Hurrah Hosta

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When schedules and plans screw up, I owe my “it wasn’t meant to be” reaction to a former friend, Chris T. I met him over 30 years ago when black and white thinking, also known as a dichotomous thinking, caused me much disappointment when situations didn’t work out as planned.

You see, a few months after I met Chris, I was highly anticipating an upcoming out-of-town weekend away with a friend. Then she called me a week prior to our planned three-day excursion to inform me that she had to cancel our plans, because of family obligations.

Never mind black and white. All I saw was red. Even though she profusely apologized and the hotel agreed to refund our room deposits, I just couldn’t let the anger go. My emotions soared, as if I were commanding the wheel of a fire engine headed to a 24/7 wave of emergency blazes. Three days after reeling from disappointment, I ran into Chris and nearly hyperventilated as I conveyed my despair over my canceled trip.

When I finished explaining my situation, he simply stared at me and belted out, “So? So?”

I stood baffled at his response, waiting for an explanation.

“It’s a damn GOOD thing you’re not going!”

“What?” My bafflement was now more like shock.

“It wasn’t meant to be. Do you know you could have been involved in a car accident if you had gone? Maybe paralyzed for life — or maybe something worse. It’s a damn good thing you didn’t go. You should be grateful … ”

On and on he went. I felt as if I had accidentally landed on some remote island, met one of the natives and was trying with great difficulty to understand the language. I walked away without fully grasping the point he was making, but he planted a seed.

As my relationship with Chris grew, my perceptions about my life outlook slowly widened. I started comprehending the notion of gray thinking and, by doing so, I added a lot of interesting colors on my life palate. I mean, black and white aren’t even considered to be colors!

Below is an excellent explanation that I found on the internet of why:

“In physics, a color is visible light with a specific wavelength. Black and white are not colors because they do not have specific wavelengths. Instead, white light contains all wavelengths of visible light. Black, on the other hand, is the absence of visible light.”

As I consciously practiced this new, more flexible lifestyle, and learned to let go of unplanned outcomes, my trips to the gastroenterologist became less frequent. Over thirty years later, I cannot tell you how this conscious practice saves me each and every time when my black and white thinking returns, because it still does.

Take for instance, over a week ago. As much as I wanted to leave the house early and embark on a walk around the neighborhood, I left later than planned. By then, it was hot and humid, and it was making me feel crankier than usual. In fact, I almost turned around to return home. Those little critic critters in my mind kept beating my brain, saying, “You should have left earlier. You should have left earlier.”

Finally, I just shouted repeatedly to them: “Shut up!”

The strategy worked. It usually does. I made the rest of my walk in relative solitude. Looping back around, about 10 minutes away from home, I espied a sign, “FREE!” A kind, generous neighbor had plopped up the sign against a few dozen uprooted hosta plants that were for the taking. The plants had not been there when I had first started my walk. They were a gift to me, because it solved my dilemma as far as what type of flora I should plant around the house. I ended up picking the lot up later and putting them in my car’s trunk. A week later, they are growing nicely.

So, the moral of the story is: if I had left for my walk as planned, I would have missed the plant giveaway! Even though in my mind, the timing of the walk was off, it was, in actuality, exactly right! It illustrates exactly Chris’ point that changed my life so long ago.

Now, fast forward a few days later: thanks to the influence of Chris T. in my life and thanks to the hosta, I didn’t get too depressed about not being able to attend the Connecticut Press Club awards presentation last Wednesday.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I tested positive for COVID-19 and was unable to attend.

Instead of being recognized for winning FIRST prize for blogging and an honorable mention for travel writing at the awards ceremony and having an opportunity to meet the presenter, who is a pretty well-know author, I watered newly planted hosta that night.

As a “consolation prize,” I squirted the hose, watered down my sad emotions and lectured myself that there was a reason that it was better I did not attend the ceremony. ‘Who knows,’ I told myself, ‘maybe I would have tripped and twisted my ankle … or … ’ It simply wasn’t meant to be. Have a little faith and just say ‘thanks’ to the universe for blocking the whole shindig.

I dreaded looking at the event’s Facebook pic, but I forced myself to observe all the smiling faces, and I even offered my “Congrats!” to the winners. They really looked happy. Ego aside, I was happy for them.

Two days after the awards presentation, the good news is, I tested negative and I am Covid-free. Admittedly, still tired and a tad congested, but I have the best winner’s circle: a clean bill of health and one of the most empathetic and inspirational blogging communities I can imagine. In addition, I also have an assortment of hostas that lift their stalks up to the sun and remind me that roaring success is based on daily building blocks of achievements, such as making the bed first thing in the morning and watering the plants before nightfall.

Faith Muscle

Broken Promises

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Some 20 years ago, my then husband and I attended a Dwight Yoakam concert in New York City. We were in our 40s, and our lives brimmed with the hallmark of blessings: an amicable marriage, a stable home, two young, healthy children and a future showing nothing less than promise.

Dwight was one of my favorite musicians, and my ex-husband went out of his way to not only secure the concert tickets, but also backstage passes to meet the singer. After the foot-stomping concert, which was worth the one-hour tardiness of the singer, the audience milled around. Waiting to be admitted to the private backstage party, we encountered a married couple in their 20s and started conversing. We learned that the couple traveled from England, I kid you not, to attend the concert. They didn’t have a sad story but were just starting out. I detected our one-time vulnerabilities, our long-ago future uncertainties in them that all seemed to have worked out for us. We were blessed.

I glanced at my then husband, who was on the same wavelength. He looked at me approvingly because he sensed what I was about to do. I gifted the couple our backstage tickets. I did have a condition.

“Please drop us a letter (this was pre-internet times) and let us know how it was meeting Dwight and the other band members. We would appreciate that,” I explained as I gave them our address.

They were more than happy to oblige and promised us that they would send us a follow-up letter.

Though my ex-husband and I never mentioned the promised letter again, with my rose-colored glasses cemented on the brim of my nose, I anticipated that the letter would materialize.

My ex’s motto was, “Don’t expect anything, and you won’t be disappointed.”

After about three months passed, it was only then that I knew the couple had “moved on” with their lives and didn’t take the time to write the letter.

Frankly, if I had been in the woman’s shoes, I would have fulfilled the promise. My father raised me, repeatedly saying, “Promise low. Deliver high.”

For the last 37 plus years, I also have followed a program for living that is based on vigorous honesty.

Plus, I am a writer by trade. Writing a letter would have been easy for me. In the couple’s defense, everyone has different talents, interests and priorities. I mean, maybe the couple sat down and experienced a debilitating case of writer’s block and quit. Who knows what could have happened? Maybe a tragedy occurred.  Maybe …

I will never know the reasons behind their broken promise. For me, one broken promise can be like a domino effect, and I begin to ruminate about so many other broken promises made to me. In fact, if the broken promises that I’ve received in my life were shattered pieces of quartz and feldspar, I could construct a granite counter that stretches the length of a football field.

Over these many years, I’m learning to put my faith into real rock — myself — and not depend on rocky humans. My life story may amount to a backlash of unmet promises, yet I do not have to contribute to the scrap pile. I, in fact, can raise above the scrap pile.

Coincidentally, my friend sent me a quote that said: “Don’t treat people as bad as they are, treat them as good as you are.”

I have learned the hard way that life is inherently unmanageable, and I’m powerless over people, places and things. The only power I possess is over my own behavior. So, do I feel bad about giving that young couple our backstage tickets? Rarely, if ever now. If given another opportunity, I would guilelessly do it again, again and again. Let the couple have their backstage views. I have the best seat in a house built on gratitude, humility, compassion, authenticity and a wealth of other gifts that I can bank on without disappointment.

Faith Muscle

This is my life now

My dear friend Camille surprised me with this card on what would have been my son’s 29th birthday

“That’s for happy people.”

My mother sullenly responded anytime I invited her to join me in a fun activity or special event. As I’ve previously mentioned, she was not only a World War II survivor, but trauma and pain shadowed her for most of her life.

A flat out “No” from her was unnecessary since the sharp tone of refusal was unmistakable. However, I discerned the truth. Her baby-like face, twinkling, daring eyes and partially upturned pink lips forcing down what would be a natural upturned smile, revealed the opposite of her initial response: “Sure, I’d love to go to … “

In fact, until she grew much older and frail, in spite of her protests, she willingly accompanied me on outings, whether they were to the local library, a tag sale, diner lunches or most of the extracurricular activities my kids were involved with when they were young.

After she died in 2015, I missed her company, but forgot about her fussing that preempted our outings. That is, until after our family tragedy and the aftermath of trauma in 2019. Suddenly, whenever I received an invitation or gift of any kind, my mom’s familiar words entered into my mind, “That’s for happy people.” 

Survivor’s guilt can do a number on you. To say it feels like you’re “carrying a heavy burden” is pushing it. It feels more like you are stuck in a life that has become a hunk of hardened glue.

This brings me to the generosity of my dear friend Michelle who, at the end of last year, gave me a gift card for a massage. What do you think my response was? Thank you! Thank you! On the other hand, my contradictory mind, though, lamented: “That’s for happy people.”

Sadly, my last massage experience took place about one month before I lost my beloved son. I laid on the table incredibly relaxed and melting to pieces, but my mind battered me. I felt tremendously guilty, pampering myself while my son led a miserable dark, depressed life. Flashbacks of this dreadful time, of course, made me even more reluctant to schedule another massage.

Before Marshall’s birthday rolled around, I knew to “sit around” like a magnet attracting more darkness to the severity of the painful situation would not be wise. I found, however, to sequester and seek solace helps my pain management the most. So why not, I reasoned, take advantage of a massage — in a quiet space under a pair of healing hands?

The day before his birthday, I made an agreement with myself. “If I am able to schedule a last-minute appointment at the place then, so be it. It is meant to be.”

It was meant to be because wouldn’t you know it, there was an opening. The massage therapist’s name was Dawn. I also interpreted the double meaning in her name, the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise, as a sign.

I put my full faith into Dawn, a random woman I never set my eyes on, but who could either break the rest of my broken pieces or help me try and not shatter any more of the messy debris.

Needless to say, I was a wreck when I arrived on a brisk early afternoon, January 18, 2022. It boiled down to, I really, really needed a good massage.

When the woman who greeted me asked, “So, what brings you in?”

I swear I was so close to replying, “My dead son.”

Instead, I said, “A gift card.”

Ironically, Dawn turned out to be a nondescript woman who wore a mask that covered more of her face than necessary in a facility that requires everyone to wear face protection during these pandemic times.

Later, undressed and comfortable on the massage table, every time my mind started to scatter and squirm like an army of ants without my consent, I did my darnest to focus on what was. Be in the now. Humorously, her freezing cold hands won most of my focus. Then suddenly out of the blue, I recognized: “This is my life now.”

I was inspired from the publisher’s description of Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story: A Memoir; a quote I could easily apply to myself now. “There is a frank acknowledgment of the widow’s desperation—only gradually yielding to the recognition that ‘this is my life now. ‘”

A few moments later, I heard my son’s voice in my mind shout, “Don’t touch me!”

Perhaps because of his shaky early years in the hospital, but my son, in the way some people don’t like to be around cats or dogs, was uncomfortable with physical touch and didn’t like a lot of human interaction.

Interior of my dear friend Camille’s card

The realization flew at me like a boat’s paddle: That was his life then and this is my life now.

My faith in Dawn paid off. At the end, I felt fluid. And it felt good physically. Mentally, my gift of peace was still intact.

On what would have been my son’s 29th birthday, after allowing Dawn’s icy hands to kneed and stroke me, I signed up for a year’s worth of massages.

This is my life now — if all goes per plan, I am now booked for a year of massages to take me through to his thirtieth in 2023.

This is my life now. Some, like Michelle and Camille, have stayed with me. Others have disappeared — to many of them I represent the fragility of our existence. In contrast, I honor my grief and the voices, oh, the unmistakable, unbelievable magnitude of voices that spin inside me and are part of all that I am and all that I will ever be, planted forever in the soul of now and every tomorrow, rising above the physical plane of temporary to the dawn of permanence and eternity.

Faith Muscle

Weapon for Success

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Jordon, around the age of my now deceased son, was always a proud nerd and geek. He’s a chemist by trade and also builds PCs from amassed components as a hobby. Jordon is tall and linear in appearance and in his mind. I’m not going to guess his IQ score, but I know for certain that I can’t decipher the book titles in his private library since they are all written for geniuses, a group into which I wouldn’t try to fake my admittance.

A few people I know have husbands like Jordon. He’s the kind of man that if he gets married, he’s a keeper. That being said, I introduced him to my daughter about five years ago. She immediately canceled out any ideas in my scheming head when I heard her verdict. “Nope. Not my type.”

Some bystanders over the years have labeled him with a case of social anxiety. I, too, have witnessed women his age roll their eyes behind his back and sarcastically whisper his name, “Jordon,” in a mean-spirited way. He, by no means, even remotely resembles the alpha male in hot-selling women’s fiction.

He is, however, who he was born to be. He is the kind of guy that will drive an elderly woman to the hospital in an emergency, the way my son had done. Unlike my son, though, he has a solid tribe around him, a few members reach as far back as grammar school.

Still, I sensed a loneliness about him. These are the years in his life that, while he grows bonsai trees in his kitchen window, many of his friends are getting married and starting families of their own. In fact, once I didn’t see him for a string of days and became overly concerned. Right when I was going to investigate further, he waved at me with his toothy, silly grin as I drove by when he was taking a walk. In solidarity, I understand how it is to suffer from loneliness and disconnection.

A few weeks ago, I again spotted him walking. Upon closer look, I saw that his bony arm was around a woman who looked like she could walk with swagger and determination down a model’s runway. Her hair was silky and long, a brunette photo-perfect image for a hair dye product. Symmetrically refined, her face could soften the mean waves of an ocean.

As long as I’ve known Jordon, he has seemed content with his loveless life. How did this happen? He isn’t on the dating circuit. He doesn’t even have a night life. What?  For days I fell into the black hole of no return. This is the usual route I travel when I start comparing my son’s life with someone else’s life. A losing battle, my therapist Louis continually reminds me.

Despite knowing better, I lost a string of days while engaged in a mindless battle. Wondering how a recluse like Jordon, against all odds, could have ended up in the relationship that he did and how, on the other hand, my recluse son never once found a suitable soulmate and, in turn, ended up the way he did. My many lectures beginning with, “The best way to get anyone back is to succeed,” fell on my son’s deaf ears.

I think, too, how my son, if he could have just waited a little longer, one more day even, things would have turned around. He would have garnered the attention he deserved. He would have had an opportunity to connect with someone special as Jordon had done.

Of course, you have to play the game in order to win, even if this means failing to win every battle year after year. I don’t know if Jordon was privy to other people’s judgment towards him. If he was, he had the mental capacity to say, “No thanks,” to the judgments as if they were an offer of cheap wine. He defined himself and forged on. Faith forward thinking catapulted him.

In order to move forward like that, the first step is to get up, even on the days when it feels like everyone is belting you down. Rise up. Sing, off-key or not, an anthem of resolve. Improvise as much and as long as necessary, because the only standing ovation that matters is the one standing eye-to-eye with yourself in front of the mirror.

Pondering Poodles & Other Toys

If I lived a storybook happy-ending life, today would have marked 30 years of marriage for my ex-husband and me. During our 19-year marriage, we shared a mutual dream. When we hit the retirement years, our goal was to rent an RV and rescue a group, seven was the lucky number, of abandoned old poodles in the local shelters. With our poodle family packed and ready, we planned to enjoy a year-long road trip from our east coast home to Alaska.

My ex-husband’s brainstorm of an idea was to co-author our own version of Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck. I was all for it and eager to chronicle our Alaskan adventure in the same fashion of the great American writer’s experience driving across America with Charley, his French poodle. Throughout each passing year, especially at night when I was tired and spent from a full day, my ex would smile and in a soft whisper say, Travels with Charley.

Those three words, our secret code, was the necessitated adrenaline that renewed my spark and carried me through the day’s remaining hours on a positive note.

Around 2007, our young family even toured the National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, California, in the area were the author grew up. As I write this post and visit the website to retrace our memories, pure emotional pain veils, like a fetal membrane, my remembrances of our time that we enjoyed in the Golden State together. It is almost incomprehensible now how naïve and innocent I was and how I viewed life on a permanent mural and not on a temporary “Etch A Sketch” toy board.

Anyway, my ex-husband and I never rescued one poodle, apart from the rescue poodle Crouton, whom I already owned. When 2010 rolled around, we could not rescue ourselves. The bottom of our Titanic-fated house sliced open after ramming into a financial disaster iceberg. I went down with the ship. My ex-husband bolted to safety. In fact, I recall that the last time my ex held Crouton was shortly after I learned the raw truth of his departure, before he relocated to a state some 600 miles away. As I bawled my eyes out in the bedroom nesting in the bed, he entered, cradling the dog in his arms, and with a bitter tone he said, “Why don’t you sleep with Crouton tonight.”

Prior to this fateful night, what tripped me up was that I thought the “in sickness and in health; for richer for poorer … “ wedding vows shadowed us and stretched way past the final hours of our wedding day celebration. In other words, I put my life and faith in those vows. Certainly, when I promenaded down the church aisle on the seasonally perfect May day and relished in his face aglow and blast-of-white smile 30 years ago, nothing nor no one could erase the future promise I foresaw. It was as clear in my mind as the intense blue, cloudless sky. Every line of the manuscript in my mind — beginning, middle and end was underscored with “happy.”

As said earlier, I was naïve and innocent and viewed life on a permanent mural not on a temporary “Etch A Sketch” toy board. Unfortunately, what I learned decades later was that his life views paralleled the meaning behind that classic toy: “When you’re done, turn over and shake to erase — then, start the fun all over again.”

At the beginning of our marriage, much of his attention went to a new managerial career while I focused on an infant born with a heart defect. The situation kicked me into a dismal trajectory and the sad ending was that I became an archaic, displaced worker, which later added to our financial burdens. As decades passed, though, admittedly I gained my greatest worth from my role as a mother. My ex gained his worth by being away from home in places where he could garner the full attention that he necessitated as his mental state tore away. Our worlds existed in separate orbits and one day spun out of control and in the frenzy our dreams disappeared.

Sadly, we were required to cash in our retirement fund that helped pay for our divorce legal fees. At that point and time, we could not afford to pay our mortgage, never mind buy an RV. And the road map to Alaska that we so diligently planned was switched out with a map that took us not to a destination but to near destitution with a terribly messy and costly divorce.

I can’t turn time back to the Saturday of our wedding that draped us in its turquoise sky and stroked us in gentle warm breezes. Sometimes I think the pure white Calla Lillies that almost slipped out of the bouquet while I promenaded down the aisle symbolized an omen. Or maybe bad luck unfolded when my soon-to-be groom accidentally saw me that morning before we exchanged our vows later in the day. As a side note, it brought great solace to me when Mrs. B. confided to me that her soon-to-be-husband also saw her by pure accident on their wedding day and they marked 30 years of marriage the same year we married!

Luck or no luck. Good endings. Bad endings. Things happen out of our control. Raw reality is: we are out of control, because all things, including us, are temporary etchings in life. That’s the short and long of it. Life can trick you into believing that we are the authors of our life as surely as the left control on an Etch A Sketch moves the stylus horizontally, the right one moves it vertically. Shake, make it disappear. However, raw truth be told, the design for living has a deadline. When the ending, happy or sad, arrives, there’s no twisting the white knobs on the classic red board, because life magically disappears just like the miles in the review mirror that usher us forward to a great American road trip.

Faith Muscle

Fear Mongrels

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Since childhood, the bullies in my garden of life are as plentiful as three-leaf clovers. Their job is to intimidate and control. Sling insults, impede success and flatten everyone who appears on their radar.

After a bully encounter with the one of the two bullies, who are like Velcro in my life in spite of my grief journey, I am left with an indifferent acceptance fueling a slow burn in the pit of my chest. Afterwards, I quell my uncomfortable feelings by sprinkling a pollyannish delish sweetener on my angst. Many times, however, the discomfort awakens me at 3 p.m. like a pulled muscle.  

My denial doesn’t trick me any longer into believing that the bullies are acceptable. In reality, bullying behavior under the best of circumstances has the same effect of a concoction of artificial chemicals in the body.

Now, in the final chapter of my life, I am removing toxins, starting a healthy diet and getting fitted for big girl panties. After all, how long can one survive on toxicity? Sometimes, though, finding voice, drawing the line and saying, “No More!” seems like an impossible conquest.

Uncharitable, unkind bullies seem “blessed” in my circle of family and friends. Their big ego magnets attract big things. One bully, for example, who is now an adult, but used to mercilessly insult my son in middle school, has not only survived, but, apparently thrived, having recently obtained a supervisory position. The job involves children, and I wonder if he has outgrown his bully behavior. I wonder what will he pass on?

Bullies come in all ages and from all backgrounds. Bullies rein with a rod of thunder that elicits fear. Their mission is to control the moves on life’s chessboard.

My mission is to stop perpetuating the cycle. If fear and faith are segregated roommates then I am at that point where I am friending faith. This does not mean fear magically disappears. This means, I have to look it in the eye and die … but not REALLY die, because that’s fear talking, lying and stripping me of my birthright dignity. The only path to victory is having the wherewithal to weld a faith shield. I can do that, because I, too, am blessed with courage to climb higher, above fear’s bondage and escape into freedom outside the prison of running scared.

Faith Muscle

To My Brother in Heaven

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32

It brings me great strength and joy to know you are in the loving arms of Jesus. Down here on earth, your arms were in the shackles of a disease that you did not want. I was four years old when I first tried to help you, but I was at a loss, wanting to contain your Niagara Falls amount of throw-up in a tiny pink cup.

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From that day forward, I felt like I trailed behind you through life, big brother, with a tiny pink plastic cup that could never contain the monster-sized remnants inside.

I won’t deny, that when you were alive, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about a replacement brother. The kind of big brother that takes you places above ground and not underground. The kind of brother who views life is lived on a rich, varied and textured terrain generous in rose-smelling opportunities. Like I told you a gazillion times, I never cared about your version of life lived in a flat-line region where the point of it all is survival.

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No doubt about it. We spent a lot of time in the mud hole: bickering, arguing and sometimes having a knock-down, drag-out fight. We landed in plenty of fox holes, too, where our prayers were “God Help!” Succinct ones, but as fervent as the long, formal prayers.

Seventeen years later, and I darn well know that if given the chance for a replacement brother or you, there is no doubt to the one I would choose. I attribute my choice to you. Underneath your disease. Underneath the monster. Buried under a mountain of hurt, you were one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. Not because you were handsome, strong, generous, compassionate, highly intuitive and intelligent and a war hero to boot, but because you knew that everything, no matter how utterly defective, stained, sinned or doomed, could root, grow and live under one condition: that it is planted in a bedrock of unconditional love.

Thank you for leaving me this bedrock of a legacy. To allow myself to be vulnerable, trust and carry the message tirelessly to those who suffer and those who need strength. Most of all, thanks for being my Angel Michael, right next to Archangel Michael, as I trudge this road of happy destiny.

Dear Big Brother in heaven, I can’t wait to see you in heaven someday. Feel your arms around me again, and see the sober twinkle in your eyes, when you radiate His love and gently whisper, “Peace.”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

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Faith Muscle

FAITH ”AN IMPORTANT PART OF LIFE”

I am re-blogging this fantastic post from BE BLOGGER (OFFICIAL) 

via Faith ”An Important Part Of Life”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

 

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Faith Muscle

January Reflections: A Question a day to deepen your faith (31)

Never mind New Year’s resolutions. Angel4 Wrap your mind around January  reflections: A question a day every day for the next 30 days to deepen your faith.

31. What did I learn after a month of asking questions about faith? mustard seed

 

Plain & Simple: I  have mustard seed faith, but I have a mammoth God.  

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Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

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Faith Muscle

January Reflections: A Question a day to deepen your faith (30)

Never mind New Year’s resolutions. Angel4 Wrap your mind around January  reflections: A question a day every day for the next 30 days to deepen your faith.

30. Doubting your faith? 

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If you are doubting your faith, you are not alone. When Pope Francis was asked if he every had any doubts, he replied, “Well …, I have so many, eh! I have so many … Of course, we all sometimes have doubts!”

When doubt sets in, realize you’re in good company!questions-1922476_1920Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

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Faith Muscle