Just How Narrow is That Door?

As I approach my third year of retirement, or more like semi-retirement I’m still looking for balance. Every so often, I find it. It is comfort, peace, happy, joy…it is good! But then, world events, family messiness, and the never-ending renovations to what was intended to be our relaxed retirement oasis shoots my mind into overdrive.

As we settle into this new rhythm of life, Jim’s being a clear, predictable 4/4 while mine fluctuates between 5/4, 12/8 and once in a while a lovely 3/4 waltz meter, what’s becoming exposed is the big stuff. The “why are we here?” stuff. The, “I’m pretty sure things were never intended to be this complicated” stuff. My morning musings, as they often are, centred on God. Faith. Grace. Rules. Inclusion. Belonging.

Sometimes it feels like we try to micro-manage God. I’m pretty sure God is capable of doing His God-work without us holding fast and strong to our feeble interpretations of what it is He wants. God is a God of order, but I highly doubt He is rule bound the way us humans cling to our rules. It’s the collective we who act out in subtitles that say “do it MY way, or you don’t belong”.  

I worry about the narrative that condemns people based on a narrowly sliced view of scripture. God’s work is BIG, it’s inclusive, it is for all. 

Ultimately it’s between God and me. It’s personal. That’s the point of connection. This is where my heart returns to its source, the God of creation.  It is Grace. It is Inclusive. It is Transforming. It’s where I belong.

I wish that all believers would let go of their rules and really truly lean into God and Let God be God!

Carol

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#Selfreg Santa

Out of our dozen grandchildren several are rather sensitive, but none as much as Noah. He’s also musical, athletic, articulate, and wise beyond his almost 3 years. Noah was born on Christmas Day 2013 and we assumed he’d embrace all things Christmas. He does love presents, shopping for presents, talking about presents, and from what he SAYS about Santa,  you’d think he LOVES Santa.

And he does…from a distance.

To be clear, this post is less about Noah and more about an incredible Santa. A Santa who clearly understands the principles of self-regulation. A Selfreg Santa.

I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

noah-2015-santa-crying

Santa visit 2015

My Bina (aka Grandma) heart broke a bit seeing his fear. No hidden stress here – a straight up fear/terror of a big man in a red suit with a long white beard.

And then in 2016, THIS!

selfreg-santa

Santa VIsit 2016

What a difference a year makes. There were no tears but there was still enough fear to elicit a refusal to get closer than several feet to the big man in the red suit with the long white beard. Sensing Noah’s stress, Santa came down to Noah’s level and in doing so, Santa ‘turned off that darn alarm’. He helped Noah keep his PFC online.

Having spent the last several years indoctrinating myself in the practice of self-regulation this hit me square in the feels. (Yeah, you heard that right, a boomer using millennial speak)

What echoed in my mind were the words of Stuart Shanker.

“When does selfreg work? All the time!”

Thanks to The MEHRIT Center’s team, including Dr. Susan Hopkins for impacting me to the extent that I see or at best look for selfreg everywhere and for Christmas 2016 THIS is it!

Once again, real life proof that better is possible.

The Story of the Log Jam

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#Courage

My heart is with the students, staff, and parents of @abbysenior as they head back to school today. While you can’t know most of the people sending love and thoughts, we are intertwined in this tragedy by our love.

Whether you’re a staff member, a student, or a parent/guardian/grandparent know you are being held in prayer. Rest in our arms as we embrace you with hope and courage. One day/moment/breath at a time. Do what YOU need to do, let us circle the wagons with our love.

Lean into each other. This is what community is about. This is the worst part of life now resting into the best part of community. Let your staff comfort you for as they comfort you, you are comforting them. Roles will have little place today. Today you are all one in grief demonstrating a courage that is difficult to comprehend.

Staff, students, parents, Abby community,  you have demonstrated such grace to the world. Authentic grace and love. What a testament to school communities around the world.

May the angels of peace be camped at your door posts. May all who walk in your building be gently enveloped by the presence of healing and hope. May the God of the universe sustain you, and hold you in His arms.

The Story of the Log Jam

 

 

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Endurance Self-Reg Style

The secret of life? To endure.

If my memory is even somewhat accurate this was the ending of one of my all time favorite books, Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Her quote parallels the sage advice I often get from my reverend when nearing the end of a project. “Finish well”.

Here I am nearing the end of what is not so much a project but a 10 week sojourn back at work, cheering myself on with “finish well”.

To recap, I retired from a 36 year career in education on September 1, 2015. Since then I’ve filled in as “Acting Principal” in March and am presently starting week 6 of 10 as an elementary counsellor in my former school district. 

Work is different this time. There is the obvious of being more relaxed because, well…retirement. But this time round I’m being mindful to observe, to listen, to be present. To pause. Truth be told, there has been a wee tendency towards judgment, but as the enlightened human I’ve become, judgement has been set aside to free up space for growth – particularly mine.  Here’s what I’m noticing:

  • the adults in many of my buildings are tired
  • the students are not tired
  • excitement for summer break is building
  • dread for summer break is building
  • staff still have way too much to do in the 3 1/2 weeks that are left
  • some schools laugh more than others
  • laughter is necessary
  • listening is often the best kind of self-regulation (for the listener and the listenee)
  • there is no ‘one size fits all’
  • consistency and routines are difficult to maintain in June
  • consistency and routine are essential in order to finish well

Along side of spending another spring at school, I am wrapping up the Foundations course on Self-Regulation through The Mehrit Centre that began in October 2015. (thank you to Dr. Shanker, Dr. Hopkins & the squirrely members of Cohort #1) As I put the finishing touches on my final Self-Reg project, I find I’m looking at schools through a clearer lens. A lens that starts with soft eyes and rather than narrowing it is in fact expanding. There is much to see.

My personal inquiry question has become:

How will the intentional practice of self-regulation change the trajectory of a school and its community?

My thoughts on why schools must embrace self-reg:

  • unity (think “The Village” thanks Shortreed)
  • common language – think unity
  • self-regulation will move schools towards creating a more equal playing field
Fair isn't always equal

Posted on a wall at Willoughby Elementary School. The caption shared by Joe Bower on his blog For the Love of Learning was  “Fair isn’t equal; fair is when everyone gets what they need.”

  • for teachers to co-regulate they must listen. When students are listened to they feel valued. When people are valued by others they often begin to value themselves more. These are the beginning steps of changing a negative bias to a positive bias.
  • when staff listen to students they get to ‘know’ their students. When staff ‘know’ their students they can differentiate both academic and emotional learning in a more meaningful way.

I’ve written before about Self-Reg as the missing piece in providing the grounding for the best kind of lifelong learning. Teaching students, staff, parents, and dare I dream… community, how to move from survival brain to learning brain is foundational to a life of not just learning, but learning with joy.

The goal, the really BIG goal: to become more fully human.

To my friends and colleagues who are nearing the end of another school year or perhaps the end of a lengthy, worthwhile career: thank you for all you do. Stay calm and remember that there really is time left for all that needs to be done. Breath, pause, laugh, listen, pace yourselves, and above all finish well. 

One last thing. It doesn’t matter who starts self-reg, (admin, teachers, parents, district) what matters is that you start!

As always, I write with the knowing that better IS possible,

The Story of the Log Jam

 

 

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An Open Letter to My Kids

To my beloved children (TLC):

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Yesterday Derek (my in law in training ;)) posted this on Facebook:Derek and Daycare

I agree with Derek, I love THIS. I love that Noah is in a daycare that celebrates diversity. “It is important to teach our children to show mutual respect to everyone in Canada”! YES!

And then my wonderings began in earnest (you knew that they would). 

When Noah’s daycare celebrates his (or more so his parent’s, because face it he’s only 2), traditions, beliefs and culture, what will they look like? 

Maybe it’s because Easter is just around the corner that my thoughts went to the traditions we practiced when you were still kids. I wonder if as adults you think as much about the Easter bunny as the redemption offered to us through Christ? Are your Easter memories more about the Easter egg hunts we had than the massive Easter productions that jammed packed Easter weekend with Church. (an aside – remember the time that a goat almost pulled Landon off of the stage?)

Speaking of church…of God…of beliefs…what beliefs do you hold as truth now? Is your image of God a loving, caring God? A God who not only created the universe but also took the time to form you so lovingly into tender tiny humans and then for some crazy reason placed you into our care.

As you aged you each exchanged the mantle of my faith with a mantle of your choosing. The point being you had a choice. You had something of faith to choose from – whether to re embrace, adapt, or change completely.

Each of you grew up bathed in prayer. Whether it was Omie & Oma, Grandma, or me, you never entered a single day without being covered in prayer. Prayer for protection, for grace, for love, compassion, and understanding. And don’t kid yourselves, when you were teens and in your early twenties, those prayers included a plea for a big dose of guilt that would rob you of any sense of unbridled fun when you made those inevitable and in my opinion ‘bad choices’. Just so you know, Grandma and I still pray for you and your offspring daily!

What about your kids? What are the traditions and more importantly beliefs that belong to your families. What do you celebrate?  Let me be clear I am not talking about church attendance and/or religion. And lest you think I’m judging you, I’m not. You are all amazing, caring, and loving parents. You, along with Brittany, Derek, and Deb do parenting so well. I am extremely proud of each one of you.

Wrestling down my wonders I landed on this: What is the foundation of your life? What is that uncompromising part of your heart, soul, and mind that you want to share and pass down to your children. What is YOUR guiding force?

When it’s time for daycare to celebrate your family’s beliefs, what will they celebrate?

Much love,

Mom

 

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From My Heart

DSC_6409.JPGMy heart is too small. It wants to carry everything. From the joy of grandchildren to the wrenching sadness of people displaced from their homelands; extremes that weave through my heart on a daily-sometimes hourly basis.

Joy alongside angst, how is that possible? Moments in the day where I am brushed by a gentle sensation of joy, peace, perhaps happiness, interwoven by times when sorrow is all but paralyzing; both live within this heart of mine. Being able to notice this spectrum of life yet not be crushed by its extremes has become somewhat of a dance. And trust me, I’ve always been an awkward dancer. My heart, with its capacity to expand enough to hold both contentment and suffering, yet beat rhythmically sustaining my life, is in the realm of the mysterious.

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
Viktor E. Frankl

Throughout my ongoing studies around self-regulation, the why, the how-to, the process, there has been a niggling wonder about what happens when the tension is gone. What is this calm state? Its purpose? Why aim for this sweet spot? In Viktor Frankl’s words I find some meaning. When I reduce the stressors I make room for the for the authentic, genuine, perhaps  even altruistic me.

My aim: a heart not simply void of tension, but a heart of full of purpose.

DSC_4885.JPG

And with this is mind – the call of a potential meaning – I am satisfied that my heart is indeed large enough for a life leading to better as possible.

The Story of the Log Jam

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Self-Regulation: Give Me 5!

The best part of retirement, which in reality has become semi-retirement, is having time to invest in things that/people who, matter to me. Flexibility to hang out with friends, family, and grandchildren in the MIDDLE of the day just doesn’t get old!

There has been surprising bonus. One I didn’t fully anticipate. The opportunity to delve into self-regulation. SR snuck up on me over the past 6 years. It peaked my curiosity as my experience within a traditional, behaviouralist lens complete with laborious plans, sometimes written in matrix form, including the prerequisite consequence and reward chart did not work for many kids. More salient in my case, was  that it wasn’t working to improve the overall tone and workability in a classroom setting. Coupled with the expectation by some that children be punished for ‘bad’ behaviour I found a disconnect from my basic belief about children. A belief that was certainly influenced by the work of Ross Greene “Kids do well if they can.”

As an educator Greene’s work made complete sense. Rather than the premise that kids wanted to be disruptive, which could include yelling, fighting, work refusal, hiding, etc. they were doing so because they had lagging skills or lacked the ability to solve presenting problems. While their disruptive behaviours are clearly not helpful or even acceptable, punitive actions or reactions were also not making a significant difference.Years before I’d heard of self-regulation I had been trained as a Parent Connect facilitator (now  CONNECT© parent program). Principle #1 in this 10 week attachment based program was, “All Behaviour Has Meaning”. We took on the role of detective discovering which attachment need was not being met.

On this point I was very clear – there is more to maladaptive behaviours than pathology and/or getting attention, or getting out of work! We’d based our schools on those principles for decades and other than pockets of improvement the status quo prevailed. Kids acted up, or shut down, resulting in disrupted learning for many along with worn out, frustrated teaching staff.

During my time as an administrator I relied heavily on my counselling training. Unconditional positive regard, building relationships, making connections, and the critical piece of instilling hope have been foundational in my counselling practice and transferred well into my role of school administrator. These foundational tenets would have had little synergy within a rule-based, consequence/reward system of managing conduct in a school setting. Fortunately our school was moving towards a self-regulation model and away from the rigidity of the solely behaviouralist theory base. Phew! Even before learning what I know now about self-regulation, I knew that each child was different and a One Size Fits All discipline plan, which may work for a moment, does NOT translate into the transformational change we were seeking for our students.

I can’t express enough how much I am enjoying speaking about self-regulation at various schools. My experience so far is that staff are yearning for and thus seeking out ways that will provide long lasting change rather than a compliant quick fix. But make no mistake, change is not easy, nor is it quick.

Our bodies have a furnace. The job of that furnace is to set and maintain a healthy temperature. We don’t want pipes freezing or exploding. Nor do we want things so hot, we are in danger of growing mould or mildew. It would be so easy if we just set the temperature and it stayed the same all the time. But life isn’t like that. Our needs fluctuate.

Along with the furnace we also have an alarm system located in our amygdala. It’s the rare person who’s alarm is set to perfection. There are times that this alarm alerts us of dangers that may not be a danger at all. To add to the layers, there are things like smells, sounds, the feel of fabric that can trigger this alarm in many of us. Once that alarm is triggered it can be ever so difficult to shut it down. That would be the role of our pre frontal cortex, but once that alarm is sounding, the PFC can have an almost impossible time turning off that darn alarm. Self-Reg teaches us that sometimes we need to be that prefrontal cortex for someone else, because you see, we are not alone in this.

Dr. Bruce Perry, in his trauma work summarizes the response to a triggered alarm (heightened stress response) as:

Regulate, Relate, Reason

The key is that we, and by we I mean all of us, need to bring ourselves into a calm state (restore) before we can regain the ability to reason. This is true for the adults in a school building, parents at home, and children/youth alike. This is not new, but what is newish is that we know that this is working in classrooms and homes all across our land.

Loving that in this next phase of life, Better is still Possible,

The Story of the Log Jam

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Close Your Eyes; What Do You See?

It’s curious that as I’ve aged I’ve become more of who I was as a child. Before my friends and family chime in with a resounding, ‘grow up’, let me explain.

One of my deep abiding memories, more explicit than implicit, includes a lingering feeling of angst. The existential question of why are we here? Why are we born? What is the purpose of life? I have a vivid picture of sobbing inconsolably; worried about what would happen when my Omie died. I was 9. She lived until I was 32. There were many years to cry and wonder.

We’re born. We live. We die. Is that it? Those were the unspoken wonders of my young self.

Now take that sensitive youngster and put her into school. I have no idea what class sizes were in the 60’s, but here’s what I do remember about my primary years:

  • an indoor teeter-totter in Kindergarten
  • Nap time in Kindergarten
  • An indoor play area in the basement of the school where we played during rainy days (it was Vancouver, it rained a lot)
  •  Writing – probably printing. A wonderful grade 2 teacher who let me write books. I think my longest was 32 pages. The pride of composing. I have no idea what I wrote about, but she gave me time to write all I needed to write.
  • School plays. We did The Gingerbread Man and I was a tree. I think I realized then that I wanted to direct school plays. For sure I never wanted to be a tree again!
  • I was a quiet student, which was a vast contrast to the loud little girl I was at home. One of my teachers actually said that when I spoke in class I could yell – that’s how quiet my voice was.
  • Getting almost all A’s because in the 60’s we had letter grades in primary.

My primary years were good. I had good friends, caring teachers. I had a solid academic beginning.

Then we moved and everything changed.

My grade four teacher was a well known graphologist. Her sister was an MP. I tell you this because even now, I recall how often she referenced who she was. She made us do this activity where we had to close our eyes and imagine. I hated closing my eyes to imagine. I could imagine just fine with my eyes open. But being the compliant student I was I’d close my eyes, more like clench them as tight as I could, and try my hardest to see something. Her question after this exercise was always, “what did you see?” I saw black. BLACK. Once she called on me and was angry that I saw black. As hard as I tried, I simply couldn’t see the clever pictures the other students were describing. I was so puzzled. I didn’t fit.

Grade 4 was when I started refusing to go to school. My poor mom had a tough time forcing me out the door every morning. My brothers, delightful men that they are, still mock me about those mornings!  My mom had several meetings with this teacher, and it was quite clear that this teacher didn’t see value in me. I was the quiet new german girl in her class and I wasn’t as smart as the other kids. Never-mind that at 9 I was taking my Grade 4 Royal Conservatory exam in piano and often performed at church. Never-mind that I could do a pretty decent basketball layup, never-mind that I did needlepoint with my Omie and was learning how to sew…a dress! To this teacher (at least from my perspective) I only saw black and BLACK was nothing.

Looking back, I realize that this woman caused me a lot of harm. What I learned in Grade 4 was that I didn’t belong. I realize now that that year impacted my teaching career profoundly. My own students needed to know they belonged. I never insisted students close their eyes, even playing ‘Seven Up’, it was important that they felt/knew they were safe. I know I got better at my craft of teaching as I gained experience. Relationship and community came first. That was the difference maker.

A lot of life has happened since the 60’s. A whole lot of good and to be fair, a good bit of tragedy. In the end I’m not sure the good and bad balances out as much as integrates in.

With more discretionary time available to me in this ‘next’ phase of life, I have reverted back to pondering those big questions.

Why are we here? What is life about? Is it as basic as the birth to death cycle? What about our time in between birth and death?

I’ve been reading a book by Dr. Gerald May (who happens to be the 1/2 brother of Rollo May) called The Dark Night of the Soul. It’s not as much about the dark as it is about meditation and contemplation, two practices that involve curiosity and mystery. Ultimately life is mysterious. We just don’t know. What struck me was how these ideas, their meaning and depth transfer to teaching. What if one of our roles is the learning-gardener? We needn’t have our students worry about preparing to learn because we have done this for them. We prepare our classroom with areas for all needs. We set up our classrooms as an optimal learning environment both physically and emotionally. That is our work. Then it is the work of the student to learn, to play, to explore, to wonder, to grow.  As I reflect on my own transformation over the years, what strikes me is how even minute changes now compel me to nurture those same possibilities for my own students/clients and of course, grandchildren.

I am still in awe when transformational change occurs. When a student who has never played an instrument learns to play a tune on his/her instrument of choice in just a few short weeks – that, in my mind, is transformational change. They don’t unlearn that.  That moment from not knowing to knowing. The mystery! My role is to offer guidance, give instruction, set the stage, but the doing, the learning, that is the part of the student. Experiences of empathy, kindness, compassion, creativity, play, alongside academics are building blocks we educators can intentionally prepare and adapt throughout our time with students. It is both privilege and responsibility. And make no mistake – it is not easy!

In case you’re wondering, I still see black when I close my eyes. I have come to understand that it wasn’t the literal picture my old Grade 4 teacher was after. I was so fixated on actually seeing something that I was blinded to the beautiful images, wonders, and stories that were there all along. With my eyes and heart wide open, I see then now.

Proof again, that better is possible,

The Story of the Log Jam

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#OneWord2016-Next

Almost exactly a year ago I was struggling to come up with a spiffy, original, meaningful, dazzling, totally unique OneWord2015. It had to be the best OneWord ever! After way too much introspection (self-absorption) acceptance became my 2015 word.

January 2016: The Struggle Returns. What will my OneWord 2016 be? Words flit through my head but none settle. This heart rejects them one by one. Perhaps rejection should be the word. I agree, too harsh.

In hindsight 2015 was indeed a year of change making acceptance exactly the right word. We welcomed two new grandsons into our family, a Perry family of four moved to far away Texas, my reverend and I both quit our day jobs (aka retirement2015), and we moved back to Coldstream. Change? Nope, that’s not quite it yet.

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Solitude

Solitude? Nope. Fresh? Nope. Hope? No. Newness? No, no, no. Not one word is choosing me for 2016. What does keep circling is the two word phrase:

“What’s Next?”

What’s Next? Each new day is a blank slate. Fresh. No plans. Clean page.

Our morning conversations go something like:

Me: What are you going to do today?

Him: Whatever I want.

Me: That’s nice, but what are you going to do today? I need plans, dear husband. At least let me plan your day.

See what I mean? What’s Next?

First snowfall 2015 on driveway

Each morning is like the first footsteps on fresh snow. Where to? What’s next?

Being the rule bound person I am, two words simply won’t work for a OneWord task. Therefore…are you ready for it?

Carol’s OneWord2016 is…

NEXT

 

Happily done for another year!

The Story of the Log Jam

If you’re interested here are links to my previous OneWord posts. OneWord2015Acceptance  OneWord2013/14Enough   OneWord2012 Joy  OneWord2011Joy  OneWord2011JoySummary

To find your tribe go to OneWord365.

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Beyond Strength

When strength is all but gone, when its existence is a mere flicker, then what? Where to now? To quote two year olds everywhere, “Why?”

We sleep, we wake, we eat, we work, if we’re lucky or smart, we play. That’s it. That’s the balance. As long as we stay in that routine, we are strong! In balance I find my strength.

Until the balance shifts.

Less work. Little sleep. Too much eat. Less play.

Strength attempts to hold on. It reaches with all that is within. Sometimes it can grasp that one thing, that needed touchstone. Sometimes, there is no strength for grasping. Where to now? Where DO we go when our strength is out of reach?

We move beyond strength 

When we lose a loved one…we move beyond strength

When we are hit by crisis…we move beyond strength

When we experience deep disappointment…we move beyond strength

When our strength is but a raspy breath, we still breathe. In, hold, out.  We rest. We rely. We let another hold our hope…we move beyond strength 

Too often these words from Ecclesiastes 4 ~ The Message ~ reflect my thoughts:

“1-3 Next I turned my attention to all the outrageous violence that takes place on this planet—the tears of the victims, no one to comfort them; the iron grip of oppressors, no one to rescue the victims from them… “

Where is Strength? As the cord is fraying, as the hold is weakening, as I cry out for help, there comes a reminder. We lean in. We let go, rest, gain strength from others. We wait there. There we restore.

The hope: (Ecclesiastes 4:12)  

  “By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” 

This morning I woke up with the song “Worn” by 10th Avenue North playing through my ear buds. (yes, I sleep with ear buds – don’t ask).  Words of strength. Pleas rising from weariness. Just enough strength to cry for help. Help for all.

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My own life is well. I’m fine. Other than navigating my new work routine, which has been interesting, life has great moments. Yet, that great has been touched by tragedy. Not my own, but that of friends. This is cliche, but I suppose that as we age we notice death more often. And then I’m back to wondering, ‘Where does strength come from?’ How do I reach beyond strength?

Psalm 121 ~ The Message

I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep. God’s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you – Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moon stroke. God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life. He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always.

I know this to be true for me. When I have moved beyond strength I am reminded that it is He who guards me. Sometimes strength is found in the stillness that is Him. Sometimes it’s weaved within the cords of friendship.

For those I know who have recently suffered tragic loss you are not alone. At your core He is there. Beyond that, we, your friends, are there. We hold your hope. We rejoice as you move back into the land of the living. We are part of your three-stranded rope!

For the many I don’t know but have read of your devastating loss, I am committed to holding you in my prayers. Your loss is not unnoticed. I guess the message for me is that Redemption does win. I need to remind myself of that.

Songs rising out of ashes…powerful melodies of healing. This is truth. This is hope.

This is beyond strength! 

We were made for relationship. May we be willing to share our strength with those who have for the moment moved beyond their own?

Much love,

The Story of the Log Jam 

 

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