Better Days

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Coming on 13 years of marriage and blended family life next month. Ever closer to living a once-thought impossible dream.

Not just the building of a house – the physical structure – but the building of something bigger than that.

Together.

A unity that has been years in the making. One that has eluded us in so many ways before, now taking center stage in our lives and relationship.

A friend of mine put it best this week:

“It often doesn’t matter who or what pushed you to be better. Or how it happened. It is a simple blessing, nonetheless, that you ever had a reason to get better to begin with.”

We are each others’ reasons. We always have been. All 3 of us continue to learn how to be a better family. We’ve come such a long, long way.

This will be our front porch view. Watching the occasional car drive down the literal road-less-traveled. Sunset side. Home to deer and turkeys.

This will be the back porch view. Pictures don’t do it justice. SunRISE view. Overlooking pastures of rolling land and content bovine.

When we first started talking about building, there were so many things to discuss and figure out. And after talking to the contractor, I remember texting my dad and asking him if it was normal to feel so nauseated at the beginning of this process.

He assured me it was. And that it would continue. Until we spent the first night in the new house. I would know then, he assured me, that every challenge or stressor had been worth it.

My husband, daughter and I went out to see the dirt work yesterday. That’s all there is to see right now. Just the dirt. But standing there, on the ground where our new home will be, seeing it shaped and leveled and being prepared – the last two and a half months of frustration with the sale of our current house and delays and all of life’s aggravations suddenly shifted into perspective.

Our family, this meeting of the minds to create something of our own – it began to overshadow everything else.

The thing is, it isn’t as though we’ve been lost these last 13 years. Disconnected, at times. But never lost. But there is just something happening here that defies explanation.

Yes, it’s just a house. But it is so much more, as well.

Better days are coming. They’re already here.

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
Cuz I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days……

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“Two weeks”

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The sale of our home has encountered several delays. We were supposed to close a month ago but instead find ourselves signing yet another (our 3rd) contract extention.

It’s gonna happen, it’s just taking fordamnever.

But life isn’t on hold, even while our sale remains so.

My daughter has already completed one week of summer camp and is off this weekend for her 2 week visit with her dad.

And, in the midst of our hectic schedules these days, this is happening too:

So the dream is beginning to become reality, slowly but surely.

Writing, of course, has taken a back seat. I struggle to keep up with just my day-to-day responsibilities, let alone any artistic ventures.

But it is only for a season.

I won’t get *less* busy, but perhaps I’ll eventually get to a place where I can center long enough to write something beyond a mediocre life update.

In the meantime, I’m keeping up with you, my friends. Trying to comment when I can. Thankful for this outlet, whenever I can take a break for a moment and enjoy it.

Peace be with you.

Book review: Summer selection #1

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(I doubt I’ll review every book I read this summer, but this selection is going to be with me for a long, long time. It touched me profoundly, but, I have to be honest: I feel like my review is written disjointly and, well, rather subpar for my usual written communications. I think that it’s simply a reflection of how much this book rattled me.)

The book opens with a scene from the Ruby Ridge standoff.

When I was 13, I remember stumbling across the Senate hearings and testimony of Randy Weaver one Saturday morning. I don’t remember why I stopped on the channel, I just remember becoming captivated by what had happened to his family.

……………………………………………………….

When I first started reading Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover, I was immediately immersed in the scenery she described surrounding her rural upbringing.

My first life memories are of the Oklahoma plains, and while they aren’t the Idaho mountains, I immediately identified with Tara as she began to share about her non-typical childhood.

She was taught to work hard. She was close with her siblings. Her family would have been considered pretty “old fashioned” – just like mine was.

I never attended public school, but when I say I was “homeschooled”, it was exactly that. Structured, proctored learning – just at home. For the first 9 years, my mom taught me herself, and what she didn’t “teach me”, I read in the textbook. I learned, from a younger age than most, how to learn things from reading comprehension.

I have always been a firm believer that if you teach a child to read, and to read WELL, there isn’t anything they can’t learn. Being able to understand the written word is the cornerstone of every person’s education. If that cornerstone is damaged or set improperly, the whole structure is faulty.

Tara homeschooled too. At least, that’s what they told people who asked. But in reality, she wasn’t getting any sort of education other than her brother teaching her to read and her father teaching her what he wanted her to believe about God, family, marriage, money, medicine, education, etc.

Tara’s father was a Mormon Fundamentalist. Though I was raised in Baptist tradition, for many years I would call the teachings I received through the pulpit and my family life “fundamentalist” at worst, and something not quite “mainstream religion” at best. And even as the years began to teach some of us in my family better than to see life and even faith in such black and white terms, many more would cling to those types of binary belief systems and much of my extended family still does.

There are many, many wonderful loving people in my family. But there are also racists. Bigots. Homophobes. Sexists. Many have been abusive to their partners and children, manipulative within their immediate family, as well as our extended family as a whole.

I related to many, many experiences and mindsets of Tara Westover as I read through her memoir.

I related to her growth through not only life experience, but in the higher education she eventually received. The ironic thing being this: she would have likely never pushed herself as she did for that higher education, had she not been “educated” the way she had been at home. The skills she learned by teaching herself as a young child were the building blocks she would need to ultimately become a Cambridge and Harvard graduate.

She recognizes this, based on the interviews with her that I’ve seen and read. She loves her family, even as she is still estranged from many of them. And she says she believes they love her, and always have – they are simply that rooted in their belief systems.

This is where I have to detach from understanding Tara. Because there are so many accounts in this book about the verbal, physical and emotional abuse that she lived with throughout her life at the hands of her brother and father, it is very hard for me to understand her belief that they love her.

Victims of abuse and violence vary in the ways they heal and cope with the traumas of their past. While Tara’s education may have shed a light on the behavior she endured as being the result of mental illness, it’s very hard for me to believe the mentality of “they loved me in their own way.”

Because, you see, I don’t believe in such a black and white world as I did when I was a child. I believe there is a lot more to what meets the eye than we could and would ever understand about people. About religion. About education. About politics.

But not about love.

I know what love is. And I know what love isn’t. And even as much as some people wish it to be so, good intentions do not equal “love”.

Abuse, and the refusal to acknowledge it or call it by its truthful name is not love.

Shaming your children is not love.

Withholding medical care because of your own “faith” is not love.

I understand still loving the ones that hurt you. I get that completely. Because human beings are capable of grace and forgiveness. I can still love someone that has harmed me emotionally, physically, or psychologically. I’ve done it. But I think it’s a stretch to believe that those people love YOU. Especially when their behavior is a repeated pattern. And mental illness does not excuse it.

It seems a bit “judgy” for me to write about disagreeing with the author in terms of something within her personal memoir. But, that’s a risk when we write. That people aren’t going to completely understand our motives. Our perspectives. And that really isn’t our problem, as writers. Our responsibility is to only tell the story and let the reader take from it what they will. And, to be fair, most of my feelings about Tara and her memoir are positive. The story is exceptionally well told. I was especially shocked to learn that she had never really read for pleasure before she began working on her memoir and had to learn how to write in a non-essay, non-academic style.

It’s the subsequent interviews I’ve seen with Tara that have skewed my perspective about her a bit. She is either a much bigger person than I am, or she still has a lot of denial to work through regarding her past trauma.

There were a lot of feelings that became unsettled for me as I read this book. And I felt tense for the majority of the time I was reading it as I reflected on the subject matter of families and fundamentalism and its effect on kids, especially girls. It has taken me 2 days to really be able to sit down and write anything related to my thoughts on this selection, because it was that gripping and emotional of a ride.

But, like my own life, I have no regrets. Only lessons. Only the education it has given me. And I’ve learned a lot.

Summertime Goals and Recent Randomness

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When I was a kid, I participated in summer reading programs at the library nearly every year.

In the stifling Mississippi humidity, a good book could drown out the rest of the world, even the oppressive heat, and transport me to some other place entirely.

We had planned to close on the sale of our house last Tuesday, but it was postponed due to a buyer/lender issue.

Since then, we’ve been in a holding pattern.

However, my husband and I had both already scheduled to be off these last six days and, after recovering from our disappointment on Tuesday into Wednesday, we decided to keep our vacation days as scheduled and take some much-needed reprieves from our jobs. Even if we weren’t going to be able to use them as originally planned – to move into our rental house.

Thursday was a bit of a workday as my husband did some chores outside and Reagan and I packed a few boxes.

On Friday, we finally whisked Shey off to see Avengers: Endgame, and to pick up a few things from the big box hardware store.

Saturday, we cleaned out our storage building and had it moved close to our house site, and then filled it back up with our stuff. I braved the crowds at Walmart that afternoon, and by the end of the day we were all completely depleted from the searing heat.

So we kicked up with takeout and no-bake cheesecake and settled in with a good movie. “Murder on the Orient Express” did not disappoint. I had read the Agatha Christie classic ages ago, but have never seen any of the film adaptations. The most recent was a good place to start.

And it rekindled my desire to kick off my planned summer of reading so, after spending yesterday cleaning and prepping the rental for move-in day (hopefully happening Saturday), I have declared today as the day I will begin my first of many books on my summer reading list.

Book Club is set to resume soon, so I’m starting with the last book selected that most of us are just now reading.

I’m hooked, and not nearly even a quarter of the way finished. I do love a good memoir and this one is eerily similar in many ways to Hillbilly Elegy, which is another autobiographical tale that I read a few years ago. I look forward to seeing how the two stories compare and contrast. Different perspectives entirely, different circumstances, but the roots of the stories are quite similar.

I am also about halfway through this one:

A title I saw recommended to a friend of mine, I decided to check out this very thought-provoking read. I have taken to reading it at night, giving me some time to ruminate on its truths as I reflect on my day.

I’m not Buddhist, but the practices of Buddhism are very interesting, and I’m a firm believer that knowledge is waiting for us in many hidden places, if we only have the courage to look beyond our comfortable mindsets.

As the summer arrives in full force next month, I will be looking for books to distract me from the fact the my child will be gone more than she is home, and there will be a home-building process happening that I can neither speed up nor control with my over-anxious brain working double time.

So, I will read. Here are just a few other titles I hope to finish by the time the leaves change. Thank goodness for bargain book stores and Amazon Kindle.

Book Club led me to Maria Semple and her bestseller, “Where’d you go, Bernadette?”

Easily one of my favorites from our most recent selections, I found one of Semple’s other novels during a book store browse back in January. I’m eager to see if this one can hold a candle to “Bernadette”.

This one just looked interesting. I want to say I had read a review of it somewhere and had it on my list to look for when we visited McKay’s Book Warehouse. Nothing like taking a chance on something unfamiliar.

Three books in one, for $2? Yes, please! Especially when they are 3 Maeve Binchy stories. Not to mention three that I haven’t read.

My cousin and aunt turned me on to Binchy’s writing many years ago and I have never NOT liked any of her books. They don’t always have “happy” endings, but the emotion and authenticity of the human condition with which she created her characters was utterly unique and worth every tug at my heart.

This one is on loan from my mom, who finally, some months ago, finally stopped asking me if I’d read it yet.

At this point, she’s probably forgotten she loaned it to me!

So, that’s 6 books in all, not counting the 3 that I’m currently reading. Or the next book club selection, whatever that may be.

My reading time is definitely limited, but since summer hasn’t even “officially” arrived on the calendar and I already loathe living in the south again, I anticipate that I’ll spend many lunch hours and lazy weekends with these selections, waiting for cooler days, our new home to be completed, and for all of my crew to be back under one roof.

Fragile

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I wrapped trinkets and treasures today. Placing them carefully in a box, wrapped in bubble wrap.

Protected. Shielded. I will store them away until can display them again.

Fragile,” I label the box.

………………………………

You can love someone.

Deeply.

Unconditionally.

They can be a soulmate, without ever laying eyes on them.

Because they understand you.

And you can know them. Read between their words. Feel their joy, their hurts, their fears, their triumphs. Connect, one to another, with an empathy of rare and sensitive souls.

There is a kind of intimacy there than transcends miles. Age. Sex. Experiences.

It is the laying bare of one’s soul to another, in our deepest pain, and knowing, somehow, that it will be held gently. Expecting nothing in return but the same delicate touch.

These encounters are a buried treasure, amid piles of plastic and brittle, unlasting acquaintances.

They go beyond friendship, into something deeper. More solemn. Binding.

They are the ones with whom you can share that “companionable silence” that is often only realized on a novelist’s page.

And they are the ones that, when they do speak, offer no clichés, no reprimands. Sometimes, not even advice. Maybe, not even hope.

Only…..a knowing.

That you are not alone.

That you are seen.

You are heard.

You are felt.

You are loved.

Protected with a wrapping that a harsh, unforgiving, and apathetic world cannot bruise.

The world has abused and perverted the word “love” to the point that any expression of it outside the “norms” of society is judged.

But life is short. And precious. So, for those souls that have connected with mine, I will use that word. Liberally and meaningfully.

Because I have lost souls that I didn’t tell enough.

And life is too precious, too fragile, to uncertain to not say it. To not show it. To not mean it.

A Hard Goodbye

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The sun has set this evening.

A quiet, southern breeze whispers through the Live Oaks, shushing away the heat of a stifling, pre-summer afternoon.

Lightening bugs glow against the silhouette of the trees while Whippoorwills and other night birds echo across the pastures with the orchestra of frogs and crickets.

There is no traffic. There are no loud neighbors.

On this patio, behind the home I’ve lived in and loved for 13 years, there is only peace. Serenity. Memories.

I watched my preschool child draw on the concrete here with chalks of blue, pink, and yellow.

I soaked up many rays of sunshine on hot summer mornings.

I’ve drank hundreds of cups of coffee, grilled dozens of meals, had many heart to heart conversations with friends, family, and Jesus, right where I sit as I type these words.

And I’ve written. I’ve told the stories of my life thus far, shared my inspirations, my struggles, my beliefs, and given away a piece of my heart with every post.

For the last 5 months, life has been all about selling this place. Making room for a new dream, and opening the door for new memories to be made.

On Tuesday, we’ll have achieved the first step by signing over the deed for our first home to a new family.

I’ve tried to not dwell on it much, this mix of emotions that I feel. But I need to feel them. I need to process the goodbye, so I can begin our new chapter.

I try not to become attached to things. But it’s remarkable how sometimes the attachment happens without my trying.

I will miss this place.

My family is my true home, not the walls that house us. I know this.

And for several weeks, there have been many things about the physical, brick and mortar structure as well as the selling process that have driven my husband and myself to the brink of complete insanity.

Still, my heart aches a bit for knowing the goodbye that lies ahead.

I used to charge full speed toward change. Embrace it with enthusiasm. I find that time has tempered that adventurous spirit a bit. Maybe shown me the merits of applying some wisdom before I jump.

And yet, that is exactly why I have peace tonight – in spite of the hard goodbye and the nostalgia that I’m feeling.

Because I know it’s time to close this chapter. I know it. I know exactly where I need to be, and it is no longer where I’ve been.

This time next week, my family and I will be in a temporary home. Someplace to hold us and our stuff while we build something else, together. The last place I plan on ever laying my head at night for the rest of my life.

The evening sounds are different there, but also the same. And I’ll be taking this peace with me. Thankful for what I’ve had, thankful for what I have in the meantime, and thankful for what’s to come.

“We need a new plague.”

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Fans of The Office will appreciate the title of this post.

Everyone else, I shall try to put my current attitude in context for you.

I’ve had a stressful week.

Hella, hella stressful.

There has been much “people-ing”, something that I am capable of handling with the best extroverted enthusiasm that this tired, opinionated, impatient introvert can muster. And I can absolutely muster some, I assure you. It’s a necessary evil. So, I put on my professional mask and I power through the bullshit.

But even I have a threshold that is marked “Enough”. And that threshold has been crossed rather repeatedly this week.

The human race, as a general rule, is, well, human.

I understand that we all err and not a one of us is perfect. This includes myself. So, I’ll preface the rest of this post with that acknowledgment of my own shortcomings as a human being.

But SWEETBABYJESUSINTHEMANGER.

If I had said everything, out loud, that had crossed my brain when dealing with some of my fellow humans this week, I’d have been

1. Fired

2. Sued

3. Perhaps physically injured.

I don’t deal well with idiots. Or arrogant assholes. Or any combination of the two. They give me heartburn. And heartburn keeps me from sleeping. And when I don’t sleep well, my threshold of tolerance for the aforementioned traits takes a nosedive to minuscule levels. M.i.n.u.s.c.u.l.e.

I’ve survived this week only by the grace of God, and by imagining that I had the gauntlet of Thanos.

In my fantasy, I snap my fingers, but instead of half the world’s population turning to ash, it’s only the idiots. The arrogant and snobby. And the ones who, for whatever reason, seem to simply enjoy being a pain in someone’s ass, and, unfortunately, picked this week to be my turn.

I’m sure, in a couple of months when (hopefully) we are in the building process and I see my family’s dream begin to take physical form, and some of my particular work stressors have been replaced by newer, fresh, and hopefully less exhausting stressors, maybe I will begin to regain some of the sanity I feel I’ve lost over the last couple of months.

In the meantime, if you see any Infinity Stones, please share their location. And if you catch the plague, please, cough on an idiot.

A Doubter’s Faith

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Doubt is the mechanism by which faith evolves.

Rachel Held Evans

It’s always…….sobering when someone your own age dies. Especially when you’re 37.

My faith, and everything about it, began a transformation 7 years ago, just before I would lose the first close person to me, and someone only 2 years older than myself.

I had left my Southern Baptist church several months before my cousin, Eric, was killed in a bicycle accident. And his death rocked the very foundation of my faith.

Christian Conservatism and Evangelical Christianity was all I’d ever known. And I knew it better than anyone. I knew how to play that part. Quote those scriptures, clichés and arguments. I had all the answers.

Until I didn’t.

One of the things that evangelical parents fear the most, is their child attending a secular university and having their belief systems challenged or destroyed.

Mine began to undergo a transformation not from a secular influence, but a spiritual one.

When I returned to college in my late 20’s, I attended a Presbyterian University. For the first time in my life, I was facing my own beliefs from a new perspective. Thankfully, instead of my usual go-to move of spouting the answers I thought I had, I began to listen.

I began to learn about the origin of the Bible. The men who wrote it. And gain a deeper understanding of the psychology that determines how human beings process information.

After Eric died, I began attending the Episcopal church. My spiritual self was dehydrated for truth. For love. For something more than legalism and a binary set of beliefs that wasn’t holding water next to the image of what I knew God must be, if Love was his very nature.

Doubt, and questioning of long-held spiritual beliefs, can be a vast wasteland of loneliness. But then I began to discover others that shared my journey. In the Episcopal church, and beyond.

Authors like Richard Rohr and Rachel Held Evans began to pierce my soul with their words.

Evans, like myself, had been raised as a “golden child” of a conservative family. Her spiritual journey mirrored my own in so many profound ways. And I found relief in the fact that I wasn’t alone in this “wake up call” that I knew would have my conservative friends and family eyeing me with suspicion and, more than likely, disappointment.

When I learned yesterday of Evans’ death, I was deeply saddened.

The world has lost a voice of hope and reason. A warrior for truth. An encourager to those of us who took a completely different path than many of our peers, and certainly not the one of our youth.

And yet, my faith is strong. And it’s very real and sustaining. For this season of my life, it’s just me and God. And I find that I am okay with that. Because, honestly, at the heart of my faith, that is what matters more than anything. The intimate, one-to-one connection we have with our Creator. And how we let that connection permeate and transform our very lives.

As I think about Rachel this morning, I believe she is fully known by God today, and that, for the first time, she fully knows God. That gives the doubter in me such peace.

I do not know what lies beyond this life. But I believe, more than I ever have before, that we will not walk that journey alone. God is there. The saints that have gone before are there. And the doubters will be welcomed with open arms.

Cocoon time

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May has arrived. Bringing storms and humidity. While the weather is changing, so is life. Big time. We are supposed to close on the sale of our house in 6 days.

Minor repair requests will be completed in the coming week. All appraisals and inspections have come in with no issues.

As the saying goes, “Shit is about to get real.”

The only limbo remaining is just where exactly our family will take up residence while we build our new home.

This, among other things, has caused my anxiety to spike. I live in an exhausted state these days, waiting for the changes that are coming.

By this time next week, we will be boxing up our lives. Starting a new chapter. And figuring out a new, albeit temporary, normal.

I spoke with a friend this week about the crushing range of emotions I’ve been feeling. Everything from sadness to exhilaration. And I was reminded, even though deep down I know it, that home is not 4 walls and a roof. It’s the people we love. Memories. And mine are going with me.

I hope that by Thanksgiving, we are reflecting on our blessings in our new home. But life and Mississippi weather are unpredictable, so time will tell.

In the meantime, I go to work, I call potential landlords, I do the daily routines that make up my life, and I wait.

Waiting, patience – these are not my strong suits. But when I know the magnitude of something, I am capable.

In the midst of these specific changes, my oldest nephew is graduating from high school. My company is preparing for a huge transition to a new computer system. I have friends experiencing dramatic changes in their lives and preparing for their own respective “new normals”.

I feel as though this is the year of a great metamorphosis. And the cocoon can be dark and a bit unsettling.

Still, I know the results will be beautiful. Life-changing, for sure. But breathtaking. Even more so after long periods of darkness.

Vibrant colors and wings await. Count me in.

Test prep

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Sitting in the stylist’s chair last night, the gal that “beautifies me” was periodically texting her child’s teacher and talking to her 10-year old, who was finishing up the work day at the salon with her mama.

Her daughter reminds me a lot of mine. Sassy. Bit of a know-it-all. But sweet. And very much a “little adult”.

The teacher texted my stylist back, explaining where some of the grade struggles seemed to be happening, but also told her that her daughter’s behavior was much improved. (Apparently, she likes to talk in class. 😜)

When it was just us two in the room, she told me she didn’t know how to get her to focus more, and lamented over the grades her child had received in the last couple of weeks.

Yesterday morning, I was elated to learn of some of my own daughter’s academic savvy. And I’ve been extremely fortunate that she’s never really struggled with academia.

But I struggle with how and when to express my pride in things like that.

Grades are important, certainly. But they aren’t of UTMOST importance.

It seems as though, despite what we know about how success doesn’t necessarily breed happiness, we are still an achievement-focused society.

I’ve been guilty of that focus in my own life, and in my parenting. It’s an easy trap in which to fall.

But the things that make me proudest of my daughter are the moments of unselfishness. Of being able to find the humor in things. Of working hard at whatever she is doing, simply for the satisfaction of doing all things well. Not for reward, but for the inner joy that stems from being our best selves.

Achievement can be part of that, certainly. But there is, within achievement, (as always), the need for balance. Grounding. A pulse on the things that actually matter in the grand scheme of the journey we call life.

I remember when my daughter was the same age as my stylist’s. Those were some trying years. Lots of arguing. Lots of butting my head against the brick wall of trying to steer my child in the direction, both behaviorally and academically, that I thought best.

I know her potential. She’s smart as hell and stubborn, too. That combination can be either beneficial or detrimental, depending on the circumstances. She could use it to become whatever she wants to be, or she could let the drive for perfection keep her from it.

I’m trying to be the type of parent that shows her the difference. Guide her through these types of lessons, which, is much harder than helping her pass an academic test. But they are tests of another sort, and much more important than any grade she will ever receive on a transcript.

Striking the balance of continuing to guide her, while also allowing her to figure out who she is, who she wants to be, is difficult. Because I have perfectionist tendencies too. And there are decisions ahead for her that will set the trajectory for the rest of her life.

But, looking back, despite my mostly sheltered adolescence, my parents seemed to recognize the stubbornness of another young woman on the brink of growing up. Another “know-it-all”. And they let her make her choices.

I made some doozies. How all of us got through them….well, a lot of grace.

But I can live with my past choices because I know, deep down, they were mine. My own parents only ever wanted and continue to want my happiness and contentment.

That’s all I want for my daughter. And all of our daughters and sons.

May God grant us the grace to keep perspective on what is truly important. During the testing, and beyond.