On prayer, vocation, mission, purpose, faith, friendship, and faithfulness

On prayer, vocation, mission, purpose, faith, friendship, and faithfulness

Edited from a letter to a friend, originally written on three different days. Footnotes with explanations to give context for certain comments are indicated and referenced at the end of the letter (among them the explanation of what is keeping me stuck out of school) — VKS

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I always count myself blessed to be able not only to worship our great God, but to be able to worship him in the company of those who are both dear friends and beloved saints. I am always so bewildered when people who claim to love God get “dutiful” about churchgoing such that their worship becomes unworshipful. Who is their god anyway? Worship isn’t a “got to,” it’s a “get to.” I am sometimes tired and come to God very empty, but in those dark times when I seemingly have nothing left of myself to give, that God can work beautiful and wonderful things from even the crumbs of my broken soul if I fully offer all of those crumbs to him for his glory and his use? That’s an amazing grace indeed.
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And I am praying, for so many things and for so many reasons I am praying. I usually pray lastly for myself, but I assure you that I no longer ever come to God with my laundry list. I could be classed as “terrible” at prayer because I am not eloquent at public prayer. I am beautifully eloquent in written prayer because I can wait until the words come and just turn them over meditatively before I ever write a thing. My prayers are simple, they have become simple. I have said I am praying for my own situation — and I am — but I very much hesitate to say too much about what I am praying for. I certainly am somewhat discouraged by some of the stuff people report they are praying for my sake. Actually, no, I am very discouraged. I got a detailed laundry list from one of my most frustrating friends this morning. She means well, but she often gets me so worked up drilling down on all the hypothetical details. As detail-oriented as I may be, there is great wisdom in running life like an admin. assistant’s “To Do” list. Write down everything that needs doing and when it’s due, reassess and amend throughout the day, the next day look at the previous day and create a new list based on what was done and undone the day before. It does no good to try to make a “To Do” list in great detail for weeks and months ahead, only to be mindful of the short-term vs. long-term and chip away at the long-term. I’ve honestly never found a better way.

It does no good to obsess over things beyond one’s control, but why it is that people think they need to co-opt and micro-manage my worrying because I’m not doing it enough I can’t tell you. My long-time friends aren’t breaking a sweat over this one — they know God is great and his providence is amazing. I have no idea how this will turn out, but it will work out somehow. As my best friend from college mentioned in a message this morning, I always land on my feet.

And God-be-praised, she is right.

But there are two questions no one is asking that maybe someone should:

1.) Why am I crying?

2.) What am I praying?

As for the former, certainly the toxic reality of my present living situation is certainly part of it*. The fact that I’ve lost contact with Annie and Wentworth is definitely part of it,** but I’ve never stopped knowing that I am a girl on a mission. It is not my job to save anyone, this I know, but I also know that it is my job to love (and love deeply I do!). My heart is breaking over the coming transition. Maybe I’m n supposed to worry, but even though I turn it to prayer, I can’t help a fierce love paired with a feeling of total helplessness.

I can’t save anyone, I can only pray, but in the face of spiritual poverty I feel like prayer is a completely inadequate response to the incredible need. I can’t save anyone — neither body nor soul; I can’t help beyond love and prayer. Is that enough?
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I know not to fight whatever is happening with my life, though I find it all very bewildering. Technically, I could go to school in the fall if I can fund it.*** I need my taxes to be done first so I can get all my financial aid information to figure out what the numbers are. It is a big long-shot, but I have to at least explore this. The plan is to work, but if the door opened to school, you know I would take it.

I really just don’t have enough information to know for certain where I am going or what I will be doing with my life. The part that most people don’t “get” (but I hope you can appreciate) is that I am actually generally pretty okay with not knowing all the details of what is next.

Which comes to the bit about what I am praying…

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola has this line that is both challenging and convicting:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

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That’s a hard word, but it’s also one I take very seriously. The longer I live, the more firmly I’m convinced that what this life is about is responding to the various vocations in various seasons of life, and paying attention to keeping my divine appointments (I had several transit-related ones today).

That’s really it, life isn’t really much deeper/harder than that. Now, I won’t say that is necessarily EASY by any means, but it really is just that simple. If I really believe all I say I believe and truly confess that most basic and primary creed — Jesus Christ is Lord — then it is “Lord” he must be.

I’m sure you have some idea of what a terribly hard sell that is. Francis Chan has an extended bit in Crazy Love about the profound wrongness of giving lip-service to loving God while living our lives as if he doesn’t exist. To say: “Jesus Christ is Lord” are simple enough words, but by no means is it simple to do. But I think — for the weight of the measure of what is at-stake in terms of eternity — we at least owe it to God to try and give him our best as a gratitude response.

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So what am I praying for? To be sent out somewhere else where I can offer my best to bless others for God’s service where I am needed to love and bless others. And the part that my long-time friends get well — the crux of why I am totally not freaked out right now — is that God has a really big imagination and takes my assignments as seriously as I do. Someone made the cheeky sarcastic remark a few months back to the effect that it isn’t like we go out into the world telling people: “I’m on a mission from God.”

It was a general remark to no one in particular, but I got even more quiet than usual. Because, actually, that pretty much is EXACTLY what I do say. There really, actually, is no other possible explanation for my life. People believe its truth, and most somehow find something positive in it.
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Visionary leadership isn’t my deal, but nurturing leadership is. You’ll never find me at the helm of an international NGO, but if you need someone to walk you through a mess, I might be your girl. I can’t ever imagine myself as a foreign missionary, for example. Folks have been bugging me about international short-term mission trips since 2001. I don’t feel a call in that direction and never have. That said, God does like to send me places because I just GO without asking a lot of detailed questions about “Why?” or “What’s in it for me?” So instead of a laundry list of prayers wishing a bunch of stuff for myself, I’m begging God to find me a place to go where I can somehow bless others.

By the standards of just about everyone I know, this puts me on the spectrum somewhere between “odd” and “insane.” And yet “send me” and “use me” really are among some of the best prayers that can be prayed. But maybe you already know that?

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Cleaning, sorting, packing, and caring for my sweet baby guinea pigs (still at my sister’s) has eclipsed my life in the past week-and-a-half, but you have been much in-mind and in-prayer my friend. I’m ever mindful that giving a person room and space to be my friend as they wish is better. Maybe that’s how God sees things too — being undeniably present in our lives, but ultimately leaving it up to us how we respond to that? So often I wish I could just stop time to give those I love the ear and attention they need and deserve as my friends. Because it really is possible to die of loneliness somewhere in “How are you?”/”Fine.”
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And I know as well as you do that you are nowhere near “Fine,” but I am also mindful that re-hashing stuff can be exhausting and even harmful. Sunday mornings are my own life’s sacred space where I bring those broken crumbs of myself before God, where I gather enough strength to (almost always) make it through the next week as “Fine” enough to be able to love and serve others. There are weeks — and this one might be one of them — where I hit “done” with my life long before Sunday morning. I’m pretty much always “done” with my life these days actually, but press on to keep going because so many find strength in what is of God within me. That’s hard too. But now, maybe more than ever, I have to keep on — I’ve got a baby guinea pig in trouble: Benwick needs me.**** Lots of people need me actually.

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The incomparably adorable charmer, baby Benwick Wigglewhiskers at five days old

I wish I had an answer to your own questions of what God is doing in your life life. All I have is an ear, a thinking mind, and a loving heart. Is that enough? You have my love; you have whatever of my friendship you will accept; you have my ear to listen for whatever you wish. I love the Thomas Merton quotation from The Seven Storey Mountain:

It is a wonderful experience to discover a new saint. For God is greatly magnified marvelous in each one of His saints: differently in each individual one. There are no two saints alike: but all of them are like God, like Him in a different and special way. In-fact, if Adam had never fallen, the whole human race would have been a series of magnificently different and splendid images of God, each one of all the millions of men showing forth His glories and perfections in an astonishing new way, and each one shining with his own particular sanctity, a sanctity destined for him from all eternity as the most complete and unimaginable supernatural perfection of his human personality.

If, since the fall, this plan will never be realized in millions of souls, and millions will frustrate that glorious destiny of theirs, and hide their personality in an eternal corruption of disfigurement nevertheless, in re-forming His image in souls distorted and half destroyed by evil and disorder, God makes the work of His wisdom and love all the more strikingly beautiful by reason of the contrast with the surroundings in which He does not disdain to operate.

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Merton is right, and there is a power of truth in his wise words. You are a beautiful saint and a child of God. He who has begun a good work in you will what? (see Philippians 1:6) You are a quietly delightful person with a beautiful soul. I am wrestling right now with a life that doesn’t seem to have room for me in it, but what keeps me faithful and getting up in the morning is that – though it is very hard for me to find God’s path out in this mess of a life that no longer seems to have any room for me in it – I know that God IS in this somewhere, and he loves me and – no matter how bad things get – he is with me at all times and in all things (whether I can feel it or see it or know it or not).

That same level of faithfulness applies to you my friend.
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I wish I could fix this, all of it. Can you forgive me a little, however, for being slightly distracted from my total and uninterrupted sympathy for your situation because I am curious in wonder for what amazing new thing God may have in-store for you in your life? Because the truth about ANYTHING in this life is that if you are in alignment with God, he will be glorified through your life no matter what. As you are such an amazing person anyway, do forgive me for wondering how God will be glorified in all this.

Because he will, and he will use you to do it. In the truest and most literal sense of the word: that’s awesome.
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I wish I could give you a hug my friend. I wish I could carve a safe place of rest out for you in the world. I wish I could give you peace. I wish I could fix all that is broken in your life right now. Of that list, all I can offer is the hug, but the good news is that God can give you the rest of it. All I have to offer you is myself – my love and my friendship. It is (and always was) an offering, what you do with it is entirely up to you. I will love you no matter what though.

My heart and tears are with you my friend. I hope and pray you are well. I look forward to seeing you soon. I count myself blessed to know you dear friend. Please hang in there and take gentle care. God’s blessings to you in all things – Christ’s grace and peace be with you my dear friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

*A reference to post-fumigation clean-up — literally toxic — and an experience I do not recommend!

**All the guinea pigs had to be shifted to my sister’s house related to the fumigation and clean-up; they are still there.

***It’s complicated, but because I’ve spent the last eight years paying down $20K debt — and I don’t care who knows that, because I’ve worked insanely hard and sacrificed much to do the honorable thing and am down to the last partial payment of $80!!! I was living within my means, not using credit I couldn’t afford — so what happened? My credit score is amazing — or was before the accident — but is too clean; school is almost totally paid for, but I don’t qualify to take out the small bit of private student loans above and beyond the Stafford and institutional loans and grant money from the school and the government to cover my living expenses. Bottom line: unless I find a cosigner or stay out of school 3-5 more years working and building credit, I’m stuck out of school because they can’t prove I’ll honor the debt because I’ve spent the last eight years honoring my debt (even when the bank that acquired the account “lost” the original note on the repayment plan from the first bank and refused to honor the agreement…adding THREE MORE YEARS of payments and setting me back three years). Honors student, amazing transcripts, amazing ministry resume…I’ve now waited thirteen years to go back to school, and this sets me back still further. If you know anyone who might want to help, let me know. I’m a Theological Studies major working to complete undergrad to prepare for seminary to go into ministry. As Pedro Arrupe’s phrase was: “to become a…woman for others.” (the full phrase is “men and women for others,” but I am just a woman). I have to move in August anyway. All of this nightmare could go away — literally — with one signature; references available.

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At six days old a typical view of Benwick: at the milk bar.

****I was worried about little Benwick, he was socially and developmentally “behind” his siblings, and wouldn’t play with them or eat “big pig” food, but only wanted to nurse and hide under Annie 24/7. I was very disturbed on 15 May 2013 when I put him and his brothers in with Wentworth and he was too terrified to interact with any of them and just stood in the corner screaming while the other three played and tried to console him. He was doing much better on 16 May 2013.

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Blessings for your Tuesday

Blessings for your Tuesday

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To the same friend as  yesterday’s post…

Oh, right, and yeah, for a long time I was aiming at being a math professor. Most of the teaching I have done in my life? Math. Very gifted at math, science, history, literature, AND theology????? Um, I love art and music too. #RenaissanceWoman, #loveHildegardvonBingen

Oh, right…and if you named one of your pets after Hildegard von Bingen that automatically makes you cool enough to be my friend!!!!

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My Dear Friend,

It has been my experience over many years of studying mathematics (still a love, but one I had to leave in a box quietly by the side of the road) that there are basically two temperaments in math professors: the ones who know and understand that math is a great game and a puzzle…and the ones for whom it becomes a religion. I am in the former camp — Calculus proofs are FAR more elegant and fun than, say, crossword puzzles.

My former Calculus professor for all three terms was of a similar mind, and just neat people. Professor, former missionary in Thailand, a pastor’s wife who sometimes preaches herself. She has a radio ministry, she’s mother of three grown sons, she’s grandma. She’s exactly the type of person you can imagine me falling in with because she is both “real” and interesting (I have no use for pretense, and narrowly conventional people generally can’t stand ME, nevermind that shallowness bores me to tears).

She has a great sense of humor, but maybe not as quick and wicked as mine. She is the professor, of course, but in proofs that take 3-5 boards to write out, sometimes minor mistakes are made along the way that get you stuck and backing up later (and you learn as much from the backing up, so it’s a good thing). The funny thing was that she would always have a stock-answer ready-made silly excuse for the mistake. My favorite habitual excuse was: “Because it’s Tuesday” — she never blamed any other day of the week but Tuesdays.
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If you’re reading this, good morning to you my friend — it’s Tuesday. Blessings and love to you my friend because it’s Tuesday. We don’t ever need any other reason to celebrate a day besides the fact that God made it and we’re living it (both of those being very good things to celebrate). The verse goes: “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS,” no conditional qualifiers. I pray you can find joy and peace in this day, come what may, no matter what, and even…because it’s Tuesday. I love you my friend, and you are in my prayers. Know that you are loved — treasured by God and by many. No matter what else this day brings, I pray you find joy, peace, and rest in that love my friend.

May the peace of Christ be with you in all things this day, and may the Holy Spirit bring you strength. Hugs to you my dear friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

Love and blessings for your day my friend

Love and blessings for your day my friend

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Photo source and image copyright Curly Girl Designs http://www.curlygirldesign.com

Originally sent as an e-mail to a dear friend; it occurred to me it would make a good post as well.  The human soul is a fragile thing indeed, but that is one of the things that makes it most beautiful and precious. For it is, as Thomas Merton wrote, like a crystal: it is the light without — God’s light– shining through a soul that brings it to life. May you find hope and blessings this day. — VKS

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My Dear Friend,

Blessings for your morning — I love you, and God does too (know that on both counts).  Come what may (come all that may), if you are reading this, you are alive on a day and in a life that holds so much beauty and love.  Know that — take time to notice it.  There is no joy or beauty too small not to praise the Lord.

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“There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in he wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world

There is not an act of kindness or generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken, not a child’s prayer uttered, that does not sing praises to God before his throne, and in the eyes of men, and before their faces.

How does it happen that in the thousands of generations of murderers since Cain, our bloodthirsty ancestor, that some if us can still be saints? The quietness and hiddenness and placidity of the truly good people in the world all proclaim the glory of God.

All these things, all creatures, all graceful movement, every ordered act of the human will, all are sent to us as prophets from God.”
— Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

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I love you my friend, bless you. I remembered you and your family fiercely in my prayers this morning. I only wish I could give you a hug in-person to give you my love beyond mere words. I am currently reading The Ascent to Truth, which is Merton on St. John of the Cross (phenomenal book even as I am barely into it). I got into what — on my end — was a very interesting argument AGAINST “prosperity gospel” nonsense with G—– last week; she couldn’t wrap her head around the premise of The Dark Night of the Soul and I think thinks I’m completely nuts (and possibly evil or dangerous) for raising the question in the first place. I was also talking about that premise [with K—–] on the way home from church yesterday, that, no — this is not the place where you know things are bad but you know God loves you, this is the place where things are SO BAD you can’t see or feel God anywhere in those darkest of dark moments. And if your life with God includes NO blessings, is who God is ENOUGH to love him, praise him, serve him?

G—– cited that as a weird question. I was also speaking against one of Job’s friends who equated “lack of apparent blessings” with “secret sin” or perhaps some other deficiency of love or faith (as many today would accuse in similar circumstances). I reminded her that it is also the question raised by Job — if all life is without blessings, is who God is ENOUGH? That was dismissed too. I remain convinced, however, that it is a good litmus test for faith — do I love God because I LOVE God, or do I say I love God because he is “the god who gets me stuff”? Obviously my answer is the former (spiritually-shallow people do not take up with Carmelite mystics for “a little light reading,” and then take up with a Trappist monk for deeper reflection!!!!!).

You are loved, dear sister — by God, by me, and by so very many. May that sustain you this day, come what may. The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you my friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

Friendship (n.): a grace from God to reflect his love and to learn to sing

Friendship (n.): a grace from God to reflect his love and to learn to sing

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©Curly Girl Designs http://www.curlygirldesigns.com

Sunday, 28 April, 2013

Thank God for the beautiful blessing of friends, for as we are all made in the image of God, we all reflect the light of his love in different and beautiful ways.  While none of us loves as perfectly as God, he gives us friends who will compliment us in our own flat sides and challenge us with loving them despite their flat sides.

The love of friendship is one way to “practice” for the great and perfect love of heaven.  It’s also really fun to meet people we can look forward to keeping company with as we sing his praises.  Friendship in this life helps us to learn to listen and sing well with those we love in this life so we will be well-rehearsed to sing most beautifully for God in eternity. — VKS

Blessings and storms

Blessings and storms

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Thus far it has been the most beautiful birthday weekend since 2001.

Today — the morning with my church family.

I will write more later.  For reasons that have nothing to do with festivities, I haven’t slept well in days; presently I’ve been up for hours after…maybe…five hours sleep (after a day of walking about L.A.. with friends — NOT adequate for my day!!!).  It occurs to me that I would live as a servant for the rest of my life if only I could have a truly safe place to rest each night where I could sleep in total and absolute peace, a place where I could attain true and real rest.

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I haven’t slept in complete and total peace since 2002.

That’s a definitive part of hell I think — no rest.  The fact that I haven’t slept in eleven years both with peace and without the occasional Benadryl for help is truly maddening.

It has been a beautiful weekend full of so much love and delight and celebrating life.  Still no baby guinea pigs to celebrate with, but I pray that all goes well and that Annie delivers safely and soon.

But even amid so much love and so much joy and so many blessings, the dark reality that we live in a very darkly broken world looms large in so many ways.  I see it well, but would go completely insane to focus or dwell on it.  And I really do mean that: completely insane.  I am, however, sane as sane can be to know NOT to focus on such things.  Still…scary stuff.

Part of what has kept me up this night is a very brief note from a very dear friend who is probably very much more ill than she would ever admit.  It renews a question raised in my mind last fall when her collegues were piecing together a story that involved years of silence on the subject — will I ever see her again at all, in this life or the next? (there has long been a question mark on the last point)

Forever is not merely a very long time, forever is forever — it means “always” or “never,” but “eventually” and “hopefully” and “someday” are just not part of the “forever” equation.

Is a chronic and progressive illness more than that is my question (one of so many questions).

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Thunderstorm viewed from the back side of Pine Mountain over the Lockwood Valley and Frazier Park, taken 30 SEP 2010

Storms loom in the distance.

I can feel the air changing, I can see the thunderheads building.

There is no peace in this.

Last night, before I went to bed I wrote:

“What I wish from life is not much, or shouldn’t be.  I wish for peace and stability enough that there may be room and provision for me to continue to exist in the world while I remain in the world.  I wish to love and serve God with everything I have while I am in the world.  There may be a problem with this, and it is making me ill.  May God’s favor and provision be with his humble servant, I have no answers.”

Because provision is the open question at this point.

I wrote more at-length to a few friends last night when I got home.  The subject line of that e-mail was: “Wishing for the kind of faith that would make anxiety attacks impossible.”

So much looms and so much is wrong, even on this bright and beautiful weekend filled with joy.  I am not focusing on the darkness, but neither am I ignoring it.

God help me, only he can fix this.

The intro to the backstory to Casting Crowns’ “Praise You In This Storm”:

The full song:

Life is hard, silence is hard, waiting is harder, God is still on the throne, and a word on friendship

Life is hard, silence is hard, waiting is harder, God is still on the throne, and a word on friendship

I tell myself I will have more time when __________.

Then I get sick again, and again, and again (mending, better, but not well).

Of course, if my laptop worked properly that would help.  Blogging from a fakey tablet keyboard is insanity as I can type about 60 WPM.

So much is swirling these days…

I got Annie’s due date wrong, clearly, so waiting for her pups.

Don’t even get me started on the roaches.

Up half the night every night from being sick.

Appointments…here, there, everywhere, but nowhere close.

Public transit here, there, everywhere else.

Kiddos…life with kiddos…staying out of the middle of little kid drama when someone is having a bad day.

Thinking…dreaming..writing…but not blogging.  There are some pieces of a person’s soul fit for the view of God and dearest friends only.  What comes down through the blog is the stuff distilled through God, friends, and prayer…nothing raw, nothing too personal.  I find it funny sometimes that people think I’m too free or too open.  I think those who have known me longest know I measure things out carefully, and rarely tell all.

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There have been some dark days lately, but there haven’t been a lot of conversations.  Conversations are what always make me think…and write.  Conversations, questions…maybe I’ll find something this week?  I’ve got a few things I poke at, half-written.  There aren’t enough people in my day-to-day life, few deep and meaningful conversations.  I wonder when the last time was that you — whoever you are — took very real time to take things beyond a mere “How are you?”/”Fine.” level.  A person can die of loneliness for being “How are you?”/”Fine.”  People won’t give you an answer they know you won’t take time to hear.

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Take the time to listen and to care.  Take the time to really be a friend — it really doesn’t take much.  Taking time to love is always time  worth taking.  I have a lot of friends who don’t have time to be my friends.  They love me, I love them…but even though I know it’s not the message they wish to send at all, the one that gets handed down by default in many cases is: “You are not worth my time.”  We are Americans, we keep ourselves irrationally and pointlessly busy.  I undertand this, I live here too, I see it all.  Still…I’ve worked with enough people at the end of their lives to know that no one regrets not being fully caught up on TV programs.  Life in this world is short, fleeting, precious, uncertain — life and time are a precious gift, don’t waste them.  Be intentional in your friendships.  Pick up the phone, send an e-mail, even just send a text.  If you’re thinking about someone pray for them and then send even a brief word.  If you’re “on my list” you know about this.  People notice when you truly care, and love and care are lethal to loneliness.

And yet probably no conversations today.  Today?  Taxes need to get finished.

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Hugs with the Skeffy Favorite 29 May 2011

But all in the back of my mind are thoughts of this little guy — Mr. Skeffington (“The Favorite”®) — quietly slipping from life, alone.  He’s about 6¼ years old, a real sweetheart, and a funny little guy.  He belongs to my sister, but lived with me for over a year.  I love him dearly, and yet soon he and his funny little voice and funny little face will be gone.

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Mr. Skeffington, July 4th weekend 2009

This is the sad part.

It is expected, but it doesn’t make it easier.  It does suck a lot of joy out of waiting for Annie’s pups though.

Sad day…hard week…but God is still on the throne.

Happy Friday :)

Happy Friday :)

Wiped all of my downloaded files from my tablet on Wednesday, sometimes creating an interesting problem because I don’t always know what I’m missing (e.g., realizing on one bus yesterday that the schedule for my connecting line was missing).  I’m finding and re-downloading the photos to go with stuff, but it’s FRIDAY today, so a long bus commute awaits (i.e., time to write).  Blessings for your day.  A thought:

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Take the time to find God in all things. — VKS