Days are full at Montreat, highlighted by daily rehearsals for the Music and Worship closing concert. It’s a remarkable experience to sing in a choir of this size and caliber, not to mention the honor of being under the direction of Dr. Brad Holmes. I have learned so much.
Then we had an idea. We’d be staying in the mountains through the weekend. What if I taught Cindy to knit?
I’m spending a few days in the North Carolina mountains, here for the Montreat Music and Worship Conference. I have walked these great hills once before and so I knew it to be a beautiful and gentle place. Now I also know it is holy. Founded in the late 19th century as a place for physical and spiritual restoration for the Christians called there, the settlement’s name, Mountain Retreat, was eventually shortened to the more simple Montreat.
Grace is palpable here. The mountains rise and fall, summer’s blues and greens lie up against each other in a harmony so perfect it takes your breath. It also brings immeasurable peace. The natural world knows it, too, I swear. The brooks and trees and flowers and birds somehow embody the spirit: life lived in glory to God.
(You may know Montreat was the chosen home of Reverend Billy Graham and his wife, Catherine Bell Graham. One afternoon is all it takes to understand why.)
AND SO I HAVE BEEN filling my soul here in Montreat. Along with 16 youth and adults from my church, I have spent these days in choral rehearsals, vocal classes, bible study and tear-stained worship. And I have had a ton of fun.
Let’s just start with this:
It’s my grand fortune that Dr. Mike sets aside two afternoons for a little trout fishing with the youth. I came along as an interested bystander and photographer, but it didn’t take long until I was able to wrestle a pole from sweet Laken who needed something from the snack bar.
(She had to wrestle the pole back from me when she returned, I’ll tell you that.)
I didn’t catch a thing. Didn’t get a bite, but that hardly mattered. I loved every second hanging with those kids who taught me a great deal this week about love and generosity.
They are quite a bunch.
I have other tales to tell, and I’ll save them for other days. For now, I’ll close with a mention of my deep gratitude for this greatest of privileges: a week spent singing with my cherished friend, Cindy.
She was my roommate, my patient guide, and my biggest cheerleader.
Thanks be to God.
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Sweet Eliza came home for the weekend on Friday, and that in itself would have been enough to make headlines in my quest to add sparkly fun to these fleeting summer days. But then she joined us extra early on Saturday morning, Main Street Columbia’s Soda City Market our intended destination.
It did not disappoint.
There was so much to see, great food to eat, farmer’s produce to buy, and most fun of all–there was the joy of running into my good friends, Dolly and Sims, a mom and daughter duo I adore and about whom I had just been thinking!
Don’t you love it when that happens?
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It’s a sport we love, my friend Leslie and I, and one about which we are pretty doggone serious. We spend all Spring counting the minutes until Opening Day–the one designated by Mr. Bill, who watches over and makes the call–that yes, time to come on! Then we load up the car and head straight for Lexington’s Blueberry Hill Farm where we strap buckets to our bodies and commence to making our way up and down the rows picking and eating, and picking and eating, and picking and …well, you get the idea.
It’s a gorgeous way to spend a summer morning. And since it’s the Summer of Fun, this time, we invited my husband to come along!
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We’ve been binge watching the show Justified, my sweet husband and I, a show we both enjoy but one that offers more than a tiny bit of violence. As we’ve just finished Season One I suggested we take a night off to regain some peace (if you will) in our lives. So we’ll have movie night instead, we decided. And since it is the Summer of Fun, it will be a comedy.
And then this text comes from my dear friend, Leslie.
You can probably guess just what happened next.
What fun it was to change our plans at the last minute, to run out the door toward Summer Fun like high school juniors who’d just gotten their drivers’ licenses.
Not only that–but we stayed late, walking out the door to find pretty Main Street had gotten mighty sleepy.
It was a fun, fun night with unexpected friend sightings (Hi Amanda and Derek!), bar giveaways (sunglasses with bottle-opener ear wraps), and some rather fantastic story-telling around our own happy table, one involving the fine art of shooting down a Christmas tree.
(You read that right.)
Aahhh Summer. I do adore you!
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I hate to break the news but summer is nearly over.
I mean, you hardly notice June. Right? With the end-of-school whirlwind and graduations and weddings and the beach vacation, still in planning. There’s all that camp prep, and mowing and fertilizing and mulching. There’s the planting and the watering and the tiny flower blooms, still sweet and filled with promise.
And then along about June 25, it hits you. Wow. Summer is here.
And then: Can it really be July 4th already?
And that’s the end of summer.
Because you blink and it’s August and Everything Is Gearing Up and you think: I never even got around to having fun!
Well, not this year.
Let’s make a pact right now to make the most of this made-for-fun season. Let’s add something fun to each of our regular they-pass-too-fast summer days. Yes. Yes! I am allin.
The following came to me from my dear friend, David LaFuria. Any email from David is reason to rejoice. I love his take on things. I value his opinion. And I always learn something important.
Subject line: Billy Crystal Eulogizes Muhammad Ali
Cath: Sometimes when I sit and think, I think of you.
The funeral ceremony was much too long, but really, all you need to see is Billy Crystal. His vision, that Muhammad Ali was a bolt of lightning, illuminating everything around it, is fantastic. When was the last time one could say that an athlete is the most recognizable person on the planet? When will it happen again?
He points out something important – you had to live through the time to appreciate him. His fights were world events – everything stopped for that hour of boxing – everyone had an opinion. Outside the ring, he was bigger than the president, several of them. Looking back now, those of us who lived it were really lucky. Not to be critical of any one athlete, but let’s pick one. Michael Jordan raised the bar for measuring athletic greatness, but off the court he changed …. what?
Ali affected how all of us think about race. How we Americans think about free expression. And religious freedom. It is a big thing to say he changed how members of other races think about blacks (important terminology here – not just African Americans – but blacks worldwide). More important, he changed how blacks think about themselves. But perhaps his biggest triumph – he changed how whites think about themselves. Again, not just in the US, but around the world.
How many people can you name that have really affected how an entire society thinks about anything important? After Dr. King’s death, who carried his core messages to more people? A king? A president? A business leader? A philanthropist? No….an athlete.
He is the most consequential athlete of the 20th Century, and his athletic accomplishments stand only as a platform for him to be consequential. That he was so beautiful in the ring was the icing.
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I’d like to tell you one more tale about Costa Rica, if you’re open to it. It was an unexpected encounter and one that proved an important reminder to me about prejudice and the ways it can blind us to love in this life.
WE WERE LOUNGING BY THE POOL, Eliza, Tim and I, spending our last vacation afternoon doing not much of anything but sunning, swimming, and hanging together there in the quiet. It was time I revered and deeply appreciated. I have so little with my grown-up daughter these days, and so you can see why I approached the lounging with great intention. We chose a spot away from other pool-ers, one in a more remote corner of the resort that offered a little isolation, one with our own little swim spot and a giant umbrella, just for us.
Thanks to the poolside restaurant (and attentive, roving waiters), there was also a bite of lunch. Which brought on the Grackles, great-tailed and loud, hovering close and joining our quiet festivities in a rather uninvited way. It was something we’d experienced over and over throughout the week. The large crow-like birds are relentless and brash, braving harsh words and broad gestures in hopes of a small fry or leftover scrap of bun.
They stand in great contrast to the Scarlet Macaws, gorgeous birds that fly in every day around 4pm. The colorful parrots dine in almond trees that surround the resort’s pool area raising a cheer from a crowd that runs inevitably for a closer look. We joined them, we Monettis, standing on tiptoes, iPhones and iPads in hand as we click click clicked hoping for the perfect photo.
Those Macaws didn’t give a hoot, so to speak, and simply refused to do anything to accommodate as they crunched away, hidden as they were behind a mass of big green leaves.
And still we watched for them, every single day.
BUT I WAS TELLING ABOUT THE GRACKLES, the big black birds for whom none of us–not one soul around that pool, I suspect–felt any love. On this particular afternoon I’d had my eye on one in particular that solicited even more attention, causing a great racket and moving about that pool deck in a rather awkward fashion. I watched her (?) for several minutes and finally decided she must be a babe, early in the days of learning to fend for herself in a big, bad world.
About that time the thing flew up to a second story concrete ledge and misjudged the landing, loosing her footing and (I’m not exaggerating) sliding (in slo-mo fashion) all the way down a 15-foot rock wall. All the while she desperately fought for something to grab onto, anything to stop the descent. And then, kerplunk, she was in the water.
That baby was traumatized but buoyant, popping up to the surface (thank heavens) and floating there even if she couldn’t swim. Try as she might she also couldn’t flap her wings, at least not with enough force to lift from the water. She tried and tried, growing more panicked by the minute, and we watched and hoped as she (finally) made it over to the pool’s edge. There she floated, eyeing the same thing we did. The distance from water to deck was a daunting 12 inches or more. How would she ever get enough air to lift up and over that ledge?
ALL THE NOT-KIND THOUGHTS I’d had about those annoying black birds vanished in that moment. My heart was breaking for this vulnerable little soul, a God’s creature as much as any other, this youngster doing its best to simply make it through the day the best she could, the way her Mama and Daddy were teaching her.
Which, by the way, where were they???
I grabbed the closest thing I could find–my flip flop–and ran to the side of the pool. I leaned over toward the bird and did my best to get the shoe beneath her, hoping to give her enough platform to lift off and fly, or in the very least, to raise her up to the pool’s edge without causing further damage to her brittle legs or wings. It took us both a minute–and a bit of looking-each-other-in-the-eye trust–then finally we made it.
But oh, was she stunned as she stood there on the edge of that pool.
I WALKED AWAY, intent on giving her some space to recover. She waited a long minute then hop hop hopped to a nearby shrub and took refuge in the shade beneath its branches. I wondered if she were injured. We all thought we’d seen a bit of scarlet on her chest, and it didn’t take much of a leap to conclude that rock wall had done some damage. And what of her wings? Were they, too, affected? Or were they merely too wet for flight?
WE WENT BACK TO OUR BOOKS and I, for one, pretended to read, which was impossible given the eye I had to keep on that bush. After a while the baby emerged and one slow hop at a time crossed the pool deck, navigated lounge chairs, and made her way toward us. Eventually she reached the iron table just to Eliza’s left. She stopped, hopped to its base, and waited.
None of us spoke, but we all had our eyes on her.
SHE STAYED THERE a good long while. I worried she was immobilized, so to speak, injured and unable to fly. I wondered what would become of her when we left, if her wounds would heal, if time and nature would offer all she needed. (This sounds eerily familiar as I think of the Little Runaway in North Carolina.) Then I decided she was simply offering her thanks to us for seeing her amid the flock, for getting her out of that pool, for the kindness of caring.
I offered back a quiet you’re welcome little bird.
With that she slowly hopped on past us, stopping once and again to glance back our way.
IT TOOK THE LONGEST TIME, but eventually I looked up from my book to see another bird–surely one of her parents–close by. Whew, I thought, as that baby flapped her wings, trying to get some attention.
But to my chagrin (and hers), that grown-up simply flew off, offering no regard of any kind for the damaged little one.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT became of that baby. She disappeared around the corner of the pool and we packed up our things and returned to our room, sad we’d had our last day in Costa Rica but happy we’d had the colorful experiences it offered. I’m genuinely hopeful that disinterested black bird was a parent who assessed the situation from afar and who–as is so often the case with the animal kingdom if not the human one–determined the baby would be fine, then left her alone to work through the challenges on her own. I’m even secretly hopeful the baby rejoined the flock and in short order was irritating tourists–fries, buns and all–on the other side of that gorgeous, meandering Marriott pool.
In any event I’m thankful for the lesson she brought me. We are all worthy of love, even those–and perhaps especially those–who somehow seem to least deserve it.
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