can proudly say Shonda Rhimes rocked my world in the most powerful, gorgeous, healthy way possible.
The book is her telling of the life explosion she experienced when her sister offered, in a casual comment: You never say yes to anything. It pierced her, this thought, and it became the driving force behind a commitment to spending one year saying yes to anything that came along that scared her.
(This is a woman who hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances, just saying.)
This book is good, y’all. So good. And not in the way I expected. Shonda gets real, going deep enough into her hesitancies to actually identify what it is that scares her. Then she works hard at addressing that particular thing, which changes her perspective, which opens up her life.
Heck, the truth is I want every young woman I know to read this book.
So thank you, Shonda, for lessons and inspiration and a grand nudge to walk more boldly toward. For the reminder that as women, and as human beings on this earth–it is our honor and our glory to step out of the shadows and fully, confidently, into the light.
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I don’t pay much attention to analytics for The Daily Grace, a silly thing, really, since I am marketer by trade. But as I’ve scrolled through my own Bloglovin feed this week and noticed all the “Best of 2016” posts, I thought it might be fun to look back over the year to see what most struck your fancy.
An interesting and surprising “most popular” because it is actually something I wrote in 2012! Tim I and were binging Friday Night Lights at the time and I was struck by a letter written by Tyra Collette about her college dreams. Also interesting? I wrote my own list of dreams for the post, and in the four years since have realized many of them.
I declared my love for this new television drama in October after the episode in which Kevin talks with his beautiful young nieces about our undeniable connection to each other, about the colorful tapestry that is life. It’s a message that bears repeating time and time again.
What a joy it was to revisit this story! On one of our first weekends in the mountains we discovered a ground nest of baby birds that (miraculously) survived the Great Weed Whacking that cleared an overgrown hill beside our house. There was an additional post later that tells Part 2 of the tale–one of courage, adventure, and more than a little precious. Find it here: And Then This Happened.
It has been an honor to spend time with you, dear friends, via the pages of The Daily Grace. I am so happy you are here, and I wish you a joyful 2017 filled with more beautiful moments of grace than your heart can hold.
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This sweet sentiment has clung to my heart since I first came across it in Richard Rohr’s dailymessage three days ago. One tiny thought in the midst of a meditation so beautiful, so moving…I’m telling you, every word.
And still it was the sentence that stopped me in my tracks in one of those how can I have lived this long without knowing this ways.
I’D ALREADY HAD THE INSIGHT, may I just say that? At least I thought I had. The moment I moved from the teenage notion of love as an emotion, sweeping and powerful, to the grownup realization that love is, instead, a choice. An action. A decision you make. An intentional opening of your heart to that which may well be beautiful but is also imperfect; to the understanding sometimes that which seems least deserving of love is actually most…
Well, you know.
And then Richard Rohr writes this and sends it to me in an email.
Love is not what you do; it is how you do it.
It’s the grand answer, don’t you see? In this confusing time in which God has brought love to the forefront, in which there are a thousand examples in our contemporary culture of the need to come together, to reach across, to look through their eyes, to acknowledge, once and for all time, we are all connected. Each and every one of us.
To let love win.
MAYBE IT’S NOT POSSIBLE always to love, and maybe that’s okay.
(Maybe that’s not even called for.)
Maybe it’s enough simply to come at things in love.
Amen, Father Rohr.
To read the short meditation Disciples: Those Who Love Others,click here. If you’d like to receive Father Rohr’s daily meditations, you’ll find the signup link here. I hope they will bring you the joy, peace and insight they bring me.
It’s the refrain of the holiday season, this time in which our To Do lists are monstrously long and the winter hours fly much too quickly. It’s the voice in my own head as I sit down to write this post. I try to quiet it, to breathe deep, and slow.
Shake shake shake goes my leg.
I consider the thousand other tasks I could accomplish if I focused on them, instead. Notes to be written. Gifts to be finished. Packages to be wrapped. Treats to be delivered. (This notion of the importance of Advent’s quiet reflection is well and good. But it doesn’t change the reality all the things have to get done. Am I right?)
Buzz buzz buzz goes my phone.
Wine. Wine could help. Wine would be lovely as I sit here in the quiet, the frasier fir festive and refreshingly un-demanding as it sparkles in the corner, perfectly content for me to look, or not. But we did go to a party last night. And the night before. And the night before that. I mean, clearly a little downtime is in order.
I’m getting the wine.
I should be better at this, is the thing, with the experience of years, with a stated intention of minimizing and simplifying and prioritizing, and a great big and very genuine desire to bring the right things into focus during this holy, holy season.
And then I remember Sunday’s sermon and Mike preaching how joy comes of chaos, that it was that way in Bethlehem, that it’s been that way since the beginning of time. That when things feel tumultuous and confusing and disorderly and lost–beauty will emerge. Something new is born.
Maybe it’s all just as it should be.
Is that possible?
Maybe all this activity–anxious, frenetic, excited–is just exactly what this expectant season calls for.
Maybe I could do Christmas cards. I could buy them tomorrow, get them signed and addressed and stamped and…
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