Am I in the Right Room?

One grieving mom to another:

I just wait.
I know.
So do I.
I wonder what we’re waiting for?
Something.

The excerpt above is from a fellow blogger’s comments on one of my previous posts. It inspires further reflection.

What is this something? What do I wait for?

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Image by ravensong7 from Pixabay

Five months, two days ago, I COULDN’T WAIT to rip into the day, regardless of life’s circumstances. I leaped out of bed like a child who had no patience to discover what was inside the gift box under the Christmas tree. It sounds corny, but everyday was Christmas. Twenty-four hour segments flew by, and I darted behind each day as if I was trying to catch up to an Olympian runner.

Now, five months, two days later, I feel like I’ve been dumped into one of life’s empty waiting rooms without a clock on the wall. So, I wait. What do I wait for? The day I reunite with my son?

My mom used to say, “Day after day after day, ‘til the last day.”

Has that aphorism become my epic battle song that I sing now during the darkest chapter of my life until I arrive at the end of the book? Then what? I close the book, and a trumpet thunders and signals my long aWAITed reunion with my son.

“You’ve arrived!” In my imagination, I hear Alexa’s voice as an angel proclaiming the news.

Or, do I just wait for my son’s toothy white grin to be on the other side of the front door’s window? I expect to catch a glimpse of his eager face ready to enter what was once his home. I grow more impatient than ever since that youthful, solid and towering presence once crowned my world like the North Star and kept me from getting lost.

When my mom lost her oldest son she told me she always thought he was outside sitting on his favorite chair on the front porch. Numerous times, she found herself calling out to him. Of course, the front porch remained quiet and empty.

Admittedly, when no one is home I beckon in a familiar tone, “Marshall! Marshall!”

I wait and wait. In the deafening silence, I catch the familiarity of the maple tree’s drooping branches outside the exterior door’s window. Like the maple, everything has changed, but I remain standing.

As others await the end of this pandemic so they can return to their ordinary lives and do things like reset goals and “arrive” at new careers and new milestones in life, I have arrived in the waiting room of life before and during the pandemic. Going forward, I believe, this is my last stop. Fortunately, the space is not noisy and crowded. It’s not stressful. I am not afraid. I crave nothing.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s profound words frame the room, “This is it.”

So, that’s it. Waiting. The question is, does faith live here?

Is this the right room

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

Maybe the answer lies deeper in the same grieving mom’s additional comments on my post:

I am not going to say anything,
about how beautiful your son is,
and his mother.
Love to both of you.

Speechless, there is no response to those words because they are the words of hope, and their beauty cannot be contained under gift wrap. Subsequently, without faith, there can be no hope. Sometimes in the crux of waiting is the crux of our search. This is it.

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Faith Muscle

 

Those People, Go I *

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Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

“God, help them get through the day!”

I always prayed for “those” people. Sometimes those were the people making headline news. Other times they were acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors or friends struck by tragedies, such as out-of-order death, sudden, unexpected death and other hardships.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly had my share of my own personal hardships and sorrows. But I must say, everything pales to my 26-year-old son’s untimely death. That was the moment when I became a full-fledged group member of one of “those” people. In fact, I know the exact moment I realized that I had crossed over to the “those” people group. It was about a week after losing my son. I was driving down our road with my daughter in the car, and I waved at my neighbor. She’s the one with healthy young sons, husband, who has a permanent grin on his face, and two sets of geraniums on the porch that never wilt from under or over-watering. Anyway, for nearly two decades, I’ve waved to her countless times and this time she scared the bejesus out of me. Body shuddering, her eyes bulged out at me and her mouth gaped opened with fear she could not voice.

My first thought was, “Is she alright?”

Both my daughter and I turned to each other, asking, “Is she alright?”

Suddenly, I experienced the light bulb moment. My neighbor’s life has remained Copasetic. On the other hand, I had now become the mother whom every mother feared to become. I was one of “those” mothers who had experienced the unimaginable, which IS imaginable, but too painful to deal with so it’s wise to avoid pain and conveniently file the experience into the unimaginable category and, thereby, deny its existence.

So, I’m one of those people in the other group. This is my new place now. I’m learning to sit back and let it all in, because what choice do I have? Wasted fix-it prayers poured on un-fixable things? It’s like when you survive a house fire, no amount of prayer will salvage your belongings from ash.

My goal now is to be fully present without intent to preach, teach, judge or fix myself or any of the “others” with prayer or in any other way. It’s a tall order, but all it takes is a smidgen of faith.

* This post was inspired by my dear friend Michelle Falcone. I am forever grateful for her friendship, compassion and her angel wings that have lifted me up for many years.

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Faith Muscle

Good Fortune Prayer

The following post is a guest post from my son’s Godmother Patricia Grassi. She is one of the most faithful women I’ve ever met and serves as an inspiration to me always.

Chervony, the firey orange and tan long-haired cat was showing signs of distress.
Saturday, June 13, he stopped drinking and eating. The expression on his sweet
face resembled a stone. His eyes appeared overcast as he stared into space.
Maybe this is the way eighteen-year-old cats act before they die. His
disappearamce into the neighbor’s tall bushes the following day also pushed us into
thinking he wanted to go into the woods to die.

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Early Monday morning, before Stacy called his vet, I was sitting at the kitchen
table, drinking a cup of coffee while engulfed in sadness. Like the distant note of
a songbird, a feeling of hope broke through my sorrow. I sensed a lightness within
me as I turned to my left and saw Marshall standing in front of the dishwasher,
smiling at me. I knew intuitively that he was a vision–a momentary gift from
heaven to bring me comfort and perhaps a message regarding Chervony. He was
dressed in dark blue jeans and a darker blue T-shirt. Everything about him
glowed, especially his face, which was clean-shaven.

Yes, he was happy, but he particularly wanted me to tell his mother that he loved her very much. As he slowly faded, I was struck by the fact that he was the embodiment of all the attributes of God, such as love, kindness, goodness, wisdom and especially joy, just to name a few. dark-clouds-173926_1920

After he left, I didn’t know exactly what Chervony’s situation was, but that whatever happened, it would be all right.*

*And it WAS alright. Chevony was found sick and with a fever, but post-vet care, he is making a full recovery.

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Faith Muscle

Gift of Faith on Father’s Day

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Image by Mar Dais from Pixabay

My daughter “celebrated” this past Father’s Day in the same manner as she has done for the last 10 years: alone.

My son “celebrated” nine years in this same exact manner. I suppose the saving grace this year was he no longer had to experience the void, pain, anguish and feeling like everyone, but him, was blessed and he did something wrong to deserve the outcome.

Some fathers are just incapable of fulfilling their role as fathers in the same way some mothers are incapable of fulfilling their role as mothers.

I don’t want to minimize Father’s Day. Like Mother’s Day, it is a wonderful holiday to sell cards and gifts and it brings out the best in families, but I think those who also need to be acknowledged and recognized are the children and young adults who are robbed of a father * too early in life either through death or abandonment. They are the silent victims who have no seat on the sidelines, because the game is over.

It was a particularly difficult day for my twenty-something year-old daughter, who, as resilient as she is, this year she also had to deal with the lose of her only brother, her only sibling. It seems everyone was celebrating Father’s Day or had a crisis of his or her own to give her a shout out. Fortunately, this woman, who doesn’t deserve any of her fate, dealt with the holiday as she does every year, with maturity and acceptance.

Amazingly, this year on Father’s Day she received a very special gift and faith renewal from her brother. She was cleaning out some paperwork and an envelope dropped out. Inside was a $20 gift card from her brother that he gave her six years ago.

It was as if he were telling her, “Go ahead. Go celebrate Father’s Day. I have faith you can do it for both of us.”

Sometimes when you declutter your life and remove the stuff, you make room for abundance.

* This goes for Mother’s too.

NOTE: Our beloved senior cat is on the mend!

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Faith Muscle

Window Angels *

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Window Angels

Before the tragedy, I would swear to it that these two angels in the window protect our house. These days, putting my faith in the angels doesn’t feel like a sound investment.

I actually positioned the angels in my window yesterday, primarily because I think they are pretty. In fact, they are the first thing that catch my eyes when I walk by. Sometimes I think they symbolize my son and daughter standing side by side. My son is the way bigger angel, literally now. In secular terms, though, what is definite is that they are pretty wooden angels, and they make my eyes look up high.

Yesterday was also when my son’s cat Chervony (Ukrainian for red–though the cat is actually an orange tabby) went missing. The cat is 18 and has a heart condition. He stopped eating and drinking yesterday, and I knew what was happening.

Our plans of taking him to the vet went out the window, in the same way our plans for my son’s visit went out the window. The only thing I can be sure of is that I have wooden angels IN my window. The angels will not guide my son’s cat home nor do they give me a false sense of promise.

My mom used to say, “We make plans and God crosses them out.”

Investigating the dilemma with my son’s missing cat, I found the research below on the internet.

“Although it is not fully known why some cats go away to die, it’s likely that when our cats become very old and feel unwell, they prefer to be alone and rest. Unlike people, cats do not anticipate or know about death as we do, so they are not fearing what might happen.”

I have shed my grief-on-top-of-grief tears, but, strangely, I know our dear Chervony is at peace.

Maybe I sense this peace because peace is a regular part of my life. After all, I am in a 12-step community that promises me, “We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.”

I burst with gratitude when I say that promise has never been broken in over 35 years and even now serenity and peace do not leave my present grief-stricken life, and that’s what helps propel me to move forward and not give up faith.

It is ironic that my son chose to die in his own way on his own terms. And now it looks like his cat did the same thing. The realization provides some sort of skewed feeling of peace, and I correlate their endings like two bookends. Between the bookends, though, there were volumes of books brimming with love and memories. After all, a connection between a cat and its owner is special, angelic really.

*Chervony returned this morning! We talked to the vet and, for now, we are keeping an eye on him, because, he appears better. Maybe our window angels interceded in bringing him home or maybe my son’s Godmother’s prayer was answered when she asked my son to bring him home! Either way, what a test of faith. Will keep you updated!

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Faith Muscle

Champagne Tea

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Image by Bububácsi from Pixabay

I’ve reached the idea that my 26-year-old son won’t be returning after ordering a glass of champagne tea. Marking nearly 7 months since my son took his own life, the dream I had last night was the wet mortar that cemented the permanence of his out-of-order death inside my brain cells.

It was a bizarre dream and I’ll spare readers the unnecessary details. The gist of it is, my 25-year-old daughter and I waited over an hour at a fast food joint for my son’s return after he went to pick up his champagne tea. I grew angrier with each passing moment. It was the kind of anger that I would occasionally feel toward him in real life, and my response was typical. My ego was ready to plow into him, but my soul beat down my zealous ego and re-sized and minimized it down one hundred percent.

Gentle words it spoke: “Don’t blow your top. There’s a good explanation. He’s sensitive as it is, and you don’t want to hurt him needlessly.”

Powerless, my daughter and I stood frozen. Finally, my daughter gently whispered, “He’s not coming back.”

Only then did my brain unleash the absolute truth, a reminder of what had transpired nearly seven months ago after he had recently relocated to Auburn, Kentucky.

This is what I came to realize in my dream. This is what I know in my life. He won’t be back in an hour. He won’t be back tomorrow. The summer will pass without him. My first summer without him.

Earlier in the week, I pulled out a t-shirt inscribed with “Kentucky.” I quickly stuffed it back out of sight. Not so much because I had bought it with him while I was in Kentucky in 2018, but because of the fact that the last time I wore it was last summer when he was alive. The shirt magnifies the void. It’s like waking up to find you’re missing a foot, but more painful, because you have to hobble your way through life with the rest of your body out of balance. NOTE: You never “get over it”—not even for one single day, hour or minute.

That’s what out-of-order death does. It kicks you mercilessly out of the saddle of life as dust particles sting your eyes like bees. The only vision left is all the other riders in front of you galloping effortlessly forward in their high polished saddles.

Out-of-order death makes you think thoughts that would come to you if you accidentally banged your head on the car’s dashboard. The dang kid left to get his champagne tea and won’t be back. He stood us up.

In life, my son was a hell of a puzzle that I couldn’t figure out, and so it is in death. Now, I have to take his dark immovable brick of fate and cement the joints firm and unbroken into my brain. Acceptance is not an easy task when you are broken to smithereens, and faith seems far away and faded along with last year’s sunburn.

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Faith Muscle

Simple Path

 I feel acceptance is love and love is God’s will for us.

From the book Daily Reflections
Copyright © 1990 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

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John C. was a burly curmudgeon of a man, a retired plumber, who raised five sons. On the calmest of days, he was an exploding firecracker with the power of a bomb. Hours after he discovered that his wife of over 30 years was having an affair with someone half her age, John’s hands were twisting the guys’ neck at the younger man’s place of work. Fortunately, the warring sides did not suffer permanent or significant injuries, and John’s friends bailed him out of jail the next day.

Beyond his bigger-than-life explosive personality was the purr behind the roar.

It’s all about love.

That was one of John’s favorite sayings. And, sure enough, beneath John’s crusty exterior was his willingness to help others, whether providing rides or lending a few bucks, that was his way. In the 20-plus years that I grew to know and love him, on numerous occasions, he provided a non-judgmental listening ear and never broke a confidence.

Though John is gone, his legacy of words also imprints my mind. Sometimes I hear them when I least expect them, at times and with people that really do a 180 degree turn on any sort of compassion.

Like when:

I found out about the venom-tongued woman who spat her unkind words at my son and helped pave the way to his final chapter.

It’s all about love, and I know HURT PEOPLE HURT

I heard that Landlord Joey wouldn’t budge and return my son’s security deposit money when my son desperately need to break the house’s least because he was despairing, isolated and lonely.

It’s all about love, and I remember the grit and courage of my 25-year-old daughter, a sister with a dead brother, interceding on her grieving mother’s behalf in an attempt to get the security deposit returned to us. No, the landlord denied the request, but she was a testimony of when one steps up to the plate.

Coroner Mary called me with the news that no mother should ever hear and, also, implied that I was responsible for my son’s death.

It’s all about love, and my dearest friend, spiritual sister Pat never left my side from the time of that horrific call to this very day as she travels alongside me and puts up with my tears, fears, anguish, anger, secular notions and sometimes plain nonsense.

The sheriff dropped the ball on helping me find the whereabouts of my son’s missing fave jacket and laptop computer.

I’s all about love, and the two young adults whom I had never met before in my life never dropped the ball helping us pack and sort through my son’s belongings.

Last, and probably most painful, his father showing up to see my son’s dead body after a nine-year absence in his life.

It’s all about love, and like I said earlier, HURT PEOPLE HURT

Now, in the national news the senseless death of George Floyd in which my heart goes out to Mr. Floyd’s family and friends.

It’s all about love, and I can reasonably assume that none of the police officers involved in the hideous crime sought to do God’s will anytime earlier that day.

In fact, I’d wager to say that the venom-tongued woman, Landlord Joey, Coroner Mary, the Sheriff and my son’s father didn’t ask for God’s will before they willfully said and/or did what they did and or/said.

And, I accept everything just for today because “acceptance is love and love is God’s will for us.”

And for today I select to walk the simple path as described so poignantly below by Saint Teresa of Calcutta. When I venture on this path, there is no stress, because there are no constrains or requirements.

The simple path: silence is prayer, prayer is faith, faith is love, love is service, the fruit of service is peace.

~ Mother Teresa, Founder of the Missionaries of Charity

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Faith Muscle

Float it to the Heavens

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Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

Living in the past gives you sorrow.

That’s what my friend Tippy IM’d me a few weeks ago.

She is right. She refers to what the 12-step community calls “morbid reflection.”

So one year ago, this past Memorial Day Weekend, the Saturday my 26-year-old son arrived home for what would be the last time I would ever see him, the sky was clear as a lens, the air floated gently, spiked with excitement. My friend Pat, his Godmother, but closer than a grandmother, and I went to pick him from a shuttle stop nearby. In a typical “Marshall story,” an hour and a half shuttle ride from the airport turned out to be three hours. Incredibly, the driver avoided highways and traveled only via major route. We later surmised that the man had an irrational fear of highways. It made no sense, but again, it was a typical “Marshall story.”

In typical Marshall fashion, my son didn’t complain. He was unnerved from the three-hour shuttle ride. Calmly, he shook off the entire nightmare of a trip the minute he stepped out of the van as he towered over me, healthy and vibrant with a big, big white smile and goofy giggle so much like my own and my brother Paul’s.

That weekend, we enjoyed lovely weather and spent some of the best quality time day tripping to Stonington, CT, the place that he loved the most. The three of us, Pat, my son and I spent the holiday with a ribbon of velvety fabric moments, a cocoon of unconditional love wrapped around us. At one point, I watched my son stroll out to the tip of the beach’s jetty and peace resonated around him as did the sun and sky and the world held an oyster of pearls and promise in its palm.

How I want to reach backwards and snatch what has been stripped from our shells of happiness.

Little did we know the future would not be long and how, the Memorial Day weekend a year later, I would dread the clear azure sky and the memories it brought with it. The sorrow of seeing him for the last time.

Living in the past gives you sorrow.

I began this past weekend feeling like I was going to jump out of my skin and as if I necessitated a padded room for my brain on fire. I hit the off switch and isolated and insulated to protect myself. No Facebook. No glances at my son’s text messages from a year ago. No peaking at last year’s beautiful big, blue sky photos in which we all smiled without being prompted, “Cheese!”

So, as it turned out, my sister friend Anne in New Mexico, started to text me photos (she’s #1 photographer on this blog) during the weekend and asked me and my daughter to visit her in the future. I explained that I am, among other things, riddled with survivor’s guilt. Marsh wanted nothing more than to visit the desert, not me.

Living in the past gives you sorrow

“Survivor’s guilt holds you down, so please float it to the heavens and know how much he loved you. At least you can visit the desert and leave a memento of his.”

So out of the ill-luck hand I was dealt, loser cards of sorrow, faith comes in Anne’s text. Instead of sorrow, I am forcing myself to not look back but look forward and think about what memento or two I can bring when we are ready to visit New Mexico, so we can leave a little piece of him in the desert. Some people believe that faith isn’t a tangible thing that you can just pull out of your pocket. I disagree. Under the heat of the desert sun, sometimes the restorative qualities of a bottle of water pulled out of your pocket will saturate you with all the faith you will ever need.

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Faith Muscle

Unbearable Beautiful World

Today marks six months since my 26-year-old passed away. I am learning to break down each 24-hour interval into manageable milliseconds. There is no turnoff switch for me to prevent explosive emotions from erupting. However, when I feel I will fizzle into smithereens, I have discovered that people’s kind words and gestures become like a pressure relief safety valve.

Most recently, my safety valve was a friend and mentor. Betsy choked up as she spoke about her 28-year-old son, who took his own life 11 years ago. She shared about how more than usual she felt his presence that day. Listening to her, I not only felt great empathy, but my degree of sorrow for her matched my sorrow, if, perhaps, was greater than my own sorrow. And for that turn-of-the-pressure-relief-safety-valve moment, I exhaled, gifted with pain relief.

But wait, there’s more. As Betsy, generally a proud and really, really humorous fortress of a woman, continued to share, she spoke about how her son’s death only magnifies the beauty around her and gives her faith. That’s a tough order for me right now. Every beautiful pink-blushed apple blossom, magnolia flower and springtime landscape framed in natural beauty reminds me of my son, and I long in anguish for him even more. I cannot fathom the beauty through Betsy’s personal window. That is until I realize deep grief stems from deep love, and what is more beautiful than love? Now, I’m in the process of flexing my faith muscle so I can open up my window just a tad wider and let the sun spread it healing rays.

 

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Faith Muscle

Good Grief in Covid-19 Times 

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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

When I lost my 26-year-old son, I wondered how I could ever don my leopard shoes again and live in full-color. My father in his older years, about the age I am now, used to say to me,

“My life is ending. Yours is just beginning.”

As I grow older, I appreciate the saying. It meant he (and now it pertains to me) was at the point in his life to carry a dwindling bucket list. Young people, like my son, typically amass pretty impressive bucket lists.  A few examples on my son’s list include visiting the desert and touring the country on Amtrak (he loved trains!). For me: been there, done that.

Never in a million years did I dream I would be left holding his to-do list. Dumbfounded, shocked and weighed down with PTSD that coincides with survivor’s guilt; luckily, most people spare me their assurances of things like he won a first-class ticket to heaven where leopard pales next to angel sparkle. For me, being an earthling is all I can handle right now. Overthinking, and analyzing leads to stress.

From the beginning, my daughter and I kept it low key. In those early days, during the holidays, we anesthetized our senses with caramel popcorn washed down with swigs of diet coke and a marathon run of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. After I stored the Christmas wreath, our sole holiday decoration, and my daughter went back to her city living, in the days Corona was only associated with a brand name on the beer market, I tumbled aplenty, but managed to find some footing on swamp-of-the-soul terrain.

Once Covid-19 days slammed the brakes on the world, moment-to-moment breaking headlines fuel my days. Sickness. Death. Upheaval. I am grateful for the diversion.  I take solace in the fact that if I pull my mask high up, no one can see the mark of age that tears leave behind.

In essence, honestly, sadness of the shockingly horrific state of affairs is coupled with relief. I am not the only one whose house has experienced an abdominal invasion that has overthrown a simple, relevant life plan. In addition, as much heartbreak as I have over burying my own child, I am able to stop my sorrow and introspection and think of others: people who don’t have the opportunity for proper good-byes, burials, funerals and closure.

After each sheltering in place day passes, I grow more grateful. I don’t have to suit up, paste on a happy face and greet the world. I exchange my boots for house slippers. I ride grief’s ride. I cry. I ache. I eat caramel popcorn mindlessly. Some days, like living through my first Mother’s Day without hearing his voice, the shark jaws of memory and regret are sword sharp. My distress is private and mercifully unnoticed inside this very unnoticeable, but safe cocoon home.

Was I blessed with this pandemic? It feels like it when I am able to snap on my big girl underwear and lick my wounds and heal best I can and fully somehow wrap my mind around what chronic pain feels like and understand chronic pain doesn’t disappear like a season, and it doesn’t shed like a winter coat.

It’s been a pull-my-skin-off-slowly time. Good grief, does it hurt. On the other hand, as bad as it feels, it’s been good grief, because it’s real. I haven’t fully made a decision to live life quite yet. I have fully made a decision to get through this hour, because right now I can only manage faith in small doses. I can slice a sliver of hope. And if I can’t cut it, I reach out to my tribe. I find strength. They send me photos, cartoons and chicken soup. I lean in and know they have faith in me, and that’s a lot of obligation on my part.

Ironically, I pass my leopard shoes every day and feel great relief to watch them gather dust. In the old days, I’d say, “What a blessing.”

Now, I shelter in place and feel a lot of room to move around in my comfortable house slippers. A few lines from Albert Huffstickler’s The Cure are apropos.

The way to “get over” a life is to die.

Short of that, you move with it,

let the pain be pain,

not in the hope that it will vanish

But in the faith that it will fit in,

find its place in the shape of things

and be then not any less pain but true to form.

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Faith Muscle

The Cure By Albert Huffstickler

When the pain of my grief becomes unmanageable, I read the The Cure by Albert Huffstickler. I especially refer to it when the clueless around me spew quick-fix mouth service like “Let it go!” “It will get better.” “He’s in a better place,” and all the sentences that begin with proper nouns like Jesus, God and Buddha.

This poem gives me faith that someday I will have “the faith that it will fit in.” One day I hope to frame the poem and display it prominently on the wall. I also think a framed copy would make a great gift for grief-stricken individuals. In the interim, I frame my painful heart with these words, and the poem holds the fragments together like a vase.

THE CURE
We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles,
But not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
Never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to “get over” a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
But in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for: not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life without obliterating (getting over) a single
instant of it.

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Faith Muscle