Dear Friend…

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You know that game shrinks play when they show their patients pictures of objects and ask them to say the first word that comes to mind?  My son played that game with me on April 19th.  Only he didn’t show me a photo…he mentioned your name.

Kind.  Very kind.  The answer came quick and easy.  But your name doesn’t bring to mind one word.  One word isn’t enough.

Pure-hearted.  Sincerely good.  Everyday.

That is what I remember most about you.

It seems after all these years, you’ve left the same impression on my son.  While your paths crossed,  I never knew.  Professionally for the both of you.  And that time you pulled him over not so long ago while he was driving that old blue geo metro that looked as though it would fall apart right then and there.

Thank you for all you do…for being discerning.  In a world filled with muddied agendas, I appreciate that quality in humans more than words can say.  Especially in your line of work.

May God surround you with His favor like a shield.  I pray that you will be enveloped by His love and comfort and peace.  Each morning when you rise to new mercies, I pray you remember that your counselor and defender neither slumbers nor sleeps.

In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear.  Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.

If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work.  And it is I who created the destroyer to wreak havoc;

No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

~Isaiah 54: 14-17

The Pink House

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It would take me years to fully understand the lessons of the pink house.  I only knew I felt at home in the room where thick, velvety theatrical curtains hung with dramatic prominence and a new litter of kittens seemed to outnumber humans.  I learned two things quickly: 1) kittens didn’t like me and 2) I wanted very much to be on the other side of that curtain.  I was two years old.

There was no great wizard on the other side– only a world of possibilities.  No ruby slippers.  Just a size 8 powerhouse– topped with red hair, grounded with tap shoes– and love that shone from her eyes when she looked at you, fueled by an unusual kindness that took up residence in her soul.  The only other look she seemed capable of giving was a passionate fierceness.  I’d learn about that later.  But even that was emphasized with love.

Miss Judy.

Decked out in Danskin and Capezio, she took me under her wing in spite of the fact that my big brother had sunk his teeth deeply into her hand for no good reason.  I was captivated by her, impressed beyond words by her never-ending supply of Tootsie Rolls.  She was 41.  I was 3— far too young to understand that she was the stuff legends were made of.

She had already lived an impressive amount of life by anyone’s standards but she still had another half a lifetime yet to live and her hunger to make every moment count was insatiable.  Maybe it was because she had already buried the love of her life.  All I know is that by the time I met her in the late 1960’s, she had already coached football, earned a pilot’s license, starred in a movie, studied dance in New York, raised two wonderful kids, and opened her own studio.

Together with her family, she welcomed all into the pink house.  The sign in front, painted in black script read: Judy’s School of Fine Arts.  Her tiny gray-headed mother, Mrs. Ruth Hays, held down the fort at the reception desk.  Through the kitchen, past the Pepsi machine, to the right and down the stairs was where Miss Judy taught.  Past the Pepsi machine, to the left and up the stairs is where her daughter, Mary Ruth taught.

Long before the days of reality television featuring competitive, feuding dance moms, we’d spend entire summers at the pink house.  Our mothers didn’t linger, let alone fuss.  They just dropped us off in the mornings with our dance bags and sack lunch, Monday through Friday, and headed to work.

There was no summer camp fee added to tuition.  No ungodly hourly rate.  Miss Judy simply liked having us there.  When we weren’t dancing in her classroom downstairs, we were upstairs with Mary in the gymnastic room, stopping only to enjoy lunch, drinking ice cold Pepsi from a glass bottle purchased from the machine for 20 cents.

I never knew Miss Judy to be away from her studio during business hours with the exception of one trip out of town.  Mary decided to surprise her with a fresh coat of interior paint.  Pink, of course.  So we spent one wonderful summer afternoon painting the walls.  In the evenings, our mothers would pick us up and after a good night’s sleep, we’d start all over again.

Body image wasn’t an issue there.  Miss Judy understood basic math: calories in vs. calories expended and if too big a deficit was created, there was always peanut butter and bread in the kitchen.  Day after day, week after week, and year after year she danced alongside us.  That’s why she had thighs and buns of steel long before it was envogue.

Looking back, I see how very much Mary was like her mother, minus the red hair.  Hers was dark blond or light brown, depending on the season and she carried herself on legs as every bit as defined as the cross-fit competitors of today.  Neither Mary nor Miss Judy would take I can’t for an answer and yet their challenges came without criticism.  And they usually got from us exactly what they wanted.  Even when the circus equipment arrived.  Circus equipment– because someone decided that if we could master time steps and back-hand-springs infinity and double pique turns diagonally across the room on pointe—which actually is rocket science because any good physicist can tell you that the polar moment of inertia equals mass times the radius squared—why…there was no reason on God’s green earth you couldn’t master a high wire or trapeze.  And so the circus equipment was installed in the yard of the pink house the summer I was eleven years old.

We knew nothing of dance competition; nothing of tense dressing room scenarios where competitive dance moms held court with their arsenal of makeup and safety pins and false eye-lashes.  No one to sneak into our personal space, launching an attack by way of aerosol spray body glitter.  Rivalry wasn’t on Miss Judy’s list of attributes, though she could certainly stand her ground if pressed into action.  Anything we learned about clashing or locking horns, we learned outside of those pink walls.

Instead of those things, she’d load us into her station wagon and take us on adventures around the state.  When her tiny gray-headed mother finally went to live in a nursing facility, she’d take us there to visit.  And, of course, to dance.  She eliminated the awkwardness from the growing-up process by focusing on the fun stuff and keeping us busy, convincing our moms to let us shave our legs much sooner than our age peers.

The pink house was a place of healing.  Relationships were built, and people fell in love.  Tragedy occurred and loss was mourned.  Babies arrived and had tap shoes on their feet by the age of two.  When I found myself a 21 year old single mother after marrying the wrong boy, she didn’t philosophize.  She saw my broken heart and simply suggested that I rearrange my furniture and we sat in comfortable silence in the dance room where I now taught.  She knew a slight change in energy flow would somehow refresh and alter perspective.  She knew all about love and life after loss.

When I attended her graveside service earlier this year, it all came back.  As I stood among childhood friends—the ones who felt like big sisters for the length of a childhood— Mary told me that she didn’t recognize the red head standing there…because I had grown up blonde.  I told her without ever having realized it before that the influence was far-reaching…and it didn’t escape my notice that Mary’s hair is also infused with red.

Miss Judy’s children and grandchildren stood beside her casket where a pair of tap shoes looked perfectly at home among flowers and celebrated with stories of their mother and grandmother, passing along her words of wisdom:  Treat your wife with love and respect and she will always take good care of you   Never fight with your husband without your make-up on.   Time to wake up…today can be a good day or it can be a bad day…but if you decide it’s going to be a bad day…it will be a bad day all day long.  It didn’t surprise me to learn that a couple of days before she passed away, she made it a point to telephone a friend who suffered from Alzheimer’s just to tell her You are a glamour girl. 

Every soul there was wholly aware that they mattered a great deal to her….because the beautiful life she shared with her family and friends didn’t just happen.  It was choreographed.

My childhood institution of learning was the pink house—a world of possibilities—where faith was a verb and doubt was demolished.  A place where we learned to love and prevail and endure.  To relish and savor.  That remaining alive was far more important than mere survival.  That whatever you must face down in this life–just keep dancing.

Sometimes you forget the steps.  But if you close your eyes for a piece of time and listen closely to the music, you remember.  The lessons imprinted on a soul are never truly forgotten.  I’m feeling that insatiable hunger to make every moment count.  I’ve still got another half a lifetime yet to live, God willing.  Today can be a good day or a bad day.  If I’m mindful, I can encourage someone with my last breath and enter into my final rest in the manner of Miss Judy… topped with red hair… grounded with tap shoes.

There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct.  There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living.  These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark.  They light the way for humankind.”

~Hannah Senesh, poet, playwright, paratrouper

A Divine Summons

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For Melissa…

 “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

~Albert Einstein

For Moses, it was a burning bush—a voice he could hear calling from within.

For me, it was an inkling…communicated in a gentle undertone…a feeling that wouldn’t go away.  A slight understanding that repeated itself when I was quiet enough to listen.

I left it there for a time.  There was no need for immediate response.  Nothing was on fire.  Some things need a little marinating and this was one of them.  The longer I let it absorb, the more savory it became.  The more savory it became, the more intense my craving.

This is how it began with me 16 years ago when I responded to the call to teach my kids at home.

Most people think of a call as a mystical thing reserved only for those who pursue religious occupations.  Like a woman who is called into a Sisterhood or a man who is called into the Priesthood.  Or my great-grandfather who was serving in the U.S. Navy when he felt called to preach.

Theologian Frederick Buechner said this of the process: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

A simpler, sweeter explanation that resonates deeply is defined by author Melissa Lauber:

A call is always personal and tailored to fit a person’s soul.  It builds on one’s spiritual gifts; it usually feels urgent and persistent.  A call is a response to a summons.  It is a kind of surrendering.  It is a challenge and a joy.

Most people are average people going about the business of their ordinary day when negotiations begin.  Moses, a 40 year fugitive, was shepherding in a field.  I was leaving the parking lot of the school where I served as vice president of the PTA Board.

The hearing of a call is the easy part.  The answering is more of a challenge because the temptation to talk yourself out of the thing is huge.  For Moses, it was a matter of speech.  He argued that he was not an eloquent speaker.  So God sent Aaron— not only big brother to Moses—but also a gifted public speaker —who happened to be on his way to visit Moses as they spoke. 

In their back-and-forth negotiations, I imagine Moses found it reassuring to hear God speak the words, I will be with you.  I will help you.  I will teach you what to do.  Tell them I Am Who I Am sent you.

Moses’ Sender…had complete confidence in the one He was sending.

Speech was not an issue for me.  Algebra was.  In my back-and-forth negotiations I argued:  I would do it in a heartbeat if only…I could do them justice in algebra.  So before the sun set that day, someone who happened to show up to visit me… opened my world to the greatest math program ever invented.

A true call morphs into a knowing in your soul that arrives with such great clarity—it is easy to trust that you will be equipped.  No matter how average and ordinary we know we are.

It takes on a life of its own…a thing you can no longer let sit.

There is no standard level of education required to answer a divine summons.  God places the passion and desire in our hearts to do the thing He calls us to do.  What you bring to the table is faith, courage, and a touch of audacity.

And for Moses, there was this staff…

You’ll need these tools because you will encounter resistance.  Strong resistance.  People who believe they know better will work themselves into a seizure trying to fit you into a mainstream mold.  But you’ll never fit and that’s probably why you were calledThese are your critics.  They will fixate on your perceived weaknesses…failing to recognize that the beauty of being obedient to a call… is that it happens in spite of weakness

Always.

This is about the time provision is made for the next thing you’ll need.  Confirmation …a priceless treasure that arrives in the form of people who believe in you.  They don’t see weakness.  They see potential.  They are sent to uncover your hidden strengths.

Even Moses, courageous as he was, needed a spotter to help complete the final rep of a military press in the battle against the Amalekites.  Two men supported his arms—one on one side and one on the other—because he had grown too tired to hold his staff in the air by his strength alone.

As the years go by, you will hear people express all manner of worry about kids who spend their school years at home.  It isn’t necessary to engage them.  Responding to your call in this life is between you and the One who called you.  Their discernment—or lack of—is between them and their God.

I have nothing against the public school system.  I’m aware that not all homeschooling families choose that particular path for the reason that I did.  I’ve never tried to convince anyone that my way is best.  As one wise mother put it:  “Homeschooling will not build a successful family any more than a hammer will build a successful house.” This is the truth of any school setting.

With challenges and obstacles and far too many mistakes along the way, Moses fulfilled his call.  With challenges and obstacles and far too many mistakes along the way, I raised four kids who completed a course of study. One of them completed their course of study a year ahead of schedule.  All of them excelled in algebra.   Three of them are gifted writers.  All of them are on the right-hand side of the downward slope…for those who need proof that “it worked”.

Those things matter a great deal to people who idolize intellect.  I’m not one of them.  I never set out to raise geniuses.  Genius is what happens in spite of a one-size-fits-all curriculum and not because of it.  Research shows that IQ accounts for 20% of a person’s life success.  The remaining 80% comes from the elements of a far more dimensional EQ.

So what, exactly, defines success?  To some it is job status and power, acquiring wealth, having prestige, a college degree, being surrounded by admirers, having their accomplishments noticed.  For me, it is enjoying the fruits of my labor…moving forward and setting new goals.   It is that beautiful, immeasurable thing that happens on the front porch at the end of the day.

My goal was to raise self-directed learners who would grow up to be compassionate people who would hopefully go on to pursue worthwhile endeavors that would continue to spark their neurons.   And they are.  They’ve taught me far more than any classroom or book.

And the people who fixated on my weaknesses?  They still do.  Does it bother me?  Not any more than Pharaoh bothered Moses.

I Am Who I Am called me.

My Caller had complete confidence in the one He was calling.

I was not of noble birth.  I had no teaching degree in my possession.  I was referred to as an “underachiever”.  Sometimes I think God just has fun picking people who are simply teachable vs. those who already know it all.

He assigns extraordinary tasks to people whose occupations are detestable to the Egyptians.

And I love living in this realm.

I love believing with all of my heart… that herdsmen can become Kings, orphaned girls can become Queens, and murderous fugitives can be just the man for the job.  I believe “unschooled and ordinary” fishermen can become healers and carpenters can profoundly change the world.  Not to mention all those folks without seminary degrees….

But that’s just me.

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.  It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.”

~Albert Einstein–slow learner who didn’t do well in school –so he left at age 15 to figure things out for himself –and went on to become a genius.

 

A Beautiful Celebration called Emily Gras

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“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”. -Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate

 There is nothing of real value that comes from a story of intentional cruelty—only a type of hope that emerges when you witness the best of human nature on the heels of vile behavior.

What is so poignant in the words of “Lit Up Like a Parade”…is the incredible love that poured from the heart of a mother and spilled onto a document.  I felt that.  I have deep admiration for a mother who could never be content to stand by and allow a hateful person to ruin a day for her daughter that should have been filled with joy.  Tradition and ritual are sacred things.  Celebration doesn’t happen in a war zone.  Amy Mueller had the wisdom to recognize when it was pointless to argue with the walking brain-dead… yet did not remain silent when it was time to reclaim precious territory.

I find it interesting that PET images of brains in studies of sociopath behavior show that the left frontal cortex of the sociopath is under-active while the left frontal cortex of compassionate people is lit up like a parade.  Like Emily’s mom.  And the Krewe of Muses.  And the 610 Stompers.  And Dancing Man 504.  And all those beautiful people who felt the love of a mother and chose to respond with empathy in a matter of moments.

Because that’s what it really boils down to.

Choice.

We wake each morning to two God-given gifts:  new mercies and free will.  Those are ours for the taking.  What we do with them for the rest of the day…is up to us.

We choose our behavior.

That’s what I love most about the unexpected ending to this story.  Only it isn’t really an ending.   An outcome this beautiful feels much more like a beginning.

You’ve got to see this outpouring of love for yourself…because in New Orleans, that’s just how they roll.

That’s How We Roll

Dancing Man 504

 “This is not my first experience with Southern Hospitality in this steamy, dreamy place, but it is the thing that calls me back, time and time again. This is my favorite city. The air I breathe is thick and sultry. Quirky is the norm here. Eccentricity is simply a given.

And people ask me why I love it.” ~Dawn

A Beautiful Girl Named Emily

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I have a strong aversion toward the bottom feeders of the world.  I absolutely loathe them.  I’m not talking about the kind of criminals whose behavior has long been deemed by society to be socially unacceptable.  I’m talking about malicious people who masquerade daily as normal folk and walk through this life inflicting intentional pain on people.

Bullies.

Bottom-feeders.

They don’t serve time like convicted criminals.  Thanks to a world filled largely with passive bystanders, the sociopathic behavior of the common bully has proven to be socially acceptable. 

I recently read an essay about a bullying incident written by A.L. Mueller at Nola Femmes,  one of my favorite places to read.  This is a story about a beautiful girl named Emily who never wanted to be the target of a bully.  With permission, I’d like to share her mother’s words.  This is part one of a story with a very unexpected ended.

Lit Up Like a Parade

Thursday marked the end of a countdown my daughter started on January 6: Muses.

Each night, after she listed her daily gratitudes and wrote in her diary, she would find the countdown calender drawn on pink paper and dressed in white, silver, purple, and red glitter. With her very special pen, she would carefully cross off one more day, informing me of the new countdown as she called out wishes of sweet dreams. As the countdown slimmed from a month, to a week, and then to days, her excitement grew.

“I don’t know if I should wear a costume this year or not, Mama,” she contemplated in the middle of a lesson on polygons for her sixth grade math class.

“Mama. do you think I will get a shoe?”

“What do you think the floats will look like?”

“Which book should I bring with me to read while we wait?”

“Should I take pictures with my cell phone?”

“I am so excited for beads, Mama!”

She was preoccupied with the parade, the Krewe of Muses, and our Mardi Gras holiday.

Since our first parades as New Orleanians a few years ago, our Mardi Gras holiday has consisted of Muses on Thursday and d’Etat on Friday. Having a spouse working in the restaurant business, Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras were never spent together – he is busy insuring everyone else has their spirits high on these two special days. And because my daughter is a high-functioning autistic child, we stayed away from the crowds of the super krewes. Just in case.

We have always watched the parades along the extended route, sometimes called the family zone, and it has been an enjoyable experience. We have reconnected with old friends, exchanging Mardi Gras wishes while catching up with the latest changes in our lives, and have met many new friends. My daughter has played along strangers, created art while patiently waiting for the show to start, and read her first Nancy Drew book along the parade route. Through the challenges that we sometimes face throughout the year, issues dealing with social and sensory issues, Mardi Gras and Muses was the moment of the year where it all faded away, where we were a normal family embracing the culture in our new city, creating memories of our new life.

As we sat on the sidewalk along the parade route and patiently waited for start time, we talked about what we thought we would see, which bands we loved listening to best, and whether Elvis would make an appearance on his moped. We watched Pussyfooters pass by on foot, 610 Stompers in full uniform, and a few Bearded Oysters with high hair weaving through the crowd. As parade time approached, as cliche as it sounds, there was a sparkle in my daughter’s eye and a smile so big, it made me wish that she could spend her life this happy – always.

And then they came. Despite sitting on the ground, our feet on the street, they came in front of us, a gaggle of college kids holding to-go cups full of booze, cigarettes in hand, f-bombs flying out of their mouths with no care who was around them. Once the parade started, we stood, them still in the street. Then the first marching band hit the road, forcing us all to back up, my daughter getting lost in a sea of twenty-somethings drinking a little too much. Some were local, others were not. She looked at me, her eyes tense.

“Mama, I can’t see. And that guy keeps touching me with his beer.”

Despite her 5′ 6′ frame, she was surrounded by young adults too involved in gossiping about who was going to be screwing who, which picture they had on their phones that were “too epic’ to not post on Facebook, and preoccupied by the booze pouring out of their red SOLO cups.

One boy, over 6 foot, came dangerously close to starting my daughter’s hair on fire. Only one float had passed by.

“Excuse me, Sir,” I said, ” do you think you could move over a bit. My daughter cannot see, you’ve spilled some beer on her, and you almost got her with your cigarette.”

He looked at me blankly, then looked at her. He looked at my daughter from head to toe, staring at the patch on her coat that would indicate she was autistic to medical personal should an emergency arise. He sneered at me before laughing in my face.

I put my arms around my daughter, warming her up, protecting her, whispering in her ear.

The tall man with the bear hat on his head paid no mind to us. He didn’t move, either.

“Hey, man! I need to move. This woman is bitching at me because her retard daughter can’t see the parade!” he shouted to a kid a few feet away.

He turned back to us, looked my daughter in the eye, and shouted to no one in particular. “This retard is making watching the parade a challenge.”

My daughter looked at me, knowing he was talking about her, and tears formed in her eyes. I wrapped my arms around her a bit tighter and whispered in her ear that the man was drunk, didn’t know what he was saying, and sometimes the best thing to do is to know the truth about yourself and ignore what other people say.

My words didn’t matter, though. By then, she had heard what he had said, knew what he was implying about her, and she wanted to go home. Had she not been with, I may have had a few choice words of my own, but I knew it wasn’t the time and certainly not the place.

A night she had been looking forward to, planning and anticipating for a few months, had just been marred by that bad behavior of a grown person.

“Mama. please, can we go home? He told everyone I’m a retard. I’m not a retard, am I, Mama?” she asked. The grin was gone, replaced by a quivering lip. The sparkle in her eyes had dispersed, and they were now filled with a flow of tears falling down her full, pink cheeks.

“Are you sure, honey? We could walk somewhere else and watch the parade. We could move.”

“No, Mama. I don’t think that would be a good idea. People there will probably think I’m a retard, too. People don’t want people like me at parades. They won’t let us in to watch the parade. I just know it.”

I tried to comfort her with my words, encourage her, but the more I pushed, the more this man’s words hurt.

We packed up the bag holding the the goods that had entertained us for the two hours we sat on the sidewalk, waiting for our special night. The bag that held my daughter’s snacks, sketch pad, books, and blanket. I took her hand, and led her to the car to go home.

She cried in the car on the way home, having seen exactly two floats from Muses and having exactly zero throws to show for the verbal attack that she endured just trying to watch her favorite parade.

“Honey, I am really sorry about what happened. Maybe we can try tomorrow night. Maybe we can go to a different spot, ” I said, trying to encourage her and save the rest of our Mardi Gras.

“No, Mama. I don’t think I want to do Mardi Gras anymore. Not ever again.”

A year ago, I asked my daughter what she most loved about Mardi Gras, expecting her to say the throws, the beads, and the pretty costumes. Her answer surprised me: “I don’t feel like I am different than everyone else during Mardi Gras, Mama. During Mardi Gras, everyone is a little weird like me.”

That night, she didn’t want to share her daily gratitudes, shrugging her shoulders and telling me she didn’t really feel grateful for much. She didn’t write in her journal, only wanting to forget the night had even happened. Her countdown calendar peppered the floor in tear-soaked pieces. A night that he had probably already forgotten by the next morning; a night that her broken heart will never let her forget.

Eleven Awesome Ways to Combat Winter Blues

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1.  Organizing the linen closet.

2.  A never-ending supply of chocolate.

3.  Polishing the antiques.

4.  Working out to Run DMC.

5.  Library books!

6.  Grilling rib-eye in the freezing temps.

7.  Traveling scenic country roads instead of the highway.

8.  Green and White Fusion Tea with natural honey.

9.  A regular movie date with Alex and T.J.

10.  Focusing on the beautiful night sky…the way God turns the gray into art.

11.  Falling asleep wrapped in the fragrance of Lavender Chamomile.

Stranded in a Nordic Country

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That’s what winter begins to feel like after a while. In a place where we experience four distinct seasons, this season is my least favorite. Even so, I’m always taken off guard when the winter blues kick into full gear. It brings out the fight in me…like a wrestler on the verge of being pinned…but I don’t want to submit.

So I refuse. I lift my shoulders off the ground and fight back with all I’ve got.

That’s what you do when you don’t have Icelandic blood coursing through your veins. Those fortunate souls appear to have a genetic exemption from such nonsense according to one study done on winter time depression in the late 1800’s. You fight or you cave in to the darkness. If you’re lucky, you get to hibernate. But that’s not really an option for us, is it? As passionately as I believe it should be.

The simple truth is that winter here has not been brutal. And yet…the intensity of my winter time blues has been.

To wrestle myself out of submission, I moved the furniture.

One of the most influential ladies in my life told me how powerfully effective such a re-arrangement could be but that is another story entirely.

While unwinding after work around 3 a.m. or so, I came across an article that caught my eye. It drew me right in.  After reading it,  I felt hopeful. I wish I could find it again to share but here is something very similar: DIY

The reason it made all the sense in the world to me is that I had re-arranged our living room a few months ago to take advantage of vertical space. The change didn’t make me jump for joy but it did suit the purpose. Isn’t it strange how we can move things around for years and then one day, it all seems so right?  The position of everything somehow feels permanent and you could just die happy? I un-did that permanent thing that had worked for so long.

After reading the article, I re-arranged the living room once again to something that felt more permanent. Something that made me happy. I got really enthusiastic about the process and moved into the bedroom. I removed the storage containers kept underneath my bed. The love of my life helped me move things, all the while, refraining from laughter. But I could see the laughter in his eye.

“Feng Shui?” he asked.

“Yes,” I admitted.

“But hush. We’re supposed to have better quality of sleep when there is nothing stored under the bed. You don’t always sleep so well.  And do you really ever look into that mirror? Because I’m going to hang art there instead…”

Breezy also removed every piece of her great-grandmother’s luggage she had stored underneath her bed when we got home from work in the wee hours in an act of blind faith.  She understands me enough that she never requires an explanation for inexplicable things.

I woke up today feeling awesome. Completely rested.

I spotted Breezy.  “Did you sleep better?” I asked her.

“I slept completely sound until I woke. I didn’t even hear Donovan come in to take the weights out of my room,” she answered.

“Me, too!!” I told her. “But then again…it was cloudy and it rained. But I’m going with the Feng Shui.”

And so we agreed.

But it was 7 year old Alex who sealed the deal when she walked into the house after school.

“I love this!” she said of the living room arrangement.

“There’s so much room to dance!”

And that…had absolutely nothing to do with vitamin D…or lack, thereof…or anything pertaining to meteorology.

Dear Jonah…

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Dear Jonah,

You are a soldier.

There are more than a million reasons for you to stay…

…another season of Christmas lights…the rush of endorphins…eye contact that melts your heart…a new flavor of Blue Bell …a lifetime of sunsets…the best kiss ever…all those simple pleasures that are medicine to the soulbut most of all…

…someone needs what you have to offer.

Hard times get better…

…not because bullies become non-existent in the adult world.  Sociopaths will always occupy space… at work, at family gatherings… very possibly right next-door.  Their power is solely dependent on the psychological manipulation of others but you finally figure them out.   They are self-loathing types with not one shred of self-control and you almost pity them.

Almost. 

They bully because it is what they do best.

Imagine the misery.

They aren’t best at something incredible like being artistic or playing the piano.  They aren’t the best figure skaters or even the best athletes.  They don’t love best.  They don’t edify.  They bully because they are best at malice, animosity, cruelty, contempt, nastiness… envy.  They are best at being Godless.

 It does get better…

…not because of any mood-regulating substance.   Maybe you watch an episode of Ellen—an hour of simple joy at the expense of no oneand you discover laughter therapy—this incredible thing that comes from somewhere deep inside and heals your soul on its way out.

Kindness is refreshing.

Joy is contagious.

It gets better even while most people stagnate in complacency because the day comes when something changes inside of you.  You figure out you’re at the mercy of no one.  You get to set the boundaries of who and what you’ll subject yourself to.  It is your quality of life.  Your well-being.  Who better to decide?  The absence of oppression makes the world look different.

It becomes beautiful.

You become untouchable.

You become free to surround yourself with Architects rather than Wrecking Balls…those who have your best interest at ♥ heart ♥… those who validate your experience—and they do exist.  They may not be who you hoped and very possibly those you least expected, but God is good.  He makes provision for every sense of loss, betrayal, invalidation… every destructive word and every act of intentional cruelty.

Surrounded by love with no conditions, you are free to grow into that uniqueirreplaceable soul you were always meant to be.  You can offer your gifts and talents to a world that is much better with them than without them.

Your inward calling will be unstoppable.

You’ll be here to breathe life back into those who suffer as you once did.  Instead of malice, you’ll offer kindness.  Instead of animosity, you’ll offer love.  You’ll eliminate cruelty in favor of mercy.  Rather than contempt, you’ll offer respect.  In the place of nastiness… compassion.  Instead of envy… comfort.

You may very well be the one person who offers someone just enough hope to make it through another day

Sincerely,

Dawn

P.S.  I love you.