Getting Up While It is Dark-The Most Important Spiritual Discipline

I am by nature an early morning person.  It comes naturally.  I am thankful for that.  Whether or not it comes naturally, I do believe getting up early to meet with God in quiet is a biblical principle we should desire to practice.

Proverbs 31:15  says, “She gets up while it is still dark;…”  On many levels this is just a practical habit to develop.  Getting up early offers us quiet, uninterrupted time to plan our day, prepare meals, set out reminders, etc…  It’s a jump start if you wish. We see evidence of this in the description of the Proverbs 31 woman’s life.  Verses 16-18 describe some of the tasks she sets out to handle during this early morning time.  However, I think the principle goes deeper than this.  Throughout scripture God gives us examples of His people seeking Him early in the morning.  His Son, Jesus Christ, frequently stole away in the early morning hours to pray.  I am convinced getting up earlier than others in our home to spend time with God is a spiritual discipline that can transform our lives.

Each new day brings with it a fresh slate.  Repented sins of yesterday have been cast away.  Each new day brings new graces, now opportunities.  When we arise early in the morning to meet God before we open the calendar, begin our interactions, we meet Him unblemished.  We meet Him in the best possible condition we can be in.  Cleansed by His grace, refreshed, renewed, revived.  We meet Him with clear minds, before the busyness of life sets in.  It is in those moments I am most open to hearing Him, to understanding His word, to seeing the priorities He has set before me.  In those early morning moments, it is truly just me and Him.  New day.  Fresh words.  Blank journal page.

I believe the Proverbs 31 woman was just like me and you.  She had a full to do list.  She had a large family.  In order to be her best, she chose the discipline of getting up while it was still dark.  That one act gave her the wisdom to determine her priorities for the day.  It gave her the emotional strength to serve in gladness.  She was able to move into her day with a willing heart to work.

I know it is not easy.  And for some of you it may seem impossible.  You prefer the dark hours of the night when the family has fallen asleep.  Here’s the thing-at the end of the day, even when those seem like your best hours, you are spent.  You have the sins of the day weighing on your shoulders.  Regret has had time to set in.  Those minutes/hours may be great moments to study, repent, ponder.  But they are not the morning.  There is something absolutely amazing about meeting God in the early morning hours.  There is something beautiful about watching the day literally unfold as the sun rises. There is something invigorating abut knowing I am sitting before the throne cleansed, giving Him my very best, my first fruits.  It is a wonderful act of worship to lay myself before Him as an offering early in the morning, to meet with Him anticipating a new day.

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I challenge you to practice His presence in the morning.  You may not have to get up while it is still dark.  Just get up 15 minutes before everyone else.  Just get up 15 minutes earlier and commit to use that time to sit in His presence.  He will give you the strength to do it.  He will call you to Him.  You’ll begin to look forward to those moments.

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Joy-Do We Even Know What It Means?

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Each year I attempt to set some goals (you can read more about that on my business blog).  More importantly, I begin in November to pray about a “word” or theme for the year.  I haven’t been doing this long, and began the practice after some encouragement from a dear friend, Shari Edwards.  As I have begun this practice I have come to realize how valuable it has been in helping me to really know WHO God is.  It is easy to know of God.  Even as a Christian I can study and know more about Him, but it can be challenging to know WHO He is, to experience Him.

As I prayed the word JOY kept coming to my mind.  Initially I brushed it aside, thinking it too trite.  Who picks the word JOY as their word for the year?  Pollyanna?  It felt too simple.  In my mind it was too close to the “blessed” syndrome of American religion-the one of prosperity and good if you love God.  Not my doctrine.  Not my faith.  So, in all honesty I began to pray really hard the word would go away.  Surely I needed something more serious, more worthy.  Ahhh, the human ego and our desires to do, to strive, to know.  In the course of those prayers, repeatedly god brought to mind or used a devotional or magazine article to put James 1:2-3 in front of me.  In those moments I began to understand what He desired for me.  I chose obedience and placed my thoughts upon JOY.

JOY isn’t a feeling.  JOY is a state of being.  JOY is one of the Spiritual Gifts His Holy Spirit gives us through our obedience and faith walk.  JOY is an attribute of Christ.  I can only experience JOY when filled with His Spirit.  I can only know JOY when I know HIM.

As I ventured through this season of doubt, fear, and anxiousness God has taught me much about faith.  How little mine was, can be and still is on too many occasions.  He has taught em to let go.  He has brought me from the desert abiding, to a deeper relationship with Him.  I know with certainty JOY is my word for 2015.  It won’t be a year of laughing, jovial moments, happy, happy, happy.  No.  The reality is life will continue to be hard.  Friends will lose battles with illnesses.  Loved ones will be lost.  Children will make poor decisions.  Persecution will increase.  But I know this to be true-when I walk in faith He will fill me with HIS JOY, an abiding peace which promises me salvation and wholeness.  He is reminding me this life is about being ready.  I want to grow this year and be the kind of woman who is ready.  Ready for the life I am living.  Ready to respond to the world in which I live.  I want to be spiritually grounded so I can experience His attributes in the midst of it all and be ready-ready to respond in deep abiding faith.

JOY-it isn’t a feeling.  JOY-a state of being.

Home Matters

If you follow my blog, you know I love home.  Having grown up moving a lot (and I mean a lot-like 24 times before I was 30) there was always a part of me that wanted to “settle down”.  However, in all honesty there is still a bit of wander lust in me and I do like a change of scenery every now and then!  Any way, back to my point.  I love home.  As a Christian woman and mother, I have always felt like home was a critical part of my role, my purpose.  Early on I spent time studying about how to care for home. Fortunately I went into marriage and motherhood pretty well prepared thanks to parents who taught and expected a lot.  I remember reading Emilie Barnes’ books and her statement that “wives set the tone for the home” impacted me, stayed with me. I have always wanted my home to be a safe haven, a quiet place for my family to refresh, regroup, share, rest.  I have worked hard at trying to create the right atmosphere-sometimes too hard, sometimes too focused on the material contents and keeping order.  These days, as a mom of teens and quickly approaching 50, I have found myself settling into a bit more balance, lowering some of my expectations, and really focusing on the tone of my home.  Tone of home is a feeling. It is that “home sweet home” sense you get when you walk in that familiar space that makes you feel safe, important, valued, loved.

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I want that tone to extend beyond my immediate family.  I want everyone who enters to feel that sense of welcome, to know they can stop and take a deep breath.

As I was reading through Home Life magazine from Lifeway, I came across some word art in the front of the magazine.  It resonated with me.  It reminded me of how very important home is.  It made me stop and voice a prayer of gratitude for these days I am able to be at home, home school, raise my family.  It made me ask forgiveness for those nights I awaken worried about our finances, wondering if I will ever have a job of any substance once the girls leave home and I venture out to help pay for college and all the associated expenses.  It reminded me that while others may seem to have it all, be more together, have less worries, I would not exchange my life for theirs.  Our finances aren’t easy.  I walked away from a career I may never have again.  We have to make choices and our girls are a part of those conversations.  But it is worth it.  Every moment home with them has been worth it.  Home’s importance drew me to my Mary & Martha business, where I have opportunity to equip and encourage women to engage in hospitality.  (www.mymaryandmartha.com/shana).  Home’s importance is why one of my best friends and I run an organizing business.

I have posted the words above my desk-a daily reminder.  Not my words, but words that encourage and remind.  I wanted to share them with you.

We believe in the home. It’s the place where ministry starts and ends day in and day out.  We stand for dynamic marriages that beat the odds and practice commitment.  We believe in family meals and talking about your day.  We believe that your corner of the earth, whatever it looks like, is an extension of the church, a place where community is grown and nurtured.  We believe that if you change the home you change the world.  There’s a lot of life between Sundays. (January Home Life magazine/Lifeway)

I hope those words encourage you and challenge you.  Be grateful for home.  Remember it is a high calling.  The lives I impact in my home will forever impact the world.  Home matters.  It matters enough to give up some other things.  It matters enough to set aside time to invite your friends in.  It matters.  The church does not create godly families.  Godly families create the church.

Slaying the Worry Dragon: The Weapon of Choice is Simplicity

Worry is my sin.  That sin I so long to rid myself of, yet find myself battling daily.  I can justify it, yet there is no justification.  I can condemn myself, yet there is no condemnation.  Like Paul of scripture, I ask myself, I ask God, “Why do I do the things I do not want to do?”  It is the nature of our lives.  We all have that sin-the one that becomes our daily struggle.

As I seek to slay the worry dragon I have come to realize simplicity is the key.  For those of us to whom much has been given, much is expected.  Yet along with the much, are things, mindsets that cause us to stumble in our faith.  With good upbringing, strong family ties, come expectations.  We are pushed and we drive ourselves to exceed the financial status of our parents, to exceed the educational levels of our family ancestors, to go beyond, do better.  We call it the American Dream.  Yet, all of that places our mind, our focus upon achievements and things.  Maybe it is my age, maybe it is wisdom gained with age, but whatever the cause, I find myself desiring to do less, be less.  I’d like to return to the days of my forefathers.  Days of gardening, hands stained by dirt, body aching and tired at night.  Days of family gatherings crowded into small, quaint homes. Days of giving beyond means and ensuring family and neighbors have plenty.  The simpler life.  Not an easier life, but a less complicated life.  A life in which things could not take hold, because things were not aplenty.

My scripture reading this morning was in Matthew.  The Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.  If one read only those passages, one would understand who Christ is and how as Christians we are to live.  It becomes clear the weapon for worry is simplicity.  In the midst of the abundance around me, the busyness, the striving, the rush to carry out good deeds in the “spirit of Christmas giving”, God speaks to me yet again through the women I hold dear at Christian Women’s Job Corps.  Women who live a simple life, yet lives complicated by messy families, consequences of poor choices, health issues…

They can not undo their past.  None of us can.  Many of them born into pasts they could not control, inheriting trouble they never asked for/deserved.  Most hurt as children, used as adolescents, and exposed as adults.  Difference circumstances, different hurts, different lives, yet one thing in common.  Each making the decision, finding the resolve to choose to do something different.  Each choosing Christian Women’s Job Corps.  Each seeking to learn about Christ, put Him first.  Each finding joy in walking away from the complicated towards the simple.

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One has walked away from all she owns/had: home, belongings, man.  She has faithfully come soaking up the teachings of the pastors during morning devotion, the words of scripture during Bible study, the life skills taught by women whose lives have been easier than hers.  She has rejoiced weekly in the smallest of victories.  She has taken every word taught and believed it.  She has professed and proclaimed scripture in the midst of battle, believing it would drive Satan out.  She has accepted help with graciousness and humility.  She has found a new home, new friends, new life.  Things, accomplishments, are of consequence.  She has no bed, yet shares with all how well she is sleeping.  She has humble means, yet can’t wait to share. She has seen God provide.  She does not worry for her future.  She trusts.  She trusts Him, the Great Provider, the Healer, the Lord of Lords.

I am humbled when in her presence.  And as I sit in my abundance, clinging to my worry, I am convicted by her life and His words in Matthew.  The words come alive through her story.  Simplicity.  It is in the being, the service done in “the secret place”, the honesty, the letting go, the living life together.  Simplicity slays the worry dragon.  Her days are filled with trouble, enough trouble to fill a lifetime.  She takes each day as it comes, too many troubles to worry about tomorrow.  “Sufficient for the day it its own trouble.”  Matthew 6:34 NIV  She lives the scripture.  I long to live the scripture yet my demons are a complicated life, full of too much.  The too much brings the worry, the striving, the lack of faith.  God brings her into my life, not that I may serve, but that we both might be served.  We love one another, we teach one another.  I share my abundance, she teaches me out of her lack-lack of things, lack of knowledge.  We experience Him.  We experience true worship.  We find each other.  We find ourselves.  In that place, He finds us, we hear Him and know His presence.

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The Center of Our Home-Where Things Change

The center of our new home is literally my great room coffee table.  Our home is a very open concept, so you walk in the front door to a large entry from which you just flow right into the dining room, great room and kitchen.  I LOVE IT.  And literally in the middle sits my coffee table.

Advent has been a part of my family Christmas off and on for most of my life.  As a pastor my dad loved to include the advent candle as part of our worship.  Some years we did the same at home, others not.  With my own children we have attempted some form of Advent each year.  When they were young it was about the Advent Calendar.  My mother-in-law purchased a wonderful nativity scene advent calendar from World Crafts years ago.  My children loved trying to figure out which pieces to put in the pockets so the story unfolded correctly.  We also used the Advent box purchased through Family Life, where the children open a new gift box each year.  As they grew it sometimes amounted to nothing more than reading the daily scripture.  Then, last year I came upon Ann Voskamp’s, “The Greatest Gift”.  We purchased an Advent Wreath and candles.  We are using the same this year and have added to it our “Gather Round” from Barbara Rainey’s Ever Thine Home and the “post-it” notes provided on Ann Voskamp’s website.  (Each morning after reading the “post it ” reminder, we place it on the Gather Round Wreath.)

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It is here our hearts are stirred.  It is here our minds are cleared.  It is here the quiet settles in and His truth permeates the stillness.  The center of my home is where things change.  Each morning the “post it” cards prompt us to new thoughts, transforming thoughts and action.  Action following love, the love He imparts through grace.  Each evening our spirits are quieted as we stop to relinquish the day, prepare for rest.  Life may get messy in between.  We will fall short of His glory.  We may even lose sight of Christmas, but this place, this centering spot, brings us back.

If Advent has not been a part of your Christmas, head over to Holly Gerth’s site (see the button over on the side).  Today is a round up of Advent Resources.  You are sure to find something.  You won’t regret adding this to your traditions.  And remember, if you miss a night, life goes on, don’t give in, just pick back up.

I Skipped Church and Lived to Tell About It

The fact that skipping church causes me great angst is probably something only a woman over 40 from the South can understand.  Well, and maybe only a Southern Baptist woman over 40 from the South can understand.  Add to that I am a PK (preacher’s kid) and MK (missionary kid) and well, skipping church is just about equal to sex, drugs, and rock and roll and ensures a ticket to hell.

All joking aside, I doubt skipping church causes much angst in very many people this day and age.  But it does me.   Always has and I guess always will.  Although, I must admit in recent years the angst is a little less.

The girls and I had our girls weekend.  Dad was on his annual guy vacation, AKA Golf Trip, and the girls and I were left at home with a weekend to fill.  The weather was great.  Fall hit our neck of the woods and it was fabulous!  We attended a great “talent show” of sorts at my old University, Ouachita Baptist, helped with a baby shower for one of our former babysitters and searched for a Homecoming Dress.  The latter could be a blog post in and of itself, but I’m not sure I have recovered enough yet to write about it.  Throw in decorating the front porch for fall, cleaning the swimming pool and changing out the girls’ closets and we had ourselves one productive weekend.  Sunday rolled around and we found ourselves wanting to enjoy a girls day at home.  I love those days.  The kind we used to call “pajama day”, back before school entered the picture.  The kind where no one puts on make-up or does their hair.  The kind where I get to sip my coffee, watch a movie, look through old magazines and listen to my daughters.  So, we did just that.  We slept in (they slept in, I enjoyed three cups of coffee while watching the Food Network).  It was a great day.  We laughed, we had a few squabbles, we just let the day unfold.

Despite all that was good about the day, I found myself feeling guilty.  And well, guilt can just flat out take the joy out of a thing if you don’t get it in check pretty quick.  At first I blamed the guilt on being a PK, MK and Deacon’s wife.  After all, THAT woman never misses church.  Not only does she never miss, but she is thrilled to be there!  Then I blamed it on growing up with a mom who lived in a very black and white world and was quick to let her “judgement” of a situation be known.  In reality though, I had to admit I felt guilty because I am a RECOVERING PERFECTIONIST.  There.  I said it.  Hi, my name is Shana and I am a RECOVERING PERFECTIONIST.  The problem with being a perfectionist is not just that you want things perfect, which ahem, we all no is absolutely impossible.  The problem is that being a perfectionist comes with a whole slew of other issues-people pleasing being one of them.  In a perfect world everyone would approve of me and be happy with me.  In a perfect world I could please everyone and meet everyone’s needs when they need them met.  In a perfect world I can be every place I need to be right when I need to be there.  The real reason I feel guilty about skipping church is I am afraid of/worry about what that “other” church lady will think or say.  I’m afraid I’ll let my kids down.  It was a prompting to go to my Heavenly Father and confess-again.  God doesn’t want me to live in that place.  He knows this is a fallen world.  He knows I am a sinner, forgiven and prone to making more mistakes, the same mistakes over and over.  He prepared for that.  He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for me.  He extends grace and mercy to me every day, every moment.  He isn’t keeping a check-list.  He simply wants me to release my expectations, and be.  Be still.  Quit striving.  Listen for His still small voice.  It’s hard.  And just about the time I think I have conquered this Perfectionism thing, I am hit with those feelings of worry, doubt, defeat.  But when I stop, when I take that moment to breathe deeply and really think about what I am doing/feeling, I am reminded to press on and have hope because God is with me and He is faithful.  I can overcome in the moment.  I may not conquer it completely, but I can overcome it.

Yes, I skipped church and lived to tell about it.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t something that needs to happen often.  I believe in church.  I believe in the biblical instruction to gather and fellowship with other believers.  There is great value in that. I need it.  My family needs it.  Church is often my time to praise, to express gratitude, to care for a fellow sister  or brother in Christ.  It is necessary, just not mandatory.

It’s Monday.  I’m saying it again.  Hi, my name is Shana and I’m a RECOVERING PERFECTIONIST.  Life isn’t perfect, but it is beautiful.  It has purpose.  And some days you just have to stay home and live in the moment.  Full disclosure.  The following pictures depict my less than perfect life and pursuit of peace as a RECOVERING PERFECTIONIST.

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Don’t Do a Thing-Just Be Thankful

“A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ.”  Ann Voskamp, “One Thousand Gifts”.  I read those words back in November.  At the time I found those words thought provoking, but it wasn’t until today I began to grasp them.  As I have continued in my journey to intently search for lessons on PEACE and incorporate specific new behaviors/actions this year, I continue to read His word from new perspective, making myself open to conviction, wisdom, encouragement.  I have felt compelled to be more grateful, yet too often it is a rote list of items/things.  Today, as I sat reading a passage in Ephesians 5 (verses 1-14) I was struck by the directive regarding what should take the place of our sinful nature or sin behaviors-those listed being sexual immorality, coarse joking, foolish talk …  “but rather thanksgiving.”  For a moment I thought, “But how can simply being thankful, be the answer?”  My mind went immediately to words read in “One Thousand Gifts” and I pulled back out my notes and began to thumb through the highlighted pages.  The sentence above with the scripture I had just read began to do a work in my heart and mind.   Being thankful alters our mindset.  When our mind is altered we behave differently, we speak differently.  As our mind changes, we are compelled to act.  When I am grateful for my family, I mean really grateful-not the “Thank you God for my family,” kind of grateful, but sincere, deeply felt gratitude for my family compels me to want to do things for them.  Cleaning the house becomes an act of service, of LOVE, not a chore or obligation.  When I am really thankful for the support of a true friend I want to tell them, again I am compelled to act with love.  Why haven’t I really gotten this before?  Does it matter?  Need I dwell there?  No.  I need to rid my mind of the foolish talk (that is so my issue-negative self-talk).  I need to be thankful.  It is going to take some practice, but the spirit filled life is just that-a life of discipline.

I wrote a list identifying what Thankfulness does:

1.  Builds trust/faith

2.  Forces us to reign in the clutter/chaos/negative mind chatter and move forward believing God is who He says He is and that His promises are true

3.  Replaces other thoughts-when I seek to be grateful the other thoughts are pushed out.

4.  Prompts me to do good, speak good, think good.

All of the above move me to a life of PEACE.  More importantly, the entire lesson today reminds me that God is much more interested in my “being” than in my “doing”.  Hard lesson for a Type A person with innate desires to make a list and check it twice.

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…

It has been quite a week.  I didn’t post on Wednesday, life was just too full and in keeping with my priorities, blogging fell off the list so I could focus on family.  We have had a blast finishing up a little Christmas decorating. The tree has been up and the yard has been glowing, but some of our little Christmas vignettes hadn’t quite been completed.  I miss my girls being of the age where Christmas is magical, and mystery awaits around every corner.  However, as much as I miss those days, and that age, I am loving being in the Second Season of parenting.  Christmas magic still exists.  Now though, they are a part of making it happen.  I even had one of those, “Thank you Lord we have done some things right” moments, when my girls finished purchasing some gifts for those less fortunate and in unison (after all they are twins) said, “Mom, it really is so much fun to give.  It makes me so excited.”  Not only that, but in this season they relish in getting out the decorations and helping.  One, I love the help.  More than that though I love listening to them share their memories as they help with the tree, vignettes, the outside etc…  We never really know as parents which moments are catching their attention.  Be assured.  They are capturing moments.  They are making memories.  So, I encourage you if you have little ones.  Enjoy these days.  I know it can be hard, and some days you wonder if you’ll make it through to the next.  Relish the moments.  Make memories.  Be deliberate in the memories you make.  At the same time, be encouraged.  The teen years aren’t bad.  There are new pleasures and new moments to treasure.  You begin to see the fruit of your labor and it is quite delightful.

In the spirit of Christmas and sharing, I leave you with a few pictures of our Christmas.  I won’t be blogging any the next week and half.  It’s all about family, enjoying some time in the ministries we are engaged in, helping others know Christ, see Christ.  I’ll be reflecting on the year behind and the year ahead.  I’ll be praying that in my little world and in yours Christ will make Himself evident and one more life would be changed.  Merry Christmas.  May the Christ of the Season be your Peace and your Hope.

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Survival of the Fittest: Thanksgiving Style

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Hallmark version of the holiday emerged victorious in all our homes?  Instead, for many of us, it turns out a little more like “Christmas Vacation.”  The reality is, even with the best laid plans, executed with grace and efficiency, people are a part of the holiday and, sadly bring to the table emotions and baggage.  Maybe that is not your experience, and if not, I pray you know how blessed you are.  For me, the family strife seems to creep its way in, no matter what I do.  This year, proved no different. An ongoing volatile relationship exploded once again, and to round it all out nicely, the dreaded stomach virus has over the course of a week taken immediate and extended family out one by one.   It’s given new meaning to “survival of the fittest”.

I have a tenuous relationship with my mother. There are many reasons for it, most a result of life circumstances in and out of our control, her struggle with depression, and an innate desire as a daughter to want to fix things, do enough to obtain approval, maintain peace…  For years I allowed those desires to almost consume me.  I took on every need, every disconnect and feverishly sought to find a solution, a way to mend the fences.  In the end though, I did little more than take on another person’s anger and dissatisfaction. I was changed and in return able to do little to create change.  Last year, all things came to a climax-yes, at a holiday.  It was devastating.  It was painful.  It was terrifying.  It was the end of me, and the beginning of truly learning to let go of the things that bound me and learn to live freely in Christ.  I look back now and wonder why I didn’t let go earlier.  Why I didn’t realize that the struggling was not a part of my spiritual growth, but more a battle to hold on to “earthly ways” and a failure to trust God.  Beth Moore, in Breaking Free says “..the most debilitating loss for a Christian is not the loss of a loved one, but the loss of faith.”  It is hard to admit a loss of faith.  Too often we think of it in broad terms-walking away from a relationship with Christ.  If we look at it in broad terms we can protect ourselves from having to face the harsh reality of our spiritual condition-the lack of faith.  As a Christian it is heart wrenching to come to terms with a faith problem, yet anything binding us/oppressing us is just that.  So, while I hated last year’s events, they were the beginning of looking deep within myself and coming face to face with my lack of faith issue.  And so, this year, through much prayer, quiet reflection and pursuit of God’s word, He has begun to restore.  The relationship with my mother is not restored.  It may never be fully restored, for some of the work is hers to choose to do.  He has begun to restore me, free me to live abundantly as the person He created me to be.  He has shown me cycles need not be repeated.  He has shown me I must trust Him to see my mother through her journey on the path she chooses.  He has shown me I can not live “for” others, but can live freely “with” others.  And as happens when we let go, have faith, He grows in us the very image of all we have hoped to be.

As for the stomach virus, well, not much to learn from that.  Life happens.  Sometimes you just roll with the punches.  You get back up, you clean up and carry on.  In the end, we all survive.  Some of us may not grow or seek a new path, but some of us will.  We survive, but more importantly we chose the path less traveled, we get through it and we thrive.