Life is hard.

It’s the sentiment that came to me this morning, the thought that woke me and insisted I turn toward the clock to see “4:42.” It was ridiculously early, and for the next 25 minutes I lay there in the quiet dark turning the sentiment over in my mind, watching it tumble amid the troubles sitting on my conscience, tumble like towels in a clothes dryer, a dryer moving in slow motion.

Life is hard.

A friend is staying with us for a while, working a new job that allows her to be closer to her sweet Muzy, a beautiful soul slipping slowly beneath the heavy cloak of dementia. There is great love and tenderness between these two women, mother and daughter, and as I went to bed last night my dear friend kissed her Mom in Atlanta and began the journey back here. It was late–as I said, I was already in bed–and in that difficult late-night dark with snow and freezing rain all around, she began the four-hour drive back. It is too much to bear, I thought. Too much to bear.

Life is hard.

Everywhere I turn, it seems, there is worry great and small: the threat of ISIS, and the beheading of a parade of Christians; the inability of the people of Boston to simply dig out before another great storm socks them in, this time even deeper; my sweet little aging dog, a torn ACL having rendered her back left leg unusable, her right leg then sprained.

Life is hard.

~~~~~~~~~~

I was cooking a pot of chili on Sunday, a (joyfully) mundane task amid the trouble in the world, when I hit PLAY on Oprah’s Soul Series conversation with Father Richard Rohr. His name was not familiar to me, but I was captivated within three seconds. A Franciscan Priest, yes. But a more human human I don’t believe I have ever encountered. Yes I thought as he spoke. Yes. Yes. Yes. Amid many powerful and relevant points he talked about life’s difficulty, about the reality that we live in this world not in spite of but because of the great challenges. It’s how we learn, he said. It’s how our souls expand. It’s why we are alive.

It is what you do with suffering that matters, he said. You must learn from it. You must transform it. If you don’t, you will transmit it–to your family, your friends, your country.

~~~~~~~

At 5:02 I turned on the light and got up. I shuffled to the side porch, where I looked out to see Colleen’s car parked safely in our driveway. I made coffee and got back in bed, laptop open and Life is hard still on my mind. Two hours later I met her in the kitchen. My friend was awake, dressed, ready to head out the door to work.

I’m so happy you made it home okay. That drive must have been brutal I said.

It was long she said, pouring her coffee. And then she turned and smiled at me. I want to hear all about this weekend’s wedding she said. Who was there, what did you wear, every detail. I should be home by 6. And then she was off.

Life is hard, I thought, watching her go. And so we move through it, doing the best we can. Sometimes we transform suffering and aren’t even aware because the beautiful lesson is for someone standing by–a friend or loved one or stranger touched in a profound way by our example, a lesson in grace and generosity that makes someone else’s soul expand.

It’s what happened to me this morning. I thank you, dear friend.

Morning comes.
Morning comes.

*Above is a link to a portion of the show. It is well worth a watch.

 

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Saying Goodbye

I wasn’t ready for it, I can tell you that up front.

Yes, it was a discussion we’d had many times, and yes, I understood all the reasons it was a good idea. And still the morning my husband said We should go today and I shook my head in agreement my heart wasn’t in it. We’re just looking he said.

And so I got my coat and handed him the keys and said You drive (as if this would make it easier.)

We made our way across town. Then there it was, the first one on our list, Dealer A. Before you could say Technology Package with Bluetooth I was test-driving a brand new SUV, this one smaller, tighter, shinier than the old gal we’d left parked at the front door of the dealership.

It was seductive, with all those features: the back-up camera with warning beepers; the way the side mirrors lit up when a car was approaching; the iPhone possibilities. And then there was the new car smell. (What is it about a new car smell????) Still I wasn’t sold.

I just wasn’t ready.

One more stop he said. While we’re on this side of town.

And just like that the heavenlies delivered to us the one thing we weren’t looking for: a pre-owned black SUV, scant 2000 miles on the odometer, full New Car warranty and the joyful backstory that the previous owner was a Service Woman who, rather than deploy again, retired from the military, moved back to the United States with her husband and two children, and gave up the car.

How could I not say yes?

A week (and several financial negotiations) later we returned to the dealership to take possession of the new car. In our garage before we left I had a great talk with my sweet silver girl, the one I was leaving behind, the one who’d taken good care of me for eight years and more than 140,000 miles. I told her how grateful I was, how she’d get the love and attention of a mechanic who would get her running good as new, the joy she would bring to a new family–a family that would be thrilled to own a car with so much heart, so much soul.

I didn’t think it would happen this fast I said. But the universe seems to think it’s the right thing for both of us.

She seemed to agree, if a bit reluctantly. And so we made our last ride across town together, parked, and then we said goodbye.

 

cathyscar
my heart broke just a little as we said goodbye

She has been a good friend, my silver buddy. How I wish her well.

 

 

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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.

On Family, Thanksgiving and Tradition, re-redux

This post first appeared on thedailygrace on Thanksgiving Eve 2011. It stirs in my mind such sweet memories I repost it every year–a tradition, I guess you would have to say. Thank you for indulging me if you have read it before! I wish you every blessing of this holiday week.

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 about 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 that formica-countered, wood stain-cabineted 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 this year if we would remember asking if we would 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, a 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.

And so 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.

 

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#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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#1: Life Whispers #LifeYouWantDC

whisperAs I write this, I’m sitting at Reagan National waiting to board a flight home. People are rushing, televisions are blaring, airlines are screaming announcements–noise is layered on noise in a way that makes my heart race and my blood pressure rise. Why On Earth does USAirways think we need CNN blasting on top of all this?

I hear so much I can’t hear anything. 

I realize that’s what happens in my own life so much of the time. I am an over-thinker and a multi-tasker, intent on being as life-efficient as possible. I work out how I can start a load of laundry, chop vegetables for dinner, download an audiobook and update my computer’s software all at the same time. I think about what I’m doing, what I should be doing instead, what I’m going to do next, what I just did, how I could have done it differently. I try to work through problems, rehearse conversations, rehash situations, reconsider every angle.

It’s ridiculous, quite frankly.

It’s also exhausting.

And it was a primary topic at Oprah’s The Life You Want Weekend.

GIANT TAKEAWAY #1
Your life whispers to you all the time. If you don’t get still and listen, the whisper will become a pebble making some serious waves. And before you know it, the pebble’s become a brick upside your head.

Do I know this one. Man, have I lived it. And so I recognize the importance of getting quiet and paying attention to the things my life is telling me.

Thanks, Oprah, for a powerful reminder.

 

Up next: GIANT TAKEAWAY #2 from Oprah’s The Life You Want Weekend.

 

 

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Are You Living The Life You Want?

stage
anticipation

Not much on my life list ranks as high as seeing Oprah Winfrey live. So when I got an email last Spring announcing her The Life You Want Weekend tour, I jumped at the chance.

O did not disappoint. Inspiring, informative and incredibly entertaining, I loved it all. And I can’t wait to tell you about it! We’ll just start with this:

oprah
O my.
cat
me, mesmerized
sheets
doing her thing

If you can attend any of the remaining O weekends, do it! If not, check back here as I dig into my Oprah Journal to share bits of wisdom from the gathering.

Did I mention it was so cool.

Til next time!

 

 

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The Nicities Jar

I noticed it there the first afternoon of our weekend in New York, a glass jar tucked quietly into a corner on Colette’s kitchen counter. It was stuffed with little pieces of paper that bulged beyond the rim in an unusual—and interesting—way.

the niceties jar

Eventually I asked: That jar. What’s the story there?

What a beautiful answer I got!

It started the afternoon one of Julia’s teachers helped her study for a test, said Colette, my hostess, sister-in-law, and the mother of my beautiful college freshman niece, Julia. (You’ve read of her before here on The Daily Grace.) Julia mentioned to the teacher that she loved the scarf she was wearing, and the teacher took it off, wrapped it around Julia’s neck, and said it would make her very happy if Julia would just keep it.

“That was just the nicest thing!” said Julia when she later told her Mom the story. “It meant so much to me, I want to always remember it.”

So they decided to write the memory down on a slip of paper and keep it in a “Nicities” jar right there in their busy kitchen. Each time something special happened during the year, they would make a note and add it to the collection.

“You know what’s amazing?” said Colette, her eyes sparkling. “We started the Nicities jar during Julia’s Senior year. It was the perfect time—Senior Year is so intense, filled with so much pressure. It made a huge difference to all of us to focus on the nicest moments.”

What a beautiful way to bring quiet grace to light.

 

Mrs. Andrews

Kat and Grace

 

Westchester triathlon

 

I think I’ll make a Nicities jar for my kitchen today. And I think I’ll start with this:

photo

 

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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.