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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For Love of a Children’s Sermon

Of children’s sermons, I am a big fan. And those at Providence Presbyterian? Even better. Sweet Emily, who delivers them each week, has a remarkable gift for simplifying complicated biblical concepts and sharing them in a way that reaches most every heart—young and old—in our congregation.

Just this Sunday she said something that stuck, something I will carry with me as I make my way through this holiday week.

Instead of Thanksgiving, said Emily, let’s think of it like this:

Thanksliving.

How I love the sound of that.

 

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A little Thanksliving.
My friend, Lila Anna, gets a little cooking help from one of her five sons, Graeme.

this is the moment

studioI have had it on my mind for two weeks now, the sentiment of a writing shared with me by my sweetest of friends, Courtney. I love this one a little more than most, she wrote in the email, a comment that let me know right away I was the recipient of something special. We tend to be moved by the same sorts of things, Courtney and I, so I took a seat in a quiet spot, breathed in, and hit the open button on my laptop.

It was an offering from Hannah Brencher, a blogger with such an effortless writing style I find myself sinking into her paragraphs like they’re a soft, old easy chair. “I feel like I already missed Christmas,” it began, and I read along, thinking with every sentence: I know. I know. And then I got to this line:

I’m scared of missing the point. I’m scared of always rushing to get somewhere, onto the next somewhere, so that I never fully arrive anywhere.

Oh do I know.

~~~~~~

I’ve had this same discussion with every girlfriend I have near my (unimaginable) age of 55. “Do you feel it, too? Do you feel the jitters inside, the anxiousness that tumbles and rolls and keeps you feeling behind? Like no matter what it is you’re doing, there’s always something else you should be doing? Somewhere else you need to be. And you’d damn well better Get To It.

It’s an emotion that might have been easier to understand in our 30s and 40s, when our lives were stretched beyond recognition in the tug-of-war between work responsibilities and those small, needy, insatiable children at home. On top of that was housekeeping, and laundry, and grocery shopping, and cooking, and well, you know the (on and on) drill. We still have many of those things to tend to in our 50s, of course, but it is more on our own terms. More in our own control, somehow.

Which makes this feeling of anxiousness rising all the more disconcerting.

~~~~~~~

Hannah talks about the rush to Christmas, and I know it is the perfect metaphor for the point she is making. We plan and shop and make and wrap and decorate and bake in a frenzy that crescendos toward an end goal—a perfect, magical, oh-look-at-that-the-snow-just-started-to-fall Christmas day. And we’re so focused on that “out there” payoff that we fail to take in the wonder and glory of the many sparkling magic moments God gives us all along the way.

She ends with a line that hollowed me out when I read it. We have all the time, she says, all the time we thought we never had. So let’s take that time and count the glittering objects around us, let’s hold hands and count them one by one.

Let’s just pretend that it can’t get better than this right here.

Oh, girl.

Let’s just pretend that it can’t get better than this right here.

Does that get to you the way it gets to me? I imagine sinking into my beautiful life with this moment-to-moment thought on my heart. Letting my soul be filled to overflowing. Not holding back a single second, never spending even a tiny blink thinking “I’m getting ready” for something way more grand than that which is all around me right now.

Because this moment, this moment now, sitting in a green chair on a Monday night, the world fading to dark outside, the fire popping and crackling in front of me as I write—how beautiful it is to look at this as a sparkling moment. How lovely to hear God’s voice telling me, as he told Hannah:

Breathe. Look. Take it in, my beloved. It’s all there now, in this moment. I’ve placed it there for you. There’s no place you need to rush. There’s no other place for you to be. This— this is all yours, it’s all for you. It is enough. Be there now, and simply breathe it in.

 

 

 

 

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heart of hearts

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I am not good at meditation.

There, I’ve said it.

It’s something that bothers me, this “failing,” since I believe–in my heart of hearts–that the practice of meditation would be the single most significant positive change I could make in my life. I believe the connection and stillness of meditation are vital parts of a holy spiritual life. I believe the discipline and focus would calm my restless spirit. I believe meditation’s hurdle-free pathway to God would open my soul and fill it with so much goodness and light my cup would surely overflow.

What’s more, I know that my own label of “failure” when it comes to meditation is a ridiculous one. God loves me anyway; God meets me in a hundred thousand places every day, showering me with grace and not the slightest bit of judgement.

And still.

~~~~~

I am in a beautiful, intimate Sunday School class with five women at my church. This Fall we have been studying Malachi, a book theological scholar Lisa Harper summarizes as “a love that never lets go.” The women in my class are faithful and committed, bringing to our discussions insightful commentary on their own journeys as we meet week to week.

I have yet to do the homework even a single time, a fact that didn’t stop me from walking right on into class last Sunday, the unopened book in my bag and me with absolutely no idea what the week’s study had been all about. You know what happened? God met me right there in my totally unprepared state and delivered to me via these amazing women one of the most powerful messages of my spiritual life.

First, our fearless leader, Teresa, talked about worship as “moving toward God.” (Isn’t that a lovely and powerful concept?) Then she pointed out the Greek word Kardia, which appears in the bible 160 times and which, in simple translation, means “heart.” But get this. In the bible the word Kardia refers not just to a person’s emotional center, but to “the whole of the innermost part of the human,” including mental functioning, emotional responses, and will, or character.

Kardia is the seat of the soul, says Harper, and at its center is the holy of holies.

(Let’s just sit with that a minute.)

God, the holy of holies, is already there at the center of my being.

~~~~~~

Here’s the thing. I am a woman with a big and busy life. I run at a crazy pace. And I’ve had this unconscious notion, all along, that God is up there watching over me as I move through the world trying to getting it all done.

God up there. God out there. 

And all the while, God’s been in here.

~~~~~~~

I shall now pray differently. Instead of talking to God up there, I shall talk to God in here. And I shall think of meditation differently, too. I’ll no longer approach it as time in which I must get still and try try try to quiet my mind. Instead, I will think of it as leaving the “out there” world to its own devices for a bit and turning my attention inward. I will move toward kardia, my heart of hearts, the seat of my soul, and there I believe I will meet God. I will sit quietly, waiting. Content. And in the silence I know He will nurture and restore me, and then we will head back out into the Big Chaos of this world, together.

Namaste.

 

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Surprises, big and small

It’s like a big pinch of joy spice added to regular life, wouldn’t you say?

I’m talking about surprise, the happy kind, the popping of a little jolt of wow! right into a regular old day. It makes your heart soar and sing and dance and reminds you how nice it is to be in this world, how good it is to have people in it who know you and love you and think of you and go to the trouble to show it even when it might take a rather large bit of effort.

It happened to me yesterday, and my heart is still dancing.

First, the doorbell rang. As this does not happen regularly at my house, my sweet dog, Little Bit, and I both ran straight for the front door to see what on earth might be going on. This is what we found.

a rather large surprise

a big surprise

Needless to say, it was a thrill to find my name in the “TO” space on the label of this gigantic box. I brought it into our foyer.

It's so big!

To: Cathy Monetti

With great curiosity and even greater gusto, I began to open it.

so much bubble wrap!

bubble wrap galore

I unwrapped, and unwrapped, and unwrapped, and finally, there it was.

unwrapped

Oh. Wow. Oh, wow!

hope-is

A most amazing surprise from my dear friend, Sharon, one of the Wise Women who lives a million miles away in Louisiana. (You’ve met her here before, aka Speckled Pup.) I called her, pronto.

The moment I saw it, I knew it was for you she said.

And with that, my dear ones, another layer of happy slathered itself right over my giddy heart. I skipped through the rest of the day, and the night, and even now—another day later—the joy of that surprise has me feeling as light and hopeful as, well…as a feather.

 

 

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Stepping Up

Winter is waiting in the wings, and still these zinnias hang on.

red

They are prolific bloomers, their seeds spread hither and yon. It’s always a delightful surprise to see where they show up.

baby

I love their determination, their spirit.

magenta

They never hold back.

orange

Instead, they stretch their necks to the Autumn sun, joy-filled and glorious,

yellowthankful to be here on this Earth, and ready to step boldly into another new day.




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