Today’s Temperature

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Cloudy. Looks like showers; maybe even thunderstorms. Temperature: 65 degrees. 

Every morning since the day I met Ally, and our relationship lasted for over 20 years until she died of cancer, she recorded the weather with a ballpoint pen in her six-by-eight inch journals. Out of the classic, lined, hardcover journals, she had one inscribed with the following quote, Let your faith be bigger than your fear. – Hebrews 13:6

Ally was not a religious woman. She didn’t go to church or ever mention God. Instead, she lived a message of love and as a member of the local garden club, she spent endless volunteer hours helping to keep the town green and gardens growing pretty. Ally also dedicated her life to working at a local wildlife rehabilitation facility that aided birds and other wildlife.

Strong wind gusts. Dry, relative humidity. Temperature: 72 degrees.

One day I realized that in the same manner that people wake up in the morning and recite prayers and read spiritual material, Ally recorded the weather. It acted as her touchstone for the day. It gave her a larger perspective on life, helped deflate her ego and discover her true self. In other words, it ironed out her fear and made her fearless to float forward fearlessly into the thunderstorms and hail of life. Amen!

On the topic of weather and prayers, I call to mind my dear friend Brian. I’ve written about him before, but as a refresher, he identified with Native American spiritual beliefs. Once when we were driving in his truck from a weekend in Canada, we were suddenly caught in a monsoon storm. Joining other travelers, Brian veered his truck over into the emergency lane and parked. Seconds after he shut the engine off, he bolted outside and moved in front of the truck. Right before my eyes, he lifted his head and outstretched his arms while the rain beat down on him like the sights and sounds of linear drumming.

“Great Spirit! Great Spirit!”

It turned out to be the man’s prayer of thanks for every possible thing imaginable, including what others, most times, perceive as inclement weather, Brian saw as a gift.

Ally, like Brian, saw the weather, regardless of whether it was a mean storm or a mild spring day, in the same grateful way because she understood that it meant another sunrise of life occurred. This insight enabled her to charge forward into the day with faith. In fact, anytime I saw her, even after she received her diagnosis, she never stopped recording the weather and continued to act like a big, fat cloud bursting with an “Amen!” kind of jubilation.

Author and MD, Robert Eliot said, If you can’t fight and you can’t flee, flow.

In this way, you can switch out the word FAITH for the word FLOW. The concepts are connected because when you flow through life, you have faith in it, and you gain a deeper awareness and thereby, find a greater meaning in it.

Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali polymath who worked as a poet, writer, playwright, composer, philosopher, social reformer and painter, said: Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storms, but to add color to my sunset sky.

Heads lifted skyward, arms overstretched, Brian and Ally looked past the clouds and storms to pinpoint the colors of the sunrise as well as sunset.

Patchy fog. Hot and humid. Temperature: easy, breezy, flowing forward fearlessly.

Faith Muscle

Turner Tales

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My friend Turner taught me two things: one, to never underestimate the power of a door and two, to never underestimate the power of God.

After a few minor scrapes with the law as a juvenile, Turner committed multiple armed robberies in his early adulthood. He paid gravely for his crimes, spending more time behind bars than on the outside. After his final incarceration, he participated in a number of rehabilitation programs, determined to keep himself on the straight and narrow. I met him in a support group two years after his final prison release, and he remained in my life for over twenty years until he died of cancer about five years ago.

Turner acquiesced wholeheartedly into society and became a respected, hardworking, tax-paying citizen, not to mention a mentor to many, including me. However, he functioned in a state of high alert in the free world and could not escape the tight grip of hypervigilance. Whenever he saw or heard a door in motion, he couldn’t help but flashback to the echo of heavy metal. It spilled over him like a slow-motion train slipping off the track.

Turner explained that in lockup, the opening and closing of the security doors follow the daily schedule of a prisoner and attentiveness to prison doors stands above clock-watching. Life seems as predictable as peeling a potato, but over the years, the deafening, resonant clang of the metal doors knifed Turner’s brain more than the constant bellow of insults and orders behind prison walls.

In fact, the first time Turner faced the dungeon gate, he tumbled backward. His one-time youthful hopes, dreams, plans dissolved. When you serve time, he said, no matter if they open or close, prison doors lead to nowhere. You begin where you end, like hopping into a prop car bolted onto a stage floor. Needless to say, ten years after his release, he bought a house and removed every single interior door.

Over the decades, Turner acquired a deep faith in the God of his understanding and never forgot to thank his higher power for his new life and the freedom to do such things as remove doors at will — at least in his home. He also never failed to express his gratitude to our group. As is our tradition, we encouraged Turner in the same way we did each other. Despite our empathy and understanding, we experienced a few occasions when the subject turned to God and His will for us. Typically, a few members plowed into a tangent and looped themselves into an esoteric, high-pitched dialogue about the nature of the supreme influence over the universe.

Rising like a three-hundred pound totem pole, Turner’s nearly seven feet of height would tower over us. His reddened face reared with bulging eyes, turning side to side above his vintage leather jacket that crackled like kernels changing to popcorn.

“God? God? You want to talk about God? Go ahead! I’m out of here, because who the hell am I to hear or talk about God and try and figure out what his or her plans are or aren’t? I’m nothing in the face of God, the divine, the almighty. Nothing. I have less significance than a roach racing around a prison cell compared to him. Her. It. And that’s a good thing because all I know is: I matter. You matter. We matter. And if we get all holed up and locked into trying to figure out things that aren’t to be figured out, we’ll lose sight of what really matters today. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow.”

Each and every time, Turner instantly deflated our egos, a sense of peace saturated the room into an unplanned moment of silence. An outsider could have felt the brotherly-sisterly connection of those thirty or so people in the group. We sure did. Fortunately, Turner never barged out of the room, and the meeting resumed in a calm, collective spirit. You see, this former Hell’s Angel was our angel of wisdom. He opened the door that led us to a spiritual space where the door shut tightly behind us. We were safe because self-seeking was left on the other side of the door. Our holy ground we secured under our feet among notorious sinners who, in our eyes, were on their way to sainthood. What I’ve learned from Turner and so many like him, is: if false pride is the deadliest of all sins, then humility is the greatest virtue.

To this day, every time I get into the war zone of my crazy, little, take-charge head of mine, I remember Turner. I inhale deeply, swing open the confinement of my mind’s door and run wild and free.

Faith Muscle

Time Frames and Life Frames

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In the late 1990s, I attended a seminar in which a woman discussed her recently published book about her experience of working with dying AIDS patients in New York City. Most of her talk centered around the taboo topic of death in today’s world. One of the biggest mistakes we make as a society, she said, is to presume that when a loved one leaves the premises, he or she will return.

My former self would never have fathomed how the author’s profound statement would one day relate to my own life. Two years ago this past Memorial Day weekend, my son left his childhood home and went back to his home, never to return again. My memory frames his tall, broad-shouldered, 26-year-old portrait standing inside our front door. The flashback triggers feelings of sadness and loss, wet and heavy like a low pile rug drenched in pain. I cannot wring out the emotions nor erase the calm look and smile on his ginger-bearded face in those shared final moments. When he was younger, he was the spitting image of his father. Now, his uncanny resemblance to me was unmistakable. Like a baby blanket hand washed hundreds of times, he was familiar to me. Ironically, at the time I was grateful that, in many ways, my job as a mom was a proud accomplishment. He had grown up into a successful young man. Best of all, I thought, I instilled a sense of independence in him and despite a string of setbacks, he had flown the nest.

The airport shuttle bus driver, who was waiting in the driveway to transport him to the airport, beeped the horn. I followed my son outside. I paid little attention to what I took for granted as just another gifted moment. As he sat in the mini bus, I do remember feeling as if he were a young boy again and leaving on the school bus. I waved goodbye as the vehicle disappeared. A part of my former, practical self kicked in and I became focused on my engine red to-do list that was on fire in my mind because there were endless chores, obligations and responsibilities to check off. Yet, another part of me yearned for him to stay one more day and watch the town’s Memorial Day parade, the one he once loved to participate in when he was growing up where there was always a place for him. Just one more day.

I was confident in our Gorilla Heavy Duty Adhesive bond and was tricked to believe no human hands, certainly not our own, could sever it. I returned to the house alone, walked into the entranceway where my mind’s eye captured a snapshot of him towered high, emphasized by the door’s frame. Saying his final goodbye, he had stood in front of the main door with his back to where the sun sets and not far from where our road intersects with another road named Sunset Drive. The same route the driver traveled to take my son home to where he lived on Sunset Road in Kentucky, about 600 miles away. Six months later, the unimaginable happened and my life as I had known it went poof like the blank shells fired during Memorial Day parades.

How could this have happened in my miracle-filled, storied life that began thirty-five years prior when I stood at a crossroads? At that time, I was given a second chance in my life and slowly developed a life of faith. It started when, angry at religion and filled with notions of a punishing God, the 12-step program I later ascribed to taught me to believe in something other than myself. This “something” was called a higher power, and I learned that the higher power could be as random as a doorknob, but the key was, as long as it wasn’t me, it seeded a belief, and the idea of giving up my reign of control on outside circumstances helped me discover something I never experienced – inner peace.

During those years, after a rough ego-shedding start, I was grateful for my new life. My thank-you notes were action steps. Whether someone needed a car ride or a supportive phone call, I helped. I also volunteered at the local hospital’s mental health unit. I watched resilient people overcome insurmountable obstacles. Living a life of witnessing miracles, how could I not envision a bright, promising future for my one and only son? However, the string of happy tomorrows was ripped from me like perfectly healthy layers of skin. The tragedy happened 21 days after a 35-year milestone of my practicing the 12-step principles. It was a time of celebration. On that tragic day, however, I stepped on the landmine I had built out of my sugarcoated optimism, fantasies and misconceptions, and it detonated; my former self left behind in the explosion.

When I saw my son for the last time, framed in the soft cushion of his metal coffin, my new self released into his lifeless palms crowned with his slim fingers and bruised hands, my former self’s 35-year coin, a hallmark of recovery that I carried proudly for over three decades in my wallet like a medal of honor.

Now, nearly 19 months later, the minefields are cleared. I do not trip over booby-traps of overexaggerated optimism, and there are no milestone victory coins any longer in my possession. Don’t get me wrong. I am indebted to the people who helped me achieve those thirty-five years. I have not lost my inner peace. Now, though, I exist within a heavy metal grief framework. I head into my 37th year of recovery with feet flat, accepting life on life’s terms, allowing the raw reality to bite hard, but without chewing me to a pulp. I put my faith into believing that one day the barren, flat ground underneath me will be the perfect level to witness a sunrise; a luminescent horizon, a photo worth framing that makes you believe in an endless loop of miracles that make a surprise grand entrance at your front door.

Faith Muscle

Fall into Fall and Die

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For most of my life, I ascribed to the belief of the big white, bearded man in heaven by the name of “Jesus.” I believed in purgatory and hell. I believed in resurrection and life ever after. I believed that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. I believed in order and organization.

How wrong I was. The death of my 26-year-old son has humbled me. If I didn’t know my own son, how would I know about God or things unseen? I’m at this point now in my life where I don’t fill in the lines. I don’t have the answers, and I’m proud of it.

Of course, let me delete what I’ve just said because then there are days of righteousness like today. I woke up this morning only to be notified by FB that my son’s former friend was celebrating another birthday. Perhaps, I’m reading it wrong, but this young man isn’t the most selfless young man around. Years ago, he abandoned my son after my son helped him relocate to another state across the country. My son had high hopes of moving to that state also, but, in the end, my son’s travel companion threw him out of his vehicle along with his luggage. My son later informed me that a Good Samaritan helped him pick up and reorganize his belongings that were flying all over the place. I remember picking up my son a week later at the airport. I remember how I kept the “I told you so” lecture to myself. Most of all, I remember the relief of seeing the sight of my stocky, healthy son standing in front of me alive and well. I forget what month it was, but it wasn’t in November. I disdain November as much as I disdain October, because October leads into November.

So November kicked off with this young man that apparently took advantage of my son celebrating another year alive. Yippee! He has a great job. A wife and child. I don’t know if he has another child on the way, because a mere glance at his Facebook page is a recipe for code red pain. Needless to say, this young man never even reached out to me when my son passed away. Of course, most of the other young adults that grew up with my son didn’t reach out to me either. I know. I know. I have no control of these things. Who knows why good things happen to not-so-good people sometimes, but today is one of those days in which I simply want a just, punishing God to bludgeon evildoers!

Ironically, last year when tragedy struck in November, I couldn’t wait for the year to pass. I surmised that my womb of grief would feel a reprise from the agony. But grief is different from pain. Grief does not heal in the sense of disappearing. It finds its own space and you learn to live with it like a low-grade headache.

Autumn Leaves — Eva Marie Cassidy

Now in reality, each day closer to the actual day of my son’s death anniversary feels like my low-grade headache is about to explode into a migraine. As everyone around me prepares for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I try and maneuver through a landmine. I am grateful to the pandemic, because I don’t have to deal with too many insensitive earthlings. I limit Facebook (except for days like today when it intrudes on my woman cave). In addition, I have stored all of my son’s photos and memorabilia away, because there is no solace in “happy memories,” only regrets and sorrow and an end of a chapter in its raw beginning and not in its end with a proper conclusion.

Nonetheless, when I have to deal with earthlings, including my boss and the few around me, I try and proceed, acting as if I have faith that I won’t wither and just die like the autumn leaves. However, I think the ones who really know me realize my sweet, almost child-like optimism is gone. In essence, I wish I could fake a cake of a smile and make deliciously yummy talk, but I won’t hurt myself in that manner. As my therapist said early on. “This sucks!”

In all certainly, I hope no one ever has to live through losing a child. Of course, this notion is not realistic. With this idea in mind, getting back to my son’s former friend, I guess, I’m glad his mom doesn’t have to feel the unbearable pain that feels like losing a right arm without the numbing effect of anesthesia. As much as it hurts for me, I’m glad the young man, whom I can’t help but dislike, is celebrating his birthday. What it means is that maybe one day he can, maybe, do one small act of kindness for someone else and get a stab of feeling compassion and empathy. Selfishness may feel satisfying, but it takes a lot of fuel to run a tank that’s always hitting empty. On the other hand, selflessness is an act of faith that fills the spirit with renewable energy that feeds you at supremely satisfied levels.

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

Brick and Mortar 2019

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.                                                           Angel4 Psalm 34:1

Brick Wall

During this past season’s midnight Mass, I found Christmas, but it wasn’t solely in the Mass. I found Christmas in a young father who sat in the pew in front of us. His eyes glowed in adoration of his special needs toddler. Despite the fact that the child squirmed, gurgled and occasionally jolted, for over two hours, the father cradled her with undivided attention and devotion. In the face of challenge, his face exuded peace, contentment and joy. His one-word response to his child: Christmas!

This upcoming New Year, when I am faced with challenges, I hope to respond in the same spirit of Christmas, no matter if it is in the dead of winter or heat of summer. In other words, no matter how my faith is tested, I have memorized my response that is so apparent in the father’s life that I encountered at church. “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1)

Brick Wall2

Funny, how my relationship with God is sometimes one-sided, and I think He should ONLY bless me. Blessing the Lord at all times and praising him always is like laying a foundation of brick-like faith while the Lord spreads his love in the form of mortar.

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

 

biceps-2750460_1280

Faith Muscle

 

~ Oh, Hear Me, Lord ~

O”Lord we have faith!

Beckie's Mental Mess

This Artist Says God Taught Him How to Paint | The Creators ProjectSomber times I plead 

for spiritual relief

in You O’Lord God.

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January Reflections: A Question a day to deepen your faith (2)

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.

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2. Can I see the bigger pic?

Faith means not drawing inside the lines—or outside the lines for that matter—since we CAN’T necessarily SEE the lines. No matter how far down the scale you feel you are, faith is believing all is well. Close your eyes and imagine your own lines. Draw inside or outside of them. Seeing IS believing. Can you visualize your own pics before you ever see the bigger pic?

happiness-2901750__340

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

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Christmas Greetings

faith-christmas-ornament

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. Matthew 13:16

Thank you to my blog family of readers for allowing me to bring you “a blog of comfort during unpredictable times.”  In exchange, my cup runneth over from you and the kind words, encouragement, prayers, love and friendship that I’ve received this past year.

In fact, I can’t tell you how many times I feel  I am wasting my time writing a blog post that no one reads. But each time I feel this way and then I receive a new follower, a comment or a “like,” God speaks through you.

“Here I am,” he whispers. “Here I am.”

And, though I don’t write my posts often enough, my faith, through you, grows. This coming year, I hope to devote additional time and produce more frequent blog posts, and I hope to work on my own faith. If “WTF, Where’s the faith” helps only one person, my mission is a success. Of course, the only way you can keep faith is to give it away.

In the spirit of giving, no matter where you are in life, I wish you a renewal of faith. If you are about to jump off that bridge, the exact spot I’ve stood countless times in the past, close your eyes, breathe, trust, turn around in the opposite direction of the bridge, hold your head up and lift up your arms. Allow the blessings to pour down on you. If you have faith, you are blessed. You will never be empty-handed.

Walk, stumble, crawl in faith. Fake faith if you have to, but move forward, even by an inch. Be patient. Trust the process. The fruits of your faith will be rewarded. Hold on. Have no fear. He will never drop you. You might not have a clue about your life at the moment, but I promise you, you are not abandoned. Though you must abandon yourself, your will, your thoughts. He will cradle you back to joy. He will save and renew you.

How will you know it? Someone will walk into your life or something will happen and you will hear His whisper, “Here I am.”

Listen closely. He’s there through the hardship, the agony, the brokenness, the fear and the failure. He’s always with you on your journey, but remember you must be attuned. You must listen closely to His whisper, “Here I am!”

Release all your fears and failures into God’s hands.  The world might let you down, but he will never let you down. You’ll see. Then pass it on. Allow God to work through you to help someone else. Let him whisper, “Here I am!” through you to someone in need!

Thank you for helping me to hear His whisper, “Here I am!” through you. Thank you for being such an important part of my faith-filled journey.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!

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

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touched by an angel

 

A life in the fourth dimension

Fourth_dimensionAs one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you. 
— Isaiah 66:13

The following essay, Dad’s Messenger, turned blog post, I wrote shortly after my dad’s death. I chose this particular piece because it illustrates life in what I, and many of my cohorts, refer to as “the fourth dimension.”

In the fourth dimension, among other things, we live on pure faith. Moreover, I am sharing Dad’s Messenger with WTF readers as a dose of comfort, especially for those who have lost loved ones.

Note: Living in the fourth dimension, however, does have its challenges, and I will expound on that idea later in the week.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Dad’s Messenger. I hope it brings you the faith you need for living through challenging times.

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Dad’s Messenger

During the last days of his life, I wearily entered the hospital’s crowded elevator on my way to visit my 86-year-old father in the intensive care unit.  A dark-haired man dressed in a white-striped and blue cotton shirt, black pants and loafers met my eyes and smiled. I wedged myself next to him in the only empty corner of the elevator. My eyes focused on the numbers over the door as they alternately glowed red: L-1-2-3. Abuzz with noontime traffic swarming in and out, we traveled to the speed of molasses. Exhausted from the effect of my father’s deteriorating health, which had escalated over the prior month, the last thing I wanted was to engage in small talk.

“I’m visiting my mother. She’s in the ICU,” the man who had met my eyes stated.

“My dad is in ICU,” I blurted, irritated at his intrusiveness.

“My mother is in the final stages of cancer,” he whispered with puppy-dog eyes.

Suddenly, my empathy overrode my desire for privacy. “Yeah, it’s not easy,” I said letting down my guard. “I’ve been in and out of the hospital since my dad was diagnosed with emphysema four years ago. They say, it won’t be long…he won’t go home.”

“My mom was diagnosed with cancer eleven months ago,” the man elaborated as we exited the elevator. For a moment, we stood there. “She was doing great, up until a week ago.  That’s when she took a turn.”

“I’m sorry,” I said and meant it.

We parted, going to opposite ends of the ICU facility. After walking past the sound of the familiar beeping of IVs, I sat quietly in front of my dad’s bed. Although in a coma, his body still resembled a NFL linebacker’s physique. The rhythmic movement of his chest put me in a trance.

His booming voice, thick with accent, rang in my mind. ‘Get out of here!  There is nothing for you to do. Go on with your life.’ Since my youth, I regarded him as a Ukrainian-born stallion; strong, sometimes ornery, but always keeping a watchful eye on his herd. My father never dwindled from his priorities and approached life with an overdose of common sense. He was not one for saccharine behavior. Instead of a sentimental “I love you,” he opted to say things like “Stay out of trouble,” spoken in true John Wayne vernacular. Both our characters defined the elements of conflict in fiction: The dreamer living under the rule of the pragmatic father.

As the afternoon wore on, I finally arose from the over-sized vinyl chair. “I love you, pops,” I said the three words to him that were so foreign to his own repertoire.

I had accepted his stoicism many years ago, because I realized that if we were in a lifeboat and one of us were to die, instinctively he would have given his life for me—as he would have for my two brothers.  Despite a decade of turbulence, in the end, forgiveness had sealed our relationship. In the process, I had learned to love him unconditionally.

Roaming back outside the unit, to my surprise, I ran into the dark-haired man at the same spot where we had last seen one other. We exchanged smiles.

“No change,” he said as we rode down an empty elevator.  I nodded my head in return.  As we silently exited the elevator, he walked a couple of steps behind me.  In the parking lot, we met up again.

“You know, this is where the maternity ward was when I was born,” the man said.

“What?”

“Yeah, right where we are standing.  I was born here 40 years ago,” he explained.

Upon hearing this statement, I froze. “You were born here, 40 years ago?  So was I! That’s so weird…don’t tell me…August…”

“…August 22nd.”

“Wow!  What are the odds of that? We were roommates, and now here we are,” I interjected.

“That’s right, oh, by the way, your dad…”

“Yeah?”

“Loves you very much! He’s proud of you, too.”

Suddenly, unexpectedly, my throat burned and tears fell. Regaining composure, I looked up to ask him how he knew this. However, without a trace, the man had vanished. Wiping the last few tears, I pictured our bassinets so many years ago in this identical spot. Then I studied the hospital’s facade and knew it had all come full circle, everything had been mended without a rift left to darn.

“Thanks, dad, for the message, which I already knew since you ingrained the truth,

not with words but with actions, on my heart so long ago.”

As I walked towards my car, the tar beneath my feet gleamed with a glint of sparkly quartz that could have been angel dust.   gold_dust

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

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touched by an angel