“…wait patiently for Him to act…”

May their memories be eternal. The bombing of Churches in Egypt and the Middle East on Palm Sunday makes reflections on my Lenten journey seem so superfluous; silly in some ways; and almost disrespectful in others. It is certainly sobering and makes most of us stop and take into account what we are doing and what is important to us, in our daily lives.

This past week has been pretty stressful, personally, dealing with the health of my parents and my mother-in-law, as well as trying to find housing solutions. I don’t know about you, but purposely going into debt scares me. Taking on a home loan after not having one for a few years is pretty intimidating. The bankers have been wonderful to deal with, and apparently we are a good “risk” for them, but still, the idea of a lot of debt at my age is a little scary. And then to see these images of death and bloodshed on Palm Sunday, it made me draw up short and just stop the nonsense for a few minutes. The least we can do is pray for the lives lost and their families. It is just so horrific. The shooting of 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria set me on edge to begin with; I do not want World War III. I don’t. I am a mother of a veteran. One son is enough, trust me.

When my dad was talking to me from the hospital ICU, he sounded so far away and so very vulnerable. My dad has always prided himself on his physical strength. His handshake could always crush another person’s hand, and he always shook your hand in a strong way; his hugs could steal your breath away. Even in his 70s. But now, at 90, with Parkinson’s and Dementia stealing much of his daily life from him, he was still able to tell me how amazed everyone at the hospital was with his overall strength. And he took much comfort in that. And pride. And he always joked that he never exercised, not since his 20s, and he never understood the craze. He did power walking and rode a bicycle, but nothing more. And he’s always been so very strong. It is hard for the strong to allow themselves to become weak; to allow others to care for them is hard; to acknowledge their weakness is even more difficult.

I believe that we are seeing a time in our world where the strengths we have come to rely upon are being challenged, in a world-wide, political realm, but also personally. And this is Holy Week, too. God has timing that is beyond our comprehension and beyond our expectations. I know that the people at the parish church in Tanta had no idea that Palm Sunday was their last day on earth. They had gone to Church to celebrate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, knowing that in the next 3 days He would be condemned to death….”Crucify Him” the crowds would chant after yelling “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” a mere three days earlier. And these Coptic Christians, who are now martyrs for the faith, were chanting, “Hosanna” as their lives were taken. 43 lives taken and 100s injured in an act of terrorism against innocent Christians. Our world is careening out of control in the sense that things are not as they were, and I wonder where we are headed. My dad, personally, is having to surrender control over his life and well-being. He has to allow others to care for him. He has to trust others will have his best interests at heart. Who do we trust to do that for us on a local, national, and international level? Who has my best interest at heart?

I have learned over this Lenten journey that God is in control. Always. We see life taken away and we wonder why; we question things like this bombing in Egypt; we wonder where God is in all of this. But I honestly believe His hand is in it all. Every moment of it. Sometimes the souls He brings home to Him, He wants with Him in Paradise. We mourn the lives lost, yes, because of the horror of how they were taken and the loss we experience when those we love are taken. But I try to remember the promises God has made. It is hard on those of us still here – those He has taken are still singing “Hosanna in the highest,” only with Heaven’s choir. We are angry at the violent way in which they were taken. But mostly we grieve for ourselves. Because we are still here. Learning to trust God in all things? That, my friend, is the journey. Always trusting. Always.

God is looking at the entire timeline. We are standing in our own little section of eternity. (Teeny-tiny little space we each occupy during our lifetimes). He sees eternity from its inception until He comes again and makes all things whole. I place my trust in His wisdom and love for me. I let my frustration and fear, sadness and expectations, completely go. Once you allow God to rule in all areas – truly all of them – you are free. It is a constant struggle to release our control and hand it to God. A daily struggle. But the rewards are eternal. If we think about the control we exert on our environment on a daily basis, handing all of that over to God is intimidating and frightening. We argue over who has control of the TV remote; who is driving which car; whose choice it is for the meal we will eat or where we go that day; even which house to live in or what Church we attend. Handing over complete control to God in a culture of “control freaks” is an intimidating task, and one that is impossible without prayer and complete trust in God. It’s something we all need to focus on, moment by moment. Trust, and allow God to “take the wheel.” (from Carrie Underwood’s song, “Take the Wheel”). During Holy week, we need to focus on our journey, and walk with Christ on His journey this week, humbly asking Him to give us hearts to see the way.

I pray that our Holy Week be ever fruitful and we each allow God to “make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 2:5-6) God is in control and He truly has our best interests at heart. We cannot allow ourselves to overly trust in human choices and decisions. Things go awry daily. Missiles are shot at the wrong target; people say stupid things; poor choices are made. In amongst all of that, God is silently, quietly, waiting for us all to listen to Him.

Blessed Holy Week. For those lives lost in these bombings – our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters – may their memories be eternal.

“…and I am now standing at your gates, Jerusalem.”

purplelentwords

Every once in awhile (I am not a theologian, so don’t know the exact occurrence) the eastern and western worlds join together for Lent. Today marks Ash Wednesday, when the western Christians join the eastern Christians and Orthodox, who began Lent on Monday. And it is so joyful to walk together during this season of preparation and a cleansing of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies as we prepare to walk with Christ to Calvary and weep, and then celebrate with Him His Divine, and glorious, Resurrection.

This year I am doing a new Lenten Study and I am so excited. (It is by http://www.orthodoxmom.com and I highly recommend her blog and her Facebook page, too). I am not in the least artsy, as those who know me well will attest to. But this year, I am keeping a notebook and journals. One is a journal about the Psalms, and another is called the “Gratitude Journal.” And each day’s assignment offers us a time to reflect upon our readings and the things we are grateful for (it is a directed reflection). The first three days have been staggering for me, to say the least. The author of the study has carefully weaved our Scripture readings together and I have already learned so much in such a short time (which is why I was compelled to post).

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Lent is a time when we reflect, we pray, and we fast. And through these processes, we hope to come to a better place in our walk with Christ. It is a time when we try to still that chaos that is the world, and spend time in quiet reflection and prayer. In the Scriptures (Matthew 17:19-21), Christ admonishes the Apostles for their lack of faith in trying to exorcise demons:

“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately, and said, “Why weren’t we able to cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your unbelief. For most certainly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. But this kind doesn’t go out except by prayer and fasting.”

There are times when simple faith is not enough to move the mountains we face, nor exorcise the demons in our lives. We need to pray – and fast. And that is an integral part of Lent. We deny ourselves all this instant gratification. Of course there are many who also admonish that if you Fast from food, but gossip or slander someone, how are you a good Christian? How is that fasting from the demons inside us all? Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Envy, Anger, Pride, and Sloth are characterized as the 7 Deadly Sins. What can we do to eradicate them from our lives? How can we lessen the impact they have upon our souls? The Roman Catholic Church teaches us the Capital Virtues, which counteract each of these sins. They are: Chastity, Generosity, Temperance, Brotherly Love, Meekness, Humility, Diligence. How do we get these virtues? We pray. We starve the enemy of our flesh by denying it the thing it wants. Sloth and Gluttony, I have said many times, sit on either shoulder for me. How do I starve them? I set an alarm clock, I make a list, and I tackle my daily duties with zealous abandon, fighting sloth! This year, I took Facebook off my phone. I am trying to distance myself from social media. It can become a crutch and every bit a sickness, like an addiction. It sucks your time and adds to your sloth. What can you be accomplishing if you spend hours on a computer, reading things that are not necessary, nor edifying, but gauged to our interests so they suck us in? What desire am I feeding? How many sites do I need to go to? How many ways can I distract myself from my life? And how can I combat that? I sometimes have to help my lesser self (or that bad demon on my shoulder) to become my better self (the angel on the other shoulder) by denying myself – on purpose. Gluttony? Well, fasting sure helps with that. We are returning to Whole30 and who knew there was a Whole30 support group for those to use during Lent? So excited to find that! We have to work with what we know to be true about ourselves, in order to help ourselves. It’s why I took Facebook off my phone, along with lots of apps and groups. I make it harder for myself to get to it – like putting that bag of Oreos on top of the fridge, behind the cookbooks, making it harder for me to indulge myself. And to be honest, this year for Lent, there are no cookies in the house to begin with. I know Gluttony all too well. It is one of the many demons I constantly and consistently struggle with. And it is one of the ones I desire most to conquer this Lenten fasting period. I need to control my desire for food and replace it for a desire that will benefit my soul.

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Lent is our eternal struggle condensed into just 40 days. But the Church, in her wisdom, gives us this time every year. We are not expected to become Saints overnight. I love that about my faith. I try, sincerely, to make the right choices day in and day out. Some days I get it pretty good and can lay my head on my pillow with a clear conscious. Some nights, not so much. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” is often recited as I finally get to sleep.

During my reading for this Lent, I read an article about forgiveness. In the Eastern and Orthodox Churches, we begin Lent on Forgiveness Sunday. On this day (the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday) we actually make lines around the Church and each parishioner approaches each other parishioner, asking for and giving, forgiveness. I can honestly say that the first time I participated in this, I wept as I made my way around the Church. How humbling and how beautiful. But when we think about forgiveness, what is it? In this article by Metropolitan Anthony of Sorozh (+2003)  in the Orthodox Heritage Vol 05, Issue 2, February 2007, he says, “Forgiveness begins at the moment when, realizing the frailty of others as I realize mine, the need of others for help, for mercy, and for protection, I am prepared together with them to bear the burden of their weakness, their frailty or their sinfulness. Forgiveness begins at the moment when I take it upon myself to put up with others, without waiting for them to change, to put up with them as they are in order to make lighter their burden and to make it possible for them to eventually change.” He goes on later to say, “Every one of us, side by side with them, have people who are difficult to bear, who are a cause of suffering, of misery or of anger; we can undo this anger and outgrow this misery if we make our task, the task of our life, our business, to carry their burden together with them, to be the person who, wounded and offended, and rejected, will turn to God and say, ‘Lord, forgive, because I bear no grudge, I want to become and remain solid with this person in his frailty and his sinfulness. I will not stand in judgement against him, and I am not yet capable of doing this. You do this for me: do not endorse my judgement, do not endorse the condemnation I rashly have pronounced, do not stand by me in my anger. Stand by the person who has done wrong, because he, because she needs help, forgiveness and healing, for that very reason.'” forgiveness

And so we begin Lent by learning to forgive. Truly forgive. This quote above stunned me into silence. It caused me to rethink what I know about forgiving others. Our Psalm readings were full of the forgiveness from God. And I realized I was actually excited about Lent, and that I was preparing for this Lent to be one of change for me. I was getting a notebook and making dividers; I even got stickers and colored pens! I bought a new journal and yesterday, I began writing things about the Psalms. And I was happy – happy about a task of cleaning my heart and soul and becoming more in tune with God. Because I know I can only become better through this process. As I eagerly began to read the Psalms, I read, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And now I am standing within your gates, Jerusalem.” (Pslam 123). And reading that, I smiled. I had been looking forward to this journey, and now I was on the doorstep. And we are all fully into Lent, as of today.

I am apprehensive (as change is always hard) and exultant at the prospect at becoming a better me. God is not done with me, yet. And I know He is not done with any of us, either. Thanks be to God for this opportunity. Blessed and Holy Lent, everyone.

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“…nor any other created thing…”

addiction

I am seeing more and more addictions, of many types. And I read something yesterday that brought it home. It was in a novel by Victoria Dannon and the character replies to a demon that he is not an addict and this demon, who is trying to extract payment on a debt says to him, as he laughs at him, that basically, he does not care what you are addicted to, addiction is addiction, whether it is to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, plastic surgery…you get the idea. And the demon laughs as the man realizes that his addiction is just that, an addiction. He actually had no idea he was living his life around his addiction. In the storyline, his particular poison was horse racing. And he was willing to risk even his life, to continue betting.

I have seen comments from addicts who say they are not addicted to a particular thing (alcohol, drugs, porn) but rather are running from, or trying to turn off from, life. And that, to me, is sad. We are repressing our inner thoughts by an activity. I know many of us have developed an addictive relationship to social media…Facebook is worth billions of dollars. How? They do not give me a product, but they allow me to communicate with people I would not normally see. I joined to stay in touch with my kids all over the world (literally) and some friends who had moved away. It has become a life-line to many relationships and I have made wonderful friends through Facebook. But what is social media costing us all? Have you actually looked around at restaurants recently? Everyone is on their phones! People are not communicating with that warm body sitting next to them. They are preferring that alternate reality of social media. People text to break up. Don’t even bother to see the person in real life, real time, but send a text. People declare they are “in a relationship” and yet they never see one another. It is totally online. It is just one of the ways we are losing our humanity to technology.

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There are many other addictions and some of them are far more costly. Do we surround ourselves with stuff to cushion us from the world? What is it about accumulating each thing we collect? I have seen women who have more shoes than I thought possible. I have seen men with tools that take over their garages so they cannot park in them. I have seen women collect cooking utensils – how many strainers do we need? (Okay, I have 3…) But why do we spend money on all this stuff, until we are busting out of our homes, when we complain about being broke? How can we spend on stuff and have no savings? How can we wear all those shoes? Ugh. How much make-up or plastic surgery does one woman need? How many cars are enough for some men? Collecting is one thing, whereas hoarding is quite another. And many of these addictions/obsessions are shielding us from a host of other things.

It is not the stuff itself that people need. It reminds me of a scene from a cartoon movie my kids used to watch (they watched it so much I knew the dialogue by heart!) where this bug cannot stop heading into one of those zappers that has a bright light to attract them. One character says, “Don’t go into the light” and the other responds, “But it’s so beautiful!” And that bug is then zapped. We always laugh at that and have used that line (“But it is so beautiful”) often to express our concern for people who go toward something that is not good for them. In the movie, “Percy Jackson, The Lightning Thief” they find themselves in Las Vegas at this “Lotus” hotel. They lose days in this hotel, because there are no windows or clocks (typical for casinos) and they are fed these Lotus Flowers, which drug them. They finally snap out of it and leave. How many days have I gone through, not remembering what I accomplish? Do I numb my mind with thoughtless activities like cruising social  media or watching endless TV programs or movies? Do I thoughtlessly eat? Do I mindlessly read junk? How do we “snap out of it”????

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We are an inherently spiritual being. Each of us. We are created in the image and likeness of our Creator. We long for that intimate love relationship with the God of all Creation. And we all have this “God Hole” that we try to fill with things. Sometimes the world is a cruel place and humans are cruel to one another, creating individuals who are damaged and seek relief through drugs, alcohol, overeating, shopping, and other behaviors. All the while, people are trying to fill this gaping hole inside each of us. You cannot own enough shoes to fill that. You cannot buy enough leggings or tools or toys for yourself or your children, and expect to find fulfillment and contentment. You cannot drink enough alcohol to fill this wound, this hole, that only God can fill. And it saddens me greatly. Because I am just as guilty as many, in that I acquire things and have behaviors that are not, arguably, the things and behaviors of a Godly woman, wife, and mother. Because quite often, I lack the fortitude to persevere in my faith walk. It is much easier to plop on the couch with a cup of coffee and an Oreo in my hand, and check Facebook, than it is to accomplish something meaningful, like prayer. Or comforting a friend or loved one. Or doing the duties I have acquired from my station in life – a housewife and homeschooling mother. Being lazy is much easier than being accomplished, but the rewards are definitely not the same.

I read an article this morning about why millennials don’t go to Church and how the American Church is losing people faster than they are gaining them. The article spoke to all the ways the American Church could act, to attract these young people. And as I read the article, several things struck me. It was not about any of the mainstream Churches in America. It certainly was not about the Eastern Catholic or Orthodox Churches. Much of what they were proposing Churches do, most of the mainstream Churches offer already. One of the complaints is that the American Churches need to adapt to the world around them. I took great offense at that. I love my Church specifically because it has NOT changed. I see lots of young people in there every week. I am seeing more women dress more modestly and even wear veils. They prefer that their faith remains steadfast, strong, and unchangeable. It offers them comfort in a crazy world. It helps them fight their addictions by remaining the same – unmovable, unchangeable, and steadfast. “And on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 This is where millennials, and whoever is hurting in this world, needs to come to be filled with God. It is a place for the broken, the hurting, the sinners.

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It is not easy to fight addictions. At all. There are attractions, tempting us almost 24/7 into sin and deviant behavior. We make almost hourly choices towards good or towards evil. And with Great Lent soon upon us, it is the perfect time to slow down and focus on these many addictions, and to seek God’s Grace to help us fight them. To help us overcome them by filling our empty lives and hearts with Him, instead of stuff.

One great suggestion given to me was to do the “40 bags over 40 days” purging project. Definitely doing that this year. The timing is perfect for our family. Another suggestion I saw was to spend 1 day per week with no electricity in the evenings. Instead you light candles and read, pray, play games together. But nothing you do can be supplied by electricity. The author of the blog about it noticed some immediate benefits.

(Here is the link to the article:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/8-reasons-to-turn-out-the-lights-during-lent#.WK3C5oWG7FI.facebook)

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Here in the wintry north, sunset comes early. But I still think this could be a valuable Lenten aid, in that it quiets our lives. It calms us down. It helps set a mood, a tone, in our home of quiet reflection. As one who reads by Kindle at night, going to bed without reading will be weird, but maybe it is time I took a break from that habit. We would have to turn off our phones (agh! We’d have to talk to one another!). And there would be no TV or computer. My son does his Spanish totally online, so I would have to be sure he’s on top of his lessons before we unplug! My Instant Pot dinners would have to be completed on time. No late night laundry panics. We would just sit in the candle light and be together as a family. I think this may assist us with some of our addictive behaviors.

Please consider slowing down and coming more into the Presence of God. Rededicate yourself to becoming closer to He Who created the world. Closer to He Who commands the seas and sets the sun on its rounds every day; Who holds the stars in His hands. He is so much greater than anything we try to substitute for Him.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

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“An empty place in her heart…”

candles-church

I think I have been in some sort of a deep freeze. My house is a total disaster. My laundry has piled up. I think I stopped “House-wifing” for some reason. I stopped pursuing things. It happened in like, September? Nah…maybe August. Not sure. Sort of a malaise came over me. I can attribute it to several things. I don’t choose to elaborate too much, but things that were steady and a regular part of my life, no longer are. People who I thought were my friends, no longer are. My son and his family are in CA and I miss them terribly. They had a new baby in November and I desperately want to hold her and just bask in all that newborn scent and sound. It is hard seeing photos and videos when I want to hold those babies and hug my kids. My youngest son is now a senior in High School and all these years of homeschooling are coming to a rapid close – he graduates in May. What will my days be like now? I started homeschooling in 1992! My eldest son took a job far away in August, right around my 60th birthday, and I desperately missed him. And I think I sunk into a depressed state. I am married to the most wonderful man. He has not said much. He’s scrambled for clean clothes when he’s traveling. He reaches across the piles when we are getting things off the table. He doesn’t complain when dishes pile up. He doesn’t mention the dust bunnies that have become Tasmanian devils. My office? Oh my word. A complete disaster.

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What I have gone through is almost the opposite of the above, however, the sentiment is true. Instead of clean, I disappear into words. I read. A lot. As in hours a day. But I think, through lots of great vitamin D, some prayer, and talking with the right people, I am emerging. Not like a butterfly – I am still basically me. And I don’t think I’m fully with it, yet. But I can acknowledge there’s been a cloud in my life, and I can start to see the sun peeking through. It is almost as if I have been grieving. Not someone who has passed away, but grieving the loss of the familiar, the commonplace in my life, and some relationships in my life.

“The five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.”

When things in your life drastically change, you need to allow yourself to adjust. And I think that’s what I have been doing. When one door closes, we need to be able to see that next one opening for us. And sometimes, at least for me, that other door is hard to find. My hubby and I talked about it and we ventured out into a different area of our community – we stretched outside of our comfort zone. And guess what? We’re meeting new people and stepping into a new world. And we are making friends. Some that we have an inkling about, that we may stay close to for years to come. They may not know that, yet, but we’re thinking we may have found people we can invest time in, and become friends. The fun part is that they are not normally where we would find friends, and that makes it even better.

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Today I chose to start taking back my house. I babysat my grandkids and when my granddaughter started to draw art in the dust on my TV stand, I realized it was time. So I cleaned my kitchen and dining room; I put things away; I started a load of laundry; and I made plans for tomorrow’s clean up process. It’s time to awaken from this slumber or malaise and reclaim my place. It’s time to move on and start this last half of my journey. I say “last half” because, well, I’m no spring chicken, but I am hoping for another 30 years or so. At least. So that would be the last 1/3, but half sounds so much better! Ha-Ha!

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The Lord is always there. Patiently waiting for us to look up from whatever it is we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by (I have more than 700 books on my Kindle Paperwhite. Yeah. I get distracted). And I also think that our minds work, even when we are not purposely thinking about something. I have been working out things in my mind, deep in my heart, these past few months, in order to move forward. I have resettled my dreams and realigned my wants and desires. Change can be organic and simple, or it can be painful and bruising. I think this has been a bruising, painful sort, so much so that I retreated into myself and my books, ignoring the everyday, mundane aspects of life. My poor family.

In life, we are given a very few friends. We are given many, many acquaintances. Sometimes we confuse the two. We lean on people who are not prepared, or equipped, for us to depend upon. We make assumptions that sometimes we should not make. I have blogged about this before, but I truly have about 6 people (not including my family) who I know would come and hold my hand as I take my last breath. And that is truly a blessed life. We just don’t connect in our hearts with too many people. We have activities that we do in common, we go to places in common, we may even have similar basic beliefs. And all those things provide us with opportunities to develop comrades-in-arms. They give us a framework within which we can grow and become who God meant us to be. However, very few of those comrades are connected to our hearts and souls. Very few. Often, when we let people in, we assume they will treasure our efforts to share; that they will value what we offer them – which is our inner self. But so few people are prepared for that sort of commitment. In our fast-paced, automatic world, deep and lasting friendships are becoming more and more rare. So I cling to the ones I have had for decades; I treasure them and hold them dear in my heart. I reach out to new ones, and someday they, too, may take a place in my heart. I am always open to God’s blessings in my life. But I also have learned, and am still learning, that people come and they go. And they do not always have my best interest at heart.

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” George Washington

Proverbs 16:28 “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”

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So today I begin anew. I may fail again tomorrow. But I know that I am somehow awake today, whereas I don’t think I have been awake much recently. And through getting all this out on my blog, it makes it real; concrete. Sometimes God allows us to sink a bit; to flounder a little; to seek Him more when we “come out of  it.” He also placed some amazing people in my life that can reel me back in, with saying very little. And that means more than they will probably realize. And there are those who, when I ask them to pray for me, I know they are. Thanks be to God for the many blessings in my life. I leave you with this – I totally “mommed” out today. I made hot muffins for my son for breakfast, before he had to catch the bus to school. And that is a great start!!!

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“…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

winterroad

Oh do we have snow! Not as much as they have been warning us about (although it’s not over, yet) but everything is white. You see the world in whites and grays in this winter wonderland. The light from the sun weaves its ambient presence among us and the world is much more quiet and serene. Even the local dump is pretty, covered in beautiful layers of snowy goodness! As we wander into the last days of this incredibly wild year, I have pondered what my next days will be filled with. I am not good with “resolutions” and even the word sounds so final. I rarely keep them. I intend to, which is the main thing, but my follow-through for an entire year is usually weak. And since I know that about myself, and am “of an age” where I can readily express that with no embarrassment, I do! Ha-Ha!

2017

I do wish everyone a blessed and happy New Year. I pray that 2017 is a year of profound peace and prosperity, in whatever ways mean that to you. For me, I am seeking a return to what I somehow laid aside. I am anxious for inner peace – moreover, an inner contentment. It has somehow escaped me and I spend many nights tossing and turning, many days exhausted from a lack of good sleep, and an overall feeling of impending doom. That is no way to go through life. I am working on my health and my supplements! I know I need more vitamin D! I am working on that. We had a very successful experience trying the Whole30 elimination diet and we did so for 49 days, until Thanksgiving. Since then, we have both seen our overall health tank. The old aches and pains are back, some new ones cropped up, and we have an overall feeling of just plain, well, “yuck.” So in 3 days we will back at this Whole30 experience. You can google it, if you are unaware of what it is, and you can also look back at some earlier posts, when I explained in more detail what we are up to.

This year, we met a lot of new people and I can honestly say, our lives are the better for it. Our perspectives have broadened, and we have found areas that we want to grow in. It is wonderful, too, to find a group of like-minded individuals. While many of them have younger families, we have found a group where we are among our peers. And we both love being with people our age and life experiences. It is fun. And so in the coming year, we hope to strengthen these relationships, make many of these people close friends, and grow and learn many new skills. Living where we do, we are deeply intrenched in the seasons of the earth. Right now, in deep winter, we are all hunkered down and only occasionally getting together. I cannot wait for spring and summer – more opportunities to mingle, lots of new things to experience, and more people to get to know. And, we get to try our hand at a better garden this year!

windowsnowcoffeenoborder

One of the things I have learned this past year is that social media, while it can be a good thing, can suck you dry. It can pull you in, because perhaps you are lonely. It can take over your day. You can be so caught up in checking Facebook and emails, tweets and pins, that you forget to be present to those around you. You forget to live this life in the here and now. I do believe our computers aid us (I am typing this on my gorgeous, and purple, MacBook) but I also think that the ease with which they purport to make our lives, also complicates them. I can’t recall the last time I went days without checking things on either my computer or my phone. I deleted a bunch of apps off my phone the last few days. I decided it was just too much. Facebook Messenger was insane. Ugh. My phone beeps and tweets and sings to me all day long. Even when I turn off my notifications, something beeps at me. And I came to the realization that I sit far too long, looking at the activities of other people, and not having enough of my own. How silly is that?

So I am trying to keep a sort of “resolution,” in that I have deleted apps from both my phone and computer, and I am simplifying. I mean, for instance, I am down to 1 Angry Bird app. Period. And I am down to 1 solitaire game across all media platforms.  That is progress my friends! I am seriously thinking of deleting my aquarium app, as I have 6 tanks and if I don’t feed those darn fish…well, you know. (Gross). But seriously. I am 60 years old. And I play Angry Birds. What is up with that?? I feed make-believe fish in make-believe aquariums. I think I knew I was going off the rails when I started breeding sharks in amongst the angel fish. I mean, how sick is that?? And what am I NOT doing whilst feeding imaginary fish and  defeating imaginary pigs? I am not praying. I am not reading. I am not becoming a better me. Does Angry Birds help me get closer to God? Uhm, no. I think He is probably shaking His head at my silliness.

We are all called to be His children. We are all called to share the Word of God with those around us. We are all called to help our fellow man. Angry Birds does not do any of that. I spent an afternoon canning with some new friends this fall. In a very out-of-the-way place (where there was not even navigation in my car or phone reception, and yes, I got momentarily lost as I journeyed home) with some wonderful new people in my life. The conversation was great. We shared stories and we laughed. The skills acquired were really a re-introduction to canning, as I had not done it in years. But the skills shared, the wisdom in that cabin, has stayed with me. And I hunger for more of the same. These were some real people and I felt so welcome and so “at home.” We shared, with one another, the gist of who we are in the simple tasks of washing black currants, and boiling water, of making coffee, and slicing and blanching carrots. What a simple joy that afternoon was. And it profoundly struck me. That is what I want more of.

Do you know I have only been shopping in our one, large mall here 1 time? Guess what? I have no desire to go there. At all. I’ve never been a shopper, and I am really growing to hate crowds of people. But you know what I am anxious for? What I want to do? What I am excited for? Getting together to cook and  make some scrumptious recipes with some of my new friends. We’ve been teasing each other with recipes! I am looking forward to some shooting lessons. I desperately want to feel more confident in my basic skills in regards to being prepared for our next “snowmaggedon” or our new volcanic eruption, or the next big earthquake. Learning to freeze foods; learning to dehydrate foods. Canning, in all its glory. Planting a well-thought-out garden. These things excite me.

house-snow

As we age, our dreams change. I no longer foresee a house in a development, or master-planned community. I envision a place with space around it. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s home; it doesn’t have to please anyone else. But I would like it to to be simple, serene, and away from the “maddening crowd.” I dream of a log cabin, although I am aware of how much adjusting and upkeep they require. I don’t need my own lake or river, but it would be nice to have one close by so my dear husband can grab his fishing gear and walk down to the water, and relax while challenging the salmon. I would love to have space so he can hunt if he wants to, without having to drive miles upon miles to do it. And I want a space where others feel welcome and want to come and hang out. Even if it is simply for some card games and coffee. I would like my forever home. Because I am so very tired of moving. I want my roots in this land to go deep. I want a home where my grandkids will someday say, “Remember grandma and grandpa’s house in the woods where we got to fish and run around?” I want to make those memories with my grandchildren, and with my children, and my husband. I want inner serenity. I want peace and contentment. I certainly don’t want millions of dollars and all that it requires to take care of it. I want to be safe and comfortable, in a space where I can host others, and share some peace and laughter with them.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

And so for 2017, I wish for you the same. The peace the world cannot offer; the peace of Christ. I wish for all of us, to have fear leave us and for contentment to find us. I pray the world will calm down and we can each find this peace in our own little corner of it. For some, it will be an apartment in the middle of a vast city, driving to and from on complicated highways and byways. For others, it will be on farms and rural homes. Still others in suburban hideaways, where they can escape the madness of their commutes. But at least once a week, I pray we can all find our way to kneel before the One Who created us, to give thanks, to be humbled, and to enjoin with Him Who gave us life and breath, and hearts to love. “Our thoughts determine our lives” (Elder Thaddeus) is something I try to live by. If we all have thoughts of peace and we share them, peace will emanate from us and fill those around us. One way to find peace is to seek the quiet and serenity wherever, and whenever, we can. For me, I think I will slowly unplug from the rat race. I may still play a round or two of Angry Birds, but I am trying to rein that in, too. I know that waking early, spending some time reading the Word of God and having a chat with Him, starts my day off right. I also love to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee, and a little time with my husband before he is off to his day. These good habits that ground us are often hard to come by, and hard won. But they give us peace and prepare us as we enter into the work the Lord has given us for this day. And for me, I will take these “resolutions” and tackle each day, one at a time, as I resolve to find peace, contentment, and work on all these new things and new people in our lives. “…Do not let your hearts be troubled…”

candles-church

God’s blessings on you and yours as we wade into this new year – 2017.

“…an everlasting dominion…”

permanent marker

Permanence. Like black markers. “That ink is permanent,” laments every mother who has tried to remove it from her walls or upholstery fabrics! Our weight; it fluctuates. We’d like to be permanently young and at the perfect weight. It just doesn’t happen. It takes lots of work and dedication. Looks are not permanent. It is the heart and soul of a person that remains, even until their dying breath. We are who we are, deep inside. And who are we?

 

blue suburban

We are contemplating a new car. I dread the car payments and car insurance, so I am dragging my feet. And I dread driving a different car. I have had my car since 2004. I love this car. It fits me perfectly. People say, “Get a newer model.” Well, I would, except they stopped making it at my model year. Which I never did understand, because I see them everywhere. And my knee-jerk reaction, and preference, is to go for my favorite car ever, my Suburban. I loved – well, thoroughly enjoyed – that car. But it seems silly for an almost-empty-nester, and grandma, to drive such a large vehicle. I can haul my grandkids in it, yes, but not regularly enough to warrant driving that large of a vehicle. But when faced with obtaining something new, I reach for the familiar, the more permanent fixture in my life, because it is well within my comfort zone, and I have deliciously wonderful memories driving that blue Suburban everywhere. I was sad the day I traded it in for the car I have now. I would love to keep my current car, but if I need to replace it, I automatically want to return to my happy car!

Twin Towers Burning

So many things come and go, and in reality, very little is permanent. This weekend we watched a movie about 9/11 and off and on during the entire show, I wept. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I recall how one of the Fire Chiefs they interviewed said that this was a day that was “out of our playbook.” And that “we have no plan to deal with a disaster of this magnitude.” And I remember feeling so helpless as people jumped from the buildings; I cannot imagine the grief of their family members or of those watching it in person. It was a frightening day. I cried all over again, as they said that over 200 people died jumping from those buildings. The Twin Towers were meant to be a permanent landmark to the free market and an icon in New York City. They were a permanent part of who we were, as a people. That day brought our country together. We did not care what color we were, or what sort of career we had, even which building we were fleeing from. We just helped the people next to us. Because, as a country, we had been cocky enough to not plan for an attack of this magnitude on our own soil, we had to rely on one another. And it did this country some good, being taken down to our knees, quite literally.

Ash covered people

As this show went on, my husband and I lamented that the nationalism that we felt during that time is gone. It was not permanent. The social tension is so high right now, and it explodes to the surface at the least stimulation. People are lashing out at one another. People attack and kill one another; we steal from one another and we have no respect for our neighbor, or his property. It is ridiculous how many break-ins we have had over the past year in the little area in which we live. We were chalking it up to teens being bored during the summertime, with its 20-hours of sunlight daily. But now we have learned it is just flat-out crime. People stealing cars out of driveways, 4-wheelers, shovels (I am not kidding), tires, dogs, breaking into cars and stealing ID and money and goods in the cars; destroying things just because they want them. Things that do not belong to them! Race and other factors have not entered into it. They are crimes of convenience. Nothing is sacred to anyone. Anything they want, they just think it is okay to take it. There is no thought of “we’re all in this together.” There is no nationalism, not even pride of neighborhood, home, and hearth. The country is far more divided and violent than it was on September 11th, when those planes struck the Twin Towers.

“And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”  Daniel 7:14

I believe that the Lord is ever in our midst. I do believe He weeps at the horrific ways we talk to one another and treat one another. I do believe He is allowing the evil one a presence in among our people, in order for us to learn. We need experience to teach us some pretty tough lessons. A priest friend once told me, “Do not pray for patience. Because when you do, that is when God will give you situations to learn patience. It cannot be gifted; it has to be learned.”

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, or lose heart when He rebukes you. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastises everyone He receives as a son.” Hebrews 12:6-7

If you cant fly MLK

Sometimes I wish things would remain static, but I know change comes through movement. I pray that people would gain wisdom and see the error of their ways. In this country, we have so much freedom and we spit in the face of it almost daily. The new controversy over this football player who refuses to stand for our National Anthem annoys me more than I can properly express. Yes, he has the right to express himself. Yes, it is a First Amendment right – something we take seriously in this Land of the Free. But it is also the Home of the Brave. And to not stand, to me, is an insult to those who fought to bring us these freedoms. Beginning with the farmers who would not bow to an imperial presence in our Colonies, to even my son, who served in two arenas of battle in recent years. So many have given all, so that this athlete can make a statement at a football game, even while insulting those who afforded him that right. A comment I read on Facebook today pointed out that he is nothing more than an entertainer. Athletes are entertainers. The corporation that hired him to put on his show at games, they are responsible to the people who watch those shows of athletic prowess. And there are lots and lots of financial supporters who put their dimes in, too; sponsors by the truckload. I would love to see people boycott the corporations that say it is okay to not stand, because they think that “we are a company that believes it is more important to express your personal rights than it is to show allegiance to the very country giving you this right, while you earn all the money we pay you.” Money, by the way, that comes from endorsements, and fans who wear their gear and go to their games to eat $25 hot dogs. If companies can come out in support of gay rights – the whole debacle about Target’s bathroom privileges comes to mind – then companies should be able to say things like, “If you are our employee, please be respectful and show respect in public for our country by standing for the National Anthem.” Period. But I doubt the NFL will require its players to stand for the National Anthem. Perhaps we fans of the game and the entertainment it provides us, should make our opinions known more forcefully, as in boycotting? You can choose to not attend games, not support this particular team, perhaps not purchase that jersey – or not.

I am expecting that in the media, there will be backlash and controversy over this player’s comments and statements, and his refusal to stand. And there will be arguments. And ugliness. And if someone asks everyone to stop…just stop…and pray for one another? Ha-Ha. They would be laughed at. Because this is not about God. And that is where I beg to differ. In a sense, it is about God because this is a Christian country. Yes, some of our founders were not exactly your typical church-goers. But they whole-heartedly believed in keeping God in our country. They prayed. They prayed a lot. God was mentioned by them and through the process of putting together our founding documents. None of it was done without seeking the blessing of God. There are those (who number less than 8% combined, between atheists and agnostics) who profess no religion. There is a hefty 22% who profess no formal religious affiliation at all (although that does not necessarily mean they have no faith). That leaves 70% of the population who believes, and who try to attend Church, and identify as a Christian. 70 %.  Where are they all???? The streets are empty of them; the media certainly is empty of them, for the most part.

house-rostrum

The above is in both the Senate and the House. In God We Trust. We entrusted our country to His providence because it is permanent. It does not change. It is something we can rely on and count on. Always. We do not espouse one practice of religion over another. We do, however, espouse a belief in God. That is not just a pithy statement. We had people who fled the religious persecution of England to establish a country free from that. We have welcomed those who are being persecuted for their faith to come and establish lives in America. We’re an open country like that (ask those who have fled countries that do not allow the practice of their faith. And those countries who persecute women. And those countries who put to death their citizens who disagree with the organizations in power). We do not, however, believe in removing God from all aspects of our public lives. We are not sneaking around, holding meetings in back rooms, but rather, we are bold in our faith. That is a laudable thing. An enviable thing. An attractive thing.

pray for persecuted

There are so many ways to handle persecution. Our country has opened its doors to pretty much anyone who wants to come here. (Something I am not all that happy about. But that is a different subject). There are so many avenues available for those who want to defend the defenseless. We can become pro-life in all its aspects. We can honor those who choose life. We can assist the poor and the shut-in. We can honor our neighbors and our neighborhoods by helping make them a safe refuge. Grab a broom and sweep your streets. Wash graffiti off the walls. Clean up trash. Help the elderly who can no longer care for themselves. Support causes and organizations that go around doing good for others. Sitting down when all others are standing in honor, and creating a furor, sends so many mixed, and wrong messages. “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” That quote from Gandhi is what was morphed into, “Be the change you want to see in others” for bumper stickers. But the message is intact. We need to change ourselves, our tiny neighborhood, in order for the ripples to be felt nationwide and worldwide.

MLK nonviolence

One of our most vocal and loved social thinkers and leaders was Martin Luther King. Jr. (He was an Independent. He did not adhere to either party in politics). He was a deep-thinking man who believed in God and equality for all men. He would be appalled at the violence in this country. He preached kindness and meekness, and love for your fellow man. He believed that love trumped all else. He once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” I truly believe that if we cling to the permanent love of God, and embrace our neighbors as ourselves, we can conquer this ugliness that is pervading our country, and pervading the world. We are in a dark and difficult time and I am scared for my grandchildren. My grandmother apologized to me once, saying, “I am sorry for the mess my generation is leaving you. We had so little, and with the wars we went through, we wanted our children to not “want” for anything. They in turn sought that for you. But we made a tragic error in that we did not teach our children to work for what we gave them. They did not understand sacrifice. And now your generation, even more spoiled, does not either.” And I think she was right. We’re so entitled, we think someone else should take care of it. There is no sense of personal responsibility.

cursive

It’s silly, really, to bring this up, but they are not teaching cursive much anymore. There is no time in the day to do it. Teachers have to prepare kids for all these tests they require using Common Core-styled curriculum. So they allow kids to just print. It’s just an example of the shifting of our culture to being ever more technology-driven, and service-oriented. No one creates, makes, builds much in the USA any  longer. We just service what we buy. And we use the internet for everything else. Subsequently, our next generation will no longer be able to read documents that give you original information, as they are written in cursive. The Declaration of Independence, for example. They’ll have to read it printed online somewhere. Pretty soon, cursive will be the same for future historians as Egyptian hieroglyphics were for the early historians in the 1800s. A mystery to be solved.

And this brings me to my lament about permanence. There is so little. So much is transient these days. How we feel right now rules how we act right now. We do not adopt permanent beliefs about much of anything. Nothing sticks! We do not stand up for anything in a strident, permanent way. How the wind blows is how we vote. We chose this past president, twice, because he was different. We did not stop to think about qualifications for the office of President, we voted with the entertainers who were endorsing him. We went with public sentiment. And boy, have I met so many with regrets for that error! As I stated above, roughly 70% of our population, according to a 2014 census, identified with a particular Church. We are allowing the other 30% who have no belief in God, or who couldn’t care less about faith or God, run this country. I think it is time to reassert our permanent adherence to our collective faith in God. We need to stand for our National Anthem, we need to love our brothers and even our creepy neighbors, and we need to be people of character. We need to say “no” to the Hillarys of this world and deny the naysayers a place at this table. It is time we resolved to learn about this country of ours, learn about the issues and the candidates, and to take America back. I do not want to see another 9/11 happen in order for us to wake up.

MLK INject love

If you are part of this glorious 70%, please take a moment to think and to pray. What is the heritage you are leaving for who is coming after you? Are you leaving a safe and Godly place for others to flourish? What are you doing for your neighbor? I am angry. I am frightened. I am frustrated. And I feel so very helpless and inadequate to the task of taking this country back. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20. As a collective body of voters and citizens, united in faith, we can remedy this situation! Whoever deigns to read this, take a moment to think about this and to pray about this. Determine your activity level, your involvement in making this country better. How can you help? Boycott something! Write a letter. Blog about it. Reach out to friends, family, neighbors. Be kind. Change your little corner of the world. Do something pro-active to ensure God remains permanently at the reigns in this country. Hit your knees and pray for our country and for each and every one of us in it. Be proactive at making sure God is the sovereign of this nation always and forever.

House serve lord

 

“And even when I am old and gray….”

“And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18

Have you ever just felt “blah”? I feel yucky. And in some ways I’m also excited. Life can be so weird sometimes. I don’t think it’s hormones! Ha-Ha. Most of those are asleep these days!

Jans 60th Cake

Yesterday, I turned 60. Now, I don’t think it’s old, or that I am old, in particular. I am feeling sort of cocky about it, actually. Like now perhaps people will somehow treat me as more mature, or wise? Even though I thought it was supposed to happen at 30, then at 40, and then even at 50! I am hopeful it may someday take hold! Ha-Ha!

I think I am depressed because my 90-year-old dad was going to be with me as I celebrated this milestone, but it just did not work out that way. I am relieved and sad, at the same time. I am relieved because he was bringing someone with him I have never met, something I realized after they could not come, had made me very uncomfortable. I am sad because my dad is 90 and this was the first time I would have seen him in 10 years, and he has never met my daughter-in-law or his great-grandchildren. He has only seen our youngest son once or twice. (Our son really has no memory of him, other than he has a beard). So I am sad he is missing out on that. And I am sad I will not have that father-daughter time with him. We have not had time like that in the 32 years I have been married and it would have been nice. And I think I am flat-out bummed because I had not realized how much it meant to me, to have him visit one, last, time, and for my birthday, too.

JerusalemCross

The cross above is called the Jerusalem Cross, or the Crusader’s Cross, or the Templar’s Cross. They might deviate a little, but it is basically this representation. The central cross represents Christ, and the four smaller crosses represent the Four Gospel Writer’s – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There are other descriptions, but this one is the one most historians view as accurate. Historically, in Egypt and Northern Africa, people would have a small, Coptic style cross tattooed on their inner wrist, to symbolize to others that they were Christian, living in a highly Muslim world.

Coptic.colored cross.

Some of the more stylized versions of the Coptic Cross highly resemble the Crusader’s Cross. The smaller versions, usually in black, are tattooed on the wrist area, as a quick way to identify oneself to other Christians in modern times as well as in ancient days. In Coptic tradition, youth often wait until they are at the “age of reason” or their late teens to have their tattoos done. It is still popular in Egypt, even now, and among modern Coptics living in the USA.

The reason I shared all of that, is because I wanted to get a tattoo of a Crusader’s cross, on my wrist, about the size of a nickel, for my 60th Birthday! One friend thinks all tattoos are disgusting and had no interest in hearing my reasons or looking at my ideas…none of it. All tattoos are bad. Period. Other people say to go for it because you are who you are, you have control over what you do with your body, and why not? Others say I’m too old, my skin is too old, etc. Some of my kids think it’s pretty cool and are encouraging me to get one, but I think that is something more popular among the younger set. My parents would freak out if I got a tattoo…in their era only people in prisons or sailors had tattoos! But, even worse than that, I also wanted to add some purple to my gray hair! Ha-Ha! Just because. My hubby says to go for all of it, and just have some fun. It doesn’t bother him.

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Proverbs 16:31

I know that sometimes people hit a certain age and have that dreaded “mid-life crisis.” I don’t think this is a crisis, but rather an awakening. This is my last year having a homeschooled child. The journey I began in 1992 with homeschooling our children will be completed, with our last child graduating high school. And I will have my days to myself. And as my husband said, “You need to find something to do or you will go nuts.” I think he is also concerned that I will drive him nuts! Ha-Ha! And to get all that going, while turning 60, I thought a visit with my dad, a tattoo, and some purple highlights would get things off to a roaring start. And then, poof, all the air went out of my balloon!

deflated balloon

And so I am working on the positives from this. There is no visit, so the pressures of hosting people in our home is gone. I can take the rest of this weekend to prepare for the first day of school on Monday. I got a nice haircut, taking off 2 1/2 inches and no one noticed, which means it was a great cut and just looks better. No purple, but hey, the 60 days aren’t over, yet. And no tattoo, but I am not giving up. My sister told me a story of a friend who turned 60 and decided she was going to celebrate for 60 days. And that is my plan. Maybe I don’t have the purple, the tattoo, or the visit, but these 60 days are not over, yet! The Lord gives us what we need, when we need it. He had other plans for my birthday and the ways I will celebrate it.

Gods plan for our life

I will rest in His plans for my life, listening to His gentle whisper as I make my plans, hoping I make them in coordination with His will for my life. God will sustain me, He will carry me, He will rescue me – from myself! God is so good. And there is just so much on the horizon that sometimes I think these first 60 years were preparing me for what lays in front of me. I am excited to begin a new path, embracing new friends and new ideas, still learning and growing and becoming. Things did not work out the way in which I had imagined them for this particular day, but there were so many blessings nonetheless! I had my grandchildren, who practiced with their mom, sing Happy Birthday to me as I blew out my candles, and then we feasted on some pretty amazing cake! I have a future job and career ahead of me, and for the past two days, I have actually seen the sunshine! In Alaska as fall settles in, that is quite something! And so I will move on to tomorrow, smiling and thinking of where I want that purple streak in my hair and what size and color I want that tattoo!

life plans gods plans