Wild + Precious Life

I am laying in bed with my youngest, watching him sleep. Well, not really sleep. I’m watching him do a pose that mimics a turtle struggling to get off its shell and back on its feet, as he whispers to me that he’s “yoga-ing” and that he would “also like a cookie, please.” These are the moments.

Grant

Throwback to the days of baby tree pose.

A few months ago, our boys began sharing a bedroom. This was part of Operation: Take Back the House, in which one of the boys’ bedrooms became a playroom, now housing every block, puzzle, toy, and LEGO ever created. Probably some the kids invented, as well. In my efforts to minimize and organize, I’ve noticed LEGOs multiply like rabbits when you aren’t watching. I digress.

When the boys first shared a room, we’d read their bedtime stories, tuck them in, and say goodnight, leaving the room just as we would before they were sharing a space. This led to a week-long adventure that lasted until at least 10pm most nights, and ended with an American Ninja Warrior style furniture moving contest (did you know a three-year-old can move a bed?!) And so, we began staying a bit longer after lights out, to encourage peaceful, restful sleep. Also, to prevent injuries. And nudity. Because that’s also a thing with boys, I’ve learned.

Tonight, I’m watching as Grant slowly relaxes and begins to enter the sleep zone. I notice his soft, blond hair. I marvel at his still-chubby cheeks. I try very, very hard not to laugh when he asks for a cookie (third time). And I cannot help but think how blessed we are.

You think that a lot as a parent…how blessed we are. When you see these children, these lives you’ve been trusted with, and you feel the weight of that responsibility combined with an atom-splitting nuclear love. An unimaginable and indescribable love.

When I stop to consider the science behind creation, it’s really something. The odds of our existence – of those cells combining out of the tens or even hundreds of millions of possible combinations, and they made a person. They made my children. They made you. Isn’t that incredible? You are here for a reason; a purpose. God has a plan for you.

It’s so very easy to feel small at times, isn’t it? With seven billion of us sharing this earth, how could we not feel small? That maybe our voice, our thoughts, our ideas don’t matter as much as those of another. Or that maybe it’s not really important that we follow through with that plan, that idea, those actions, because surely one of the other 6,999,999,999 folks sharing this planet has thought of it as well, so they’ll probably take care of it. Right?

But you matter. Because when you do consider the science behind your divine creation, you should realize how important you truly are. God could have made anyone – ANYONE – but he made you. Your existence was timed and intentional, regardless of what our brains may tell us at times. Your life is very, very big.

We are perfectly imperfect, placed here for a reason, called to a higher calling, to use what we have, whatever that may be, to do good in this world. To make it easier for the other 6,999,999,999 hearts sharing this space with us.

I look at my sweet, now-sleeping boys, and I see their wild and precious lives. I see the tiny humans they are today; I imagine the amazing humans they will grow to become. I realize that we are perfect in our imperfections and that they serve a purpose. I know that we were put here to do big things, no matter where or who we are, because big doesn’t always mean sending a rocket to Mars. It takes just a single raindrop to nourish a blade of grass, but imagine how lost those fields would be without those little drops of rain. Big, right?

One of my very favorite poets wrote:

Who made the world?
The swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

— Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

I do find myself pausing, absorbing the world around us, taking in every small thing – the way the flowers burst into being after rain; how the cicadas sing in the warm, humid night; the tiniest of stars, twinkling in the night sky. These things are so wild and so precious, so beautiful and important…and how are we any different? Aren’t we just as wild, our lives just as precious? When did we forget our value, ourselves, our meaning?

I’m watching my boys, and finding I am reminded of the amazing love we were given. The love we should share. It’s bigger than we can comprehend; that’s why we are called to share it. Isn’t that what we should do with our one wild and precious life?

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Proof

“If you don’t believe in miracles…perhaps you’ve forgotten you are one.” – attributed to Albert Einstein

I am often met by individuals who question so many aspects of our God: existence, faithfulness, protection, unconditional love, peace. Considering their perspective, I can understand their desire to question or disbelieve, as the world around us seems fraught with things pulling us away from God. We are reminded daily in subtle ways of God’s existence and purpose; occasionally, we are given a less-than-subtle experience. Those impactful times become defining moments in our lives; I am choosing to share one of those today.

Some of you know my mom, Anne. For those who don’t, you may follow this link to read a post I’d written for her birthday five years ago, in which I briefly discuss her resilience as a woman who is legally blind (diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at an early age) yet conquers more than many sighted people I know.

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Mom and Eddie at Tallulah Gorge

Now, fast forward…

Just over 18 months ago, my mom called me the day before her birthday, sharing with me an email she’d received from her husband of nearly 25 years. Through shock, my mom tearfully told me her husband was leaving her. In that single moment, I will share with you that I selfishly felt a sense of joy, of peace, of happiness, as I knew in my heart and soul that an incredible burden was being lifted from her, even if she had yet to understand. My relief was palpable.

To say my relationship was fractured with my mom isn’t a fair description, but it’s somewhat true. Because of her husband, and actions on his part for years prior, I’d distanced myself as a means of protecting my own well-being. When Evan and I were blessed with our first son, this distance grew. I felt a fierce desire to protect my new family, and keeping my mom’s husband far from our peaceful, safe existence was critical to me. This distance left us with great lapses in communication; I’d spend weeks without speaking to my mom, and months without seeing her. Through no fault of her own, I’d selfishly exiled her, waiting for a time to best discern what to do.

By knowing this, it’s easier to understand why I felt relieved and overjoyed at the prospect of her husband’s disappearance; it meant that we could reconnect in a way that had been impossible for the four years prior to that moment. While we couldn’t go back and change the past, we now had years and years ahead that would be filled with happiness and love. A new chapter had begun.

You may wonder how my mom handled this drastic change in life. Have you ever witnessed someone come into their own being? Finding their path, and starting a new journey, regardless of their fear or trepidation? Those milestone moments of independence, accomplishment, love, joy – there’s nothing on this earth like bearing witness to a person growing from the muck and becoming a lotus. I could share paragraphs of the past 18 months, but that’s not the purpose of this post. I tell you of my mom’s newfound independence as it’s an important aspect of the experience I’ll share now.

Last week, we packed our bags and headed to western North Carolina for a weeklong family vacation. My husband and I have made this an annual trip for the past 14 years, and this year, we were bringing my mom along for the ride. We were all excited and thrilled to spend a week together hiking in the mountains, creating memories to share with generations.

On the second day of our trip, we made the drive up to Roaring Fork in Tennessee, with the expectation of hiking and taking in the beautiful sites along the nature trail. Our first stop was a 1.7mi hike to Grotto Falls, billed as “easy, with only a 510′ ascent” in the GSMNP’s guidebook. Ever the adventurer, my mom joined us, along with her guide dog, Eddie.

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Navigating streams.

The hike included areas of exposed roots, river rock, and wet earth, especially as we neared the falls. Nevertheless, my mom carried on, navigating the rough terrain with the help of Eddie. Together they climbed rocks, crossed creeks, and kept pace with my wild sons who’d made it their mission to beat everyone to the falls.

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Wild mountain boys.

As we neared the falls the path narrowed, and the terrain became rockier. Just past the second cascade from the river, my mom and Eddie decided to stop and wait for us as we went on to Grotto Falls. It was a short distance away, but accessible only after some upward climbing over wet rocks and muddy side paths. It was a wise choice by my mom. The falls were dangerously beautiful, earning their name as you could disappear behind them in a small cave. Our boys soaked up every moment, splashing in the chilly water and touching the falls. Once we’d finished exploring, we headed back down to my mom and Eddie, beginning our descent to the trailhead.

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Because it was a Saturday, the narrow portions of the trail could become congested and difficult to navigate. As we reached my mom, we paused to allow a couple to pass before moving forward. Evan led the way with Grant, our youngest, and I followed closely behind Miles. I recall asking Miles to watch his step, as we were on the right side of the trail which held a steep, sheer drop to the cascades and river, roughly 30′ below. After ensuring Miles’ safety as he grabbed my husband’s hand, I turned to help guide my mom. This was the instant in which I later wished I’d done a hundred things differently.

As Eddie trekked forward on the trail, he neared the edge, not knowing the earth had grown soft from the falls’ constant mist and spray rising up from the valley below. One small step too far to the right, and the trail instantly gave way. I stood in horror as I watched my mom and Eddie disappear off the side of the mountain, completely out of view.

Do you know what it’s like, to believe for just a moment that someone you love is gone, forever? It feels like this: a punch to the gut, a loss of vision, a gasping for breath as you must surely have fallen beneath the heavy, dark, unending ocean, with no light, with no way to reach the surface. It lasts for just a moment, but in hindsight, it’s an eternity of heightened emotions you will replay over and over again.

I called for my mom; I called for my husband; I called for my boys. In my mind, I called for my God, requesting a dozen things at once: that my mom be alive, that my mom be conscious, that we witness a miracle.

Evan quickly climbed up to where I stood in silent disbelief. He guided the boys to me, and we moved as close to the side of the trail hugging the mountain as we possibly could. Peering over the side, I saw the first miracle: A tree. A rotten, old, decaying tree was left protruding from the sheer cliff. Both my mom and Eddie were wedged between this tree and the earth. This tree, no more than 14″ in diameter and seemingly void of purpose in life as it was no longer living, became a life raft. Had my mom fallen six inches to the left or right, this tree wouldn’t have fulfilled its destiny of literally, in every sense of the word, rescuing her.

Like a skilled rock climber, Evan created footholds in the soft earth as he climbed down the mountainside. Now I’d lost him from sight as well, but I trusted he would be given the knowledge and instinct to do what seemed impossible.

I could hear my mom telling Evan of the pain she was in from her ankle, leg, and hip. I felt the fear in her voice as the tree loosened, and she silently prayed, believing these could be her last breaths on this earth. My own breathing calmed, as Evan began a narration of instructions to get back up the mountain. It was a guidance of cues for someone visually impaired. I thought to myself, “He never misses a single thing.”

Evan first untangled Eddie from my mom. Then, untangling his lead from his harness, Evan asked me to the edge and tossed the lead up to me. He hoisted all 80lbs of Golden Retriever up over his head, and I pulled Eddie to where the boys and I were standing. Our second miracle: my mom had kept Eddie’s lead attached. With just his working harness, I’m not certain we could have pulled him up the mountainside.

Next, Evan guided my mom into a position that would allow him to push her up the side of the mountain. He then apologized for needing to lift her by pushing from her butt and up the cliff. Can you imagine, maintaining a sense of modesty and manners? I thought later, my own inner sailor would surely be in full-blown colorful language at this point. Not Evan. I don’t believe he faltered even once. Slowly, my mom grabbed at the roots in the trail, and we hoisted her up to the path. Evan then climbed up himself, to take survey of the situation. Two humans and one dog, safely on the trail. Evan is a miracle.

Now we’re on a path nearly two miles from the trailhead, and we are quite the caravan needing to make the descent: an injured and blind woman, her guide dog, two boys aged five and three, with my husband and I as the caravan leaders (okay, Evan as the caravan leader – I’m better at copiloting, truthfully).

Here’s where I’ll tell you I know God is real, because what happened next could only have been his work. Climbing up the trail, three young women came upon our group and saw my mom sitting in pain and distress. What did these young women say? “We’ll take a look at you – we’re physical therapists.” Yes, physical therapists – THREE of them! They quickly assessed the damage, rotating my mom’s foot, ankle; pressing her calf, shin, knee, and hip, to determine if anything was broken. After finding no broken or protruding bones, they began to formulate a plan to get my mom down the mountain. Here they were, less than 100′ from the falls, and their sole concern was the wellbeing and safety of my mom. In conversation, I learned they’d just graduated medical school the day prior, and were vacationing in the area to celebrate. They discussed basket carries, shoulder rides, and how to set my mom’s ankle once we were down. Jill, Beth, and her sister were placed on this path for a reason that didn’t include seeing the falls that afternoon.

As we began the slow descent, another couple, Jason and Deanne from British Columbia, came upon our group. Following them came another couple, Dave and his wife. Seeing our slow progress and large group, and knowing we had a fair distance to travel, these four joined in the assist. Jason, an acro yoga instructor, carried my mom on his back. His partner, Deanne, took Eddie. This left Evan and I free to bring the boys down the trail. As we lagged behind, Jason and Dave stopped to give my mom and Eddie water, and Aleve for the pain. They carried my mom down the trail in its entirety, reaching the trailhead long before Evan and I. By the time we’d arrived, only Jill, Beth, and her sister remained, as my mom had already expressed her gratitude, thanks, and taken a commemorative photo for posterity.

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Miracle workers.

These two couples who made the descent possible were miracles, as well.

My mom, sore and shaken, was loaded into the van and we traveled back to the cabin. She spent the following day resting, after wrapping her ankle, and by the next day she felt well enough to join us for some easy hiking and lunch in town. Today, you’d never know she fell down the side of a mountain in Tennessee.

And this is how I know God is real. The actions of my husband, who quickly apprised the situation and planned the rescue. The arrival of three physical therapists, moments after pulling my mom to safety, to assess the injuries. The assistance of an acro yoga instructor, whose body held the strength and stamina to carry my mom down the mountain. The aid of his partner, keeping pace with Eddie and bringing him to safety. The additional help from Dave and his wife, providing water and medicine. For all of these people to be in this spot, this trail, at the same time on the same day – only divine intervention could make this so. Only God’s hand at work could make this possible.

God is real, and he has a plan for your life. He led those seven individuals into their fields of work, their callings for hobbies, giving them the ability to help. He gave my husband a bravery I’ve never known in anyone else, and a mind set with precise decision making skills. He gave all of them hearts of servants, looking for where help is needed, then showing up to do the work without questioning its difficulty.

The day before we left for North Carolina, we arrived home after taking our boys for haircuts. Evan noticed a billowing cloud at our neighbor’s house. While I thought it was just the sprinklers running, Evan quickly turned the car around and drove straight to their house. There was a small fire burning just at the front corner of their garage, melting the siding and creeping slowly higher. As I ran to the front door, finding no one was home, Evan pulled the hose from their sprinklers out of the ground and doused the flames. Later, after the house was cleared by the Fire Department, we left a note explaining the melted, blackened vinyl siding and disarray to their sprinkler system. Our neighbors called Evan, and requested a hug. Realizing had we arrived 15 minutes earlier or later, the state of the home would have been dramatically different. It was a moment in which I recognized God’s work in Evan’s life.

Not all heroes wear capes. Not all are called to a life and career in a field giving them the opportunity to rescue others on a daily basis. But, God calls us all to help, and in those moments of helping – even small ones – we are rescuing. Be it through a kind deed that plants the seeds of faith, or a courageous act that pulls someone from the side of a mountain. God uses each and every one of us for His purpose, if we are open to it.

Here’s what else I know: God’s plan for my mom is real, and it is incredible. A woman in this set of circumstances could easily throw in the towel, questioning life’s purpose, wondering why things have unfolded in such a way. But, knowing my mom, these past 18 months have been a period of tremendous growth in confidence, ability, independence, trust, and most importantly, in faith. This is a woman who never sees a roadblock, but rather an obstacle to overcome. This is a woman who has found her inner strength, greater than Hercules, and has used it for good. Each day, she helps others see their own power. Each day, she bravely ventures into a world that in another time would have told her this life is impossible. Each day she reminds those who doubt that nothing – absolutely nothing – is impossible.

I’ve spent several days replaying moments, words, emotions. It’s difficult to express the depth of gratitude, thankfulness, and abundant love I’ve felt for these people, for my family, for my mom. The idea of treasuring each moment is different, once you’ve felt those moments could be taken away. I have a deep peace, knowing our world remains safe.

There are a hundred different reminders of God’s existence each and every day, but I have a new and deeper understanding of his strength. I know God is real because there is no other explanation for the events that transpired on the side of that mountain on a beautiful spring afternoon. In an instant, the trajectory of our lives was altered, bringing renewed faith, hope, and trust. Proof of his love. Proof of his ability to rescue. Proof of his plan for our lives.

Proof of his faith in us to willingly place our faith in him.

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Worth the trip.

Library Thoughts

Like most buildings today, our library has doors that automatically open and close. When questioned about their purpose by my oldest son, I explained that some people may not be able to open a door by themselves, and that there are many disabilities that affect humans physically. By having automatic doors, we can make sure that every person can easily enter the library to enjoy all it has to offer, just as we do most every weekend.

“The person who thought of these doors is amazing!” was the response I received from Miles.

His simple sentence gave me pause; although I’ve recognized the benefit of such a feature, I’d never considered its value.

A child sees value in everything. To Miles, the idea that a person might not be able to enter the library of their own volition was concerning. To know that someone else in this world had recognized this, and made it possible for all people to enter places, was not just amazing to him – it was inspiring to me. How busy have I been, that I’ve failed to recognize and appreciate the value in things as simple as automatic doors? When did we, as adults, become so focused on the destination that we’ve lost sight of the journey? Of the beauty, the ingenuity, the persistence, of the world around us?

From one of my absolute favorite stories:

As we were leaving the library one afternoon, Miles stood in front of the doors so they’d open then moved to the side, essentially “holding” the door for a few people who were entering. When he was thanked by one of the library patrons, his response was simply, “It’s what I do! You’re welcome!”

“It’s what I do.”

This was another moment that just a few words from a child gave me a deeper insight to our lives.

What if we lived a life of silence, and the only measure of our existence would be through our actions? What would our actions say about us? What would people know of our joys, our passions, our causes, our beliefs, our faith? No ability to explain, to revise, to edit the narrative. Just your life, exactly how you lived it, as your personal statement.

Our children are incredibly focused on the people around them, especially those closest. They are bright, intuitive, and eager to learn. We are well aware of how they listen to each word we say, as those phrases are often parroted back to us at the most opportune times. When Miles “held” the door for the library patrons, it was a reminder to me that our children are also watching us with the same curiosity and desire to follow and model our behavior. When they see us hold a door, they do the same. When they notice you giving someone a hug or a pat on the back for encouragement, they’ll remember they can do that as well. When you help someone in need, they’ll be watching. When you work hard to find a solution to a problem, they’ll notice. When you work even harder to show unconditional love and grace to those around you, no matter their background, your children will understand they can do that, too. When you express gratitude and thankfulness for even the simplest things in life, they’ll continue doing the same.

“It’s what I do.”

Let us all live a life inspired by our children to seek value and meaning in the simplest things, and reminds us to venture off the path, keeping our sense of wonder and curiosity sharp. Let us also live a life that inspires our next generation of world changers to act intentionally with a desire to help, to be agents of change, to make our planet a better place, and to come from a place of love, grace, mercy, and understanding. Let them live a life that inspires the generation that follows, too.

It’s what we (can) do.

BRB, off to change the world!

*That* Kid

Have you ever noticed how something seemingly small – a slight remark, a subtle expression, a wave of a hand – has the power to take you from a peak to a valley almost instantly?  Everyone has these moments; I’m sure it’s not just my overly sensitive interpretation of the world, right?

Here’s what I’ve learned as a parent: you never stop learning.  With each new age for you child comes new joys, but also new challenges, leaving us the task of learning to navigate these uncharted and sometimes raging waters with our wits and our faith.  And the stars.  Isn’t that what sailors did hundreds of years ago? As a mom of two boys, I do feel like a Viking conqueror, especially after bathtime.

Today I was surprised with a short but important conversation with an educator from our boys’ preschool.  My usual emotional state is challenged by surprises like this; I like time to gather my thoughts and gain perspective, but I’m also learning we aren’t always afforded that luxury in the world of education.  Since this chat left me with big feelings I wasn’t quite sure what to do with, I’m putting them in a popular place for me: written words.  Make way for my emotional dump-truck.

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Also:

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If you know my older son, you know he’s spirited.  He’s energetic.  He’s fully embraces life with every fiber of his being.  He’s strong-willed.  He’s bright.  He is me, made over.  These are a few of the sometimes-challenging but always-endearing qualities of my firstborn.  As a parent, it’s very difficult to hear your terms for your child’s personality phrased in ways like “He’s boisterous.  He’s disruptive.  He’s distracting.  He’s defiant.”  It’s difficult because you see the best; you see your child, and know that while there are times of struggle, they are far outweighed by the times of great joy.

It’s been said that comparison is the thief of joy – this rings truest when you become a parent.  From the moment your tiny human arrives in this world, people will unknowingly (or, in some cases, intentionally) cause you to second-guess your abilities, your choices, your methods.  Is he crawling?  Walking?  Eating solids?  Using the toilet?  Counting to 20?  Writing is name?  You begin to look at other kids, other families, and wonder if you just might be doing something wrong.  It’s a natural train of thought.

Where behavior is concerned, your feelings of inadequacy increase.  When you see a classmate sitting quietly, writing their numbers, after you’ve been told that your child is “unable” to do the same, it gives you pause.  It sometimes wakes up a small voice in the back of your mind that starts a sentence, “I wish my kid would…”

Would…what?  This is the truth that not many share: we’ve all had the thought.  You wish they would sit still, listen, learn their sight words, learn algebra, the list goes on and on.  And as soon as you allow that tiny, little voice to occupy space in your brain, the next voice moves in with it: guilt.  You wonder: Why do I think this?  And you feel an overwhelming sense of guilt, because you find yourself suddenly not appreciating your child’s unique personality.

The truth is, you don’t need to feel guilty.  Yes, our children are a joyous blessing, sweet little miracles who fill our lives with happiness.  But do you know what else they do?  Fill the vegetable crisper with LEGOs.  Fill the dishwasher with the 15 Batman action figures they own.  Fill the bathtub with markers without caps.  Fill your brain with the sort of “where am I?” fuzzies you sometimes had in your early 20s.  Oh, there are some very full days around here.  Human emotion is raw and honest, but it’s not bad.  It’s essential to know how we feel, so we can accept it and move on.

You also don’t need to think I wish my kid would…

Here’s what I’ve learned: your kid will, but in his own time.  Your children are snowflakes.  (YES, I SAID SNOWFLAKES)  Of course they are delicate creatures, but I also mean it in the sense that they are different.  They are unique individuals, capable of a whole heck of a lot, but not always when we expect (or prefer).  As a parent, I’ve learned we have to seriously let go of our own expectations.  Our children are humans, just like us.  They have thoughts, feelings, ideas, and plans.  They bloom in their own time, and it cannot be rushed.

But how does that knowledge help me now, today, when I’m realizing my spirited and unique child is suddenly being viewed as “that kid” by others?  You know the one.  It’s the child who makes others, total strangers, say a very similar line: I wish that kid would…

And those words put in that context, man it hurts.  It breaks my heart.  It leaves me feeling as if I’ve somehow failed over the past 4.5 years, without realizing it.  And when I hear those words from a stranger, it makes me realize what it’s like when we think those words.  When did we forget that children are just that – children?  When did we begin to expect they would do things far beyond their young years, far beyond their emotional maturity, far beyond what they should be doing?  When did we deem it acceptable to put pressure on them from such a young age?  Heartbreak territory, when you see the world is trying to make your child grow up before they should.  I want to treasure these wild moments, and remember them forever…not squash them.  When did being a kid suddenly become something we need do address?

So, what do I do?  No clue.  I’m not sitting here with the answers tonight; in fact, this is Great Parenting Truth #476: sometimes (okay, lots of times) there are no answers.  At least none that immediately present themselves.  This is like typhoon waves at midnight, with my compass going overboard and clouds covering the stars.  The Loch Ness Monster is probably waiting for me next.  Mrs. Loch Ness is probably teaching kindergarten next year, right?!

When folks say hindsight is 20/20, I can tell you this: those folks are parents.  I know that we’ll continue doing what we do: loving, supporting, nurturing, learning, growing.  I will remind myself daily (or hourly) that there is no growth without challenge.  I will embrace every minute of this, because I know it will continue to pass quickly, and I’ll miss finding rocks in my shoes one day.  I will try to remind others that these are still children, and we should have little expectations.  And I will remind them that they are humans, like us, and deserve the same respect and grace we (should) extend to each other.

Give it some time.  Even the lotus blooms from muck.

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