12

October 2, 2014

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We were just diving into a new lesson, and I had worked up, in a series of questions, to the most challenging mental math problem. The usual responders gave a series of wrong attempts. I was about to tell them all the answer and move on to the lesson itself when Joe shouted out « 12! » I stopped. The others looked at him, shocked to hear him speak up for anything other than some sort of goofing-off. Then a few began to nod, and agree. « Yeah, that’s right! » One started cheering and clapped him on the back. Others clapped. It was too good to be true. I couldn’t resist pausing in mid-sentence and beaming at him for a moment, before announcing « Yep, that’s right—12! »
See, this was the one I was worried about. Just that morning, before school, I had breathed a pra_yer asking for help knowing how to support him. Knowing my own limitations as a classroom teacher, I was at a loss as to how to offer the “creative” help I had promised to his parents.
This was one who replied in the following manner on my beginning-of-the-year student survey:

In math I feel dumb.
If I have a test in math I feel worried.
The area I struggle in math is everything.
My past experiences in math have been Bad because i don’t like math
.

I guess you never know what’s going to happen in the classroom, on any given day. I thought this problem was something I had to figure out myself. Somehow. Some way. Turns out, « creative help » came one its own, nothing doing on my part! Granted, there’s still a long way to go between here and there on the math grades track for this kid. But a little twinge of shining hope is there.
When I left work this afternoon, I took a detour to walk around the track. My husband and I used to do these afternoon walks regularly, often barefoot. But lately we have been just business-oriented. I was telling him the other day that I thought we should do something that wasn’t necessarily productive. We « do life » well together but, in the routine of workdays, it is so easy to get into the habit of just taking care of the business of life and not doing things just to do them together. So today, before I left work I asked if he would join me for a barefoot walk, for old time’s sake. As I waited for him to arrive, I looked up and saw an amazing display of silver-rimmed cloud. I was quite sure my phone couldn’t get anywhere near to capturing it, but I couldn’t resist an attempt. Turns out, it captured pretty well :-)

on the run

September 30, 2014

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Last weekend I « retreated » with a large number of other women from near, and not so near, where I live. It filled my woman-needy soul in a way I didn’t anticipate [though I had gone into the weekend with a great deal of excitement; just didn’t know why I was so ready for it]. It was a short 2 days packed with activity and intensity. During our free time one afternoon, a friend and I went for a run. As we headed up a hill, we saw a group of uniformed youngsters walking towards us, apparently just getting out of school. I am quite accustomed to being stared at: a « waiguoren, » no matter where in the world I am at any given time. And at first I had a bit of a sinking feeling, expecting them to begin laughing and running alongside us as most children do. My friend, however, in the exact same position as I am, had a very different reaction. She smiled, waved, and began cheering them on. It was a contagious reaction, and I joined her. After passing them, I joked that we had just spurred on the next Olympic racing team of this country. It was a powerful lesson for me in openness: a reminder that my agenda of what my « job » is, and of what sort of outward aura I should have, is not necessarily the best. Sometimes you have to let go of those expectations and just be open to the surprises that may be just around the bend. These photos are of the countryside we passed as we ran—so fast that it was all a blur. Ok, so maybe I was just a poor photographer that day :-)

bookish

September 7, 2014

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This school year has plopped me into the throes of academic testing stress in a way that my chosen profession has normally exempted me from, even though I have been in education all my career life: librarianship is a more individual job than most classroom teaching roles. But this year I am full-force into the classroom teaching as well. While I would likely have never opted into this level of working stress, there are some intriguing [and potentially useful] musings that it has prompted to begin rolling around in my brain.
The main one surrounds types of intelligence. I have always advocated for teaching that caters to different types of learning styles, so that in itself is not new to me. What is, however, is the suspicion that my career choice stems from this theory, in a perhaps unusual way. I’ll attempt to explain . . .
I tend to be a relatively kinesthetic learner so, as much as I am able, I try to be involved in activities that support this—thus my role as Cross Country coach.
I also love music and, parallel to this, languages. So I teach French.
I did not know I was very interested in Math. But I can do it. And there was a need. So I teach middle school Math.
An interesting outcome of this combination is that fact that I now have a small group of students following me from one activity to the next; it has proven to be fascinating, and inspiring, to watch the different gifting that end up being displayed.
One student, for instance, began the year acting up daily in Math. He displayed no interest whatsoever in the material, but found every imaginable opportunity for goofing off. I had already seen the same scenario in French class. It did not seem to be out of any desire to be disruptive, mind you: simply an inability to focus. Or so I thought. Then he joined Cross Country. We were already a week into the season when he joined, so he missed much of the introductory portion, instead just jumping into a combination distance and speed workout. Rather than complain, as he customarily would do in classes, I saw a new side of him. In his denim shorts and gym shoes, he set his jaw and kept ahead of the others, sticking right with me the entire practice. It was the epitome of focus for the task at hand.
Later, I was able to share this with his parents, who put the information to good use to encourage him in both running and studying. The positive enforcement has, I believe, contributed to the improvement I have seen in the classroom.
So what does this have to do with librarianship? In short, I think that libraries support a whole lot more diversity than one might initially realize. And I think that people of all different aptitudes and sorts can find a “home” in a library. One of the things I’ve been doing with my library classes is studies in genres. If you think about all the different types of books that have their own category, it should make one pause before labeling anyone as “bookish.” I mean, if a shelf of books is devoted to practical guides for athletes, another to wordless comic books, and another to poetic waxings, one can’t be too surprised to find library-dwellers of all sorts [shapes and sizes, too?].

retreat

September 2, 2014

Jianshan Wayao

We have a dream. A dream of clean, flowing water. A dream of air in which to breathe. A dream of space in which to wander.

You see, my husband and I live in a land where clean water is a luxury, not a norm. Where air is polluted and city-smogged. Where people bustle about in a rat-race to achieve some sort of perceived height of [Western] advancement.

« So what, exactly, do you mean, » you ask, « with all this poetic waxing? » Well, it’s really quite simple, actually. With his work in community development, my husband has spent much of his five-plus years here in China in remote, rural regions. His work is water—clean water. So he travels to villages in need of it, with the goal of seeking out the best water source and tapping into it. He then comes up with, uses, and maintains filter systems that will make this water accessible for daily life.

One day, while he was out surveying a particular region, he noticed the way in which the trees gathered in one particular valley, providing pockets of shade from the fiery, high-altitude rays of our province. He then saw the sun-facing hills surrounding this patch, and realized that a  stream of clear water flowed nearby. And he had a vision.

He pictured a cluster of small cottages, making use of the the plentiful solar energy so as to provide a self-sustainable center . . . a center of retreat. Later, mulling over the logistics in greater detail, he explained to me the specifics that his engineering background allowed him to work out in his brain—specifics that would provide mutually beneficial results for both visitors coming to recover from urban stresses, as well as for the longterm rural residents: visitors would come with technological knowledge that would help with practicalities such as education, medicine, and construction. And residents would provide a dose of « reality » in the form of the ability to slow down and take life one step at a time, valuing relationships more than just things.

At the moment, it is just a speck of a dream. A seed. But the more we think about it, the more we see the possibilities, and the practicalities that would make it potentially doable. You never know—you just never know . . .

all in a week’s . . .

August 17, 2014

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Sometimes the most effective lessons don’t start as a plan. This week I stumbled into one of the best start-of-the-year ideas I’ve had as a teaching librarian.
It began with a Pre-Kindergarten lesson in what to do and not to do in the library. I used a popular children’s book about what a child gets in trouble for a lot at home, and what he then learns about how much his mother loves him in the midst of the scolding. For each of the scenarios, I acted out a library-version of what he might get in trouble for. This led to some laughs, as one might imagine. I ended, however, on a more « serious » note, telling them how much I love having them all in the library, and how excited I am for a new year of library class.
What got a bit more interesting, for me at least, was when one of the upper elementary classes came in. At the last minute, I scrapped the lesson I did have in mind. Instead, I played up how « old » and « experienced » they all were now in the ways things work around here . . .
You guys are now the TOP DOGS of elementary, aren’t you? You already know the way things work. You don’t need to hear all the rules . . . But you know what? I bet you guys would do an awesome job teaching those little kindergarteners all the things you know—wouldn’t you?
A series of eager nods ensued.
Why don’t we pretend now that you all are showing them how it’s done? Let’s read a book to to them — imagine all those cute little ones sitting right over here — and use it to show THEM all the things you already know? 
I then proceeded with a production that looked very similar to the one done for the littlest ones . . . except this time my antics provided a great deal more amusement to the audience.
What I realized, after the fact, was that this was probably the most effective way I could have begun the year with this age group. They would likely have had a short attention span for any proper rule reminders, thinking that indeed they already know it all. But with some being new to the school, this allowed me to sneak in all the rules, for the newbies as well as for the « oldies » who just might actually need that rule reminder after all :-)
Today at fellowship we talked, in the kids’ room, about things we were « asking » for this next school year. I « asked » for the wisdom to know what I do best, as a teacher and a librarian, and the confidence to do it. Perhaps not a standard way of interacting with ones’ own students but I don’t mind. When it comes down to it, I think that little ones need to see us being real. We all, for that matter, need to see each other being real.
After fellowship I requested that we all sit in a circle for a photo op. They asked me why I wanted a picture of their feet and I admitted that I wasn’t sure why I did . . but here we are :-)

in the midst

August 10, 2014

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In the midst of a stress-filled workday, consumed by my worries over not being prepared enough, qualified enough, mentally ready, for the first week of school, I am comforted by your email. The thought of you, better and better-ing, eases my heart and gives a much-needed dose of reality – reminding that the real things of importance go so much deeper than the school day deadlines.
I wrote these words in an email this week. The words were true, and from the heart. The manner in which I wrote them, however, I must admit to have been rushed . . . and as much “in the midst” of that stress as I was trying to write to counteract. Knowledge, you see, so far as how frazzled I feel, does not seem to equate to an ability to counter that frazzled-ness. So I find myself wondering: how do you maintain sanity in the middle of it? Or, perhaps, if you must become insane, how to you do so in a manner true to who you really are, insane and all? The reason I’m thinking about this , in this particular fashion, is that some of the time I suspect that people end up sucked into others’ stresses and, at times, even, running in circles with the rest of the crowd without necessarily accomplishing much of anything. So how, I wonder, do you maintain a firm grasp on what exactly is your responsibility? What should you focus on? What do you do best?
Lately, I’ve been struggling with a severe sense of inadequacy. I look around me at the teachers I work with and wonder how in the world they manage to get everything in order so seemingly effortlessly? But after struggling with that feeling for some time, with no one else catching on to my comparative inability, another question enters my mind. Is it possible that others are laboring under the same sense of inadequacy as well? What if we are just all in this figuring-things-out game together? And the more I mull over this suspicion, the more likely it begins to feel to me.
Perhaps, just now, on this Sunday evening, my particular responsibility [considering the fact that lesson plans are in order and classroom set up, so far as I can tell] is to sit with my husband. Perhaps I should focus on repenting for the impatience I have displayed as I let my stress out on the one who least deserves it. Perhaps what I can do best is to be the quirky, creative soul that He made me to be, and not try to figure out who else I should try to be . . .
In the meantime, the sun sets outside our home. Standing over the sink, washing the last of our dinner dishes, I see the glow. « Ah, » I think, getting my camera to snap the shot. « This makes it all worthwhile . . . »

and tried

July 31, 2014

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You just never know. Just when you think you know what to worry about, life throws a new wrench. Or two. Or three :-)
This morning I vented a bit during our morning run. After agonizing, in my usual pattern, along the lines of « What did I do wrong, » it felt good to get it out in the open. And the response I received, in conversation, lightened the weightiness, as so often seems to happen. More on that conversation shortly, though; first, some of the ventings:
Returning here to my work life, I knew to expect challenges. Quite simply, I live in a land where each day—even the most cheery and bright one—is full of daily challenge. Life just takes extra work, and time, here. And some days I get to the end of it, survey the day’s accomplishments with some dismay, and wonder how in the world everything took as long as it did: how is it that a whole day was eaten up by such a seemingly small amount of productivity!?! But I am starting to get used to this fact, and trying to reconcile myself to it.
What I knew, upon landing, was that:
Challenge #1. I would be moving into a new home, with my new husband.
Challenge #2. I would be adding Middle School Math teacher to my work load this year.
Challenge #3. I was losing my Cross Country assistant coaches, and didn’t know where to look for help in that realm.
Challenge #4. I left the library, at the end of last school year, with work to be done, knowing to come prepared to finish up the catalog before school started.
There are more that I was mulling over, but that will do as a shortlist for the moment.

What I did not know was that:

We would be unable to install internet in our new place. The internet company informed us that the previous tenant had an outstanding bill, so they could not give us a new account until that bill had been dealt with. Thanks to help from my school, the landlord was brought into the correspondence and it looks like we will be granted internet soon.
A few days after moving into our new place, we would sit down to enjoy our newest culinary experiment: a new variety of grain that we found in the local shop. The translation of the name they gave us for it amused us, so we thought we would try it out. As we talked about how much we liked it, and patted ourselves on the backs for the successful experiment, I heard a crunch. I pulled a rock out of my mouth and we enjoyed a laugh about never knowing what to expect when grocery shopping here. Two days later, while eating watermelon [yes, really!], I felt an odd sensation and pulled a portion of tooth out of my mouth. In instant panic mode, I found that I did indeed now have a hole in one of my teeth. Envisioning all manner of dental disasters, we scrapped our afternoon plans and instead headed to the dentist. Here’s where blessings kick in, though: instead of being on my own with no recourse, I was with a local friend who knew exactly where to take me, and who could act as translator. A short bike ride later, I was to find out that it was actually a relatively normal issue: not a tooth but a crown broken, that I had actually had for over 10 years already. They were about to start drilling there, taking off the whole crown, when I hit the pause button. I opted instead to leave the rest of the crown in place while I got in touch with the stateside dentist who had given me the crown to begin with. So far, no solutions found, but hopefully all will work out. I must say, though, it was not a very pleasant way to reinitiate into life here!
Also a few days after our arrival, I received a phone call from the school tech department. A few tech support emails, conversations, and file searchings later, I was to discover that our library program has been wiped out from the system, for upgrades, and needed to be reinstalled. No problem . .. except that the system was installed years ago, and no one knew where the original license was. Ok, so contact the system company and get new installation info, right? Except that the school had cut tech support for the library system out of the budget last year, so that the response given was that we were not longer privy to such assistance. Oy ve! My mind raced with visions of redoing all the inventory work done at the end of last year, in an amped up version: instead of just checking off the books, I would be taking each one of the 10,000 some volumes off the shelf and inputting it manually in order to rebuild the library catalog. Oy ve! So far, positive progress has been made with my meetings with finance, administration, and IT, and I have felt nothing but support. Again, hopefully, all will work out.
In this same period of time, I discover a patch of irritated skin. Soon this patch becomes fully inflamed, then blisters up to a horrible level of pain and itchiness. On a smaller scale, I had this same reaction last school year, and determined that I had touched something my sensitive skin did not agree with. Discovering its progression this time around, it is frightening to not be able to determined the source of an inflamed and blistered mess of a torso. We have been tossing around ideas but have resigned ourselves to the fact that we live in a place where the combination of great pollution and little chemical regulation means we likely will never know. But, in the meantime, I remind myself of the gift of a husband who willingly [happily, even!] massages my feet as we lie in bed, in an effort to distract me from the pain elsewhere on my being . . . grace in the interim.

I would go on with the not-short shortlist, but that’s all I can think of at the moment. It is hard to not already think longingly back to our summer holiday, and to peaceful days on the beach . . .

Ah, but back to that conversation I previewed at the start of this post. So I vented while we ran and soon, after some wise feedback and divinely inspired insight, was feeling a great deal better about it all. I said as much, quipping,
« Thank you, Brother G. You have lifted my spirits in this session »
« Ah, you are very welcome, Sister A. Anytime »
« I must confess, Brother G, » I added, « that I feel more than brotherly love for you »
« Well then, » he replied, « it’s a good thing we are married! »

routine

July 25, 2014

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I have spent my life clinging to familiarity. For very good reason: who of us doesn’t, if you think about it? We settle into our routines of action and thought, and then we stay put. Much is said about the process of breaking out of habits—or at least out of unhealthy ones. I’ve heard psychologists speak of the 30-day rule, in that apparently it is supposed to take 30 days to develop a new habit. No doubt this is very dependent upon one’s particular personality type, so far as the exact number goes. But it makes sense to me. My particular pattern is, I think, slightly shorter, perhaps due to a transient life. My frequent moves have made it necessary to learn to adapt quickly, to pretty much anything. This means that I can also very quickly develop new habits, based upon what my present locale demands of me [or at least what my brain perceives it to demand]. Maybe my magic number is something closer to half that, if I have to make a guess about a number?
Frankly, I think that routines and habits are quite normal—even healthy. Because why do we develop them to begin with if it is not due to a need we have for them? I think we are wired to evaluate our situations and surroundings, and then to figure out what works. So the habits we end up with are based upon what we do that works, or seems to, considering those factors. We land somewhere, be it in a physical place or a mental one. We survey our surroundings, again physical or otherwise. We see a need to get out of our “out of place”-ness, and so come up with a way to settle. We determine if it seems to work or not. If it does not, we try something else; if it does, we stick with it.
Back to the changing of habits, and to why I am thinking about this now: I have just returned to my home-away-from-home, after a summer away. And after this summer more than most others, there is more of a need for reevaluating—and for redeveloping routines. At least I assume that I will. Having never entered into marriage before, however, I can only guess as to what sort of personal changes will come. Time will, no doubt, tell.
For now, though, it seems to be enough to just be here, safely. The last few days of our travel were, to say the least, unpleasant. We were both brought to the edge, and over it, of our limits of patience with unexpected hassles. To be stranded and stuck in parts of the world unfamiliar [unsafe, even] to us was not an ideal way to honeymoon. But we made it, as people do. And now we are in our first two days moving and settling into our new home here.
I am grateful that we made the decision to arrive with extra time to do so [rather than my old habit of arriving the day before work began again].
Mind you, it was not a completely un work-related decision: I actually came in order to help with a children’s program. This has been a wild venture for the past two days: one that was out of my comfort zone initially, so far as location, transportation, and newness of the whole place goes. But it did not take long at all to decide that I was loving it. In my own little portion of the universe, it can’t get much better than to spend a day singing and dancing with children :-) Each of the past two days I have been in charge of a particular country program, coming up with four sections for the day: an arts/crafts activity, a cooking demonstration, a game, and an educational presentation. Yesterday was France and today Zambia. Yesterday I returned home spent, and “done.” But today, having gotten a bit into the swing of things, my tiredness led instead to an energized excitement over it all. There’s a melancholy along with it as well, having to do with the temporary nature of this gig. They will welcome me back, I think, for future volunteer sessions; but I suspect that the beginning of the school year will severely limit the amount of time I can spend doing so. I must, I suppose, resign myself to it being valuable in its transitory-ness . . . perhaps as a way to extend myself in service when I would otherwise be tempted to wallow in anxiety over the challenges to come in this year of work, and of life. The challenges will no doubt come. For now, however, I can smile at the sight of 60 pairs of little fingers writing the characters and letters for “Zambia” on their passport, knowing that a window in their minds has been cracked open. Ever so slightly for now. But who knows what sights, sounds, and senses that crack will awaken in future minds and souls?

bound

July 7, 2014

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The ties that bind. Two things spoken to me in the past have been running through my head over the last few days.
One said by an aunt, after having children later in her life: “Kids cut you to the core,” she said. While I thought maybe I knew what she was saying, I later decided that most likely I never would know, really, till I had children of my own.
The second was not spoken by a relative of mine, but by an artist I enjoy. She noted that when something happened to her sister, it felt as close as if it had happened to her.
This week my brain has merged these two statements, so that I have come to the conclusion that my own truth is that, for this particular situation of my life, my relationship with my sister is cutting me to the core. Not in a bad way . . . but in a brutal one.
Being here with her now, after several years, and after significant life changes [in her case, the birth of twins and in mine, the advent of married life] has done something undeniable to my “innermost being,” as King David so aptly put it. I am broken.
This evening, I clung to little B as he slept and I wept. My husband tried to relieve me of the child but I refused to let go. I rocked myself to comfort with his little body while I cried, aware that the heaving in my own chest was the same as that which I was trying to calm in him so soon before. He slept soundly through it all, blissfully unaware.
We are strange creatures, us mortal souls. How quickly we cycle through the seasons of a life! In some seasons we are hardly aware of the passing of the moments. Childhood comes to mind as one example of this; and, likely, the latter stages of some lives also fall into this category.
In other seasons, moments are agonizingly long, each one seeming to last an eternity. Motherhood, for all its supposed brevity, can I think fall into this category as well, when the cries of an infant are inconsolable and one’s nerves are shot.
But what do I know of such things? The older I get the more I know about how little I know . . . and this is just one of the areas in which my ignorance is glaringly evident. Yes, what do I know? In the here and now, about all I can think about—can know—is that I am tied to my sister and, consequently, to the little ones who have sprung from her, with cords stronger than any human creation can sever. Bound.

if i had a boat . . .

June 23, 2014

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This story is very much in progress, as we have a broken down vehicle currently sitting on the other side of the Sound—and many miles yet to drive. I must admit as well to be currently bogged down with frustration over the dealings with repair companies, rentals, and the like. This evening I couldn’t have been more honest when I told T that I wished, more than anything, that I could accept her invitation to play with her in the backyard. Oh, how I wanted to play! Yet the business required for the next day had to be done . . . business that looms still.
So though the business looms, we are, for now, safely settled—for this one evening at least—with family. As such, I can tell Phase One of this tale . . .
The day began ordinarily enough: we had spent a good evening at my cousin’s home, treated to sweet hospitality and some fun crazy kiddo time. And the start of the travel was smooth, heading to a lunch with some of Peter’s old friends. He enjoyed the time to talk; I was happy as a clam to be swimming and trampolining with their girls :-) Next stop: Ferry ride #1. No problem. A short drive later we arrived at the port town for Ferry ride #2. Entering the town, though, we heard some strange sounds from the engine. Soon it was clear that we needed immediate repair. As the car was still running, we thought we could get as far as the ferry and then deal with repairs once on the other side, with my brother. We made the wrong call. While rolling into the landing ramp, after purchasing our ferry ticket, the engine gave up. It was done. My heart sunk as I realized we would not be able to get to my brother’s. This was the last ferry of the evening, and besides, how could we get any repairs done if we left the car in order to visit them? After a few calls made to towing companies and to my brother [towing companies were AWOL, neither answering the phone or returning my messages], we were getting desperate. We had to get out of that lane in 10 minutes. The lady officiating loading and unloading was kind enough to talk to us as we tried to find a solution, patiently waiting while we figured things out. She then went further and arranged for a driver to come push us, when we suggested we could push our car into the adjacent long-term parking lot. This was blessing #1.
About this same time, I got another call from my brother. He told us his friends were out boating and had just offered to come get us: they were at a landing nearby and were on their way to meet us. Though worried about leaving the car, we quickly accepted the offer, knowing that our priority now was getting to see the family. I envisioned a dock nearby, so was surprised when it took a good 20 minutes for a lady to arrive. Turns out, she had waded in order to get to the beach and had then hoofed it for a good distance to find us. We quickly resorted our belongings, paid for parking, and put a few extra layers on. I was soon extremely grateful for these layers. The walk to their boat was, in fact, a bushwhacking session, crawling through downed trees and sliding down hills . . . baggage in tow. We finally found an entryway onto the beach. By this point, the earlier stress was gone: instead, I was gazing at the sunset with a stunned feeling of “What in the world are we doing?!?” But soon enough, a speedboat made its way towards us and lowered its anchor. We shed our shoes, tossed our baggage into the boat, and climbed in ourselves. The hour-long ride was a cold one, but happy. We had intended on picnicking while on the ferry, so we huddled there in the bottom of the boat, shielding ourselves from the wind as we ate and drank. And oh, how sweet it was to see my brother, soon thereafter, at the top of the hill waiting for us! How sweet to have a full day to hike, picnic, and swim with nieces: a day that was a lesson in accepting the blessings, and the angels that come along, even when the days to come are uncertain. Lord, let us trust that You will not forget us . . . that Your goodness will continue as long as . . . we both shall live?

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