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.


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.





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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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.





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winter, and spring, and winter

It’s a funny thing to spend time in two locales and to experience a mix of seasons. We left South Carolina two weeks ago in full-on Spring: shorts and tshirts, blooming trees and flowers, birds all a’flutter with loving on their minds.

We arrived in the mountains of North Carolina to full-on winter. In fact, we’ve been completely delighted to achieve our dream of “snowed in” not just once, but twice.

The temperatures have hovered in the teens and twenties (it is seriously cold, y’all) and our response to that has been to bundle up, go for a hike and then huddle before a roaring fire in the big stone fireplace.

It has been dreamy.

Today, the sun is shining and all twelve inches of snow have melted. And right there at the top of the meadow, beside the steps, just about where we spotted the bunny tracks,

was this.


Isn’t the earth beautiful?



Isn’t this life remarkable?



Isn’t it awesome to always have something to look forward to?


sunrise 3.16.18



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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January, February

It’s so fun to look back over these reads and to share them with you here. There are some good ones!

A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
Now that we spend a good bit of time in the North Carolina Mountains, Tim and I are a bit obsessed with hiking the Appalachian Trail. Although let me be clear. I will never do this. But listening to this classic travel book on audio was almost as good–(mostly because we kept rejoicing in the fact we were not pitching a tent in a blizzard, etc.). It was a little slow at times but all in all an interesting read/listen.

The Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish
I bought this in hardback for one reason: the cover is gorgeous. The premise is also intriguing: the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect in two centuries, one an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city in the 1660s, and an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history in the 21st century in a race to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe. The novel is smart, beautifully written and complex. Read this when you want to dive in deep.

Unlikely Success: How a Guy Without a Clue Built One Hell of a Business, by Marvin Chernoff
Unlikely Success is an engaging, enlightening, and thoroughly entertaining collection of recollections that let us follow Marvin Chernoff from his days playing stickball on the streets of Brooklyn to winning the Shell Oil corporate advertising account away from the Madison Avenue “big boys” for his ad agency in Columbia, South Carolina. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir from Marvin Chernoff, a legend in our community and our industry, a wild, creative spirit who founded a respected ad agency that rose to fame during my own formative years (in the same city and business). I never knew Marvin personally and it is something I regret; I am grateful to have this glimpse into his mind and his world. A fun read.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
I LOVE THIS BOOK. Me and Reese Witherspoon, we both do. She’s optioned it for a movie; I’m just telling everybody I know to read it. The publisher says: Meet Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

FEBRUARY (It was a great reading month!)
The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry

I mentioned in the last post I’ve read two books recently that made their ways to my Faves of All Times list. The first was The Snow Child. This is the second. The publisher says: An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love. Heroine Cora Seaborne is a fantastic character, and Perry’s writing is elegant, smart, delicious. Love, love, love.

The Good House, by Ann Leary
I heard about this book via one of my favorite podcasts, What Should I Read Next, and it did not disappoint. Hildy Goode is a longtime resident of an idyllic town in Maine, selling real estate and generally keeping her eye on all the town’s goings-on. She also hides a significant drinking problem. The story is funny, sad, and poignant as Hildy literally hits bottom hiding out in her basement. As Anne mentioned on the podcast, I folded so much laundry just so I could listen for a few more minutes. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.

Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small Town Church, by Winn Collier
Winn Collier is a Presbyterian minister who also happens to be one of my favorite writers, so when I saw that he had written a new book, I couldn’t wait to get it in my hands. It did not disappoint. Epistolary fiction, the short volume spans seven years of the ministry of Jonas McAnn and his congregation at Granby Presbyterian. The publisher says: Jonas’s letters ruminate on everything from fly-fishing to the Nicene Creed. They reveal the earthy spirituality woven into the joys and sorrows of the people of Granby, the community of the church, and Jonas’s own unfolding story.Readers will discover what it means for a pastor and a church to do the slow work of ministry in community—anchored by a common place and buoyed by a life of faith that is meaningful, rooted, and true. It is a quiet, beautiful, deeply thoughtful book and I could not underline enough. A gift for your spirit.

Currently in my TBR and library reserve stack (I am jacked!):
The Music Shop, by Rachel Joyce
The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
White Houses, by Amy Bloom
A Snow Garden and Other Stories, by Rachel Joyce
Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner


Amazon has offered The Daily Grace an affiliate partnership and will give a little* financial reward (*in 12 months it amounted to less than $9.00) for any purchases made from the links provided here. That’s not my motivation in writing this post (obviously) but it doesn’t cost anything extra if you click and decide to purchase one of these books. I do want to fully disclose, however. I greatly value your trust as a reader. 

I also share great book deals on my favorites via Facebook. If you are interested, be sure to like my The Daily Grace Blog Facebook page and select “see first” (under “following”) so it will show in your newsfeed. Oh, those crazy algorithms.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: November, December


I’ve done a lot of reading in the last five months even if I haven’t done much writing about it here. Time for a catch-up because I am JACKED to tell you about them all and in particular the five I particularly loved–two of which make their move to my all-time faves list. There’s a lot to share after all this time, so I’ll add January and February in the next post.

Here goes!

The Second Mrs. Hockaday, by Susan Rivers

I loved this book for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is it is a beautifully executed version of all the things I love most in a novel: interesting history, colorful characters, a moving story, gorgeous writing. The publisher says this: When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away?
I loved, loved, loved this novel!

The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
I may well be the last person on earth to get around to this book. Chapman maintains you and your significant other probably express love in a very different ways and that recognizing these differing “love languages,” and honoring them, is the secret to intimacy and lasting love. While a bit of an unintentional caricature of the self help novel (it was written 25 years ago although it has been updated), I did find the insights really helpful and I still think about them on a daily basis. Very worth the read if you are into this kind of thing–which I am.

Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny, by Tony Robbins
I love Katie Couric’s podcast and really enjoyed her interview with Tony Robbins. That prompted a visit to the library and a download of this audiobook, which Tim and I listened to on a road trip to Florida. I am fascinated by Tony Robbins–let me say that–but this particular book didn’t really speak to me. Although to be fair, I must say I am sure it is a matter of my life stage. (I think my giant is fully awake and focused on some other things right now.)

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

Now on my All Time Favorites List, The Snow Child was Day Five of my 30 Days of Joy series here on The Daily Grace in December. Gorgeous, quiet, heartbreaking, beautiful–I love everything about this novel. Jack and Mabel are a childless couple homesteading in Alaska in 1920. It is a brutal life for them both, until one day they build a girl out of snow. The next day the snow child is gone but they see a young blonde girl running through the trees. This is Fiona, and her magical existence changes everything about their lives. I started this book on Kindle but loved it so much I ordered my own copy. You will want the paperback, I promise.

Before the Fall, by Noah Wiley
Another road trip pick, I got this award-winner on audio from the library. The publisher writes: On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are the painter Scott Burroughs and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family. The novel goes on to deconstruct the days and moments leading to the disaster as officials try to determine if this is a case of mechanical failure or if something more sinister is at work. I love the premise of this book but it didn’t quite land for me (so to speak). Still it has been heralded by critics and decorated with lots of “thriller” honors, so if you love the genre it might be right up your alley.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
Doesn’t need much explanation since the title is aptly descriptive. I enjoyed this read and pulled some valuable nuggets. A topic I am very interested in, and if you feel the same, this is a worthy read. NOTE: I read this on Kindle but suggest the paperback. There will be sections you will want to underline and refer back to.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
I admire Hillary Clinton for her smarts and her moxie, and I was most interested to hear her side of the story of the election of 2016. This book did not disappoint. While no doubt written with an eye toward legacy (who wouldn’t?) I nevertheless felt the deconstruction of the “mistakes” she believes she made, along with the immense heartbreak of the loss and the dealing-with-it days that followed was both genuine and heartfelt. No matter how you feel about Hillary, a fascinating glimpse into the historical significance of a female’s run for president.

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
I’ve never read Agatha Christie but this title (“the most widely read mystery of all time”) seemed like a great place to start. Plus Agatha Christie was one of my grandmother’s favorite authors. Plus the movie was coming out so the title was getting a lot of buzz. Plus we were headed on YET ANOTHER  road trip, this time to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and the library delivered the audiobook just in time. (There was quite a wait list so this was rather miraculous.) We really enjoyed it and MARVELED at the audiobook narration which I didn’t discover until we had finished–Dan Stevens–AKA Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey! Worth a listen just for his A-MA-ZING character voices. So good!


Next up: What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January and February
(There are some great ones!)


Amazon has offered The Daily Grace an affiliate partnership and will give a little* financial reward (*in 12 months it amounted to less than $9.00) for any purchases made from the links provided here. That’s not my motivation in writing this post (obviously) but it doesn’t cost anything extra if you click and decide to purchase one of these books. I do want to fully disclose, however. I greatly value your trust as a reader. 

I also share great book deals on my favorites via Facebook. If you are interested, be sure to like my The Daily Grace Blog Facebook page and select “see first” (under “following”) so it will show in your newsfeed. Oh, those crazy algorithms.

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Fear and No Loathing

I’VE TOLD YOU BEFORE what a scaredy cat I am, a situation that seems to be getting worse with age. This is not categorical fear–just to be clear–but rather a defined, easy-to-spot, anxiety-producing one that seems to center rather neatly around things and situations that have inherent potential for bodily harm.

To demonstrate.

Start a new business? I’m your girl.

Speak or read or sing in public? Count on me.

Try something new that I am sure to be terrible doing? I am all in.

Zipline in a jungle? Kayak in a shark-filled ocean? Go for a hike where there are Black Bears* and Rattlesnakes** and Long Dark We’re Lost Nights***? I will respond, categorically: Yeah thanks, but no.

(*seen em **read about em ***had nightmares about em)

I write it off to rational thinking, you bet I do, a realistic approach for someone who Loves Life and who wants to hold on to as much of it as possible.


It is a rather limiting approach, as a rule.


AND SO I HAVE BEEN WORKING on some of these fears, a little at a time, working my own plan in baby steps. (I will not bore you with the litany of things like that night I walked in the dark from the studio to the house, or the three times I took the dog out at 3 am by myself. THERE ARE COYOTES IN ADDITION TO THE BEARS, YOU GUYS.

And then last weekend Tim asked me to go with him on a real-live, on-a-trail, up-a-mountain hike. And I said yes, and I carried through, and I did it.


“The mountain to the climber” and all that. We hiked the peak there, Big Butt.


the innocent looking trailhead


Up and up and up we climbed!


following the white diamonds


A selfie for Eliza! (She was duly impressed.)


view to the smoky mountains


back down again!


We went a mile up and a mile down, 1000 feet in altitude each way, and we experienced exactly ZERO bear sightings and ZERO snake encounters. Plus Big Butt was not nearly as scary up close as it is from a distance. (You may be thinking bears and snakes hibernate this time of year, and yes, yes they do, I’m no dummy.)

Still it was a big giant step for me. And it was a really fun one.

So now it’s got me wondering:








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Valentine gifts, broken hearts, and being a love distributor

These are words that arrived in my inbox from my girl crush, Jen Hatmaker, and even though I know I’m breaking at least a hundred million copyright and digital good manners rules I’m going to take them and share them right here right now.

(If Jen ever gets a hint of this I hope I get an “at a girl” and not a “cease and desist.” They are words the whole wide world needs to hear.)

Quick reminder to any of you that feel a little blah about Valentine’s Day: this is an invented day to sell chocolate. If you are single (or newly single) or struggling in your relationship or missing someone or married to someone who isn’t thoughtful or divorced or just in a sad place this year: don’t you dare let V Day get in your head. Be in charge of your own story. “A day for love” means you can love anything and anyone in any way you want. Call your BFF. Book a massage. Cook a killer dinner and invite some friends over. Grab your kids and watch a funny movie with pizza. Write some love notes to your mom and dad. Tackle five Random Acts of Kindness. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. You are loved and worthy of love and lovable and a love distributor. You own this day as much as anyone. 




(What. She. Says.)


So if you’re feeling a little down, or a lot filled up, celebrate V Day with a dose of Jen Hatmaker. Then go distribute some love!


Jen’s book Of Mess and Moxie
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Day 30: And I can’t think of a better one.

It took a while to get here, my January filled with so many good things I’ve barely time to note them here. Still this little gem came along and I knew it was the perfect wrap-up for 30 Days of Joy.

Meet Lucas Warren, a 1-year-old from Dalton, Georgia. He is the 2018 Gerber baby.



With all the bad news and distress that makes up our news feed these days, isn’t it wonderful this is also the world we live in?


30 Days of Joy


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Day 29: Spring. It’s Coming.

I’ve never been one to invest in mealworms for the bluebirds, something that seems a bit silly when the fact is they bring me a great deal of joy. Still we have a gigantic back yard. On a lake. Surely there are gracious plenty worms and creepy crawlies naturally occurring to keep everybody good and satisfied. I mean, they’re birds. Right?

Then last summer some things happened that had me rethink.

First, my beloved bluebird parents had not just one, not just two, but THREE successful nests in the span of five months. That’s a ton of insatiable bluebird babies who must be fed a thousand times a day, even after they leave the nest. You may remember this incredible discovery long about August when I realized it was a baby from an earlier brood actually helping with the feedings!


(How I love this little helper. How I felt for its exhausted mother!)


And so I hopped in my car and drove to the birdseed store to see if there was a reasonable way I could help out. And right there it was–a cylinder of seeds into which a mass of dried mealworms had been smashed.

No muss, no fuss, I’ll take it.

It was hardly any time at all until the woodpeckers and the titmice and the chickadees and the wrens made a feast of the new cylinder. I love them all, and I was pleased with their excitement, but I BOUGHT THE FRIGGIN’ MEALWORMS FOR THE BLUEBIRDS. Where were they? Since they don’t typically eat from a feeder, how would they ever even find it?


The downy woodpeckers love me now.


In just a couple of days, find it they did. And not just the Mama and Daddy, who seem to hang close all year round. But this time an entire collection of bluebird teenagers numbering at least five, maybe more. Lord those teenagers are fun to watch, they talk so big and still look so unsure.




Oh, and there’s some other bluebird action going on around here long about now as dibs are being claimed on the parent’s bluebird house. (They start building in early March, so time is nigh.) I can’t exactly tell which ones are in and out of it every morning checking on things–but I will have more to share on that later.

For now, these sweeties are bringing me so much joy I thought I would share. Hope you enjoy.




30 Days of Joy

Day 28: The Nest

Now I see it every time I pull in the driveway or walk up the stairs or step out our side porch door.

(AKA a hundred thousand times a day)


A sweet, empty bird nest, perched ever so perfectly on a long thin branch of our Japanese Maple. It lifts toward the sky, that branch, with a nice view of the lake–a lovely place to build a home and lay some eggs and raise some tiny baby birds.


location, location, location


And still there is another reason this little winter scene brings me so much joy.




I never knew it was there.

Even with my focus on filling the feeders and cleaning the birdbath (for which I had to pass right under this branch), and even for my obsessive monitoring of the bluebird box outside my big studio window, and even with the excitement of chickadee babies this year, I spent the entire spring/summer season not knowing this little beauty was there.



Oh, the gifts of winter, when the leaves drop and gorgeous secrets are revealed!



30 Days of Joy


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