Crying is good for you

I’ve had a lot of tears the past month, seemingly out of the blue.

I cry every time I watch the moms on The Voice. They’re either clutching their hands or someone else’s and you can just tell they’re holding their kid’s whole heart in theirs and wishing every good thing for them. And when they cry tears of proud joy when their kid gets a judge to turn around? Then I’m officially a goner. Oh, and Grey’s Anatomy- I’m a season behind, watching it on Netflix, but shaeeessh- can we just talk about Maggie’s mom? In short, I’ve probably cried a few times a week for the past 4 or 5 weeks. And that is frequent for me.

A co-worker who knows me well and saw me falling apart asked if it was the anniversary of my brother’s death. I said, nope, just a random day! But I was missing my brother. And it’s weird to me how some days I don’t even think of my brother, and some days I think about him all day long. I feel guilty when I realize it’s been a few days since I consciously thought of him. Especially when other people, decades further along in their grief say they think of their loved one (brother, spouse, etc.) every day.

I have to imagine if I had died and my brother had lived, he would have some days where he didn’t think of me and I would know that didn’t mean he loved me any less. Maybe he just was going forward in his life. I hope that’s what I’m doing.

I had two really big sobbing fits over missing my brother in the past month, no three. One was on my birthday when I realized he wasn’t there to give me a hard time for celebrating my birthday for too long. He called it Missika, an 8 day festival of lights. Another was just a day I was thinking about how much I was enjoying our niece Charlotte and how wonderful she is, and I was sad he wasn’t here for each minute. Then most recently I just missed him so I scrolled through his facebook and at first I was smiling and happy to see his face, watch his videos, and hear his voice. But by the time Andy found me I was a puddle of tears and I physically ached with how much I wished he was still here.

So I tell myself the same thing I tell my friends when they apologize for crying; tears are healing.

There are studies that found chemicals released in tears actually help humans heal. Our tears can reduce pain, lower stress, remove toxins from our body and help us to self-soothe faster than an anti-depressant. It’s actually pretty cool. Especially for someone who’s become a professional crier over the past 4 years. I like knowing there are benefits to feeling like you’re falling apart.

My mom says I never cried so easily until I came home from Kenya. Apparently, Africa broke my heart for the first time. But my brother’s death broke my heart wide open and left it raw and bleeding. It feels pretty stitched up these days. Just a leak every now and then.

This back and forth thing with grief is so unpredictable. I’m feeling mostly fine most of the time with plenty of joy, happiness and silliness sprinkled in like any other normal life. And then SURPRISE the rug is pulled out and I’m flat on my face weeping like the grief is fresh and new again.

Most grief moments still catch me totally off guard. And I still find myself grateful to have known Justin, to have loved him and to still be missing him so much, two years later. All the grief is worth it, for all the time I got to call him my brother.

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Touch the hem of His robe

Today in church we read Matthew 14. The message honed in on the story of Peter getting out of the boat to walk on water. I was caught up by what happened just after that when Jesus got to the other side.

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

When my brother was sick I was praying all. the. time. Little bits of bible verses would come to mind and I would pray them for my brother. This passage reminded me of a similar story of the woman who had been bleeding for years. It’s found in Matthew 9, Luke 8 and Mark 5 where we get the longest account.

The story tells that crowds of people were pushing around Jesus and this woman thought to herself, if I can just touch his robe, I’ll get well. She got herself through the crowd and touched Jesus’ clothes. Instantly she felt the blood dry up (message version) and knew she had been healed completely. Jesus knew something had happened to and asked who touched him. The disciples were like, um… we’re in a crowd. Literally, everyone is touching you.

31 His disciples said, “What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, ‘Who touched me?’ Dozens have touched you!”

Jesus is persistent and says he felt power go out of him. The woman knows she has to fess up so she tells her whole story while she kneels at his feet.

And this is the best part. When Jesus responds he tells her “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague.” (Matthew 5:34)

Often when I would pray for my brother to be healed I would reference this story in my prayers. I would tell/ask God, hey— just let him touch the hem of your robe and be healed. Just a tiny piece of your power. Could you direct it to his body and heal him?

Going back to the verses we read today from Matthew 14.

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Reading it brought to mind all those prayers I had prayed. That were left unanswered for who knows why. Or maybe they were answered and my brother lived much longer than was originally intended. I have no idea, but I like that possibility.

Okay, back to these verses ^^

I love that all the surrounding areas were like, “Hey- Jesus is in town, bring all the sick to be healed!” And I imagined what it would be like if Jesus’ time on earth coincided with my little life right now. Jesus being in town, or just getting to the other side of a lake would be big news. I would have bought two airline tickets so fast to get my brother to wherever Jesus was. Just to push him through the crowds to touch the edge of His clothes so he could be healed.

When my brother died two years ago I yelled/prayed to God to remind Him that I was asking for my brother to be healed HERE, not in heaven!

So what do I even do with these thoughts now that I know that Justin could be sitting with Jesus this moment? Heck, maybe he has touched the hem of His robe!

Image courtesy of: Hem of his garment, "Faith that Touches" sermon at http://icdpentecostal.org

The truth is- I don’t know what to do with these thoughts. And to be honest they don’t come with as much frequency as they used to. So when they do, I just write them down to make note of them. To remember.

The only thing I can think to say is what my dad said just the other day. “It’s weird that he’s not here.”

Six short words. But it sums up all my feelings too.

 

Shifting Memories

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” ~ Jamie Anderson

The way I talk about my brother’s death has changed over the months and years. When people ask if his death was sudden I used to say yes. Then somewhere along the way, I said, well, others probably saw it coming but it was a surprise to me. Later I added an explanation, “I was too close to see it coming. I didn’t want to accept the possibility, so it was sudden to me.”

Then this morning, facebook showed me a reminder that 2 years ago on this date, 2 weeks before my brother died, we were looking into PCAs to help during the day and my brother was eating more than he had been. We were planning for his strength to increase.

I didn’t make up my surprise. I don’t need to justify the timing of events. It was sudden.

There was a big shift in a short period of time from– okay- this is the next step to get some strength to- oh shit- there is nothing else to do.

I read that post this morning and then I got out of bed. I walked to my closet, held onto the door for support, and I wept.

Sometimes a memory brings all the weight of the loss right to the surface. And there’s nowhere for the love to go but through my eyes.

Prayer & Death

This is something I wrote for our church recently.

The Story Project

At the start of a new year I decided I wanted to learn to pray better. Eight months into that year my brother was told he had germ cell cancer with two tumors in his chest. I cried and I prayed.

His chemo treatments started and I relaxed. There was a plan. So many of us prayed for his total healing, and by Christmas he was cancer-free. The cancer was stubborn and returned multiple times to his brain and spine with different treatments to remove it each time. A year later my brother went through a stem cell treatment out of state. He received a great report, there were lots of tears and praising God for his healing. And then the cancer returned.

My stomach dropped at each new diagnosis and relaxed at each new treatment. It was a twenty month roller coaster ride that ended abruptly. When the doctors…

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WA camping and God on the beach

In between visits with family and friends we’ve had some good camping nights just the two of us. Our night in La Push, WA was especially fun because we weren’t even planning to go to Olympic National Park, but then, we did. And once we were over there, we needed to find a place to camp. There was a campsite in the woods not far from First Beach, but it was full. We drove past a place on the ocean that had cabins but it said no vacancy. Getting a campsite/room has often become my responsibility with Andy parking the car and saying, “go do your thing.”

I walked in and spoke to the woman at the counter. I mentioned I saw the no vacancy sign, but wondered if she knew anywhere we could tent camp. She brightened and said, “Tent camp? We have two spots left on the beach if you want to see them!” We did and we happily took one. The Native American reservation we were on limits spots on the beach due a big fire that happened there years ago.

The beach was beautiful and quiet with not to many other campers, and the roar of the ocean was loud. Andy walked up and down the beach first. He came back with some rocks he wanted to bring home to my step-dad who loves all kinds of rocks. Later, I walked up and down the beach and found one rock I thought was pretty cool. I put it next to Andy’s outside our tent (which was on the little rocks) near our tent pole so we could find them in the morning.

There was a beautiful sunset- the whole night was like a dream. Falling asleep to the sound of the waves was something I didn’t expect to do on this trip and it was amazing.

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First Beach in La Push, Washington

This was my view when I woke up the next morning!

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Happy Camper! (Insert Jim Gaffigan camping quote here)

See all those rocks on the beach? They all look roughly the same. So when we took down the tent I didn’t think about moving our special hand-picked rocks. I bumped a pile with my shoe and remembered and went back to the corner we had placed them, I found Andy’s but not the rock I had picked.

I know this sounds silly, and it is, but I was particularly fond of that rock. It was mostly grey but had a big white spot on it with some pretty shiny parts going through it and it was-in my humble opinion- a unique rock compared to the others which was why I had picked it up. But that rock was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t with Andy’s rocks.

Andy picked his favorites to bring to my step-dad and helped me look for a little bit and then he headed back down over the creek, and across the logs with most of our stuff to start loading the car. I let him know I was going to look a little longer.

And then I did something even sillier. I prayed about it. I said, “Okay God- I know this is just a rock and I know there are far more pressing things in the world than this rock so I completely understand if you don’t answer this prayer, I just really liked that rock, so if you wanna help me find it- cool, and if not- I totally get it.”

I stood there staring at the same hundreds of rocks, and I slowly started moving piles of them with my shoe back and forth and back and forth. They all looked the same. This went on for several minutes (I was dedicated) and then, all of the sudden, there it was. That same silly rock, mostly grey with shiny white. And how did I respond, like a normal person, perhaps?

I burst into tears.

It was a swell of emotion so abrupt I caught myself off guard. All I could think of was verse after verse in the bible where God talks about knowing every hair on our head, every tear that falls is kept in a bottle, the story Jesus shares about going to look for the one lost sheep or the lost coin, how very, very valuable each human is to God.

And to think that the God of this universe cared enough about me in that moment to remind me that He is with me, listening and loves me enough to let me find a special rock- well… that’s beyond cool. I can’t find the words to describe the feeling.

Side note here: I’m choosing not to read into this any further and wonder about all the hundreds of people that were praying for my brother to live and he died, but God gave me a rock?! I really don’t believe in the phrase “everything happens for a reason” because I don’t think it does. But I do believe “God’s timing is perfect.”

For one example, I look at my sister-in-law’s life now and though I wish my brother was still here- I can’t help to see that God is doing an amazing thing in knitting together her new family, in the way He provides for her, and for her daughter, and I can’t deny that God works through really crappy situations to bring good out of them too (my paraphrase of Romans 8).

Okay- but back to the rock. Honestly– what are the chances I could have found it again? Look at that picture! They all look the same- and maybe from God’s view of the earth all people look the same, but He can pick any of us out of the crowd and say, “Hey you- yes YOU, I see you, I hear you, I know you, I’m with you, I love you. Let’s spend some time together.”

We’re not unknown to Him. He’s with us, loving us and listening to us- even when we don’t (even when I don’t) remember that simple truth.

First Days on the Road

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Teddy Roosevelt National Park, channeling my inner Ansel Adams

Last week we left town for three-ish months on the road. As I hugged my mom goodbye she said, “Have enough fun for all of us who wish we could go with you!” I told her that was a lot of fun but we’ll do our best.

Here are some highlights of our first few days.

We arrived at our first stop, Teddy Roosevelt National Park in ND in the pouring rain. Andy said, “Let’s go take a pic at the scenic overlook!” and he took off running. I yelled, “Oh, you’re serious!” as I pulled up my rain jacket hood and ran after him. We took a pic and got soaked. It was a great first stop.

After the rain moved on we drove through the park and we got out to do a hike. Andy said it was like walking in mud slippers as the clay stuck to our hiking shoes. There were sage bushes everywhere that smelled amazing.

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Andy’s mud slippers

After this hike we did another short one. At the end of the trail there were a couple benches to take in the scenery. Andy jumped up on one and yelled, “I’m the King of the World!” Excited to be the Kate Winslet to his Leo I jumped up too and grabbed his arms ala Titanic. Andy did a quick jump back and he does this on heights sometimes to fake me out like he’s falling. But then I heard him whisper, whoa! I followed his gaze and about 15 feet away was a huge buffalo eating some grass on the hill just below us. We stood frozen, watching him, until the buffalo made eye contact and I whispered in Andy’s ear, “time to go!” We walked briskly back to the car and watched as the buffalo walked right up the trail we had just been on. Very cool, but we don’t need to be that close again!

It was nearing sunset at this point so we needed to find a place to sleep. The park campground was full but I had seen a run down sign that said “campsites” with an arrow a couple miles back in Medora, so we went to check it out. There was karaoke going on outside and that sealed the deal. After we set up the tent we went back to listen and cheer on the brave singers as they sang everything from Achy Breaky Heart and a teen who killed it with Halo by Beyonce. Andy even did a duet with another camper of Sweet Caroline for the closing song of the evening.

I kept smiling all night telling Andy this was my best camping experience ever. Every campground should have live karaoke. This was the perfect ending to a really great first day of the trip.

The second morning we did some more hikes in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, the sky was spectacular and looked like a Microsoft background of clouds had been laid behind each gorgeous view we were treated to hike after hike.

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After a few hours we hit the road again to head to Montana. We stopped at Pompeys Pillar that has the last physical evidence of Lewis and Clark’s original exploration from when Clark etched his name into the rock and dated it on July 25, 1806. Next we drove to a family friend’s home in Joliet, MT which had gorgeous views of its own. She treated us to a home cooked meal and great conversation, so kind and fun- she even sent us off with homemade cookies!

We drove into Red Lodge the third morning and took the Beartooth Highway, the highest elevation paved highway in the northern Rocky Mountains. It’s 68 miles total but takes about 3 hours to cover due to the slow speeds for the switchbacks and hairpin turns. Also, it’s beautiful so there was lots of stopping to take in the views.

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Overlook in the Beartooth Mountains

We slept in Wyoming at a campsite next to Beartooth lake, making our fourth night in a row of sleeping in a different state each night. The next morning we drove to Yellowstone National Park and did some exploring of the Lamar Valley as well as taking in the sights of the lower falls near Canyon Village.

At one point we pulled over to watch a bison who was eating some grass. Andy was in the driver’s seat and I had my door open to take some pictures. Suddenly the bison started walking toward our car so I closed the door but kept taking pics through the open window. It was less than 10 feet away before Andy yelled, “Holy, Wow, Sheesh!” and hit the gas and got out of the way.

After leaving Yellowstone we found a taco bus for a late dinner, with authentic Mexican and handmade tortillas in West Yellowstone. The back half of the bus was converted to a kitchen and the front half had bar stools and a small counter for diners. Maybe we were just hungry, but we both said it was the best tacos we’ve ever had.

Once we were tucked into our campsite in West Yellowstone, at about 12:30 am lightning filled the sky and the rain poured down on us. It was the worst rainstorm we’ve seen while camping since our small group camping adventure in 2008 (remember that, friends?). The storm lasted for 9 more hours. We stayed dry and packed up the sopping wet rain fly and tent the next morning.

We’re now visiting with Andy’s parents who are vacationing in Big Sky, Montana for the week with beautiful mountain hikes and views. It’s wonderful being in one place for longer than 12 hours, and the chance to sleep in a bed and wash hands in a sink- oh the little things I had forgotten I take for granted!

The “Why Not?” Trip

About a year ago we started lightly kicking around the idea of taking time off work to travel. Now it’s actually happening. We are leaving in July. We expect to spend around 3ish months road tripping.

Only one campsite reservation has been made for one night, so the trip is pretty wide open. But so far it’s looking like….Montana, Canadian Rockies, BC, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

When we first started testing this idea of travel out on unsuspecting friends and family- we wanted to hear how it sounded coming out- did we believe ourselves? Could we really give this a try?

One of the best responses we received was from a family friend who shared this story:

It’s from a commencement address attributed to Brian Dyson, who held several senior management positions with Coca-Cola during his long career. He told a class of Georgia Tech graduates, “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air: work, family, health, friends and spirit. You’re keeping all of these in the air.

“You soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. It will never be the same.”

We knew it was true.

And we realized this trip would be giving space for nurturing and growing our faith, relationships, and hopefully our health too.

If you live in or have connections in these areas and want to give us recommendations of places to see or people to stay with- we’d love to hear about it. Please share your tips in the comments!

It’s time to bounce that rubber ball! 

Doing the Right Thing- Taking a Sabbatical

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Photo by Andy in Badlands National Park

Andy and I have made the decision to travel for a few months. A whole bunch of prayer, conversation, and planning with calculators, library travel books, and maps have led to this choice.

We talk about this travel time in a bunch of different ways. There are a couple words we keep coming back to in an effort to describe it. We’re hitting the pause button on our day to day life, or maybe more of a “reset.” A time to try something different.

Taking a few months off is a risk, to be sure. And this trip is also full of potential to be restful, refreshing, and maybe even life changing? It’s been a tough few years in some key areas of our lives, and we’re looking at this time as a sabbatical of sorts.

The word sabbatical comes from the biblical word “sabbath” which reflects the human need to stop and rest. Shabbat in Hebrew literally means a “ceasing”. Other language describes a sabbatical as simply a break from work.

While we are on our road trip we will take time to reconnect with each other, and with family and friends we’ll visit along the way. When we’re not bumming a spot on someone’s couch or spare room, we’ll be camping and exploring National Parks. 

In some ways, this was a really easy choice to make and in some ways it was hard. But mostly it came down to the fact that we had talked about it so much- we knew if we didn’t give it a try, we’d always regret it. And we knew if we actually did it, we’d never regret it. The short question we asked ourselves was, “Why not?”

I saw a photo of a piece of paper on Instagram recently with the handwritten words, “I did the right thing for me.” The note was a reminder for when they’re making big decisions filled with risk and possibility to make decisions based out of love instead of fear. I really like that way of thinking, especially as it relates to our desire to take this sabbatical.

After all the prayer, conversation and planning, in this moment of time– this is a good thing for us.

Being Mortal and Living Soft

WILLOW TREE BENCH

I’m reading the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and it’s fascinating. It’s about growing older, allowing people to maintain independence and dignity as they age, while giving opportunities to continue to live.

He’s done a crap ton of research and the stories he shares are captivating. My favorite so far is from a woman who had a near death experience at age 21. Before the car accident she had spent her time thinking about finding the right person to spend her life with and what she was going to do next in life. After the accident, her perspective changed to not caring about those things at all, she just wanted to spend more time with loved ones because she was so grateful to be alive.

She wondered if how we choose to spend our time depends on how much time we think we have left in life. So she did studies.

Her theory was that “When horizons are measured in decades, which might as well be infinity to human beings, you most desire all that stuff at the top of Maslow’s pyramid- achievement, creativity…. But as your horizons contract- when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain- your focus shifts to the here and now, to everyday pleasures and the people closest to you.”

I watched this happen to my brother. My dad described him as “soft” the closer he came to the end of his life. And I think that is the best word for it. Little things that used to get him riled up, he barely flinched at, in fact, he took a couple opportunities to chastise my mom when we would get worked up over things. He waved his hand and told us, “It doesn’t matter” and “you need to let that go.”

On the anniversary of his death this year, I was laying in bed staring at the ceiling and talking out loud. It was part prayer, part thoughts. I was trying to determine what Justin had taught me that was the most valuable. And I realized it was this- this softness that my dad talked about. How could I learn to live like that?

I saw the shift in my uncle TJ too, as he realized the days he had were a gift, not a guarantee. Almost nothing ruffled him. It was the littlest things that made him the happiest. Spending time with people he loved was his favorite, and my brother’s too.

I feel like I get the spending time with people I love part, but I am terrible at the not letting little things (that truly don’t matter) irritate me part.

In the studies this woman did, she saw this shift in perspective based on people’s age. The younger ones valued time with people they thought could teach them something new and they valued building new relationships. The older ones valued time with people they were emotionally close to. And when they studied people who were sick with a terminal disease, whether they were young or old, they all responded the way of the older people. And to further verify her findings, when the older people in the study were told that a new development would allow them to live 20 extra years, they all shifted their responses to value the things of the younger people.

Then, they studied people in different cultures just after a big event occurred where lots of people died. For the US, it was following 9/11. “In each case the results were consistent. When, as researchers put it, “life’s fragility is primed,” people’s goals and motives in their everyday lives shift completely. It’s perspective, not age, that matters most.”

Death can have that effect on us as humans. For me, my brother’s death was a total wake up call and a shift in perspective. I realized that if he could die, anyone could. And yes, I realize how stupid this sounds because in reality- we will all die at some point. Side note: My uncle used to tell the story of the doctor telling him he was dying. He quickly quipped, “So are you!”

One thing my brother’s death did was normalize conversations about death. Andy asked me just a few weeks after my brother died, what I would do if he died. I told him I’d sell the house, I’d take a break from work to grieve and I’d probably travel. When I asked him the same question he had the same answers, plus he specified he’d visit my friends and ask them to tell him stories about me. I told him his idea was sweeter than mine and now I’d want to do that too, for him.

Once we acknowledged how easily one of us could die, it caused us to narrow in on some of our dreams and figure out what do we want to do before we die. But even more so, how do we want to live?

If I want to be a softer person who lets things go, doesn’t read into stuff, and learns not to fill in the blanks for things that may or may not be true– how do I practically start to do that now?

It’s a great question- and one I’ve been asking myself. I’ve been applying a “practice things until they become a habit” idea to a couple different areas of my life and I’m giving it a whirl in this one too. I remind myself it’s okay to be a work in progress. When I start to feel stress, anger, or frustration, there are things I can practice to help things bug me less, or (ideally) not at all!

Taking a minute to take a few deep breaths to focus on that instead of the issue is a good place to start. Resisting the urge to jump to conclusions (I can’t say this without thinking of Office Space) and read other people’s minds is a good place to start. Repeating “not my monkeys, not my circus” to remind myself that other people’s stuff is not my stuff- is a good place to start. Going on a walk outside in the fresh air to process while moving is a good place to start.

I don’t want to wait until I’m staring death in the face to be a softer person. It’s just going to take some practice.

Just making sure of you

“Pooh?” whispered Piglet. “Yes, Piglet” said Pooh. “Oh, nothing” said Piglet. “I was just making sure of you.”

The morning after my brother died, a friend gave me a card with this conversation on it. She also brought over a homemade meal, made our bed and stayed to fold the laundry. The words are such a sweet sentiment. My friend was making sure I was still there, that I would be alright. She was gently checking in.

This past week of the first year anniversary of my brother’s death several people have checked in. Many via text, phone calls or facebook and I appreciate each one. One friend asked if she could bring a meal over. So last week we ate broccoli cheddar soup, muffins and salad on a rainy night.

Another friend sent me a picture of a box addressed to me and said, “I know this must be a a bit of a tough week for you, so I wanted to attempt to “brighten” it up for you. I managed to put a care package together and tried to mail it to you so you would receive “a box of sunshine” on Friday. However, the USPS denied it (cause who knew you couldn’t send baby bottles of alcohol in the mail? Not me.).

I laughed and then promptly cried at her thoughtfulness. It is a really good feeling to be thought of, to be remembered. It’s pretty hard to feel alone when others are remembering with you.

Community is one of God’s best ideas.

Thanks friends, I feel loved.