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Archive for November 2012

A thank you

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY TWELVE

Dear friends, two months ago I made a decision to use this forum to open up some of the areas of my life that had been closed to public view for a long time. I made a choice to expand to a new depth the honesty I determined would govern this space when I started EyeJunkie almost five years ago. I wanted to tell a story I’d always considered to be Mike’s, but I now recognize is mine too. It was scary, and born of deep sorrow and disappointment. But, it was also born of a desire to rise from ashes. To break the mask of mental illness and emotional struggles. To lay them bare before an audience to somehow obliterate their shame and secrecy. To say that healing is possible. To say that life is valuable. And worth it. To say that we LIVE at all costs.

In private, I’ve shared with friends that I didn’t want my children to grow up with the life and death of their father shrouded in secrecy. I didn’t want them to be afraid to ask the questions that will inevitably come. To be able to deal in honesty and compassion with the circumstances of Mike’s death. So, I wanted the community around them (near and far) to have an honest and open, albeit painful understanding, and even dialog about these realities. And I wanted to communicate some semblance of a life lived and ended too soon.

Through the process, the voice of my own fears and private sorrows has consistently and quietly spoken, “hush.” But, the voice of so many of you has consistently and persistently urged me to “speak.” In your comments, your posts on social media, your messages and phone calls, your gifts of love and money and tangible things, your prayers and truths shared. All I can say today is thank you.

I’m learning through this journey… To speak is to heal. And to bring healing. So many of you have shared your own stories of struggle after reading something here. And although the tales are all different, the commonalities adhere. And healing emerges. Encouragement emerges. Hope emerges.

All I can say is thank you.

Day twelve. Whew! I have to admit it hasn’t been the easiest effort, to discipline myself toward thanksgiving this year. I think I’ve written about the biblical story of Jacob who wrestled an angel for a night to gain his blessing, and walked away with lifelong scars to prove it. I kind of feel that way. I’ve definitely wrestled. But, I’ve gained the blessing too. Through these different essays and lists and commentaries and images, I think I’ve realized that in this process of thankfulness, hope indeed emerges. To see the good and blessing around us — to recognize it and embrace it — is to defeat despair. There are empty chairs this Thanksgiving, but the table is still full. It is my decision, my choice, to partake. Joy and sorrow. Memories and new experiences. New steps made stronger by the road we’ve traveled. Laughter and tears. All evidences of a table richly spread.

And so, we end where we began.
With God. And His great goodness.
In everything.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

The Easiest Day

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY ELEVEN

I felt my own eyes light up.

I was trying to follow some story Bug was telling this afternoon. A bear and a baby bear were the key players, and I believe he was differentiating these bears from panda bears in terms of how long they stay small or learn to climb or something. Obviously, I didn’t get the full gist of it. I was trying to get the photo above to commemorate this day. And then I was distracted by looking in his eyes. Watching him tell the tale (which I now believe was grounded in some books from his K5 classroom). His face was pure pride and joy over the facts and the opportunity to convey them to me. And I felt my own eyes light up. I love how just listening to Bug lets me take so much delight. Just putting aside the other tasks or the need to hurry the story along or the impulse to answer every other distraction looming. I’m always amazed by the quietness it brings to my spirit to listen carefully to all that chatter.

It’s one of the lessons I continue to learn from Bug. I learn it from the others too, but it always seems more powerful from Bug. I imagine it’s because the other two don’t speak with nearly the passion and excitement that Bug does — at least not every single time. Bug is rarely indifferent. No, he has strong opinions, strong likes and dislikes, a strong sense of injustice, strong emotions, and a strong laugh. And yet, as the middle child, Bug so often finds himself in the position of compromise. Compromise and great passion don’t always easily co-exist, but I see him navigate those waters with grace. And I’m afraid his greatest bargaining place is often MY attention.

Bug daily teaches me the simple joy of listening. Because he listens. To everything and thinks about so much of it. And presents it back to me in his own ways of understanding. He teaches me about power of undivided attention. Because he needs it. Like we all do. Being that middle child, even I recognize that he sometimes finds himself on the short end of undivided attention where mommy-time is concerned — stuck between the baby sister and the older, more knowledgeable brother. He lets me know he needs more through constant questions, a healthy decibel level and by quietly sitting as close as humanly possible by my side. When I’m tempted to give in to the frustration of being in constant demand from my three-ring circus, I just have to look at Bug to be set aright.

Whatever story he is waiting to tell is poised in a very tightly reined exuberance that I know is just about to burst forth into something extremely important. At least extremely important to Bug. His stories are long and winding. He often starts over when he forgets his word or train of thought. He usually stops to ask, “can you please listen to all of this?” And then he starts again. It’s not necessarily an easy process to follow from start to finish. At least not while in the perpetually losing battle of multi-tasking. So, on a day like today I give up.

I give up and give him everything. All the attention I have. Listening just as passionately as he is speaking. With the same urgency as his need to share the information. And I feel the power of that concentrated listening as my own eyes light up to match the sparkle in his.

I’m reminded that one of the greatest gifts I can give — and the greatest blessing I can receive — is to listen. For as long as it takes.

Today is by far the easiest day to be thankful. Six years ago, my Bug entered this world and has been leaving his mark on my life every day since. Happy birthday, love. You never cease to fill my heart with joy.

The Hardest Day

12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY TEN

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Mike.

I’m thankful for Mike.

I never imagined how painful it would be to write that. How much it seems to tear my mind apart. He hurt me so deeply on the day he died. In taking his own life. Abandoning life.
The lives of the children God gave us. He hurt me so deeply for years before that when I began losing him little by little each day. In many ways I felt like I lost myself in trying to be what was needed to help us all survive this situation. In the end, Mike didn’t survive.

It’s hard to push my thinking past that fact. You would think being thankful for my husband would be an easy one. I am and I have been. I AM thankful for Mike. His life. His character. His presence. But, I’m robbed of the joy of appreciating that blessing. At least for now. I’m robbed in the way depression and emotional struggles seemed to rob us of so many things. It blinds me sometimes with disappointment. Still, Mike was a blessing. To me. To our children. To so many people.

I’ve wanted to show the world some picture of the man I knew. The man I loved for so many years. Beyond his choice on this day two months ago. The day in September that makes THIS day the hardest in my 12-day journey toward Thanksgiving. I’ve wanted to see the man I knew as more of what he was. Beyond that defining moment. Before all this. Before the deep emotional issues plaguing him robbed me. Before I lost so much of him. A picture of the man I think he wanted to be. It’s a view of him that has been so obscured at times through our darkest days of dealing with mental illness and it’s warping of personalities.

Today, this is so hard to write, but necessary. One of my greatest prayers is that, in time, I will be able to think of Mike and speak of him with greater joy. That the flood of sorrow and disappointment brought by his death will be eclipsed by the joy that he lived.

Mike WAS a survivor.
The path of his childhood was a difficult one. He faced more struggles than I can imagine. Through the early evidences of depression — even as a young child, I believe — he developed his own personal ways of coping that amazed me. The resolve of his character allowed him to persevere and to emerge a gentle man.

Mike was kind.
It’s the attribute I think most describes him. He rarely raised his voice. He often had the ability to put himself in another’s shoes, showing empathy and sharing a compassionate word. I recognized through the years the great struggle it was for him to reign in his own thoughts and lay them aside to consider someone else. And yet, he set his mind to do it.

Mike was a seeker.
He challenged the popular phrases of religion. Simply because he had never heard them. But, he wanted to know. He wasn’t ashamed to say “what does this mean?” He committed himself over the years to be willing to ask questions.

Mike was disciplined.
I don’t know that there was ever anything for Mike that really came free and easy. Rather, he was so deliberate. About everything. This brought about a tremendous consistency. When he set his mind to form habits, he did.

Mike loved to play.
It’s one reason I think children loved him. He just enjoyed playing, and his playground was usually outdoors. He was a fisherman. And he rarely required tall tales to adequately describe his fishing trips. But, for Mike, he really didn’t need activity to enjoy Creation. He could sit and see and derive the peace he needed from it.

Mike could make you laugh.
He wasn’t gregarious by any means, and most people considered him to be quite shy. That’s probably what made him funny. His humor would sneak up on you. Dead-pan sincerity. Most people were shocked to learn he had great Elvis and John Wayne impersonations. They were funnier because they came from someone so quiet.

Mike was a helper.
He had a desire to serve. To lend a helping hand. We developed great memories in the early years of our marriage as he helped renovate our farm house. His help was always humble and filled with a willingness to do whatever was necessary.

Mike believed in Jesus.
His desire was to be the man God wanted him to be. It eclipsed every other pursuit in his life. And although he didn’t always succeed (none of us do), Mike worked hard to apply whatever admonishment came across his thinking. Mike’s faith was a simple one. A sincere one. He devoted himself to trusting God. I’ve said that he put all the faith he could muster into all he could understand about God. His was a true childlike faith, as God’s word describes.

Mike was a Daddy.
This in itself is remarkable because Mike never really had a father. His heart belonged to our three children, and he showed it through games and hugs and instruction and prayers and giving his time and attention. For as long as he could.

There are some things that must be said about Mike’s choice on September 20, 2012. Important, but hard truths that I won’t allow to become glossy in this tragedy of a life ended so young leaving a wife with three small children. But, those things are better left for another post. For this one, it is enough to say that Mike lived. And this is some of who he was. In these things, I have been blessed to share some of that life. And to have loved him at his best.

Pretty Things

12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY NINE

We’ve taken walks on the gravel roads around our farm house each of the days we’ve been here so far. It’s one of the things we look forward to. Yesterday’s adventure was a trip to the hay yard where all the round bales of hay are stored. It has the added bonus of a pretty cool obstacle course on top of the bales. Today’s trip was a walk to the gate that closes off our road to public traffic.

It’s been my habit through the years we’ve made these treks to take my camera along — my iPhone with the Hipstamatic app and often my Canon too. The kids recognize it as my habit, and they sometimes comment on it. “You like to take pictures of pretty things.” Yes, that about covers it. After many trips, our walks now include them scouting out pretty things and helping me take photos. Or, suggesting photos, I should say. It’s neat to hear their mixture of wonder at the beauty of nature around them and their attempts to guess at what I might think is pretty.

Of course, the most exquisite sights for me on these walks are my companions. Their mixture of comments and delight and curiosity. Their questions. And answers. Their movement. THEIR view of God’s creation, particularly during the changing seasons. Many “pretty things” here on these walks are wonders they are seeing for the first time. Or, recognizing for the first time. Together, we are learning to notice the joy and beauty around us in simple things. I’m so thankful for these times with them. It is balm for all our souls.

For Day Nine, I decided to share a few of the Hipstamatic shots taken at the request of my kiddos. And some shots of them that crossed my lens as well. Enjoy.

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The List

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: Day Eight

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“One lesson I’ve been reminded of each year in this now 4-year tradition is that the List is best kept daily. Not yearly. In fact, it’s best kept moment by moment, recognizing all the small things that add up to a big, wide, deep life filled with blessing. For life is invariably filled with blessing.”

I wrote that statement last year during my 12 Days of Thanksgiving and I still believe it. In spite of the frustrations and difficulties and now sorrows of this year, I still believe it. Because it’s true. Life is invariably filled with blessing. Little ones and big ones every single day. This year, I’m literally overwhelmed by what we have to be thankful for. By the overwhelming love and support of so many people. By the abundance of so many ordinary things. Facing death and loss in these early months has made ordinary things difficult and overwhelming at times. But, it has also heightened my awareness of just how precious those ordinary experiences are, how indicative they are of real life. The playwrite, Thornton Wilder, described it poignantly, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

Today, I’ve made an effort to be conscious of my treasures and of the ordinary experiences of this particular day that are actually pretty extraordinary.

Early morning wake up sounds from Baby Girl >> Getting to sleep in the same room with Baby Girl for the week >> Unexpected morning correspondence >> The smell of bacon cooking >> iPad apps >> Random occurrences of the “I love you” signs >> Giggles as I remind them you can turn it over and make Spidey’s webbing motion >> Hearing everyone break out in laughter during a movie >> Snoopy >> The opportunity to fetch juice >> A clear blue sky >> Waking up slowly as the sun makes the bedroom lighter >> Gas heaters >> Long walks >> That Little Drummer Boy wants to defend our honor >> The constant love and support of my parents >> Mild November days >> Afternoon naps >> Having a couch in the kitchen >> That Bug is fearless >> Giving permission to break the rules and jump on the bed >> A work structure that allows me to bring my babies to the farm for a week >> The technology that enables me to be a working mom from anywhere >> Having someone cook for me >> That Baby Girl tells a great story >> Fresh air >> The sun filtering through colored leaves >> Movies >> Being asked to sit by one of my kiddos >> Just how close they get when I do >> Good memories >> The longevity of a single place in my life >> Whispers in the hallway >> Books >> Extra time to read them >> Quiet moments >> Overheard conversations >> The sound of imaginations at work >> Picnics in the living room >> Sitting in a deck swing >> Being with them all day long >> Playing together >> Making traditions >> A starry night >> The privilege of a day spent at rest

A Sincere Faith

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: Day Seven

In my mind, being thankful seems to be always tied to praise — praising God. I guess it just seems like thanksgiving requires an object, and when it comes to the blessings of life, and indeed the blessing of life itself, those thanks rightfully rests on God.

Praise has been difficult for me lately. Not because I don’t believe God is worthy of praise, or because I don’t recognize His hand on our lives. He is, and I do. I think it’s been difficult because I feel disheartened. Disillusioned. Like my knees have been knocked out from under me. It’s hard to muster the joy and appreciation and celebration that seems to signify praise. Instead, what I feel is more numbness. The praise or thankfulness that I can pull together in my spirit is centered more in survival than in the bounty that so often motivates declarations of thanksgiving.

I feel and know God’s hand in my situation. I see his “fingerprints” in the months leading up to Mike’s death and in the time since. I see them in very concrete ways, and while it’s difficult for me to glean larger purposes right now, I’ve never questioned His presence here. His sovereignty in all things. This fact as the foundation of my tenuous faith.

So, as I’m searching for ways to praise today — ways to apply a thankful heart, this is what I’ve found. God is so large. He has to be. He is larger than my limited faith. He is larger than my weakness and my confusion and my disappointment. He is so large that nothing takes Him by surprise, not even my questions. In fact, He is big enough to hear those questions and honor the most fragile of faiths.

Sometimes I think we operate under the hidden assumptions that claiming a faith in Jesus exempts us from the hardships of life, from the unexpected devastation or the unexplainable sorrow. We think that we trade in our faith or our “right-ness” for an easier life, as if faith were a bargaining chip.

The problem with this view of faith is that it robs us of endurance. It denies us the very grounding and sustaining power of faith — the thing we were seeking in the first place. As we slam head-long into circumstances that are undeniably “wrong” and suspect and questionable and even damaging, faith as currency for a good life just doesn’t cut it.

The faith growing in me today is different than it was two months ago. A year ago. Three years ago. As I struggle to define it in this place I never imagined I would find myself, only one word seems right — sincere. Not strong or unwavering or joyful or even faithful. Just sincere. The events of the last year of my life have opened up an acceptance of an honest faith. A well-intentioned faith in a God who is larger than the what-ifs and but-onlys and what-abouts of life. My heart has reluctantly undergone the stripping away of pretense, of rote, of because I said so, and arrived squarely at doing the best I can to breathe.

I’m oddly thankful to have arrived here. Because it has allowed me
a faith that asks “why?” and “how?” and “what the hell?” At a time when I very certainly would have lost my mind or my faith completely if I could NOT ask those questions.

Just a sincere faith.

Sincere wandering.
Sincere acceptance.
Sincere searching.
Sincere blessing.
Sincere wrestling.
Sincere questions.
Sincere mistakes.
Sincere seeking.
Sincere avoiding.
Sincere joy.
Sincere sorrow.
Sincere compassion.
Sincere anger.
Sincere disappointment.
Sincere disillusionment.
Sincere everything in between.

A sincere faith.
In a sincere God able to remain God through it all.
And today, that’s enough.

We Are Here

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: Day Six

We are here. At the farm for a week. The kids have been very excited. A week and a half ago they were ready to pack, and I had to apply some Mommy logic to convince them that we might actually need to wear our clothes in that time span before we reached our Thanksgiving holiday destination. They agreed, but each night this week we’ve been in the countdown to arrival. And now, we are here.

There is nothing that blesses me quite like their excitement, particularly in this stage of our lives. Their bodies jumping with anticipation. Their voices talking all at once. Their giggles and spontaneous hugs. The little “thank yous” I get mingled with “I love yous” as their eyes are finally closing.

It’s healing to the soul. Salve to my weary spirit. Because I find myself effortlessly sucked into the excitement. I find myself giggling and jumping and talking along with them. It happens without thought, like all good excitement does. And it’s like a breath of fresh air.

I’m so thankful for those moments of inhibition. It’s joy peeking it’s head out of my heart for a look around. And it lets me know we are coming to life again. The brunt of death doesn’t stand a chance against the unexpected impact of life.

I’m resting in that this evening.

The Wrong Color

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY FIVE

I have a picture hanging in my office. Let’s face it; I’m the mommy of three young children. I have a LOT of pictures hanging in my office. This particular one is a pencil drawing of a fish bowl. The bowl is nicely outfitted with three houses. One petite fish swims above them. There is a sun shining in a partly cloudy sky above the bowl, and a tiny carton of fish food stands beside it.

The picture makes me smile. It’s one of many the kids have made in school that are peppered throughout the house. They’ve grown to have a preference for hanging them in my office. I think it’s because they know that’s where I am during the day while they’re gone to school. And I tell them I miss them so much during those times.

So, it makes me smile. Little Drummer Boy made the picture last year in first grade art class. It’s punctuated with spots of watercolor. Purple and green and yellow and orange houses. An orange goldfish. A yellow sun and fish food jar. I smile because he made it. And it’s a great drawing. And a reminder of him as a first-grader. And I smile because of how he presented it.

LDB went searching for it in his backpack after school. He wanted to show me. He was fairly bursting to talk about everything depicted there. The crux of which seemed to be…

“Mrs. Pugh said we could color things the wrong color if we wanted to.”

The wrong color. It took me a minute to notice it. And my Drummer Boy was quick to fill in the gaps. It was the bubbles. He chose to make the bubbles red. And, I guess it’s true; bubbles in a fish bowl aren’t supposed to be red.

Little Drummer Boy was quite proud of himself for taking Mrs. Pugh up on her generous offer to use the wrong color. And I was too. It was just a small bucking of the expected coloration, but I could see the freedom it gave him to express himself. To color his own picture. His own storyline.

Sometimes to experience a small freedom from our circumstances, we just need permission to color it differently. And if we are unable to find someone to offer that permission, we give it to ourselves. The permission to color our own day, our own lives, independent of the things that may have bound us or been expected of us yesterday.

In times of transition, stroke by stroke, we re-color our lives. As I look at the fish bowl, I’m thankful for the small reminders that each day is new. Each moment is new. And ready to be colored anew. And it’s ok to use the “wrong” color.

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Good.

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY FOUR

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.”

When we visited the beach this summer, we searched for shells. We waited as the waves moved in with their endless rhythm. And then as the wateer moved back out, we searched for glimpses of color or glimmering white. We tried to capture the tiny shells with our feet or our hands while it seemed each one was seeking to be buried by the sand or carried out again in the swirling water. They were elusive, but we managed to make it home with a bucket full.

Sometimes I feel like I’m searching for God’s goodness in that same way. I know it’s bound to be there in abundance, but the murky moments of life make it hard to grasp. Still I search for it. To find that glimmer of truth and faith I can hold on to. And keep. And look upon to remember the moments when His goodness made itself known in the face of hard circumstances.

I know God was with Mike in those darkest moments. Those final moments. Even in the betrayal of his own mind. In the cloudiness of his preparations. In the literal final step. I’m grateful for that. I’m comforted by that.

But I can’t help but ask why? And how? How could You let this happen? How could You let that one day happen? How could You let the last few years of my life happen as they did? To this end? And where? Where was my miracle? Where was the miracle for Mike? Where was the miracle for my children that would have allowed them to grow up with a father?

I struggle with the belief that in His ultimate providence, God’s best will prevail. How can this be better for us? How can this be best? All those people in Your recorded history. All those people who saw the unbelievable materialize before their eyes. Was our faith not strong enough? Was our sin too great? Did I not ask or reason or beg or try hard enough? Were the cries of our souls not loud enough? Was our sincerest hope too limited? Did you look on our faith and see not quite the mustard seed required? Was the innocence of my babies not worth preserving? Was my heart just too ripe for crushing?

Where was our miracle?

Even in the wrestling of these almost blasphemous questions, I can see a small glimspe — a shadow really — of an even more difficult truth.

That this WAS best. I can barely even write that sentence. Maybe this was and is God’s best. His best and most perfect allowance in such a flawed and broken situation, in the midst of such flawed and broken hearts. That somehow this DID preserve their innocence, as only God’s providential hand can. That in these times — like now, and like then — we reach and grasp for a faith that is just enough for this moment. And it is enough. Maybe no more, but certainly no less. And that the crushing of my heart can result in a deeper and more complete healing.

I believe this: In spite of the despair and horror of those few moments on September 20th, heaped upon the despair of so many months and years before, Mike never got anything less than the very best of God. I never got anything less than the very best of God. The best of God far exceeds anything my feeble mind can comprehend.

I’m reminded today that God does not make His decisions based on me — what I’m strong enough to withstand or what I’m too weak to handle. His decisions come from His perfect understanding and sovereignty in what was, what is and whatever will be. To accept WHATEVER comes from His hand is to accept my own greatest good.

For, He is good.

Just a Tuesday

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY THREE

Smiles when I see them. “Maybe we should make a fire tonight.” Excitement from the day. Really wanting to play more with their friends. “Let me see if it’s cold outside. It’s cold!” All three talking at once as we climb into the car. Trying to buckle up on their on but it’s too dark. Choosing the CD track to play. Organizing the fire-building activity as we drive. “Can I have two pieces of candy?” The great unpiling of backpacks and papers and artwork and leftover snacks. Sifting through folders and hanging bags on hooks. A parade of excitement down the steps and to the wood pile. Instructions from Little Drummer Boy. Always. Big logs, medium logs and little sticks. Fire starters and long matches. Each with a turn to add a piece of wood. “It’s burning!” “Can I tell you about my picture now?” “My tummy hurts.”

Upset stomachs. Cleaning up. Damp clothes. Soothing words. “Is Baby Girl ok?” Curious George. A picture of the Mayflower. In a giant storm. “And then I found the gray crayon!” “Can I sit in the green chair?” Cheesy dogs. No, plain hot dogs. And tater tots. And leftovers from the fridge. More soothing words and rubs on her back. “Look at our fire!” Pumpkin paper plates. Ketchup. Putting her in bed. The laptop. Robin Hood. Boys stretched out on couch and bean bag. Their day’s work done. Email newsletters and Google Analytics. The sign for “I love you.” Changing socks. Finding Lamb. Tucking in this way and that. A Fly Went By. “Tomorrow I’m coming to lunch with you.” “I want you to.” “This is the funniest part.” “Will you pray for me?” A sigh. And a smile as I close the door.

One thousand little things that add up to a normal evening. Just a Tuesday. As the dust of our upheaval settles, it’s a blessing to recognize the signs of just a normal Tuesday evening in late Fall. Even with stomach bugs and tired spirits and full work loads that are somehow just normal. One thousand little things. That are so big.

I can’t believe I get to walk through this life with the three young human beings here. They teach me every day that real life is in the small things. And that it’s big. We face huge hurdles. Long-lasting hurdles. But it is such a blessing to teach them that life is a gift.

I’m blessed. And thankful to teach them. And learn from them. That through hurt and sorrow and the painstaking onslaught of normal, the simple joy emerges. That living is big. That living is worth it. That no matter the cost and depth of endurance, living is a gift worth treasuring. And each day we choose LIVING, we triumph.

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