The Day Before the Election

Monday, November, 7, 2016

This evening, I’ll be in the Sternberger Elementary School cafeteria helping to set up for the election. While I am there,  members of my church will gather for a prayer service:

Breathe, Pray, Love

A time of quiet, music and prayers for peace and healing

I doubt we are the only church or the only people praying the day before this election.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll turn off my alarm clock at 4:30am. It is DARK at that hour. I’ll shower and dress and gather my supplies (green tea, Diet Coke, change of shoes) to spend the day as an assistant poll worker. Yes, I’m one of those nice, grey-haired ladies who checks you in, gives you an “I voted” sticker, and leads you over to the voting machine.

In NC, voting sites are open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm. Anyone in line at 7:30 pm gets to vote, no matter how long it takes. It’s a long, long day. And we can’t leave, other than to go down the hall to the bathroom.

All the poll workers bring food. The chief judge makes crockpot soup that is available whenever we get a chance to eat. I made banana muffins. One (male) voter ususally brings us freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I hope he didn’t vote early. There will likely be plenty of food.

Our precinct is majority white Republican and upper middle class so I don’t expect conflict or commotion. And I hope there’s no conflict or commotion at any polling place anywhere. I’m not confident that will be the case. I’ve never worried about that before.

I’ve been a politics geek most of my life. My Gramma Bryant taught my mother how to be a Democrat and Mom and Dad taught us. We always watched the news growing up and discussed current events at the dinner table. The retired man I live with and I did that with our children and I see it continuing with theirs.

My older daughter took her 4-year-old daughter, who said she wanted “the girl” to win, to vote early. She sent me a picture of Maggie with an “I voted” sticker. I posted it on Facebook with the caption “Voted for the 1st woman president.”

And my younger daughter will take her kids to vote on Election Day. I hope she lets 6 1/2-year-old Adaline push the button for Hillary so she, too, can say she voted for the first woman president.

If you haven’t voted yet, I hope you do. You have no right to complain, ever, if you don’t! Thank you to all the North Carolina voters who voted early–you’ve made Election Day much easier!

Remember to breathe as you wait for this long, difficult campaign to end. And please do pray for peace and healing. We all have to live together after tomorrow, whatever the result.

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Published in: on November 7, 2016 at 4:13 pm  Comments (4)  
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Bring It On! Here I Am. Let It Be. I Accept!

While I was procrastinating this morning about writing a blog post, I called one of my grown daughters. I thought I accepted a decision she and her husband made last week. I listened to myself, once again, begin to manipulate her into changing her mind.

I tried to stop.

Eventually I did.

I’m not proud of myself.

And she didn’t change her mind.

After that phone call, I got down to business. I looked back through some quotes/ideas I saved for non-inspired writing mornings. I found one after another about “acceptance.”

Halfway through copying and pasting them into this post, I made the connection between all these quotes and my earlier conversation with my daughter.

Oh.

Guess I’m the one who needs these. How humbling.

I thought I was doing this for you!

My friend, Lisa, picks a word for the year each January. Her word for last year was “accept”. She wrote this on her blog:

“Accept is one of those words that often gets a bad rap.  Sometimes it’s confused with giving-up.  On the contrary, accepting is about choice and power. It’s about recognizing what you can and can’t control and taking the next.right.step for yourself.

When life isn’t going as you’d prefer, accept that you can handle it.  You really can. Accept that you can simply say,”Bring it on! Here I am.  Let it be. I accept!”

One of Lisa’s heroes is Michael J Fox.  Here’s what he says about acceptance:

“I don’t look at life as a battle or as a fight. I don’t think I’m scrappy. I’m accepting. I say ‘living with’ or ‘working through’ Parkinson’s. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it. I look at it like I’m a fluid that’s finding the fissures and cracks and flowing through.”

Acceptance, for me, requires a gut-level faith that something bigger than me is watching over this world and that it all makes sense on some level above my pay-grade.

The Serenity Prayer

God,

Grant me

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Amen.

This next one is a challenge!

The Welcoming Prayer

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within.

Amen.

(For an explanation and some instruction in using The Welcoming Prayer, click here.)

Sometimes I forget that things can get better. I need to remember hope can be part of acceptance.

“Grounded hope is hope with acceptance. Acceptance is a tricky concept. Accepting your circumstances can sometimes be perceived as though you have resigned to your situation. Some see it as giving up. Submission. But on the contrary; acceptance is an active and dynamic process.

Acceptance is about moving forward despite your circumstances. It is moving forward and bringing your circumstances along with you. When your hope is grounded by accepting your reality, then you are able to transcend your past and begin to build your future…Pairing acceptance with hope…frees you to move forward through your situation and to a point where true healing can begin.”  (Danny Burgess, Ph.D.)

“Instead of making the world around us or our own selves into the image of what we think is good, we enter the lifelong process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms (my italics).  We embrace what is given to us–people, spouse, children, forests, weather, city–just as they are given to us, and sit and stare, look and listen until we begin to see and hear the God-dimensions in each gift, and engage with what God has given, with what God is doing.”  (Eugene H. Peterson)

We enter the lifelong process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms.”

You mean this process is never going to end?

I’m never going to get it once and for all?

Bummer.

So, to my daughter–I’m sorry I pressured you again. It wasn’t fair and I will now re-read all these quotes on acceptance and hope that they will come to mind the next time I need them.

PS: Just as I finished this, hours after our conversation, my daughter called to say she and her husband changed their minds about doing what I hoped they would do. (But not because of anything I said.)

My God has a sense of humor!

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 4:44 pm  Comments (9)  
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Give Up or Surrender?

I just about ran out of pluck.

And gumption.

And grit.

I’ve had 6 surgeries in the last year and a half, some bigger than others, but all required some rest and recovery time.  My muscles atrophied from all the sitting.  It’s harder for me to move around easily. Then I took a trip and came home worn out and sick with bronchitis.

After a long day of consciously feeling the fear of not getting better and staying weak and fragile, I realized I had a choice. I could give up or I could surrender to reality and begin the work to get better. Giving up looked easier.

Giving up means admitting defeat. It’s saying, “I have lost, there’s no sense in trying anymore.” Surrender means stopping the fight against forces you cannot control. Surrender allows you to reserve your energy for later. It’s the process of letting go. It does not mean giving up. (Teresa Bruni)

I surrendered. I asked–well, begged–God to help me find my pluck and gumption and grit again.

The difference between surrender and giving up is the difference between suffering (giving up) and being at peace (surrender). It is the difference between being lost and finding your way.  (Tim Custis)

I remembered what I hear in 12-step meetings:  Do the next right thing. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And from Anne Lamott:  Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.

Giving up is resistance to what is. Surrender is acceptance of what is. Giving up says “No” to life (you curl up in a ball on the bed). Surrender says “Yes” to life (you hold your arms wide open ready to receive). Giving up moves you away from God. Surrender moves you closer to God.  (Tim Custis)

I exercise in the pool again. I ride the exercise bike in the basement. I lead with my weaker leg when I go up the stairs from the basement. I bought some new shoes (Hey, girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do) that work with my new orthotics so I can walk outside.

I’m not angry at God anymore. I had to feel the anger and tell God I was angry before I could let go of it.

There is no hope in giving up. It’s a dark, miserable place to be.

God and I are buddies again.

I have hope again.

And pluck.

And gumption.

And grit.

Thank God.

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 12:03 pm  Comments (15)  
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What’s Your Story?

Everybody has a story. I love to hear and be surprised by those stories.

I spent 3 days last week with 6 other people at an annual spiritual retreat on the NC coast. We spent some of the retreat time in silence. (Yes, we like that.) We gathered several times for group contemplative prayer (website).  We also ate Girl Scout cookies and talked and laughed a lot when we weren’t in silence.

I might not have picked these people off SpiritualFriend.com (an actual website!), but God brought us together through the programs of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation (website). I think God chuckles about that.

We all share an awareness of God’s presence. We recognize our need to be still enough and quiet enough to be led and guided by God. We pray for each other. And we enjoy our time together.

We learned more about each other as we shared our stories.  I get to hang out with some interesting people.

One woman was once a weather girl for 3 months in DC until, in her own words, “I was fired for being awful and wearing no make-up.”  She also worked for quite a while in the trust department of a major bank until she got MS. Now she has her own business selling handmade cards and posters. (Cheap Therapy, handcrafted paper art that celebrates life)

Another woman has her Ph.D in American Studies. She taught classes like Women in the Arts and Literature and Ecology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL.  Now, in retirement, she is a published poet and passionate about our Earth and its health.

One of the men is a Southern Baptist minister who serves as an interim pastor for churches who are searching for a new minister.  That means he learns about and helps to mediate all the opinions and factions that exist in any church and leads them (hopefully) to consensus about who they are and what they need in a pastor.  Can you imagine?  He also is a photographer.  He shared a magnificent sunrise photograph for us to sit with and ponder during our silent time.

One woman worked for a number of years in a Catholic parish, leading groups and formation classes. She recently retired. She has 9 grown children so she has always been a busy person. She is still figuring out just what to do with her free time. She started with de-cluttering in her house.  I need to follow her example.

The other man, African American, told us he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., in Nashville, Tennessee, when he was 13.  He was once a long-distance truck driver and a Marine. When he left the Marines he went to seminary and is now an Episcopal priest. He led us in Holy Eucharist sitting on a hearth and wearing well-worn jeans and biker boots. I think God liked that.

In her younger days, another woman was a street performer in California.  She is a Unitarian Universalist minister. She is comfortable doing liturgical dance (a definition), which uptight me can’t imagine.  She and her husband started and run Plenty Fresh Food Bank (website), Neighbors Growing and Sharing Food, which is on Elephant Curve Rd. (best street name ever!) in southwest Virginia..

So, what stories do your friends have?

Ask them. You might be surprised.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 12:27 pm  Comments (9)  
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A Turtle Creates a Village

God, I offer myself to You–

to build with me and to do with me as You will.

Relieve me of the bondage of self,

that I may better do Your will.

Take away my difficulties, that victory over them

may bear witness to those I would help

of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life.

May I do Your will always.

(3rd Step Prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous)

I sat quietly with this prayer daily, starting in January, 2005.  It took the place of resolutions.

In late February, 2005, I found an odd lump in my groin.

On April 15, 2005, I was diagnosed with cancer–non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I had 2 malignant lymph nodes, but no symptoms and I felt fine.  After tests, the treatment plan was “watch and wait.” That took a while to accept. God and the doctor and I have “watched and waited” for almost 10 years.  Still no symptoms and no treatments. Dr Sherrill says at each checkup, “It’s still in remission.”

Go back and read that prayer again.  I’ll wait.

I started writing emails to a group of spiritual friends shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t want to talk about it much, but I wanted people to pray for me and I felt compelled to share what happened and how I dealt with it, including my faith journey.

I’ve written before about being an introvert and a turtle.  When things get hard, I pull into my shell.  I’ve learned, though, that I can invite people in through my writing.  And I often feel pushed to write for this blog by a powerful and irresistible force.  I can resist for a while, but God starts writing in my head and it doesn’t go away.

This piece started forming in my head a couple of weeks ago.  I had cervical fusion surgery on December 2, 2014, to correct a place at the top of my spine that moved to a dangerous position because of damage from my rheumatoid arthritis.  A piece of my spine was impinging on my spinal column at the very top.  A fall or car accident could have ended my ability to breathe.

I’ve had several other surgeries, including a total knee, in the past 10 years, but nothing scared me like this one. It was “a big surgery,” Dr. Pool, the neurosurgeon told us. I asked the retired man I live with the morning of the surgery not to let them keep me alive on a ventilator if things went wrong.

The first couple of weeks after this surgery were very hard–lots of pain. I was grateful to be whole and breathing and alive.

Before the surgery, I started another email list of pray-ers.  And once again I could feel the power of the prayers. I don’t know how to explain that, but I know it’s real. I felt surrounded and encircled by God.

I try to tell God that I’ve fulfilled my 3rd Step Prayer obligations.  10 years is enough of this “take away my difficulties so I can show how God works in my life” stuff.  But more challenges come.

With each surgery, each setback, each test of patience and hope, I learn again that things will change.  And it’s all a bit easier when I remember God is with me. Not everything can be fixed completely. Sometimes it’s just different. Then I figure out how to live with it and keep going as best I can.

If I ever write a memoir, I think I’ll title it “Okay, God, Now What?”

 

 

 

I Thank You, God, For The Wonder of My Being (a psalm)

My God,

All those years it didn’t show and no one had to know.

Pain, yes, but no one can see another’s pain.

Now, some days I limp or have use my cane,

Food falls off my fork. I wear my napkin like a bib.

I ask for help and grind my teeth behind the smile.

Must I say “No, I can’t” after “Yes, I can”?

“Can we reschedule? I’m in the hospital.”

“I can’t help–my back is in spasms.”

“I can’t come–it’s a bad arthritis flare.”

My God,

I’m tired.

I’m humbled.

I’m embarrassed.

I want to be whole and healthy,

I want to walk for miles on Your green and flowering earth,

Or just to move more easily.

I want a simple boo-boo to simply heal.

Instead a hole in my elbow requires surgeons and stitches,

Bandages that won’t stay on and packing with silver

And lots of poking with the wooden end of a Q-tip.

An infection requires 3 days of IV vancomycin in room 1342

And 8 days of cleocin pills 3 times a day with lots of yogurt.

All because the dog tripped me months ago

And when I fell I banged my elbow.

I feel fragile these days.

My soul is weary.

I feel ashamed

Of illness, of frailty, of looking older than I am,

Of vulnerability, of dependence, of need, of fear.

My soul cries out to You

Help me!

And so the word “Acceptance” appears on the blackboard in my brain

As I lie in the MRI machine with my face 2 inches from the rounded wall

And my ankle is stretched in a way it doesn’t go

That makes it still hurt a week later.

And so in an article in an email,

I read about Passivity:

The less I do, the less I commit, the less I expect of myself,

The less I’ll disappoint or feel incompetent.

I know why I sit.

And so I read about Resilience:

The ability of something to return to its original form

After being pulled, stretched, pressed, bent.

 Terry reads “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou as liturgy Sunday.

“Just like the moon and the suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes spring high,

Still I rise…

Leaving nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear…”

And so I walk for 15 minutes at Bicentennial Garden

And I hear the birds and see the flowers

And look into the eyes of other walkers.

I receive the smiles and greetings of those I pass.

I gather in Your beauty,

Revel in Your gentle breeze,

Feel the muscles in my legs move

And send blessings to my malformed feet.

I move out into Your Grace.

And so I say “Yes” when my daughter says “I need you.”

I say “Yes, I can do that today.”

And so I will drive to Raleigh to be with Maggie,

The embodiment of Your joy and wonder and love.

My God, I thank you.

My Spirit thanks you.

My Soul is full of Your Grace.

 

(The title is from a chant by Isabella Bates on the CD “Sound Faith.”)

Angry Conversations with God:

A Snarky But Authentic Spiritual Memoir

Got your attention, huh?  Susan E. Isaacs wrote the book with that title. I had to explore her story so I got it from the library.

Summer reading lists appear everywhere this time of year. Oprah’s magazine, the newspaper, Parade (that slick section of the Sunday paper that hides in with the ads and comics), blogs I read online. The NPR website must have a list–I haven’t looked.

I don’t buy books much anymore. Partly because the retired man I live with and I have a fixed income these days instead of a refillable well of money.  Partly because I have so many books already that some live in a big Rubbermaid bin in the corner of my office behind the open door. They call to be released from their box every time I notice the blue bin in the corner.  Not so good feng shui for creativity.

I’ve rediscovered the library.  When a book on a list looks interesting, I add it to the Books list on the Notes app on my phone.  (Just writing that cracks me up.) Or I go to my computer and add it to my Wishlist on the Greensboro Public Library website.  Isn’t the internet great? I never remember what the books are about later so I just randomly pick one when I request a specific book be sent to the branch closest to me.  At least I don’t waste money on so-so books.

These days I allow myself not to finish a book that doesn’t interest or entertain me.  I couldn’t do that when I was younger.  (Why?) Now I figure I don’t have the time to waste.  I feel bad for the writer, even though I’m the only one who knows I didn’t finish.  Some books I slam shut astonished that some publisher gave the author a contract.

I’m almost halfway through Angry Conversations With God.  Susan E. Isaacs takes God to couples counseling with an ex-pastor therapist.  The book includes dialogue with God, Jesus, herself and the ex-pastor therapist.  The book is witty, a tad irreverent and funny.  It’s also thought-provoking. And as goofy as it sounds.

Isaacs is an actress/comedian, and participates in improv performances. She has plenty of reasons to be mad at God. She works on her relationship with God through role play.  I can’t decide if it’s just too cute.  I keep reading so I think it has something for me to ponder.

How is my relationship with God?

“What do you do for fun?” every counselor, therapist, minister, friend asks.  The question nags at me every time someone asks.

What do God and I do for fun?

I need to ponder that some more.

What do you and God do for fun?

(to be continued…)

Published in: on May 30, 2013 at 1:11 pm  Comments (7)  
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I ‘tuck.

I’m stuck.  Or as Adaline used to say, “I ‘tuck.”  I’ve been ‘tuck for weeks.  Not able to write.  Not able to plan much beyond today.  Wondering what I am supposed to be doing and how to get to the point of doing…anything.

I know that sounds like depression, but this time I felt more lost than depressed.  I asked God for some kind of sign or message.  Nothing.  Besides feeling stuck.

Slowly, the light started to go on inside my brain.  I spend a lot of my time waiting for the next disaster/crisis/time of need.  On hold. Stuck. ‘Tuck.

Last year, in 2012, I lived that way.  We quickly went from one grandchild to three.  Maggie was born in January, 90 minutes away, to Stephanie and Will, and had 2 open-heart heart surgeries by the time she was 9 months old.   Adaline turned 2 in February and welcomed (?) baby brother, Atticus, in April. With Kristin and Josh, their parents, they moved 30 minutes away a few months later.

Our daughters took turns with disaster/crisis/time of need.  I gave up hope of planning anything more than a day or two in the future.  The retired man I live with and I turned 61 and 60.  We tried to spread ourselves, like a spoonful of peanut butter on bread, as far as possible, but we got thinned out at the edges.

2013–they are all healthy and well!  Or at least living in a normal state of sleep-deprivation with joy and wonder, colds and ear infections, crawling and walking, eating solids, talking, tantrums,  toilet training, and sibling rivalry.

I still live each day with hyper-vigilance and concern.  Ok, worry.  I am stuck, waiting for trouble or need.

You know what, I don’t have to live like this anymore!

On May 9, 2013, I celebrate 26 years of sobriety.  26 years, one day at a time, of no alcohol or inappropriate drugs.  Today I am a recovering, not cured, alcoholic and I’ve learned a few things:

I am a beloved Child of God.  And therefore, I have worth.

God and AA  and Al Anon help me stay sober.

I can’t control anything except my thoughts and actions.

Everyone I cross paths with is also a beloved Child of God, doing the best they can.  They each have a Higher Power who watches over them.  That Higher Power is not and never will be me.

There’s freedom in letting go of protecting others from pain and hard stuff that I can’t stop anyway.  I learned how to deal with pain and hard stuff one step at a time, one day at a time, asking for help from God and family and friends.  I can’t stop the pain and hard stuff in my daughters’ lives.  I hate that, but they have their own lessons to learn, if I stay out of the way.

I’m writing now.  I have ideas for how to use my freed-up time.

God says, “Go for it.  They will be okay.”

UNSHAKEABLE LOVE, BROKEN HEARTS AND PRAYER

(for Sarah, Nadine, Betty, Judy, Kay and too many others)

Yesterday, a young man killed his mother and then drove to the school where she taught kindergarten and killed 20 kids ages 5-10.

Why?

How could anyone do that?

I’m kind of glad I don’t understand.  I don’t want his actions to make sense to me.  I don’t want my brain to work that way.

I have more than one friend whose adult sons and daughters live with mental illness.  Sometimes medications help, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they just make people feel weird and they don’t take them.  Sometimes nothing helps.

My friends, their moms, are left with unshakeable love, a broken heart and prayer.

My cousin spent 20 years wandering the country in the grips of schizophrenia.  His illness began in his mid-twenties.  My aunt and uncle knew of no way to help and were afraid to tell their friends.  For most of his years of wandering, my aunt and uncle didn’t know if he was alive or dead. *

They were left with unshakeable love, broken hearts, and prayer.

My friend has spent thousands of dollars trying to find help for her daughter’s bi-polar illness.  No combination of medications works well or for long.  Her daughter, now in her 30’s, lived on the streets at times and now lives with her mom and her teenage daughter in a big house in a beautiful neighborhood near the university.  My friend has legal custody of her granddaughter.

She is left with unshakeable love, a broken heart and prayer.

Last winter, as I sat in front of my gas log fireplace and listened to freezing rain, I wondered about a man I know who had no home.  He was unable to manage an apartment, bills, and grocery shopping, although he wanted to.  He hated going to the shelter.  It’s hard to sleep in a room full of not-so-clean, snoring, farting, crying men who at any moment might start yelling or take your shoes or go through your stuff.  Many of their brains don’t work right.  They are ill.

I learned not to blame.  Schizophrenia and bi-polar illness are diseases of the brain, as surely as my rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of my joints.  I’m lucky.  My medications work.  I have medical insurance to help me pay for non-generic prescriptions and doctor visits and surgeries.  I know people who have no money and no insurance.  They don’t get better.

Mental illness is a powerful force.  It is real.  Medication may or may not help.  Crack and heroin are easier to get and seem to help.  Then they create another set of problems.

Even doctors and physician’s assistants and nurses who really care run out of things to try.

I guess they, too, are left with broken hearts and prayer.

We need to do better.  The mentally ill man (boy, really), begging on the corner of Madison Drive and Market Street is someone’s son or brother.  Yes, maybe he’ll take your $2.00 and buy beer or cheap school wine instead of food.  Why not?  It lessens the pain and stops the questions, for a moment.

Why would anyone walk into an elementary school and kill 20 little boys and girls?  I don’t know.

I do know he was once a baby boy, just like my cousin, just like my grandson.  A child of God, just like all of us.

Jesus said we are to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Some of us need more and we are failing them and their parents and brothers and cousins and daughters.

Surely we can offer more than unshakeable love, broken hearts and prayer.

*My cousin, in his 50’s, is okay today, living in an assisted living apartment and helped by an exceptional support agency in Minneapolis, where his brother lives.  My aunt knows that today he is safe and warm.  She is one of the lucky moms.

Published in: on December 15, 2012 at 9:26 am  Comments (8)  
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Baby Bad Ass

I started calling her that shortly after she was born.  It still fits.

Last week I wrote about my granddaughter having heart surgery on September 27.  She did and after a rough first 24 hours, she improves each day.  Today, Sunday, she moved out of ICU, her parents could finally hold her and she is able to nurse on demand.  Last I heard, she was sleeping in her mama’s arms.

Once again, I am amazed at the toll emotional stress takes on my body.  So I rested and napped and read the paper today.  Tomorrow I hope to hold my brave and strong granddaughter.  And her mom and dad.

We are so very grateful for family, friends, medical professionals and medical insurance.  We feel surrounded by all that is good.  Thank God.