A Grace Filled Eve

Tonight I will gather with little folks (and a few big) whom I love right here in my living room, and we’ll debate about staying up to see the New Year in.  We may or may not watch some form of something dropping to beckon in 2018, and then the laughter will turn into sighs and we’ll gather up the remnants and used cups and crumpled napkins of 2017 and go to bed.

This is as good as I can do.  I don’t have big plans and schemes for this New Year.  If I start thinking of tomorrow as a day THAT ALL BIG THINGS MUST BEGIN, I kind of sort of start breathing a little funny and want to go crawl in Miss Sophie’s crate with her and wait for spring and for this “all great ideas and good intentions” phase to pass.

Because, see, my feet are cold, and most days I have to take it one day at a time.

My Mama said that is okay.

She said do your best, that’s all your Daddy and I ask of you.

And that I can try to do.  Moment by moment, minute by minute, hour by hour, and sometimes day by day.

But a whole year?  In one big gulp?

I’m happy for folks who are excited about the newness of tomorrow and the 364 days to follow.  But for many of us, 2017 and 2015 and 2013 and 2011 were really really hard, and we’re still learning a new way to breathe because of what happened when the clock turned over to November 13 and 17 and December 18 and February 10 and September 26 and May 12 and January 11 and all of the other days of the year when we had hard things happen.  For some of us, each day is a new challenge, filled with moments of learning new ways to live.

Grace.

If you are of the mind of taking on new ways of living and find tomorrow a good day to start, maybe grace could be a good one to add to the list.  Most of all, be kind to yourself.  And others.  When days are hard–for you or someone you know and those you don’t, offer grace and kindness.  Grace that it’s okay to say it’s hard and stay in bed for the day, literally or figuratively, and kindness in the midst of the struggles.  A smile, a listening ear, a hand to hold, patience, empathy.

Tomorrow we will have the traditional greens, peas, cornbread, and such.  I’ll try not to do anything I don’t want to be doing the rest of the year (though I’ve found reframing certain things has helped me in this old tradition), and I won’t be doing any laundry out of respect for the ones who’ve gone before me.  We will spend time sharing stories and laughing and remembering.

And I will do my best to rejoice and be glad in the day, as my Mama reminded me I am called to do everyday.

But for now, I just can’t take on the chunk of a year all at once.  If you are struggling with another day of celebrating and being surrounded by festive spirits, know you are not alone. We are all doing the best we can and walking each other home, as Ram Dass wrote.  Come sit with me, Miss Sophie will make room, and we’ll warm our toes by the fire and sit quietly and we will be okay.  And if tomorrow is a day of new beginnings for you, I wish you all the best. Some of us will be celebrating the dawning of a New Year and some will be thankful for making it another day and some folks will be somewhere in between.  AND ALL OF THAT IS OKAY.

Grace.

Wishing you all a good night’s rest, the energy to get up tomorrow, and the still quiet of peace settled in your heart today and in all the days to come.

Love to all.

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May we all take the words to my much loved and missed friend Denise to heart today and every day–“What people in our community need the most is for us to slow down and love each other.”

Christmas Eve Light and Love

Twenty-two years ago Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, just like this year.  My baby girl was three months and three days old, and she was being baptized at the morning church service.

Christmas Eves at our church then were quite full.  The church couldn’t be decorated until after service on the fourth Sunday of Advent, which Christmas Eve was that year.  After church, folks ran home, changed clothes, and then came back to decorate or “green the church.”  Another quick trip home and then we were back for a Wassail party (not a fan myself) and Covered Dish Supper.  Caroling was after, and then midnight service began at 11:30.  A beautiful day filled with joy and being together.

Together.

During the morning service, the two dear friends we had asked to be Auburn’s godparents stood up next to us and promised to love her and help teach her right from wrong, kindness from cruelty, caring from apathy.  Auburn’s godfather wasn’t yet married to the woman who had come with him that morning, but I know she must have promised all of those things too, sitting in the pew, watching as these bonds were formed.

I know this because that day she also became Auburn’s godmother.  In every sense of the word.

Over the years she has written notes of encouragement, given hugs of comfort, listened to my girl (and me), and laughed alongside us–often helping us to find the humor in situations.  She loved with a passion that one isn’t always lucky enough to come across.  Bless her, as my sister Mess Cat says, “She was larger than life.”

This past week, this dear soul left this world, ending her fight with cancer.  Amidst people who knew and loved her, her husband, and her son, we said goodbye on Thursday, gathered around the tent as the cold wind whipped around us.  Her husband got up and shared through his tears the joy and love she gave them all these years.  It was a time of celebrating and remembering one who loved and was loved with great adoration.

Last weekend my friend sat and told me and Auburn how when he first met his wife, she had said, moving things out of the seat next to her, “You just come sit right here beside me,” with her lovely Southern drawl.  Bless her, that’s who she has always been–welcoming, comforting, hospitable, and seemingly on the verge of a joy-filled laugh at any given time.

Today, as my littles have the wiggles and giggles and excitement abounds, I remember my friend–this dear woman who never missed an opportunity to make me, Auburn, or anyone else feel welcome and important.  I remember her standing by her husband twenty-two years ago today, holding my baby girl, and smiling with all her heart with joy.  It was a precious day.  I am thankful she was there.

As I am thankful she has been there for so much of our journey.

My heart is mindful of the ones who knew and loved her best–her husband, her son, her sister, her mother–and I know that in great contrast to the holiday music, bright lights, light-hearted movies, and cheerful greetings everywhere we go, they are bathed in the darkness of grief and pain and loss.  I am mindful of others who will spend this holiday missing someone they hold dear, for whom Christmas does not evoke visions of sugarplums dancing.

And I remember my sweet friend’s words, “Come sit here right beside me.”  If you are bathed in darkness just now, I hope that you will hear these words from someone.  I’m here, as are many others who have walked the path you are on, and we understand the darkness.  Come sit by us.

Or perhaps you are like my friend and could welcome someone who needs to hear those words.  They are indeed words that can change a life.

Wishing you all much love and light in the darkness, as the world celebrates glad tidings of Joy and Good News.  As I remember the baby from 22 years ago whom I held close as I sang “O Come All Ye Faithful” walking across the churchyard in the dark, I give thanks for 22 years of wonderful memories.  Time passes way too quickly, so may you all find time to make merry memories to recall and enjoy in the years to come.

Love to all.

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Happy Golden Years

Fifty years ago today, December 17, 1967, the romance that started outside a laundromat in Valdosta, Georgia began a new adventure as my Mama and Daddy said, “I do.”

And they did.  Sickness.  Health.  Laughter.  Pain.  Joy.  Grief.  Children.  Grandchildren.  Other children whom they called their own.  Friends.  Family.  Biscuits. Gravy.  Pound Cake.  Fried Cornbread.  Homemade Pizza.  Cars. Trucks.  Books.  Celebrations.  Mourning.  Everyday Life filled with Extraordinary Moments.

And even though their time together on this earth ended six years ago, I know they are together today, and I hope they are doing what they loved to do most on this day–spending time together, enjoying the journey.  On their anniversaries, Daddy would take the day off from work, and they would go on an adventure of sorts.  Traveling on backroads, eating in diners and restaurants they’d come across along the way.   Meeting interesting folks who would become lifelong friends.

Since 2013 after Mama left this world, I’ve had the joy of continuing their tradition of sharing books with young people we know.  In honor of their anniversary, I’ve chosen different books as our Christmas Book of the Year.  This year, I’ve chosen a very special one that ties an old memory to a new one.

This past summer the littles, the Fella, and I got to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri.   Growing up I read the Little House books and loved my weekly time with Laura and her family on “Little House on the Prairie.”  I was “fangirling” pretty hard.  The. Home.  Of.  Laura.  Ingalls.  Wilder.  Where she lived.  Wrote her books.  Raised Rose.  Oh my stars, I was over the moon.  But as excited as I was, it was wonderful to see that our Princess was even more so.  She had read and reread all of the books in the past year.  She loved them.

During our time there, we saw Pa’s fiddle and photos and letters from Laura’s sisters.  There were letters schoolchildren had written to Mrs. Wilder, asking about the people she wrote about or thanking her for writing them.  The museum part was fascinating, as we took our time wandering around, reading and looking and soaking it all in.  But it was when we went to her home, the one that Almanzo built by hand, one room at a time, that I felt the spirit of the place.  Neither of them were very tall, so the home suited me and my short height just fine.  I loved that she continued using her old stove, even after Rose had an electric one put in.  Sometimes change is hard, y’all, and just not worth the bother.  As a child I had fallen in love with the young Laura.  This past summer, standing in her home, surrounded by her things, I fell in love and in awe of the grown Laura, the strong woman who didn’t want anyone to know she loved to read Westerns, and whose last birthday cards were still sitting on the table in her kitchen, as she passed on right around her birthday.  That was my favorite part of the whole adventure.  Soaking in her world in her little farmhouse.  The other house we visited that Rose had built for her parents as a gift when she was an adult did not compare.  It was lovely, but it just didn’t have the same feel, the same homeyness, the same spirit.

As I wandered through the farmhouse, enjoying the stories that our tour guide shared, I was reminded of a Christmas in my own home, many years ago.

I believe it was Christmas 1989, my senior year in college.  My dear friend had come home with me for a day or two before heading home to Alabama.  We had slept through the night to be awakened early the next morning by the ringing of jingle bells.  My friend, my siblings, and I all went to the living room where we found a sock for each one of us.  A long knee high sock I believe, filled with good things–like an orange, a giant peppermint stick, a penny, an orange in the toe, and the matching sock balled up inside as well.  It was left there by, as the note said, “The Christmas Spirit of 1889.”

I probably laughed it off as my parents and their whimsical ways in the moment, but inside I loved it.  I love all things old and traditional, and as far as I was concerned, this was perfect.  Everything about it.  I’m not really sure what prompted my Mama and Daddy to keep Christmas like that that year.  Maybe they wanted to remind us that simple joy is at the heart of Christmas–that the simple joys are the treasured memories we will carry in our hearts for a long, long time.

Just as I have the memory of the sock filled with goodies, nearly 30 years ago.

So when I sat down to choose a book to share this holiday season, I found it almost instantly.  In memory of that Christmas 28 years ago and our adventure “home” this past summer, our family Christmas book this year is “Christmas in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The illustrator, Renee’ Graef, shared that her artwork was inspired by the work of the talented Garth Williams with his permission.  It’s a sweet story about the excitement of the holiday season and the greatest joy of all–being together.

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Tonight I’m thankful for the love of two people that grew to touch so many–our family and friends and folks they met along the way.  A love that was joined together forever fifty years ago tonight.  I’m thankful for their quirkiness and how they reminded us of what is really important all those Christmases ago.  And I’m thankful for the privilege and thrill of standing where some of the world’s favorite stories–I know they are some of mine–were put on paper for all of us to enjoy.

May the simple joys of this Christmas season bring you grand memories that you will treasure for years to come.  Love to all.

 

 

A Backstage Kind of Grace

Our little guy, Cooter, who isn’t so little anymore as he is now exactly two months shy of turning eleven, performed in his acting troupe’s version of “Trolls” this past weekend.  The role of Branch suited him well, as he griped and stomped and put on his unhappy face throughout rehearsals over the past few months.

Friday night was showtime.  He was ready.  He’s not been feeling one hundred percent, as the upper respiratory stuff that has everyone sniffling or hacking got a hold of him too.  But he was feeling good Friday.  We ran lines, and he practiced his dances wearing his Falcons helmet and jersey (a sight to see, trust me on this), and then we were off to the theater.

After the young people of Acting for the Almighty gathered backstage and got in costume, excited and a little anxious, the lights went down and Scene One began.  Cooter had several lines in this scene…..and within the first few minutes, it was time for him to deliver his line and be interrupted.  Which he did and he was.

And then it came time for him to finish what he’d been interrupted trying to say…..

and he jumped to the next page of lines, skipping the lines of several characters.

It only took a split second and the rest of these young actors jumped right in and carried on, finished the scene, and moved on to give a great performance.

But my stomach was in my throat.  Or my heart was in my stomach.  You get what I’m trying to say.

I was sick.  For my little guy.  For the children who hadn’t gotten to say their lines.  For the director and the playwright.

Oh me.

I had friends and family there who hadn’t been to rehearsals or memorized parts of the play from going over lines for three months.  They said they had no idea that lines had been missed.  Which I was thankful for, but I knew.  So did his fellow players.

At intermission one of the volunteers came out to reassure me that he was fine.  She said he took the hit for messing up and giving the wrong line, but “you saw him come out in the third scene.  He put himself back together.  He’s fine.”

The rest of the play went extremely well.  And it was a great performance.  I’m so proud of each one of the children, who bravely did what so many of us would be terrified to do.  Got up on that stage under the bright lights with at least 200 folks watching–spoke loudly lines they had memorized, danced, and sang.  They are our future, and things look really, really good for all of us.

That night Cooter and I talked a bit about the play, and he promised we could run lines the next morning before Saturday afternoon’s performance.  Before he went to sleep, he told me, “Everyone was so nice about me messing up.  They told me it was okay, that I’d go back out there and get it next time.  And I did!”

Bless.  Them.  Whoever “they” were–thank you.  Thank you for not getting upset with him.  This Mama’s heart is so grateful.

On Saturday morning when he got up, he had breakfast and then was puttering around.  I’d forbidden his standard rough and tumble football free for all in the front yard–I did not want him missing his last performance for ANY reason.  That and I’m a worrier, so he played with his friends and their Matchbox car village and did other indoor things on this cold day.  When he came back in and we were getting ready to go back to the theater, he and I had a quiet moment.

“Mama, you know what I’ve learned from this production?”

“What, buddy?”

“Improvisation.”

“Ummm, yeah?  Really?”

“Yes ma’am. Because when someone forgets a line or messes up, you can improvise and carry on. That’s what we did last night when anyone forgot a line…..like I did.”

Well, bless it.

I think that’s kind of what we need to know how to do in this life in general, isn’t it?  Improvise.  Goodness knows we seem to do a lot of it around here.

And, as the Fella says sometimes, we are none the worse for wear for it.

If improvisation were the only thing Cooter carried away from this experience, I’d be thrilled. Ecstatic.

But you know what? It wasn’t.

He learned a lot about grace too.  The way folks were understanding, encouraging, and supportive in the face of his mistake…..

that’s a beautiful gift.

And because of it, he wasn’t afraid of trying again.  Afraid, wondering what it would be like if he messed up again.  Because of that grace, he was able to get back up on that stage Saturday, try it again and do a fantastic job.  (If you’ll forgive this Mama for saying so–actually they ALL did a brilliant job on Saturday.  I am so proud of each one of them!)

I want my son–my children–all of the children–always to know what grace feels like.  So much so that they feel it in abundance and share it with anyone who could use it.  Grace gives folks the courage to try again.  To get up and out there just one more time and not so afraid of making the mistakes that are inevitably going to come in this life.

When Cooter was a baby and baptized, I chose a song for him.  It was Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish” and there was a line that I love so much…..

May “you find God’s grace in every mistake and give more than you take…..”

Tonight I am thankful for the ones who spent every week teaching my little guy and all his fellow actors about drama and singing and dancing and grace and being supportive of each other and how to improvise.  His acting may never be anything more than something he loves to do for fun–I have no idea where he’s headed with this…..but sharing grace and how to encourage others, how to courage on, and how to figure out at the drop of a hat what to do next in the face of the unexpected–all things that these wonderful folks have taught him…..

that they showed and shared with him God’s grace in his mistake…..

well, my heart is full to bustin’, y’all.  This is the really good stuff of life.

May we all be so kind and abundantly filled with grace to share.  And may we all have others around us who jump to wherever we are and help us carry on when the unexpected happens and we aren’t sure what line comes next…..

Love to all.

 

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*****For those who may not know, Cooter is the nickname that my Daddy, his Cap, gave him years ago when he was very small and loved playing Matchbox cars with Cap.  The name came from the mechanic on “Dukes of Hazzard,” which still makes me laugh.  No one really uses that name for him anymore, but I use it here to remember the man who let my little 4 year old guy drive those little cars around and around on his hospital bed.  “Daddy, you can tell him to stop,” I said, after Cooter had circled his bed for about the umpteenth time.  Round and round the bedrail, the foot rail and above Daddy’s head he went.  “He’s not bothering me,” Daddy said. And he meant it.  I’ll treasure that memory for always.  I know Daddy would have loved this play so much, especially when the children all sang “True Colors” together.  It was one of his favorite songs.  And so now it’s mine.

 

 

Car Trouble

“You got a car, you got car trouble.”

I think it was my Papa who first said that.  But I heard my Daddy say it many, many times over the years.  Usually followed by that sigh of his.  And the acceptance of the inevitable.

And it’s the truth, isn’t it?  Eventually, something will go wrong.  And it’s rarely when you’ve planned for it ahead of time.

This afternoon, following an appointment, the littles and I went to the big craft store to pick up some gift bags and other small things for holiday festivity’ing.  We left in good spirits and headed out into the misting rain and a nip in the air that hadn’t been quite as chilling when we walked into the store.  We got to the vehicle, unlocked it, loaded up, and were ready to head out.  Only the vehicle wasn’t.  I turned the key.  All kinds of blinking lights on the dash and distressing sounds and then…..nothing.

Well, that’s new.

Actually, it was new to this vehicle. But not new to me.

My Daddy knew his way around a vehicle.  He had to, considering we never owned a brand new vehicle.  He could usually diagnose and often fix what ailed a vehicle.  And when he couldn’t he knew a good mechanic whom he trusted.  “I’m bringing it over, so I reckon you can make your next payment on your car,” he’d tell the mechanic.  It usually was something significant if Daddy took it to the mechanic.

In that moment of realizing we were stranded, I became a sixteen year old girl again.  Needing my Daddy to come fix things.  Everything.

And the feeling of missing him was so overwhelming.

Not just for fixing my vehicle, but for fixing me.  He knew how to calm me down.

I used to joke that when things went awry, I did what all good southern girls do, I called my Daddy.  This grief of not being able to do so was not a six year old grief–suddenly it was raw and new.  All over again.

Unable to fix it myself or call my Daddy, I did the next best thing.  I called the Fella, who did what needed to be done to get to us as soon as possible.

Which he did.  But being he was finishing up work and we were all the way across town, it took a little bit.

I took the littles back in the store so we wouldn’t be sitting in a cold vehicle.  We window shopped and then went back to the vehicle when he texted that he’d be there in a few minutes.

Two things went wrong.  First, it hadn’t occurred to me until we were walking out in the parking lot that I have electric locks.  ELECTRIC.  Battery needed.  UGH.  Also I have one of these weird keys now that isn’t really a key so no way it’s going to unlock a door the old-fashioned way.  I looked it over and over as the cold set in and I started shivering, again regretting that I hadn’t gone back in the house when we’d set out and gotten a jacket.  I saw a little piece that could slide from one side to the other.  I figured it was the key (pun intended) to solving my problem, but none of us could figure out how to free the key that I was certain was hidden inside.  I even texted my law student, who is studying for first semester finals (all the good thoughts needed, by the way), who assured me that yes, sliding that thing would reveal the key.  Ummm, okay, sure.  But no.

That was when our Fella pulled up.  Before I could tell him that the slide thingy wasn’t working, he had a key revealed and was unlocking my door.  Okay then.

The rest of the story is long and wears me out thinking about it again–two different jumpstarts, a stalled vehicle in the middle of the road, Leroy bringing tools from his house (which was closer) so he and the Fella could install a new battery, having the alternator checked and cleared, and two hours later…..I was on my way home in my vehicle.

The littles had stayed in the truck with their Daddy, so I had the rare moment of driving by myself.  I belted out music from Cooter’s program that I had enjoyed so much, and I sang, and then a sad one came on, and I realized I was finally just then defrosting, and I bawled at a stop light because Daddy and…..I just miss him.

It was beginning to get dark as we finally headed back home.  Not even 6 pm.  (Whoever’s idea this getting dark early is, you are off my birthday list!) It wasn’t dark dark, but the light was dimming.  I knew my vehicle was running–I was driving it for goodness’ sake, but I had this fear that my headlights weren’t on.  It wasn’t dark enough for me to tell if they were yet, but I knew they needed to be on so others could see me.

Good gravy.  So much to worry over in this life, isn’t there?

It occurred to me as I searched for signs that my lights were on (besides the light on my dash indicating such–it’s been telling me my brake is on for the past several months–sorry–NOT) that this is how it is when things take a turn we weren’t expecting.  When things start to go south, we don’t know, we can’t see that our own light is there.  That we are still shining out for others to see.  We doubt that we are doing any good.  Sometimes it takes pure darkness setting in before we realize that our lights are indeed still shining.

And by then we’re so tired from worrying over it all.

Friends, your lights are shining.  I see them.  If you doubt it, come sit by me, and I’ll hold your hand and tell you stories about the laughter and joy and light that was and will be again.  And I’ll tell you how your light has blessed me.  Encouraged me.  How your light has been what I focused on through the tears, as I cried through the grief and sadness and pain.

Your light is a gift to this world.  And even when you can’t see it, the rest of us can.

May it shine forevermore.

But if your battery ever needs recharging I wish for you to have someone–a Daddy, a Fella, a friend, a sister, a Leroy,  a stranger–there to help bring it back to its beautiful brilliance.

Shine on, friends, it won’t be long and the days will be lighter and brighter again.

Love to all.

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By Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon (Route 52 Snow Storm) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons