It’s MY good/bad…and you can’t have it!

I know that I’ve been absent.  It isn’t that I’ve taken a vacation from writing, but yes, it’s been sporadic and on a more personal level (journaling for self-reflection).  I haven’t even looked at my blog in a year, I think, and it’s been good to pull it up today and see how life goes: we continue to struggle over the same old things while finding ourselves having moved from one problem to a new one.

Bitter, much?  You may be wondering.  No…I’d argue that I’m realistic.  The fact is that we sinful human beings live on planet earth, which isn’t perfect, and contains nothing (and no one) perfect.  Everything good comes with something bad, and vice versa.  In reflection, I often must roll my eyes at myself for having been jealous of someone else’s situation.  WHY did I think that their good/bad would be better for me than my own?

YES.  This is the situation.  Nothing here on earth is 100% good or ideal.  While someone may seem to have the ideal job and be completely ecstatic, we must not be fooled by facades or the small snippet we see.  We must keep in mind that EVERYONE has problems that come from even the best parts of their life!

Sometimes people jokingly say that they’d trade their problems for someone else’s.  I may have fleetingly wished I could, but when I really pause and think this through, would I rather trade my bathroom with the moldy wallpaper for a chamber pot or outdoor facilities?  Um…just one example where the answer is clearly NO.

The devil is very sneaky. He sure knows how to manipulate our happiness and twist things around until he can find a little pinprick in which to sneak a claw.  He wiggles and wiggles until quite a hole has developed.  Our happiness may have stemmed from God-pleasing sources, but all of a sudden there he is, mixed among it, tainting it.

This applies to any facet of life.  Is it wrong of me to exercise?  Of course not.  One reason I want to do so is because I recognize that God made my body and I feel that it’s my way to say thank you to him when I take care of it.  Also, when I am in shape I find that my moods are more stable and I have more energy to see to the tasks my family requires of me.  Yet the devil can get his hooks in.  He can tempt me to be really crabby until I get my workout. He can mess with my head about why I’m trying to stay in shape (does it MATTER how I look in those jeans? No one would go to my funeral and say, “She sure looked great in her jeans.”  Even IF they thought it, it would not be the part of my life that mattered enough for anyone to recall…so for me to allow my entire day to revolve around a workout or what I wear is just sad and foolish…and if that was the most memorable facet of my life, then how superficial have I become?).

I wanted to be part of the fitness industry (a lot has happened since I last blogged…I am now a certified group fitness instructor!) because I love to exercise and I want to share that with people.  I want to help people love to care for their bodies.  I want to be alongside them as they get stronger.  I want to be motivating, encouraging, and let the light of God’s love shine through me even as I do activities not directly involving God’s Word, so that even if I’m not uttering His name they can’t help but SEE the joy in me and wonder what it’s source is, and keep coming back until they know.  I want everyone I come in contact with to know the reason for the joy I have!

But I seem to keep squelching that joy!  I keep letting Satan hide it under a bushel. NO!!!!!!!!  God, help me fight back.  I may work hard to be strong, but without strong faith I am a feather in the wind.  Be my rock, Lord, my immovable foundation!  I know you’re there.  Cling to me.  Please, fill me with a desire to be immersed in your word…reading the Bible as I find moments (or make time to do so), listening to music with Scriptural encouragement, listening to sermons and services rather than home improvement shows (that leave me feeling discontent with my home)…Help me Lord.  Fill me up! Thank you for opening my eyes to see that I should not be jealous of other people’s lives since they, too, have good and bad.  Thank you for the life you designed for ME.  Help me be thankful even as the bad comes with the good.  I know you’ll work it all for my eternal good.  Thank you, gracious Father!

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ch-ch-ch-changes

Summer vacation is ending today.

I’d love to toss aside all the last-minute to-do’s and just take my family to the beach, but the weather looks stormy.  I guess we’ll have to attend to these to-do’s.

Much has been accomplished this summer.  The house has undergone several changes just in the past few days.  This was necessitated by some significant changes come up this school year!

Families we know were in a pinch with care for their children after school, and after much consideration and prayer, I decided to help them out.  Being that I’m at 15 piano students and counting, my ability to really supervise and interact with these children is very limited, so I have hired a mother’s helper.  So as to provide a space away from the piano teaching area of our living room, it was necessary to commit to finishing off the transition of our basement clothes room.  

Kevin mounted hanging bars on the wall of our upstairs bedroom.  We’d talked about building a closet, but I figured that it might be wise to test out the space before tearing up quite-new carpet and building walls.  Our dream is to expand our upstairs, and while it will probably always stay a dream for financial reasons, if we were to actually do so some day, we probably wouldn’t want out closet where we’re hanging clothes right now.  It’s a smaller space than we were using, but after getting rid of some clothes, we’re making it work.  

To find room for our dressers upstairs was another matter.  I fought against it, but moving little Chad’s crib out became the solution.  My heartstrings were being painfully pulled, but we moved his crib into his big brothers’ bedroom and has slept through the night twice, although taking poor naps each day.  Last night he fell asleep just fine at bedtime, though!  The sweet part of it was how eager and excited biggest-brother Caleb was to welcome Chad into their space.  When he found out that the crib was coming down, complete joy (which I don’t often see in him) shone on his face and his response was very precious.

While our room doesn’t maybe look the nicest (with the layout and hanging clothes on full display), it doesn’t feel overly crowded.  It’s been kind of fun reading in bed and being able to use our master bathroom without worrying about disturbing our little guy.  I’ll be finally moving back into that bathroom which will really reduce traffic to the bathroom the 3 big kids most often use.

This school year has loomed.  I’ve been dreading it.  I can’t “see” how teaching so many lessons will work.  Will Chad cooperate?  Will I get enough time with my own kids?  Will the extra children keep busy, have fun, and be quiet enough?  Will I be able to staff responsible mother’s helpers all year?  I’ll also be watching a baby many school days.  Will I get done what I need to get done with a toddler and a baby underfoot?  Will the baby settle fairly easily into our routines?

Summer is a sweet, simple time.  Kevin’s schedule is so much more flexible, which has allowed me the ability to step away and do things for myself or just by myself.  That may seem so trivial, but in the past I’ve hesitated to take time for such things because of the needs of our young children or his school responsibilities.  The truth is that I LOVED taking time to exercise.  I’ve gotten quite strong in the last half year, and I feel great!  I pray that the effort I’ve expended and the time I’ve taken from being with my family will carry over towards my family this year with all these extra responsibilities.  I pray that I will be efficient and energetic with my tasks!

I’ll be president of our church’s Women Serving Christ group.  Our first meeting is coming up in a couple weeks.  I have things fairly well in place for the first couple meetings of the year, but the second half of the year is going to need a fair bit of time and attention.  I don’t plan ahead well, and I’m hoping that this year forces me to improve in that area.

We never camped this summer.  We didn’t go swimming as often as I’d thought we would.  Did we visit parks enough?  Did we play outside as a family or take enough bike rides?

I hear a quick “no” in my mind to those questions.  In hindsight I could say that we didn’t do enough of those things, but at the same time I don’t think it’s good to ignore the special times we DID have.  There was the late Sunday afternoon when we threw a picnic together and drove half an hour to a little swimming hole.  One family member doesn’t care to swim in that water and makes sure we all know it (every second we’re there), but others enjoyed their time.  Friends joined us, which was special.  There’s also the recent weekend that we packed up for the day, joined my sister’s family for church, had some fun at their house over the lunch hour, and then spent the late afternoon at Lake Michigan. It was chilly, but most of the children had a great time, anyway.

There were Children’s Museums outings–even if just a few.  There were short outings to the park with other moms and friends and a couple as a whole family or just with the kids and me.  There were a few family bike rides.  

No, we never DID camp…but that doesn’t make or break our summer.  THINGS were accomplished.  Olivia’s door is repaired.  It’s not chipped up, dirty white paint anymore.  Our first floor hardwood is all refinished.  The kids’ bedrooms are put back together for the most part, and we’re particularly enjoying the uncluttered nature of the boys’ bedroom, now that we’re not storing toys in there.  We inherited an old school laptop and have found that a wooden TV tray is just fine for a work space in the boys’ room, and now their old table will get used in our former clothes room as a snack/homework space for the extra school friends.

I may have moments of panic where I wish that I could just toss all these new responsibilities aside, but most of the time I’m praying fervently that instead I’ll be looking to God for strength and provision.  I’m reminding myself that God has plans for me (and my family) that I know nothing about other than that He promises to use what’s ahead for our eternal good.  It may not appear to be the easiest year ahead, but that doesn’t mean it will be bad.  

Be with us, Lord, and bless us.  Keep the children safe at recess.  Help them to be caring friends, diligent students, and respectful children.  When you bring them home to me at the end of the day, help us to make the most of our moments together to connect.  Energize me at that point of the day to nurture them.  Thank you for loving us.  Thank you for taking care of us eternally by sending Jesus.  May this knowledge put great joy in our hearts that sustains us through the most difficult moments we face.

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Worst Possible Timing?…Or not!

I’ve been preparing myself for this phase of life for months. Truthfully, I’ve been dreading it ever since Christmas break when Kevin built Olivia a closet and warned me that in the summer we’d empty out her room, pull up the carpet, and get the hardwood refinished. Then–why not?–over spring break he built a closet for the boys and the entryway. More places to empty and sand.

I wanted to be calm and low key. I wanted to be flexible and enjoy the chaos. Instead, I spent half of Friday night awake due to something going on with Chad, and I’ve been battling a serious case of grouchiness ever since. The visual clutter EVERYWHERE makes me feel mentally cluttered and bombarded. But–hey. I knew this was coming.

Then I found out yesterday that I needed to play for a funeral tomorrow. I’ve only played for one funeral before and it was in my pre-kid days. So, it’s been a while. I’ve been feeling so stressed out, unable to make decisions, and not being productive with the bits of practice time I’ve carved out. I’ve been feeling like this is the worst possible timing. After all, someone’s life is being remembered…and it’s IMPORTANT to the family and friends. I don’t want to be up there disrespectfully playing sour notes. I’ve been frustrated and dreading tomorrow.

I came home from my afternoon practice session (which was unfortunately unproductive) and told the kids to help me fix sandwiches and then we were going off to find a new park. It was a warm day, so I grabbed spray bottles to spritz them off so we’d last longer. No one else was at this park, and it was a fun time until JJ had to go to the bathroom and there wasn’t even a port-o-potty there.

Off we drove to a different park (with “facilities”) and wound up sticking around for another hour. It did me good to be with my family and have some fun. There have been a lot of days of projects lately, and not much fun together time.

Then, my family dropped me off at home and ran an errand while I pulled out piano books. I found my way over to school to run page turn copies and sat down at a classroom piano to practice so that I wouldn’t be distracted when my family got back (or keep them up with my practicing).

It turns out that God knew what he was doing when I got asked to play for this funeral.

I should have known.

You see, as I sat there playing these beautiful hymn compositions, trying to do the music justice with my feeble fingers, the words of the verses came to mind and peace came along with it.

Why do I doubt? Why do I forget to look to HIM for strength?

Yup, I probably will make some sour notes tomorrow. Even when I’ve practiced a bunch, it can still happen. I have gotten very little practice time, so I should expect it. But I’m not dreading it anymore. We have all these gorgeous melodies with amazing reminders set to them! Like, for instance, “Do Not Let Your Hearts be Troubled”, which I posted the other day…those scripture verses happen to be one of the readings for the funeral tomorrow. Coincidence? I think not.

So, Lord, thank you for this opportunity to serve you tomorrow by assisting with the music at church. Please bless my playing so that it is not a distraction, but rather that hearts are directed towards you. I am not there to put on a show, after all. Thank you for also using the music to direct my heart and mind toward you!

Sanding dust will be flying at my house while I’m gone to church, and Kevin will be stuck in said very messy house with four very busy children…but I’m just so amazingly calm about it right now (as opposed to a couple hours ago) that I can only be…amazed. God is bigger than all that (and then some). 🙂

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To the Teenagers who threw an Uncrustables at my Windshield…

Tonight I find my sleepy self with something on my mind…still.

So, here’s what’s bugging me. First, though, I’ll back up a bit.

It’s been a pretty good week. I’m just doing my thing of late, which is intense daily workouts that leave me feeling energized, having fun trying out classes and being motivated by the instructor and the other participants. Call me crazy, but I love it and look forward to it. Last night was no different. I tried out a new class and loved it. And I’m feeling it today. Even so, I left that class all energized and excited to get home to have supper with my family and then get ready to meet up with friends for our monthly book club discussion. We hadn’t all been together in quite a few months, so it was really, really good to be together.

I left before dark–just as the daylight was starting to fade. It was a bit of a hike home in my minivan and not the most familiar route for me, so I was focused and eager to get home and be done with the trip. Plus, I had too much (non-alcoholic) beverage at book club. Sorry for tmi.

Still outside of town but approaching it, I suddenly noticed a few teenagers mulling at the end of a long country driveway. A friend seemingly was walking home from hanging out with them being that he was a ways ahead, going down the side of the road and I was about to drive past him.

I didn’t have the time to check and change lanes to get further away from him, so I kept on. When I was about to pass him, suddenly he casually lifted his left arm up over his shoulder and threw the Uncrustables at me. Going 45 mph, the thing made quite a noise when it hit the windshield, and it startled me.

Yes, a sandwich scared me.

You better not be laughing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The thing is, it scared me and my instinct was to swerve. Since I hadn’t passed the kid yet, had I swerved I most likely would have smashed him.

I’m convinced that angels were holding the steering wheel as I (in my surprise) ducked to the right. It certainly wasn’t from my own levelheadedness.

I was livid. I laid on my horn, checked the rearview, and hastily got all the way in the left turn lane. I turned around and set back down the highway. I got across the street from where the teens had been and did another U-turn and pulled right in front of the old driveway. The teens had dispersed. I could see one way up by the house and the one who had done the deed a little ways away from the house, trying to pretend like he didn’t see me sitting there, staring at him, pleading in my mind that he would be cocky and come see what I wanted…or that a grown up would come outside.

I sat there for a minute, telling myself I couldn’t go down that driveway. There was no way I was going to get myself in trouble for something like trespassing.

When it became clear that nobody was coming, I hoped that my coming back would have made the teens think twice about what they’d done. Maybe they were a little scared, thinking I might call the police. Maybe they’d never throw something at someone’s car again–even if it was just a sandwich.

Teens don’t always have the best judgement, do they! I remember being one, so I speak for myself. Even so, as adults it is our job to help them evaluate their choices, learn from their mistakes, and progressively learn to make better choices. I realize that no one will ever attain perfect judgement, and that we all still make mistakes, but this is one I just don’t feel like letting go.

So, to any teen who might see this (since I didn’t have the privilege to say what I wanted to THOSE teens), please keep a few things in mind:

You may feel invincible at times, but you are not. You don’t know what lies around the corner. I’m not asking you to live your life in fear, but rather to be smart. What you think will get a laugh and make people respect you could quite possibly have the opposite effect. Open your mind to the possibility that even a second of minor stupidity could irrevocably change your life.

Had I hit that kid, or had my four kids been in the car, how many lives would have been changed?

Am I overdramatizing?

What ifs can be annoying, but they can also be useful. I’m so thankful that nobody got hurt last night. I hope that teens around the world who might have thought about doing something like this in the future might somehow, by some means of intervention, think twice. Maybe my story won’t get far, and maybe you’ll all be too distracted imagining the sandwich bouncing off my windshield, but hopefully instead you’ll picture me swerving and hitting that kid and slamming into one of the giant trees.

Did I just say that?

It didn’t happen…but it could have.

Don’t prank around vehicles–even if your object of choice is just a sandwich. It was never and will never be a good idea. Got it?

Thanks.

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No guarantees

Lately it seems like “things” keep reminding me that there are no guarantees about how much time we have in this life on planet earth.

Chad’s cord was wrapped around his neck when I was laboring. It really complicated things. It was scary. But here he is, 20 months later–my sweet littlest boy with the never-ending lashes and the blonde hair like silk…saying more each day, making me smile multiple times a day. I’m so thankful for him, and yet I hear of the mother whose full-term baby died from her cord around her neck, and can’t help but think “why was I spared?”

One thing I DO know is that it wasn’t because of what I’ve done and that I somehow deserved time with my child more than she did. I don’t know her, but I can confidently say–NO. That wasn’t the reason.

When the day ends and you look back on it, there are those moments where a child wanted to tell you something and you were in the middle of a time crunch and it felt annoying at the time. When the day has grown quiet, those pangs inside remind you that your child is aware enough to have picked up on it, and how does that make you feel to know that you made your child feel like he’s annoying? The truth is, something could happen and he might not wake up the next day for you to assure him that you so very much love him.

It’s not fun to think about, but the truth is that every day around the world someone just goes to the grocery store but never makes it back home. Who’s to say my turn isn’t next?

Yet we too often live life that way–feeling immune…taking for granted–even if in small ways. Sometimes, though, those “small ways” collectively become much bigger with time than any one “big way”.

I’m sorry if this is a depressing way to start your day. It’s not meant to be.

If something were brewing within me that would bring an end to my life, I am certain that in my “final days” I would be bent on penning thoughts I wished my children to bear in mind the rest of their lives when I wouldn’t be there with them. But I AM here, and it is every bit as important for them to know those same things. I need to show them and tell them with each moment I do have.

You hear to “live life like it’s your last day on earth”, and while that certainly can be fuel for making crazy choices, I think there are some rational points to take from it.

If tomorrow my children had to begin life without a mom, I realize that with time Chad wouldn’t even remember me. I hope, though, that all of them could think of me and feel my love and maybe remember that I smiled and laughed a lot when I was with them. I really, really, hope that’s what they’d remember.

So as I go about my time until that happens, that’s got to be my goal: even if I’m feeling crunched, SMILE. Breathe. Listen. Be patient. LOVE. If God would call one of them to His side before me, what consolation it’d be to know that their days were filled with love.

As much as I want to lavish love on them and keep this perspective in mind, I haven’t had a heart transplant. It’s still the same sinner’s heart within me. I will mess up. When loved ones go, those left behind too often anguish over moments that could have been handled less imperfectly. It’s heart-wrenching.

But God’s grace covers over it! The slightest sighs from the sharpest words…the wrinkled brow to the piercing eye…the down-turned mouth to the tongue-lashing…the clenched fists to the raised hand…

In the blood of Jesus, ALL THAT is forgiven. What comfort!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As relief melts away guilty feelings, thankful hearts bring clarity which sharpen our perspectives and influence our choices.

If I go to be with Jesus today or tomorrow, I know for sure that’s where I’ll be and that my family will have peace and comfort despite the repercussive difficulties they’d face without my continued presence. If any of them would leave us, I’d miss so many things about them, but would have the same assurance. THAT is a guarantee.

After all, “I’m but a stranger here…heaven is my home.”

So…there ARE some guarantees, after all.

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see ya, sugar

With all my upped efforts in my workouts, I’ve been trying to eat better. Most of the time that’s not too hard to do since I don’t want to blow my hard work but also realize that I need to refuel myself well after working that hard. I’ve cut back my sugar intake quite a bit, but not cut it out.

Yesterday, however, we began to revisit a chapter we’d finished back at the beginning of the school year. For eldest son, rigid thinking was back, anxiety heightened, and other facets that made us feel that probably the yeast had gotten out of control and was exhibiting itself behaviorally. A scrip for an antifungal was called in and after finishing up the last of his homemade brown sugar cinnamon (gluten free) pop tarts the other day, he popped the first little pill and said goodbye to sugar, inasmuch is possible.

Oh, and yeast, too.

So I’m back to making flatbread every couple days and finding ways to satisfy his sweet tooth without using sugar. I had to think back hard, but I remembered making donuts for him the last time, so I pulled out the old donut maker, mixed up some batter, and–voila! YUM! OK, the frosting was pretty gross, but I couldn’t even believe how yummy the plain donuts were. It’s hard to believe not a speck of sugar is in them. Maybe if you ate one side-by-side a sugar-laden donut you’d feel differently, but all in all–what a treat! For something not too unhealthy, that is!

The recipe will be coming, although it’s sort of a guesstimate since I was dumping a little o’ this ‘n that…first, though–someone’s up from his nap and calling!…

1 1/2 cups flour (I probably used 1/2 cup millet flour, 1/4 cup white rice flour, 1/4 cup tapioca flour, 1/8 cup potato starch, and the rest garbanzo flour. I was aiming for a blend similar to a wheat flour). I added in 1-1/2 tsp. xantham gum to help bind it together.

Instead of 1/2 cup sugar, I used 1/4 cup stevia blend and 1/4 cup of a mixture of coconut sugar, erythritol, and a teaspoon or so of xylitol.

1-1/2 tsp. baking powder

Instead of 9 Tbs. melted butter I used 9 tbs. coconut oil to help add a bit more sweetness and to cut the step of melting (since this time of year coconut oil is runny).

3/4 cup milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

a teaspoon or two cinnamon

After mixing the dry ingredients and making a well in the center, I mixed in the wet and then eyeballed how much cinnamon I wanted based on how much it changed the look of the batter as I stirred it in. I used a little coconut oil to grease the Sunbeam donut maker (which I’d found on clearance at Target and bought on a whim–which I rarely do–so that Caleb could have donuts when the rest of us did). They bake for 6 minutes and taste best warmed a bit if they don’t get eaten up right away–which they didn’t. I’m glad that I’d only frosted a few because the frosting didn’t go over well. I haven’t found an amazing sugar-free (natural) frosting yet, but did have a bit of a better result this afternoon at lunch time…

Caleb wanted me to try to jazz up a piece of flatbread to taste more like a cinnamon breadstick. So, I covered it with sprinkled stevia and cinnamon and made a little glaze out of a tiny bit of melted butter, a few drips of milk and vanilla, and then a couple tablespoons or so of stevia. I heard, “Mmm!”more than once as he gobbled that up. I’m so thankful for simple, relatively inexpensive ways to still “treat” him without compromising his current dietary needs. So, I’m glad to see that I’m starting to get some confidence with experimentation in gluten-free cooking. I have a long way to go, but I like to keep things pretty simple!

Speaking of, it’s time to get another batch of flatbread ready, and this low-key afternoon time feels like the perfect time while little guy here listens to nursery rhymes. But, if you’ve got any good sugar-free frosting ideas, please share! I’ll be making cinnamon swirl cake when the donuts are gone, I think. That’s always a good one, too. 🙂

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Building Character

For years I’ve been interested in the idea of studying character qualities with my children.  When the kids were younger, I found a neat preschool program with puppets about a rabbit family that came with stories and songs on different character qualities.  That summer we spent quite a bit of time listening to the stories on CD and playing with the puppets.  It was fun!  I haven’t done too much with them since then, however.

Recently I started re-reading a favorite book that I’ve owned for maybe half a decade.  It’s called, “My Heart’s at Home” and is by Jill Savage.  When I came to a section on teaching children about character qualities, ideas ignited!  I got a poster board and a black permanent marker and wrote out the character qualities in different ways.  I’m REALLY not artistic or spatially-oriented, so I was pretty excited about how it turned out.  I copied the handy reference chart from the book with brief definitions of each quality followed by a scripture reference and another Bible reference modeling Jesus’ use of that character trait.  I posted both things on the wall in our dining room where we’ll see them so much this summer.  You see, I think the kids spend most of their day in that room–which sometimes annoys me (like at dinner time when we have to uncover the table), but really it’s pretty sweet that they want to be in a common space, near one another.  So they eat there, play there, craft there, write there…you get the picture!

I had planned to go through the list, top-to-bottom (ABC order), but a “situation” arose yesterday that made me think it was time to jump ahead to “thankfulness”.  I gathered the kids at the table with a Bible.  We took a couple minutes to talk about the word, apply it to our lives at that moment, read the Bible passages, and then went out to the driveway with some sidewalk chalk to make our own artistic versions of the word “thankfulness” for all our neighbors to see and ponder.  The child who had initiated my decision to study “thankfulness” first continued to hang onto an edge of grouchiness, but when the chalk drawing was done and the child wanted to be done with the whole thing, I said that it would be fine if the child’s heart was FEELING thankfulness.  The former issue suddenly melted away and the child got busy playing.  

I’m thinking that we’ll aim to do a new character quality every-other-day this summer since there were 48 different ones in my list.  I can think of more that weren’t in this list…but that’s ok.  I think we’ll probably continue to jump around and use the words that are most needed and applicable at that time to capitalize on teachable moments.  I’m excited for summer!  No, I’m “thankful” it’s summer time! Having my busy little ones around all day forces me to adjust my routines and at times I’m tempted to feel inconvenienced, but as we discussed the other day, God calls us to be thankful in ALL circumstances…and at the heart of it all there is SO much to be thankful for, no matter what!

 

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