The Power of Kindness

I hopped in my car after work and stared at my phone. I had already received the text three times, and saw they had now sent a fourth.  Wegmans Pharmacy. “Your prescription is ready. Final pick-up reminder. Item will be restocked……”  I felt a rush of embarressment and some irritation at myself for….well, so many things.  With a twenty minute drive ahead of me, I called the pharmacy.  I listened as the music played for the next ten minutes waiting for “the next available pharmacy representative.” Her voice came on the line and I apologized for not having picked up my prescription.  I assured her I would be in today to pick it up.  She was nice and did not ask for reasons or excuses.  But for the next minute or so, I strung together some semblance of sentences. “I’m so sorry. I leave work…..healthcare…..scrubs…..don’t want to wear scrubs in store….plan to go home. shower. then come get it. too tired. too exhausted. can’t fathom walking through the door and standing in line. i’m so sorry…..”  She assured me it was fine.  Then, I hear a deep, unhurried breath on the other end of the line. She says, “Can I just say….thank you. For being on the front lines. Its so hard right now. I just want you to know how thankful I am for all that your doing…..”   The tears clouded my eyes. I didn’t expect the kindness. I didn’t expect the unhurried kindness.  The kindness that says, “I am looking straight at you in this moment. I see you. I hear you. I’m not judging you. I’m also not willing to let you go without you knowing what is in my heart.”  So, so kind.  I’m pretty sure, had she not released these words over me, I would have hurried my way home, mentally berating myself for not being more responsible.  But, it was her deep breath that captured my attention and opened a moment.

Many of us have heard the illustration of the cup being full.  It is full of…..something. And, when it is bumped (from crisis, tragedy, pain, etc….), something will spill out. We are that cup and when we are bumped, something will spill out of us.  I have been looking at the contents of my heart because, there it is, spilled all over the place.  I’ve noticed how there are sometimes two conflicting things that are bottled up in there. For example. Sometimes I’m so grateful for a job. Sometimes I just want to be home with my family. Sometimes I feel humbled to have a paycheck. Sometimes I feel angry that I’m not paid more, while taking the same risks as doctors and nurses. Sometimes I feel honored to be able to touch humanity and the fear they carry.  Sometimes I don’t want to touch them at all.  Sometimes I feel peace. Sometimes the anxiety chokes me. Sometimes I have the right words. Sometimes I have none.  Of course that other voice can sometimes be so loud.

“You should feel blessed. You should give more. You should reach out more. You should *not* feel like that. You should be more at peace. You should be more content.  You will never be enough. You don’t deserve more money. You are going through this because you have a lesson to learn.”  

I’ve learned to be wary of those “shoulds”.  That is always the voice of shame speaking and is the enemy of our souls.  I would die if I listened to this voice.   Instead I can acknowledge this evil voice and say, “I feel afraid of what this day holds. I feel afraid to leave my house. But I will lean into the courage and bravery that Holy Spirit has given me. I am made strong both in body and sprit and I will speak kindness and love and encouragement into every human I meet today.  My touch will be gentle and strong. I was not made to recoil but to advance.  I will look with love and not fear. If my eyes are the window to my soul, then what you will see is strength and kindness.”

Some of us are on the front lines. Some of us are stuck at home.  We all have something inside of us that is spilling out.  I continue to sort through my own mess and see what I find.  Many of us are hanging out on social media. It is one way of staying connected.  The thing is, though, that something very big has bumped into our world and everyone’s “stuff” is spilled out all over the place.  This recognition has helped me as I see through what people are posting.  Even things that I’ve posted and later thought…..”why did I post that”?    Because we are all processing.  Some are feeling angry. Some sad.  Some powerless. Some fearful. Some hopeful. Some encouraging.  And you can almost read through what people post and “see” where they are in their process.  It may help us look more kindly. It may help us feel more compassion.  Instead of telling them all the reasons they are wrong, or why they shouldn’t feel the way they are feeling, maybe just…..be kind.  Take a deep breath and tell them that you see them.  Let them feel your kindness. We have this power right now to open these moments of kindness and love over people. Take a deep breath. Look into eyes you can’t actually see.  Humanity’s hearts are out on display.  Lets not judge. Lets not act like we know it all. Lets not be a shaming voice.  Our kindness can open moments of truth and love that will take people by surprise.

Dive Deep

This morning I met someone that took no time to dive head first in the deep end.  No toe-dipping or water testing……just a quick, smooth dive. All in. It was beautiful.  I find the pool-circling, the measured wading of ankles-to knees-to thighs-to waist…..exhausting. Can we just dive in. Can we just get to it. Can we stop spectating and measuring whether we really want to be fully immersed and just do it.

As we spoke together in quiet conversation about deep, aching things, I knew God wanted in on it.  I kinda wished He’d stay away because I had the sense He wanted to come very close. And I know what happens to my heart when He comes very close. But He knows I didn’t really wish to keep Him away.  I only really want Him close.

I sit here hours later and my day has been shaken.  The tears will not relent.  There is no switch to turn it off, or button to shut it down.  It was a deep dive and eventually I’ll find the ladder out. All is well. I don’t mind lingering in the deep end for awhile longer.

Nothing Wasted.

I’m so thankful that God isn’t mad at me.  He doesn’t think I ruined my life. He doesn’t think I missed “the” grand plan.  He doesn’t remind me of what I “could have been”. It certainly is not His words that fill my heart with regret. He doesn’t punish me. He doesn’t look at me with disappointed eyes. He doesn’t “pick me last” because no one else would have me.  He doesn’t disapprove of my life.  No…..not at all.  Why would He disapprove the very breath He gave me? In all honesty, this has been my internal dialogue for longer than I care to admit.

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The fact of the matter is that even if I choose to take a “wrong path” and end up in a different place, God has already made His choice.

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I am not so powerful that I could “ruin” God’s plan. His plan moves forward in another way, with another person.  He may choose to make beauty out of ashes.  The very thing that looked dead and gone. God can choose to make it live again.  He is the One-Who-Transforms. His faithfulness is the most hope-filled thing.  I am one who has thought so much has been lost.  I have thought I waited too long. I wasted too much time. I have filled my mind with thoughts of what-could-have-been.  By spending so much time thinking of all the “what-ifs”….there-in lies the waste of time.

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I turned 40 this year.  I can say these few years leading up to forty have been extremely difficult.  While youth has been gone for some time, others continue to tell me I’m so young and have so much to learn.  I do not argue the “so much to learn” part.  We should all be wise to keep that perspective no matter what age.  God has been speaking a very clear message that my heart is finally hearing. He just wants to be “with” me.  He wants to laugh with me. He wants to cry with me. He wants to have fun with me. He wants to adventure with me. He wants to BE with me.  In the challenges. In the heartaches. In the stretching. In the brokenness. In the healing.  Some healing is immediate. Some healing takes time. He wants to be with me IN it.  He has Courage for me IN it. Bravery and Strength. Influence. Passion and Peace. Joy. Love. Always Love. I remember young adulthood. Oh the pressure to DO! ACCOMPLISH! MAKE YOUR MARK! DONT WASTE TIME!  But we come with cracks, and these things break us. I look at my boys….and I see the cracks.  Some they were born with. Some I inflicted.  I’m so thankful to see them. I should never dismiss them, or my part in them. Ownership is a big deal.  God is so gentle that He may even use me to help heal those cracks I inflicted.

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But He isn’t angry.  He isn’t waiting for my next screw-up.  Isn’t that freeing?  Doesn’t that just take such a burden off?  God has been so gentle and kind. The warmth of His voice has persistently reached the darkest and coldest and emptiest parts of my soul.  Those times I took a different path were times He used to draw me closer.  To become like Jesus happens in my day-to-day.  My becoming like Him and drawing others to Him are in the choices I make everyday.  And so nothing is lost.  Nothing is wasted. If everything in my life worked together to transform my life and make me like Him…then nothing is wasted.  I woke up this morning feeling so thankful for WHO He is and HOW He has been with my fragile, broken pieces. We can trust His hands to hold us and heal us…..and BE with us.

Hope

I needed something to change.  In our little group of four, with a computer screen connecting us, my heart leaked out my eyes.  At the time, I didn’t know what or how or when. But I knew “something”  needed to change.  So much had already changed, but there was a depth to the darkness that seemed like a bottomless pit.

I suppose some have never experienced this darkness and heaviness.  Usually they try to talk you out of it, convince you of their perspective. Or they say, “let me give you a hand, I can help you out in a second.” Or they look at you with empty eyes because they can’t understand or don’t want to understand or refuse to position themselves in a place of understanding.  The one in the dark, is looking for soft eyes or a warm embrace or an assurance of safety or peace.  Most of the time, they’ve stopped looking into eyes, for all they find is…..distraction and apathy.  They don’t reach out for an embrace, because there are too many strings attached.   And, anxiety switched places and took the seat of peace.  What happened to peace?  Something destroyed the peaceful place.

Hope is that glimmer of light when its still dark.  Its the spark that takes you by surprise because you thought all was cold and dead. It has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with God. “The  earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the water. Then God said, ‘Let there be light and there was light.'”  (Gen. 1:2-3) It is a powerful thing to realize that, in the midst of our darkness and pain, before we see the spark, the Spirit of God is hovering. And He is about to speak.

Hope breaks the darkness. It can be huge and undeniable and joyful and propelling. But often it arrives as a mere spark. How little. How fragile. How powerful. Can something be simultaneously fragile and powerful? I’ve learned it can be. I read a Greek quote, “If it were not for hope, the heart would break.”  Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick. But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.”  Hope is the difference between ending my life, or living another day.  Its the difference between looking up, or closing my eyes. Its the difference between searching for light, or pulling the cloak of darkness a little tighter around me.  Its the difference between holding onto the rope, or falling backwards deeper into the pit. Its a spark, and yet so powerful. We call it hope. We call Him Hope. “Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.” (Matthew 12:18-21)

I’ve been on this journey and dissection of Hope for awhile now, well before the holiday season began.  But I know its specifically what I’m called to both realize and practice daily in the new year 2018. Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”  Oh how much this world needs you and I. But thats too big.  Let’s look up. Let’s look around. Let’s find some eyes and smile into them.  Let’s lean in and hear the whispers from broken hearts.  “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” (I Cor. 4:6-7) It’s a powerful thing to know that we are the heart-touchers, the soul-bearers, the ice-breakers.  He has put this treasure inside of us so we may pour this Hope into others.

 

The Summer I Thought I Lost

I’ve been waiting all summer for summer to begin.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Something deep inside of me refused to give in to summer until we got into our new home.  I subconsciously made an agreement that I would not/could not enjoy summer until my family settled into our new house.  I know, I know….even with the unusually warm temperatures I continued in my denial.  Jesse would say, “Whew! It is such a hot day!”  And I’d say, “Oh….its not that bad.”  I’m not really sure how I tricked myself into actually believing I could ward off an entire God-ordained season!?!   This past week, each day I walk out the door, I am overwhelmed at the new shades of red, yellow, and orange appearing literally overnight!  I’m internally yelling, “Wait, wait, wait….we just moved in! We are just getting started!  Now I’m ready!  Lets begin now!”  And summer says, “While you’ve been waiting, I’ve been here all along!”

I’m thankful for gentle reminders.  I know God is the source of all creativity and I should never put my human limitations on Him.  I know that.  I have seen His creativity and I know that His thoughts are higher than mine and His ways are far beyond what I can imagine.  The past week or so, I’ve had this sad idea that I’ve somehow lost a season.  I have felt that while I waited for summer to begin, summer passed me by.  But His gentle voice.  How I love His words that settle my restless heart.  He said, “Why do my seasons have to look like yours?”  Yes. So True.  So gentle.  What I knew in my head, had finally dripped its way down into my heart.  His ways don’t always fit into a neat, little box.  They are often hard to understand.  Here on earth we create a little space around us and tidy it all up and call it life.  When it is, in fact, neat and tidy, we say life is good.  When a wind blows in and mixes up the neat and tidy, we say life is a mess.  When Jesus reaches out across unknown space and asks if we want to walk out there with Him….well, thats not quite neat and tidy and its usually obscure enough that we wouldn’t know what box to put it in anyway.  He pushes the walls and borders so far beyond what our eyes could see that we are left with two choices.  In order to feel safe and secure, I’ll build a few borders of my own.  OR, I’ll risk it all, and reach for His hand.  Your left breathless like, “2nd star to the right and straight on until morning….”  (ha…Peter Pan reference, in case it eluded you) But S0. Much. Better.  We are never more safe than when we’re held in His hands.

I didn’t lose.  I know that’s what He is trying to speak to my heart.  I hear Him. This summer turned out much different than I had initially envisioned.  We sold our house in East Rochester at the end of March. I felt blessed to live in a little apartment at Elim until we knew for sure that our hearts would land in Wellsville. We were fairly certain, we just waited for the official offer to be extended.  In my mind, we’d be in that itty bitty apartment for 2, maybe 3 months max.  Jesse received the official phone call in April, and we began the commuting mid-May, while we began the painful extraction of our daily/weekly responsibilities at Bethel.  So many tears. So few words.  For me.  God extended His hand and  His strength for that time.  We put in an offer on a sweet little house on top of a hill in May.  We had no idea it would be the end of September when we’d finally close.  Meanwhile, we lived in Lima and the boys were making friends with some fantastic boys on campus and creating new bonds and really loving their new home….at Elim. And this is where I am internally yelling again (maybe I need a pillow?!?), “NO! NO! NO!  We just had to say goodbye to dear friends, we canNOT do this again when we have to leave here soon!?!”  But kids.  They are amazing, right!?!  God knew exactly what they needed for that time.  Perhaps it hurt my heart more seeing them have to say goodbye….again.  Jesse and I have felt the prayers, heard the prayers, agreed with the prayers that MANY have prayed over us and Samuel, Eli, and Judah.  Hardly one prayer goes by and someone is lifting my young men up to the Lord in prayer and believing great things for their lives. I agree with and claim each truth spoken over their life.  Many unknowns remain about how life will unfold here in Wellsville, but I know God has certainly prepared them and they carry His life within them. I had truly expected to put in an offer on the house and move in two months later.  I envisioned us unpacking and moving in mid-July, having the summer to get a puppy and settle in to a new place. Instead, we had the ups and downs of negotiating on the purchase price and agreeing on a final offer and then walking through the loan process with a bank that became very complex.  We spent the summer unsure whether the sellers would back out, whether we’d close before school started, when we’d be together as a family or split up between two towns an hour and a half apart.  It felt very challenging.  And yet, other parts were sure.  We knew God had prepared this place for us.  We knew our new church family was praying for us and the challenges we faced were felt by them.  We mutually felt that the challenges we faced lent a depth to our new relationships that may not have been there had we not had to go through some of the things we did.  We felt supported and loved and blessed in the early stages of a very new relationship.  We have been blessed beyond measure by our new church family.  We have been given meals, and cookies, and baskets, and bouquets, and perennials for my outdoor spaces.  We have been blessed by fellowship in their homes, by cards sent in the mail, by emailed encouragements, by words spoken straight to us. It would be impossible not to feel overwhelmed by the love.  We have treasured every heartfelt word, gesture, and expression.

Summer.  I had limited my experience to an earthly season.  But God had a different summer in mind.  He was digging up new ground, preparing the soil, for our family and also for our new church family.  He spent the summer uprooting and transplanting.  As we’ve gotten to know the people at our new church….I had this picture of Him taking some beautiful perennials with deep roots and giving them a different backdrop and little more sunshine.   He has had a busy summer at work in our lives.  And it has been an AMAZING summer!!  Even in my distractions…(“SQUIRREL!!”)….I have seen over and over God working out so many wonderful things.  His faithfulness to me has kept my heart open to recognize His faithfulness in me and our family each step of the way.

God has so much more He wants to do in us, through us, around us.   I am reminded again that Heaven has it’s own order, and pattern, and seasons, and timing and it will often look vastly different than the earthly rhythms.  I’m thankful for His patience when we are slow to reach for His hand.  I’m grateful that He is familiar with our weaknesses and loves us regardless. I’m thankful that He sees my heart and knows I don’t want to be walled in by my own borders and keeps His arm outstretched just a little longer…. I want to be quicker to hear Him, and quicker to grab His hand, and quicker to make the jump.  I am ready for whatever comes next….maybe we’ll skip winter and go straight for spring.  The atmosphere of Heaven….you never know.

 

When I Say Goodbye

Seems like I’m staring another goodbye in the face.  I’ve never been good at saying goodbye.  I’ve heard it said so many times in my life, “It’s not ‘goodbye’, its ‘see you later.'”  But to me , its always ‘goodbye’ and never ‘see you later.’.  I’m introverted to the core, and “see you later” seems too shallow.  My heart wants to recognize everything that happened between point A and point B and goodbye seems to be the way to honor the space in-between.  When I say goodbye, I’m recognizing that a significant thing has happened between us, in us, around us, to us.  When I say goodbye, I honor the impact you’ve had on my life, the valuable place you hold in my heart, the experience we’ve shared in life together.  I say goodbye with tears because you meant so much to me, we meant something together.  You made me laugh. You made me think. You made me pray.  You challenged me. You drew me closer to Jesus because Jesus was inside of you.  How could I not honor you with my goodbye?  To say “see ya later” means I ignore the YOU that is missing in daily life.  So when I get all blotchy and red-in-the-face, and my tears push unrelenting down my cheeks, its just because you really meant something to me.

Recently I’ve had some thoughts about God’s people, the Israelites of the Old Testament. They had the pillar of cloud during the day and the pillar of fire at night.  The pillar was God’s Presence and they just moved as the presence of the Lord moved.  They didn’t know exactly how far they’d travel.  Would they be on the move for just a day and then make camp?  Or would it be a number of weeks before they could rest and settle in for bit? Who knew when the pillar of His Presence would pull in a new direction.  And all comfort aside, following Him was the safest place, the protected place, the purpose-filled place, the anointed place, the holy place.  They couldn’t be in a better place.  And so I think I have a small inkling of how they felt.  We’ve been here before also.  We’ve moved when we didn’t know where, or what, or when, or how fast, or how long.  We just knew the first things.  The pillar had changed directions.  So what does one do when the Pillar changes directions, and at the moment its not clear exactly which direction the forward movement will take?  The course has been altered, but the coordinates aren’t clear.  I’ve learned its just day-by-day one step at a time.  God will give instructions for the day.  I’d rather read the last chapter and see how the story ends.  But, nope.  We don’t get to do that.  But theres comfort knowing we are following the Pillar and I do know that the “Promised Land” does show up in the final chapter.

Jesse and I became aware that the Pillar was beginning to move a new direction just under a year ago.  We have not had many answers when people ask questions.  We’ve been preparing in small ways.  We’ve started our goodbyes.  Right now, its goodbye to “things” like….the place we call home, the little gardens I’ve planted with so much joy and happiness (and lets be honest giddiness), the memories I have here in Rochester.  In the not-so-distant future it will be to our amazing neighbors who are like grandparents to my kiddos (they love my boys so much), our awesome East Rochester community, my kids teachers that have loved them and encouraged them on so many levels, my kids friends, our beautiful Bethel family, the energetic group of kids we have spent Sunday mornings with for the last 7 years, the group of leaders we’ve had the honor of serving alongside, and my own dear parents that live just a hop, skip, and jump down the highway….its overwhelming.  I could say “see you later”….because I definitely will stay connected as best I can.  But theres a need to say goodbye.  Because by saying goodbye, you know how much you meant to me.  There will probably be no words to express.  Tears will be the words of my heart.

I’ve noticed how the Lord builds on friendships and relationships.  As much as its hard to leave the comfort of this place we are, we know God will strengthen the lasting friendships.  We know our time at Bethel was purpose-full, and we know that God will continue to to build another level on the strong foundation.  We say goodbye to this time, but we say hello to God’s plan for the next level.  We look forward to staying connected in new ways,  and seeing how the Lord’s plan for you can overlap with His plan for us.  It most definitely is see you later….but only after a proper goodbye.  Which, thankfully, is not this very moment.

The In-Be’Tween-Space

Last week, my darling six year old came bounding into the bathroom where I was getting ready to go to work.  He pulled me down to his level, put his palms on either side of my face and sweetly asked….”mommy, will you look this beautiful when you pick us up from school later?” Ooooh….melt. my. heart.   Truly did he just say that?  Oh these little men that are growing up so quickly.  How long will these precious words continue?  I have an 8 and 9 year old that still love to cuddle in at night and listen to me read another tale of Narnia to them.  They still give sloppy kisses and smothering hugs and love me with gusto.  These present times prove His faithfulness, mercy, and grace heal us and strengthen our broken hearts.

There was a time when Samuel and Elijah were very little that I remember, with great disappointment, my “parenting style.”  I maintained obedience by spanking or punishment.  I lived mostly overwhelmed and as a result yelled. Often. A lot. Loudly. How embarrasing…..no, humbling to remember these beginnings. Judah entered the scene in 2008….as did Danny Silk’s book “Loving Our Kids on Purpose”.   God used Danny Silk to write a book that has forever changed me.   He writes, “They work to set their child on a path back to a good student position by communicating  their disappointment (and often their anger) and giving instructions on how to behave better……it never really addresses the heart issues that lead to mistakes in the first place, and it doesn’t help parents stay aware of their own hearts.”  I read this book, and became so aware of my own heart….and how very unlike God’s heart it was.  God does not punish. He does not yell.  He does not look harshly upon us.  Its His kindness that draws us, blesses us, comforts us, heals us.  Oh how GOOD His heart is towards us.  I’m thankful this book hit the shelves when it did.  I love this line from his book, “When love and freedom replace punishment and fear as the motivating forces in the relationship between parent and child, the quality of life improves dramatically for all involved.  They feel safe with each other, and the anxiety that created distance in the relationships is chased away by the sense of love, honor, and value for one another.”  I am not saying I am now a perfect parent.  I am extremely aware of my heart, my attitude, my tone of voice, and how often I fall short of the mark.

I am staring at “the teen years”…..and they are staring back.They have approached far too quickly.  I’m not there, mind you.  But I feel the weight of their impending presence….and the question begs how will I manage my heart through it all.  Samuel. My sweet Sam.  Last January through June tested us all.  Tested our resolve to love, honor, and cherish each other.   My Sam started becoming more aggressive, more angry, more grumpy and he’d shout at us.  He’d become enraged.  It scared me because I have always wanted to live in peace.  I want home to be my haven, my safe place. And this not-even-a-teenager-yet threatened this. Surely I have control of my own home, yes?  No.  I have control of me.  Period.  I cannot “control” another person and be like Jesus.  If I control the people in my home I am either dominating or manipulating, and Jesus was neither.  So what do I do with Samuel?  Oh thank you Jesus, for walking with us through that time.  There were so many amazing conversations that arose during that time frame.  Through loving him unconditionally, honoring the amazing young man he is becoming, and speaking words of life and truth to him….he is learning to manage his heart and handle his loopy emotions.  He will tell me when he “needs a minute to himself.”  He will take himself out of a heated situation before he “loses it”.  Of course, we still have many conversations and daily reminders.  But I’m so thankful for God’s help.

There’s a line in his book, “We will not be able to introduce our children to the kingdom of God if that Kingdom is not manifesting in our own lives.”  We must be changed.  He must change us.  Our kids will not love Jesus if we say He lives in our heart and yet what is coming out of our heart is anger, control, and fear.  I’m thankful the Lord led me to this book when He did.  I don’t know how the teenage years will roll out.  This is brand new territory to me.  My resolve is to do whatever it takes to stay connected to their hearts.  I don’t know all the details, but each day I will pray for grace and wisdom and His endearing Presence.  I know He is with me.  A couple weeks ago (before daylight savings),  Judah came downstairs before I’d turned most of the lights on.  It was quite dark and he grabbed my hand and pulled me into the kitchen.  With all the drama and flair he could muster he declared, “YEP!! You’re still as beautiful as ever!!!”  Of course I picked him up and crushed him with a mama bear hug……  But I thought about that hug all the way to work and knew WHO was behind all that love and flair…..and thanked God for packaging it up and sending it to me in my little boy.  And for surprising me with His precious reminders when I least expect it.