In Support of Miracles

I’VE BEEN THINKING A LOT LATELY about miracles, the sort wherein you pray for something highly improbable, all the while doing your best to hang on to the belief that anything is possible.

More than once I’ve said it out loud–to a friend, to my family, to myself. Miracles. Do. Happen.

They do.

Don’t they?

 

WE WERE EXPECTING our dear friends, the Coles, for an impromptu It’s-Nearly-Summer-Let’s-Eat-On-The-Porch Saturday night when I heard such a raucous on Bickley’s pond I stepped to said porch to investigate. Clearly it was the Canada Geese, an odd collection this Spring that includes a core family with four babies and various and sundry other couples and loners that come and go in welcome–and unwelcome–fashion. There have been loud, physical fights on a regular basis, but this one seemed to be getting out of hand. A grove of trees stood between me and the fuss and so I grabbed my camera and headed to the back yard for a closer look.

Things had quieted down by the time I got to the water’s edge and it only took a glance to my right to understand why. The sweet family was there, intact, but their attention was turned toward an adjacent sandbar. On it lay another big goose, its long neck stretching against the sand, the body unmoving. Three or four other geese lolled about in the water while the still one’s wild, panicked mate screamed and flapped her wings, hitting with such force it raised the goose’s head, only to have it fall back to the earth flat, lifeless, dead. Then she took her beak and grabbed at its neck and lifted, squealing, begging. Over and over and over.

It was to no avail.

 

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I RAN TO THE HOUSE for my phone and quickly dialed my friend (and expected dinner guest) Jay, executive director of Carolina Wildlife Center. “Get here fast,” I said, relaying the story. “The goose is probably dead, but maybe there’s something we can do.” And then I ran again for the water.

What I saw there I could hardly take in. The pond was silent, and the sandbar was empty.

I looked all around. The sweet goose family and the miscellaneous others floated quietly away from me and the crime scene. There was no body there, no evidence anything had happened at all.

Could an eagle have gotten him?

Could he have been merely stunned?

Is it even possible he is one of those out there now, carelessly floating away?

 

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moving on

 

 

OURS IS A GOD who can do anything, this we know, and as is so often the case when something has been on my mind, it was our Sunday School lesson the very next morning. Along with the work in our study book, Dr. Bragan reminded us how important it is to think of God as “in here,” yes. But He is also the God of “out there,” a God so great and distant from our mortal understanding as to require great faith, and awe.

 

I CAME HOME FROM CHURCH still thinking about that goose and about the other significant things in my world requiring prayer and hope. Tim pulled the car in and something caught my eye as I looked toward the back yard, toward that pond. “I’ve got something to investigate,” I told him as I exited the garage and walked to the back yard.

There it was.

 

feather
my promise of the angel’s presence and God’s love

 

A giant feather–a giant white feather–in the grass of our upper yard, far from the water but near the side porch, just where I could see it. A reminder to me that God’s love is pure, and that miracles do happen.

Every single day.

XXOO

 

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a letter to my daughter graduating from college

(first posted April 29, 2015)

My sweet girl,

Today you take the final exam of your college career–your final finals as we have been calling them. While that in itself is reason to rejoice (!), I know there are a thousand other emotions moving inside you, like ocean swells that become waves that crash into each other in an approaching storm. It’s a funny thing to be the Mom of a daughter facing these confusing and conflicting feelings. I have been in the same place, on the same campus, facing the same things. I know your heart like I know my own: half sad and hopeless, half ready to move on. Fearful, yes, but nevertheless feeling that tug toward what’s next.

It’s just life, this tug of what’s next. It’s how God keeps us moving along our journey. That’s something you know but somehow it is of little comfort when emotions run so wild. Right?

Let me put your mind at ease on the two thoughts that I expect most weigh you down.

1. You are ready.

There is no experience like college (particularly at Clemson, which is ideal in this way) and for many of us, it will always be a pinnacle time in life. This is a good thing! It happens because it’s the perfect match up of want and need. College is an immersion in a life buffet–you only need fill your plate with the things that interest you and that move you along on your big life journey. Classes, clubs, relationships, parties, travel, lectures, sports, activities–a little of this, a little of that–and each one plays a part in getting you ready for the big world waiting for you out here. It’s all rather remarkable, I think.

But then years pass and you begin to get your fill. The food still looks good, but somehow you’re not so hungry anymore.

It’s God’s way of telling you it’s time to make a move. He knows because He’s provided everything you need to be ready for the next chapter. You are more mature, more grounded, more confident. You’re better at making your own decisions. You have a better sense of who you are. (Okay, so maybe not completely, but you definitely have a better sense of who you are not and that is just as important.) You know how to navigate, how to get from here to there, how to read the proverbial map and ask the right questions and work through problems that arise along the way. You know how to make the difficult calls, have the tough conversations, face the inevitable consequences. You’re finding out what drains you, and also, what brings you powerful energy and great, giddy joy.

You’ve had four years of practice on a demanding college campus. But the walls are closing in. You’re ready for a bigger stage.

2. You get to take the people that matter to you with you when you go.

It’s so true.

You’ve developed relationships with some remarkable people who’ve been an important part of your growth in college. These connections won’t just sever and die when you leave campus.  Those who matter to you will be an important part of your future, as well.

Chief among these, of course, are your friends. Guys and girls with whom you’ve spent time, who’ve influenced the person you’ve become. And most particularly the deep dear friendships of your tightest circle. How lucky you are to be surrounded by such strong, intelligent, beautiful women. How lucky they are to have you! As you hug goodbye to begin new chapters in different cities, rest assured in the knowledge these friendships will only deepen as you all move on. Life has a funny way of making sure this happens–it will challenge you in ways that demand you reach out and hold on to each other for support. I know from my own beautiful experiences–you will be there for each other in ways you can’t even imagine. They are your circle for life, these women, and you will lean on each other as things change over the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years and more. How you will need each other for strength, for guidance, for honesty. For keeping it all in check. And for laughter and fun. For the rest of your lives, when you girls are together the laughter will come as easily as it does today. With no work, with no effort, the laughter will always come.

There’s so much grace in that, I think.

Anyway, my sweet girl. There you are on that threshold. In front of you is a big, beautiful world filled with so much. I can’t wait to see you gobble it all up.

You are ready. It’s time.

Love, love, love,

Mama

girls
my girls

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in the mountains

theview

 

We sat there on the deck not really talking, not doing much more than casting our eyes out across the long view, trying to take it all in. Such a vast look across so much nature is so big, so powerful–mountains that roll and climb and dip for miles in every direction, land meeting sky in a huge and gentle reckoning of the earth’s majestic glory.

And then without fanfare the fog rolled in, an unannounced guest at our high elevation gathering.

 

in-the-fog

 

And suddenly we were cocooned in light, the world no bigger than the field and trees before us.

 

XXOO

 

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The Right Words To Say

Still one of my faves 18. Open #fms_open #fmsphotoaday #latergram

 

IT’S THE KIND OF POST that gets me to click right away–the promise of just the right words to say, or how to comfort a friend who is hurting or three things we all need to hear. There’s something I’m drawn to in the possibility of a neat little word package I can tuck away, then call on anytime my mortal old self just can’t seem find the right combination.

What a gift that would be in a world with so much woe.

It’s certainly not what I expected when I clicked on the link to an essay by Hannah Brencher via her Monday email #94 titled, quite simply: Abide.

She gets me, Hannah does, young as she is, and so wide open and unfiltered. (In all honesty, I know it probably takes the girl hours to achieve the level of spontaneity her posts suggest.) Still there’s a real beauty to her unsettled spirit, a twenty-something young woman out there preaching her own gospel of a life filled with longing, searching out the things that matter most. It’s a quest she’ll continue for years to come–that’s what I want to tell her–the answers changing color and intensity and texture as she moves from one life season to the next. It’s a quest she’ll find as terrifying and rewarding in her 56th year as in her 26th.

But oh what she gains by being brave enough to ask the questions.

 

SHE ANSWERED TWO OF MINE in her ABIDE essay is the point I want to make. Touching a soul spot in her lament over the need for greeting cards with genuine, honest sentiments, she writes:

The world needs more cards that touch the hard stuff, the crappy situations, and the days when you wish you could escape out of your own skin and be someone else. I know I have those days. I know a lot of other people who have those days too and they’d probably appreciate some sort of card showing up in their mailbox that says, “You’re not really feeling it right now. I get it. I’m with you. It won’t be like this forever.” 

It won’t be like this forever. How powerful is that simple sentence? How many times in my life have I needed to hear it? How many times could I have brought comfort just by saying it?

 

HANNAH OFFERS ANOTHER wished-for card saying in the post, one that touched me so immediately it tucked itself up and has hung close ever since. It’s a phrase that came to her as part of an answered prayer, a God-wink that appeared when she asked for a sign. I’ve thought of it a thousand times as I’ve moved through my own week planning, wondering, worrying.

Be where your feet are.

That’s the message God brought her, she wrote in her Monday Morning email, a message that packed its own powerful punch when it landed with me. I, too, battle to stay present and to live in the moment and to accept what is rather than pressing the forward or rewind button of my life. But this little sentence so direct and true makes it easier, somehow, less overwhelming and theoretical, and more real life, here, now. Be where your feet are.

Hannah goes on to write:

He didn’t say, “pack your suitcase and go.” I would have liked that. Instead, it was this gentle reminder: stay with me. Don’t run wild in your head looking for answers and solutions and trying to solve problems that aren’t yours to solve. Just calm down and stick close.

It’s God’s reminder not to run from that which is refining you, she says.

How I love that thought. How I needed to hear it.

Thank you, Hannah Brencher. Thank you for your light in this world.

 

Note: You can follow Hannah Brencher’s blog here.

 

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The Question To Ask When You Don’t Know What To Do

 

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO I mentioned my lenten walk across the internet–a bit of a dichotomy, I recognize, and one that still seems silly to acknowledge. And yet it is a journey that continues to bear fruit. My reading list now includes a handful of writers/bloggers who open my heart in ways beautiful and lasting.

Case in point a recent post from Kelly Chripczuk of A Field of Wildflowers. It’s worthy of a read for the title alone: “What I Wanted and What Love Offered.” Oh, and the subtitle: Grace and the Salt and Pepper Hang-over.

(Right?)

Kelly writes beautifully about the stifling disappointment of morning-after, not-enough-sleep, {we’ve-all-been-there} regret.

I had ruined that which I was looking forward to, my morning of writing and stretching, the feeling of forward momentum and accomplishment as I checked off my list of goals.  But it was what it was and I worked hard to not attach to the thoughts of judgment and condemnation that flew around my brain like a flock of scattered birds.

Instead, I asked myself what Love would do, what I would tell my kids if, when, they find themselves in the same predicament.

Love offered a nap.

Love said, “It is what it is.”

Oh, yeah.

 

IT IS THE QUESTION that’s come to mind a thousand times in the week since I came upon Kelly’s post, the answer to a hundred dilemmas as they’ve come in and out of focus. There is a lot going on, after all, considerable change as life moves from one season to another, as I navigate waters that churn and chop like a boat making a decisive turn. It’s the thought that comes as my own hopes and fears come into direct contact with those of the people around me, people I love, as well as people with whom I have no particular relationship but a passing one–the overloaded dressing room attendant, the distracted young waitress at a new restaurant, an acquaintance with an email request I don’t have time for. Since reading Kelly’s post, what has come to mind with each interaction and decision, each response or action I’ve needed to take is this:

What would Love do?

 

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THERE IS ONE OTHER THING worth mentioning, another thought resurrected by Kelly’s post and brought back to my soul’s center from which it had slipped but where it most surely belongs. It is the great truth also espoused by the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle in his powerful work, A New Earth:

Love What Is.

Oh dear friends. We can go a thousand miles on that one.

XXOO

 

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the lenten desert

IT HAS BEEN my desert during this lenten season, my place of wandering. This is something I didn’t realize until this moment as I write this post, and it’s something that feels strange and awkward to admit, even to myself. But the truth is in these past few weeks I’ve spent a great deal of time online discovering an unfolding world of seekers who make keen observations about our profound need for grace and love and kindness in a crazy hustle world.

My journey began when, in rather typical and wildly random internet fashion, I came upon this sentence in a blog post last February. Since then it has stuck to me like brittle autumn leaves on a wool coat:

We come not because we must but because we may.

It was a story about an intimate Communion shared by Carolyn Watts and her spiritual director, a sharing of the bread and the cup that so affected the writer she wrote about it on her blog Hearing the Heartbeat. She went on to say:

I’m pondering, these days, the various habits in my life that have arisen out of a must.

Carolyn makes a beautiful point about her God-call to stillness, something that has become more than a practice for her, now a life center.

 

THE COMMUNION PHRASE HAS CLUNG TO ME, TOO, insisting I take it another place in my own world. The thought arises every time the “I must” sentiment enters my head or leaves my mouth: I have to finish this work task; I have to fold that laundry; I have to get that workout in. Ugh.  My day–every single day–is weighted down by a long list of I must tasks that define my attitude and my existence.

But here is my truth. How fortunate I am God has given me the ability to do these things. How blessed I am to be able to walk on the treadmill and participate in a Pilates class, that I have clothes to wash and a machine in which to dry them and a closet in which to hang them. I have a car that drives me to the grocery store where the shelves are stocked, where I simply need put things in my cart and bring them home to peel and chop and roast and eat, foods that nourish my body.

Oh, yes, what a privilege it is in this life that I may, rather than I must.

 

IT IS STILL COMMUNION, this being open to God’s presence in the ten thousand tiny tasks that make up my day, my week, my life. He is there and ready to meet me, this I know–not just on the altar, but at the kitchen sink, in my weed-filled garden, as I fill the car with gas.

Blogger Emily P. Freeman (through whom I found the Carolyn Watts post) encourages “small moment living” through a practice she calls Simply Tuesday. She writes,

Real life happens in the small moments we find on the most ordinary day of the week. Tuesday holds secrets we can’t see in a hurry–secrets not just for our schedules but for our souls.

It’s a practice I want to emulate, and so I will join with Emily’s followers in posting “an ordinary moment” each Tuesday on Instagram and tagging it #itssimplytuesday. The point, of course, is neither the photograph nor the Instagram sharing. Instead it is the mindful attention required to notice and celebrate that which is so ordinary in a greatly blessed “I must” day.

 

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my nieces, in an ordinary moment I love

 

THERE ARE A MILLION other flavorful nuggets I’ve found as I’ve walked through this digital desert, a wonderful community of folks out there looking for grace in the everyday. What a gift it is to find them via the internet where it requires merely a click to connect person to person, heart to heart, soul to soul.

And that in itself is rather miraculous. Wouldn’t you say?

Not because we must but because we may.

Yes.

 

XXOO

 

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Rumination on Home

I LEFT VIRGINIA’S APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS late in the summer of 1978, my car pointed south toward my freshman year of college. I didn’t know it then but that date signaled more than my transition to adulthood. It also marked the start of a changed geographic life for me, a beautiful one spent in the midlands of South Carolina for the better part of 38 years. It surprises me to realize how much of my life has been lived where the land is flat and piney, with long, straight two-lanes dotted by the quintessential small towns that color so much of southern literature.

Not so in the mountains. In the mountains, life is choppy and rugged, the landscape itself the show, all forests and peaks, hollows and rocky ledges, shifting light and weather that’s ever-changing. It’s like the good Lord knows what a remarkable seat you have, positioned up high, and so puts on a spectacular show.

 

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Saturday’s sun rise in North Carolina

 

MY HUSBAND AND I WERE JUST IN HAWAII where we marveled at the geography there. Born of volcanoes that still create earth mass today these landforms make a spectacular statement, those severe rock cliffs that try to contain a wild, insistent sea. The entire scene is made beautiful and transcendent, somehow, because the water is a gorgeous, clear, incomparable sea glass blue.

 

Hawaii's rocky coast
Hawaii’s fierce coast

 

We were dressed in summer clothes then, Tim and I, the temperature hanging around a rather perfect 80 degrees. And here we are now, not two weeks later, joyful, giddy really, watching the snow fall on North Carolina’s Black Mountains. It is a high elevation storm, one that blew in late this afternoon after we’d already been given a day pretty enough for an exploratory walk.

 

Little Bit and Eliza get some air, 2:30 pm
Little Bit and Eliza get some air

 

How thrilled we are to have Eliza with us. How surprised we all are to watch the weather change so fast.

 

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the meadow, 5:30 pm

 

IT IS OUR FIRST OFFICIAL overnight stay in these mountains, did I mention that? We’ve finally bought a weekend cabin after several years of searching. My husband promised to get me back to the mountains when we married nearly 14 years ago and this is the fulfillment of that lovely pledge.

My heart is happy.

 

I think Eliza's heart is happy, too.
I think Eliza’s heart is happy, too.

 

ALL THIS GEOGRAPHY has got me to thinking about home and the many shades that color it, the things that make a place yours, just as you feel part of it. There are the people, of course, the first and most important consideration of all. I remember Robert Frost said Home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. True that, as Eliza would say.

But there’s more to it than people. There is geography, a kind of gravity that pulls you to a place and holds you close to the ground when you are there. It’s like a force meant to keep you from the bobbling orbit we are all prone to–we humans who figuratively and quite literally spend our lives trying to find our way. Home, I believe, is the place that settles us down, tidies the ravel of frayed ends, whispers gently in our ear You belong here.

 

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For me, that place is the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am captivated by the kaleidoscope as light moves across the ridges and valleys, colors shifting, day moving on. I love its tall trees and deep forests, the streams that rush and tumble, the life hidden within.

For my dear friend, Teresa, it is Edisto Island. The moment she passes beneath those ancient live oaks, gets a whiff of that earthy pluff mud and a look across the broad, breathtaking marsh, she melts right into the landscape. It’s something you can see, I swear. Walk with her out to the ocean’s edge and there is simply no doubt about it: This girl is home.

 

T's edisto
T’s edisto

 

I BELIEVE THIS CALLING is more than legacy, I want to be clear about that. It’s more than coming to roost in the place of your birth, even if there are parallels in the examples I’ve just given. It’s soul connection I’m talking about–person to place, and place to person in a way that allows the grand grace of exhaling. It’s forgetting for a time the difficult daily work of making your way and simply being.

But not just being. Being there.

 

my mountains
my mountains

 

WE LIVE IN A BEAUTIFUL WORLD. How amazing it is that we can move about in it, discovering, exploring, falling in love with one place, and then another. How marvelous it is we can also go home–truly, joyfully, soulfully home.

XXOO

 

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God of grace

IMG_0248 - Version 3

It has come up so many times in recent days, a nugget trying hard to make its way from passing thought to consciousness to heart. It’s looking for a home, that’s what I think, a permanent spot to stay a while, hang out a shingle. And so I have come to understand the little guy will knock knock knock until I open the door, welcoming it in with open arms.

First there was an Ann Voscamp comment that passed through my feed during December. I don’t follow Ann so it was a random retweet of a retweet of a tweet that landed the darn thing in my lap in the first place. There were struggles that day–as there always are during Advent–and I was in a Question God mode. Joy and harmony of the season? They didn’t seem to be manifesting in my holiday, no matter how much work I did to perfect every detail. Instead it felt as if I were peeking out from behind a big pile of chaos and confusion, the case for disappointment building day by day.

And then it came, this tweet, and lay there until I picked it up rather begrudgingly.

 

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There is so much expectation at Christmas, this I recognized, our eyes on the manger, our ears awaiting the herald of angel choruses. There is so much anticipation of joy to be delivered to those who prepare well. (Can I get an Amen, sistas?)

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Have you been listening to Krista? he asked, my friend Michael, a man who doesn’t pass along recommendations lightly.You gotta check out Martin Sheen. Then he shook his head yes in a most convincing way and I knew that particular episode of the podcast On Being would be my Next Up.

I was enraptured with the interview from the beginning. A “deep and joyful Catholic,” I merely needed hear the actor’s beautiful, soulful laugh to be moved. Then Sheen began to talk about love, and the search for God, and finding God in the place you’re least likely to look.

The love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. A knowingness about our being that unites us to all of humanity, to all of the universe. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that “I’m looking for God.” But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we’re least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming.

(It is a remarkable conversation and you can listen to it in its entirety by clicking here.)

~~~~~~~~

God within, God where you least expect Him, God in the darkness. God eternal.

God of grace.

 

XXOO

 

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Resolutions and Such

 

morning sky

 

There is the immense possibility of it all.
That is, I suppose, what makes new beginnings so wildly compelling.
So absolutely irresistible.

And then there is the attention we bring to the things, our aim narrowly focused on the act of manifesting something valuable and life affirming on our own clean slate–one barely wiped free of last year’s grime.

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Just yesterday–the first Sunday of this new year–I opened to the first page of a beautiful new journal, one sent to me by my sister-in-law, Colette. It was many years ago; she brought the book home with her from Florence, Italy, her thoughtful note suggesting I might fill it with “lots of great stories.” Instead I tucked it away in my library for safekeeping, my saver’s heart insisting I hold out, insisting I wait–as if expecting some grand inspiration worthy of such a magnificent volume.

For years the book has rested there, patient. Empty. Silent.

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I have found it to be true that when you noodle around with an idea, when you toss around a thought but don’t do anything to give it actual shape, or form, it will fade–even if your noodling keeps it alive (but barely breathing) for many years. But the moment you write it down it becomes something else entirely, an intention, a force in the universe. Not only that, but the universe will rearrange to accommodate it, to support you, to give mass and momentum to your little creation.

And so I spent a good part of the day Sunday sifting through the things that float around in my head, the hundreds of maybes and what-ifs and I shoulds, many of them new and shiny, others tired and thin but still hanging on. I gave each of them equal weight as I considered their place in my life today. What matters now?  I asked. It was a question that came as if I have moved beyond something, toward something, into something new as I wade deeper into my 57th year. And then for the first time ever I also considered: What good intentions can I bless and release?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I pulled the elegant Florence journal from the bookshelf and opened it to Page One. I began to write.  2016 Life List is what came first. Then I captured 10 thoughts into which I could put my heart.

Some of these are easy:

4. Schedule exercise.

Some require a bit more effort:

10. See the best in people.

Then just as I finished the list something came to me, divine direction that formed of its own, a whisper from God, an addendum.

Live in the space of joy, it said.

I grabbed it, wrote it down, gave it form.

#11. Live in the space of joy.

 

It is the perfect #11 for my 2016 List of Ten, don’t you think? This sweet thought that has come and wrapped itself all around, reminding me joy is a choice to be made.

It’s going to be a very good year, I believe. A very good year, indeed.

XXOO

 

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